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Do I have to surrender my Geek Card?

I am absolutely amazed at how many people out there love photography just for the gadgets.  These people can rattle of model numbers with the speed and accuracy usually reserved for the alphabet.  Unsurprisingly, they have specs, price, and popularity committed to memory and available at a moment's notice.  These guys also seem to have almost limitless amounts of disposable income.  They invariably have the latest, greatest, and valuable-est (to stretch the parallel construction) equipment out there.  I just don't get it.

Don't get me wrong.  I am a complete, unabashed geek.  I absolutely love little gadgety things.  I build my own PCs (one of which is housed in a milk crate), I have a hacked XBox controlling my media center, I have a jail

broken iPhone, I am a complete apostle to the geek culture.  I have my fair share of widgets in my camera bag, but very few are left unused, forgotten, or abandoned.  Actually, check that.  I just did a mental inventory of my camera bag and had to go get it to verify my realization.  Here's the whole list of bag contents:

  • Primary camera body

  • Backup camera body

  • 24-70mm f/2.8 lens

  • 70-200mm f/2.8 lens

  • 50mm f/1.8 lens

  • 90mm macro lens

  • 4 speedlights

  • circular polarizer

  • spare camera battery

  • spare AA batteries

  • lens cloth

  • velcro tipped fabrics for holding things

  • cable release

  • A/V cables

  • laminated piece of white paper (bounce card, quick model info, various uses)

  • dry erase marker (for aforementioned piece of paper)

  • business cards

  • notebook

  • pens

  • flashlight

  • camera cheat sheet

  • flash cards

  • analgesic

That, my friends, is the entirety of my camera bag.  Now, I do have a secondary bag that houses my light stands and modifiers, but that's all it contains.  Exactly 100% of my photography is made using only this equipment.  Aside from outdated equipment (film cameras, most notably) I have nothing else floating around the studio either.

Maybe I'm wrong, but, for the life of me, I can't really think of any little gadget that could possibly make my photography any better.  Do I have more to learn? Absolutely.  Do I have room to grow in my craft?  Most definitely.  Am I at the pinnacle of my abilities?  I certainly hope not.  Will a whizz-bang doodad give me an appreciable advantage over someone else?  I have a hard time believing it.  Sure, there are things I need to flesh out my equipment profile.  I'd love to get a wider lens, maybe a 12-24mm.  I'd love to get an 85mm f/1.4 for portrait work.  I'd like to get some longer reach, too, either through longer lenses, teleconverters, or extension tubes.  Not a single one of these is going to train my eye to see better photographs.  I made help my ability to shape what I see into an image, but it won't help my vision.  That can only come through investing in myself.

To this point, I'll give you a little background.  I try to attend some educational events every couple months.  Generally, I hit some of the major tours that pass through Texas within driving distance of Waco.  Being situated between Dallas / Fort Worth and Austin really makes that pretty easy.  This past week I headed down to Austin to check out the Westcott Top Pro Tour and watch the seminar given by Jack Hollingsworth (on Twitter) and John Williamson (on ModelMayhem).  Both of these fine gentlemen were amazing to watch and listen to.  John concentrated on quickly setting up lighting and Jack discussed working smoothly through a shoot and, afterward, social media.  But it was the people in the audience around me that gave me the most frustration.  Of the people I talked to and overheard, at least 75% of the conversation was about gear, most of it super-high end stuff.

The thing is, this workshop wasn't about all those goodies.  It was (well, primarily a commercial for Westcott, but that's neither here nor there) all about working with a model and setting up good lighting.  In other words, creating your vision.

Even all of this tech talk would have been fine except most of it was, what I affectionately call it when my 6 year old does it, showing off; and not well, either.  To whit: the fine gentleman next to me peppered Jack with a list of all of his equipment, including a D3s, D7000 (recently purchased), 3 SB-900, and several other speedlights and then proceeded to inquire, "How do I make them work?"  The guy in front of me interrupted everyone within reach just to show off his new iPad.  I was speaking the the woman sitting next to me about her business as a maternity and newborn photographer when he leaned over and asked, "Do you want to see my architectural photos on my iPad?"  Another attendee near me brought every single item he owns to the workshop.  Not only did he have his camera bag, but a fully loaded safari vest with all of his doodads available and advertised each and every item to those around.  What did these guys expect to get out of the seminar?  New fans of their technological possessions?

None of these guys even attempted to engage in the workshop as a resource for education.  One argued with the speakers about exposure and even, when asked how far a model should stand from the backdrop, responded with a definitive, "3 feet!"  Huh?  How about trying different arrangements to see which fits your creative vision?

Maybe my own expectations were skewed, maybe I should have gone in with a specific question and ignored everything else I could have learned.  But then, how would I have expanded my own vision?  I think the worst thing we could possibly do as artists is to ignore opportunities to expand ourselves and focus only on the physical tools we use.  A painter doesn't discuss his brushes, a sculptor doesn't list his chisels on an identity plate, a composer doesn't divulge the brand of staff paper he uses.  Tools are just tools, the magic comes from within your soul.

Remember, we are artists and not technicians.

Scott Everett