Love the Lens You’re With
There has always been a lot of chatter in the camera world about having the “right gear” for the job. Many photographers swear by specific cameras or lenses, figuring that they can’t do their job without those items. And photographers on the other side of the debate say that any camera will do – that the gear doesn’t really matter.
Recently, I learned which side of that debate I am on, because on a recent trip to China I broke the lens that I shoot 80% of my photos with. So I was forced to use other gear that I wouldn’t normally use. I learned that if you can’t be with the lens you love, you have to love the lens you’re with. (Credit and apologies to Stephen Stills, circa 1970)
Cut to May 1, 2017. I am in Xi’an, China, home of the Terracotta Army excavation site (go see it, seriously). As with pretty much every place in China, it is always super crowded. May 1 is a national holiday in China, so if you can imagine the largest amount of people you’ve seen in a tourist attraction – then double it. Normally, I sling my camera over my right shoulder (not my neck), and hang onto the strap with my right hand. But this time, in this crowd, I am thinking that I didn’t follow that habit.
I quickly surveyed the damage, and it was clear that the lens snapped apart at the mount, but the camera was fine. That was the saving grace. At least I would be able to use other lenses. If the camera had been damaged too, I would not be taking any more photos for the rest of the tour. That is, unless I used my iPad. And that wasn’t gonna happen.
Learning from Disaster
So this gets me to the point of the blog posting. What I learned from this disaster was that although I habitually shoot much of my work with this (now damaged) lens, I managed to carry on working as if nothing had even happened. I had two other lenses with me this trip – a wide zoom (12-24mm) and a telephoto zoom (70-210mm). Studies have shown that most people use the far ends of their zoom lenses much more than the ‘middle’ of them. So if that theory is true it means that I usually shot my photos at 24mm and 70mm. My other zoom lenses covered these ranges, so it was not a complete loss.
What I learned was that when I am put into a position of having to use sub-optimal gear, I was able to find the angles and positions for great images. I learned that my photographs were much less about the equipment I use, and much more about how I use it. This isn’t a new idea to me. I’ve always felt that the camera doesn’t matter much – or in this case, the lens doesn’t matter much. I was forced to move around my subject matter, and I saw things from a different viewpoint. As a photographer, that’s a good thing.
Vision vs. Equipment
The bottom line here is that photographs are not about equipment. The lens on your camera is just a tool. The photographer’s vision and interpretation of the scene is created in the mind long before a camera is involved. Getting hung up on what equipment you’re using will make your photos about the gear, not about the vision behind it. Learn to love the lens you’re with – because your pictures aren’t about the gear.