Stimulation, new gear and constantly starting over.

Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* Planar
Leica M9 Zeiss 50mm f/2 T* Planar

The reason I like reading the Kirk Tuck blog so much, is how much of what he writes resonates with me. Though he works as a portrait / studio / commercial and advertising photographer and I'm roaming the countryside shooting landscape and location pictures for stock, we both earn our living from photography, have a passion for it and feel this compulsion to write about what we do and what we think and believe.

In two recent posts the following quotes caught my eye.

"Have you ever want to wipe the hard drives clean and start over from scratch?  To take all the stuff you've learned and start off in a new direction?"

"While it's obviously folly to flop over and show your stomach to every camera manufacturer who wants you to buy their goods it's also a very good idea to acknowledge that change can be good.  That refreshing the look and feel can be good. "

Nikon D7000 16-85mm
Nikon D7000 16-85mm

I wonder if constant dissatisfaction is part of being a photographer? Does the notion of "I haven't got it right yet" plague others engaged in creative activity? I certainly feel like that. Though I've taken 200,000+ images and have a large percentage of them sitting for sale on websites, I constantly feel that I want to start again and "Do it right this time". I also have a constant desire for simplicity, for paring back what I use to the bare minimum, yet I always seem to be attracted by the next "hot camera"

Sony NEX-C3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar
Sony NEX-C3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar

Kirk is not the only photographer to suggest that new gear stimulates. While many of us strive for originality, its generally the case that after we've been doing something for a while, we tend to ease back into our comfort zone without really thinking about it. When I was earning my living playing the guitar, I very quickly realised that when I embarked on an "improvised" solo, much of what I was playing was my standard collection of "licks" re-ordered, re-phrased and re-interpreted. But then much of creativity is like that. If we do approach things from a different angle then that process is likely to be evolutionary and not revolutionary. And we don't do these things in a vacuum. The past, our contemporaries, what we see, hear and experience all have a bearing on any "radical new direction" we might think we are taking.

Panasonic G3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar
Panasonic G3 Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar

So despite my desire to rationalise what I use, and to come up with the "perfect" gear solution that allows me to express myself in a satisfactory way, I'm constantly tinkering and experimenting. Use this camera in this way, try that lens on that camera. Despite my often repeated desire to return back to some kind of "photographic purity" that would see me using only a Leica and a standard lens, I still can't resist the ultra wide-angle and the extreme telephoto. Somehow the 50mm lens (or equivalent) restricts me and one lens (or two, or three, or.....) isn't enough.

Olympus E-P3 14-42mm
Olympus E-P3 14-42mm

When I think about it in a sensible and rational way, I realise that is the way that it should be. Sure there are great pieces of music written for solo instruments, but we all know what can be achieved when you have an orchestra to work with.

While realising that I'm never going to revolutionise landscape photography, I do know that I can do a good job and take a "decent snap" I do get new stimulation from different gear, from new cameras with new features, and from trying out different lens / camera combinations. Though doing this doesn't completely change the nature of what I produce, it does subtly change it. Using manual focus lenses on m4/3 camera re-introduced me to the possibilities of using shallow depth of field as a creative tool. It took me away from the maximum DOF all the time mode I was working in virtually exclusively before. The opportunity to merge images together in Photoshop introduced me to the possibilities of Panaramas and the unreal yet seemingly possible world of stitched images and how they play with and distort perspective while seeming to be a version of reality.

Nikon D5100 35mm f/1.8
Nikon D5100 35mm f/1.8

I use musical analogies all the time and new camera gear is like playing with a new instrument. There are possibilities to be explored. For something like 25 years I played the same guitar. It was something I had assembled myself and I had convinced myself that this was the only instrument I could play. Then out of the blue my nephew and sometime work colleague, very kindly gave me one of his "spares". I found that I actually enjoyed playing it very much, and because it was "different" I found myself coming up with new things. In essence I found it "stimulating". 

There are often (or used to be) articles in photographic magazines, about embarking on new projects to cope with the sense of ennui from long term photographic hobbying. I guess that would be cheaper as far as I'm concerned, rather than constantly buying and selling cameras, but I'm actually happy with what I do. If the weather is bad, as it is this morning, I feel frustrated that I won't be able to go out and take pictures. I love being in the countryside, or on the coast, or up a mountain with the sun out, exploring and recording the world, so I'm not looking for a new focus. I've got quite enough to cope with working on my current "project". But it is good to attempt to interpret this in different way, and to use different tools to help "freshen up" what I'm doing.

Leica M8 Voigtlander 28mm f/2 Ultron
Leica M8 Voigtlander 28mm f/2 Ultron

I suppose ideally, I should become a full-time camera reviewer, so I get to try out and test (or play with!) all the new gear. However when you read some of my comments concerning virtually ever camera and lens manufacturer, I can't see that happening anytime soon!

So, currently I have the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and Sony NEX-7 on order, waiting to see what possibilities and stimulation they will provide. The M8 has already gone to a new home, and will shortly be followed by lots of the rest I'm sure. In the end, its the pictures that matter, and the experience of creating them that lingers in my memory and not what I had in my bag at the time. I find that experience is often enhanced by the fact that I'm working with something new, something different. Something that means I have to approach things in a different way and don't just fall back into old habits.

I often have a pang of compassion for those who state that they are perfectly satisfied with what they use and see no reason to change. To me satisfaction equals compacency. Sure there are many great photographers who have used the same gear for years. But thats not me, and if I'm going to flit from camera to camera like some photographic bee and be always looking for the next "answer to my prayers" then so be it. I like constantly "starting over" I like the fact that I'm never satisfied and am constantly searching for a kind of perfection that I'll never achieve. Much better "artists" than me have faced the same dilemma and if I don't share their talent at least I can participate in the angst.

Olympus E-PL1 12mm f/2
Olympus E-PL1 12mm f/2