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I lead a photography Experience, through Airbnb, every week. On these little three-hour tours, I take 5 people around Los Angeles, to some very cool locations, and go over technique and composition with them as the sun goes down. It can get pretty technical after dark as we get into long exposure shots, but what people seem to take away from it is much more than settings, which they can learn in about 30 minutes.
One of the things I didn’t anticipate in getting into this kind of thing is how quickly I’d have to start to understand just about every kind of camera. I’m teaching people with cameras of every make and model as well as with technology dating back sometimes over 5 years. In the process of doing this, I really get to see how people interact with their equipment and, more than ever, I’m realizing that what people are doing in my Experience, beyond gaining some technical know-how, is deepening their relationship with their camera.
This is a different kind of learning than the one you think about when you read articles about cameras, talk to someone at a camera store, or hang out in online forums. Doing those things, you’d think that a camera is simply the sum of its parts. That there’s a good, better and best out there and so long as you pick the right set of things for the right assignment and get your settings right, your camera equipment is no different than the toolbox a car mechanic rolls out to the car.
But this Experience has proven to me that there is a bond between cameraperson and camera that goes beyond the parts. It’s as emotional as it is physical. And as they learn more about what it can do, that relationship gets deeper. By the end of the night, what I’ve really done is connect them more closely to their creativity. And the camera is the bridge to that.
And I have some ideas on why this is.
The following pictures are of people with their cameras in my Experience. The thoughts are what I’ve observed as they shoot.
Your Camera Is Your Super Power
Beyond who the manufacturer is, a camera offers you a capability that you don’t have without it. You can see farther, wider, or with a shallower depth of field with your camera. You can see in black and white, in more vibrant color, with a certain cropping that frames the world in specific, more purposeful ways.
What’s more, a camera can pause the world in ways you can’t. You may remember key things out of a scene, a camera will capture far more. Details you weren’t even aware of. Scenes to revisit. Memories that would be lost without it. A heightened view of a scene that more accurately captures how you felt when you were there.
So, a camera is not just a camera, it is your super power. Holding it and having it extends and enhances your perception of the world. And that is far more than the things you read about in a manual.
It Is Your Form Of Expression
As a visual artist, it is likely that your greatest form of expression is not verbal. In fact, it’s a good bet that you’ve felt things internally that only your art can truly convey — this is usually why we become visual artists. If you’ve chosen the camera to do this bidding, then you already know that what you want to express can only happen through the operation of this well-crafted instrument you hold in your hands, or around your neck.
This means that when the camera is left at home while you go out, you’re without the core tool of your expression. Even the act of shooting is an expression of who you are. If you feel naked without your camera, as I do, and people don’t quite seem to understand why that is — it might be because they have their own ways of expressing themselves that don’t necessitate a camera. You are not so lucky. But you have ingeniously learned to fill that void with a camera. So, this intimate comfort you feel with your camera is of the heart as much as the mind — and it’s as real as you believe it is.
Your Camera Is Special
The most common way we get talked out of believing the love affair we are drawn to have with our cameras is that it’s a commodity. No matter how much you like your camera, or paid for it, someone is going to easily point out that their camera can do essentially the same thing.
The last time I went to go buy a guitar, almost 15 years ago, I played every guitar in the store until I found one that felt right in my hands and played a sound that felt right to my ear. This didn’t mean the ones I didn’t choose didn’t play well, or couldn’t convey a song beautifully — it meant I connected with one over the others. And that creates a certain bond between me and that one instrument. A choice in camera goes through similar steps, and that singular connection you establish with your particular camera only grows over time, whether that’s the one on your mobile device or a Hasselblad. Your camera is special because of your choice, your creative preferences and your investment.
Also, with time, muscle memory develops and your familiarity with the camera gets stronger. It wears in accordance with your experiences with it. You learn what you can and can’t trust it to do. And eventually, you rely on it so heavily that there are certain parts of your art that you leave up entirely to the camera and lenses, knowing that, ultimately, these things have a bit of an opinion, too. None of these things are objective attributes that transfer equally to another camera. Your camera quickly becomes unique and particular to you, despite its factory parts.
So yes, ultimately, a camera is only a bridge between your vision and your subject. And yes, all bridges perform essentially the same task. But let us not discount the importance of bridges. If you believe, as I do, that creativity is the bringing together of things that previously didn’t live together, then you already know the beauty and importance of your bridge.
Your camera is special because it is the instrument you use. If you’re an artist, you already feel this. Don’t let an engineering mindset reduce your feelings for your instrument into simply the sum of its parts.