Monday, January 20, 2020

The Three Stages of Photography: Stage One

Canoes, Cumberland Mountain State Park, Crossville, Tennessee
Olympus OM2n, 65-200mm f4 Zuiko lens, Fujichrome 100

While some undoubtedly take up photography because they are attracted by the possibilities of the medium, I suspect most of us go into photography bass-ackwards: we fall in love with the equipment first.

No question, of course, that photographers have a deeper involvement with their tools than practitioners of most other arts or crafts. It's probably necessary in the nature of the case. Only in music, among the arts, is the art so inseparably linked to the instrument used to produce it.

I'm sure painters talk shop from time to time about brushes and paints, and writers may sometimes compare notes about their word processors. But nobody, except perhaps computer geeks, talks so endlessly about equipment as photographers. We have a love affair with cameras that just won't quit.

And that includes me. I love cameras. I can easily count more than a hundred of the critters I've owned in my lifetime, and I'm not even a collector. (Well, maybe a little bit.) I like using cameras, handling them, playing with them, even just thinking about them, imagining what I could do if I had a Fuji GFX100 with a hundred megapixels, or even a 100-400mm zoom for my garden-variety X-T1. But c'mon, tell the truth. Wasn't it plain old love of gadgets and tinkering that first got a lot of us hooked on photography? I mean, who could resist those miniature mechanical (or electronic, nowadays) marvels with their enticing whirs and clicks? A real grown-up toy for sure.

Christian woman, Madras, India
Olympus OM2n, 85mm f2 Zuiko lens, Fujichrome 100

In our equipment-happy stage, we search the internet and visit brick-and-mortar  camera stores, if we're lucky enough to have one nearby, to find the best camera for our money. We eagerly learn which lens does what. We search out blogs, online fora, and books to learn how to use our new cameras and master the technical aspects of photography, including learning to choose and use the necessary software. We believe the camera manufacturer implicitly when he says equipment makes the photographer. And fun...!? A little expensive, maybe, but man, what fun! In fact, it's so much fun that some stop right here and never go on to become photographers. We would never admit it, even to ourselves, but sometimes the pictures are only the by-products of the real fun: playing with our gear. There's a name for this phenomenon: it's called GAS -- Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

And there's nothing wrong with that. The people who make and sell cameras will love you and the money you spend keeps the ball rolling for all of us. To be fair, probably most photographers are at least slightly infected with GAS, and playing with photo equipment is good, clean fun.  But it's not photography. Photography is something else.


  1. I did fall in love with the gear first. My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Starmite II that I bought for 25 cents at a garage sale. I was 8. I was fascinated with its works! I bought tons of cameras but didn't start earnestly making photographs with them until I was 40.

  2. I think I pretty much got in at Stage Two, Jim, although that is not to say that I haven't had my share of GAS eruptions. I had a little Brownie box camera, one of the fake TLRs, as I remember, which we used for family snapshots. The shutter was dragging, so in 1968 when a new baby came along I decided we needed a camera that worked. I got a cheap Kodak Instamatic and we took lots of pictures, but there was no particular involvement with cameras or photography until, on a whim, I began buying photo magazines. That was the kicker!

  3. That was me I have tried virtually every type of camera and format and eventually settled on medium format folding rangefinders. Now 98% of my new shots are on these cameras.