Notes From ‘A Lesser Photographer’

For someone like myself who’s constantly looking at the latest and greatest gear, CJ Chilver’s ‘A Lesser Photographer’ is a refuge, of sorts.

This book, a short read which includes essays adapted from his blog, is a simply meditation on what truly makes photos (and photography) great. He starts with a story where he realized his obsession with gear was actually hurting his art:

Four photographers, in the most beautiful of settings, had chosen to discuss gear instead of taking a single photo. Our love of gear had superseded our love of the image.
 I slowly backed away from the conversation and began shooting what turned out to be some of my favorite images of the past decade.
 The questions had been building for years. Just how much did equipment matter, and why? What if I threw it all away and restarted with the minimum amount of equipment? Would my creativity be enough to capture the images I wanted?
 I sold my 4x5 view camera, my medium format cameras, and my DSLR. I bought an inexpensive compact camera and became determined to put my theories to the test.

So what makes a good photo? Well, that’s simple:

What defines a perfect photo is entirely up to you. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be an art. It would be just another commodity, subject to a checklist written long ago.
 There is no checklist. Be wary of anyone trying to sell you access to it.

A good deal of the material inside of this book deals with the truth that photography magazines, tutorials, and classes are in many ways meaningless. One of the sections starts with a great quote from Marco Arment, “Carpenters who work every day with their craft don’t get magazines about hammers.” Chilvers says that it isn’t the camera that matters, it’s you:

Cameras will always improve. Will you? Accept that the advance of technology will not necessarily make you a better photographer, and 99% of the content in photography blogs becomes irrelevant.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with investing in gear. It’s finding what works for you that matters:

Gear is not the enemy. Surrendering creativity for automation is the enemy. Looking for features instead of benefits is the enemy. Not doing the work is the enemy.
 Every photographer has to find that boundary between the pain and the fun to be at their most prolific. When’s the last time you went looking for yours?

I was impressed with the power behind each small essay tucked away in this book. One of the later statements will stick with me for a long, long while:

On your deathbed, will you regret not having made a few extra bucks on your photography? It’s more likely you will regret not creating more art.

So very true.

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