All The Gear and No Idea.

Its a common problem.  A newbie rocks up with many thousands of dollars of shiny new kit and has not a clue what to do with it.

You can find examples of this everywhere and in sports and hobbies of all kinds.  Its an issue where people have lots of disposable income and somebody tells them (or maybe possibly hints at a kind of a compliment) they have an ounce of talent.

All of a sudden, they have dreams of being the next Lance Armstrong (cycling), Annie Leibovitz (photography) or Valentino Rossi (motorcycling) or Eric Clapton (guitar) and go out and spend as much as they possibly can on the very best equipment.

A flash, full carbon, dura-ace equipped bike, a top flight digital SLR and a brace of professional lenses and flash guns, a race replica motorbike or a Fender Stratocaster and Marshall amp and cab combo.

Whilst all the time have absolutely NO idea of how to use any of it.

I’m going to focus on cameras as it’s the thing closest to my heart (well, cycling is too, but I’ll leave that one alone)

I’ve seen this so many times.  Someone takes a nice shot with a point and shoot camera, takes this as a sign of massive untapped talent, so spends thousands on a super DSLR, with which they promptly take hundreds of super high quality but utterly shite photographs, increasingly blaming the failures on the camera, the light, the subject, etc.  Anything but themselves.

So, I’ll enlighten everyone.

Bar a few circumstances where professionals or serious amateurs will make use certain features, the camera makes almost NO DIFFERENCE to the result.

Yes, I know – you’re thinking this has to be wrong.  Well, it’s really not.

An image needs to speak to an audience, to capture imagination, to stir the soul or heart, to provoke a reaction, to inspire and cause the viewer to stop and admire.

So, how many of those things has anything to do with equipment?

Clue:  Pretty much none of them – its all to do with aesthetics.  Which you can capture with anything, and in many ways, advanced technology actually works against this.

Yes, sure, sometimes you need a specific camera to do something – a long lens for wildlife or professional sport, an underwater housing for the best marine photography or a very low noise DSLR for low light portraits or weddings, but 99% of the time, the camera has nothing to do with it.

How many of the great shots that you have seen are due to the best quality smallest pixel, lowest noise and highest resolution?

Clue #2:  None.

You know how I know this?  I bought a Nikon D50 when I couldn’t get the right shots with my antiquated point and shoot.  No additional lenses, I just spent time working out how it worked and made horrific mistakes, got way ahead of myself, got a reality check and kept on learning.  Then I bought a D300 just after they were released.  And it did pretty much nothing to improve my shots until I went back to basics and worked out what I wanted the camera to do for me.

I went through that trough of disappointment with digital and bought a Holga and a Trip 35 and even a Hasselblad 500C/M to teach myself how to read light, how to compose and how to take a good shot.

And I’m still learning.

My favourite shot?  I’ve not taken it yet 😉

So go out, take photos with whatever camera you have to hand – the iPhone is a prime example of this – shoot, look for image you can see in your mind, create, experiment, learn to read the light, go back to basics, try film, polaroid.  Do all of these things, even buy a second hand vintage camera from ebay to experiment.   Look on Flickr for photos you love and work out what it is about that shot that moves you and try to replicate it.

Point and shoot cameras usually have enough manual settings to do most things.  You know that Av and Tv mode you keep on looking at but never using?  Ever used that macro mode on the point and shoot?  Learn what they do and when to use them before moving on.  Learn when to use a certain setting to control the end result.

But whatever you do, don’t go straight out and buy $5000 cameras and lenses to do any of that for you.  I guarantee it’ll make no difference whatsoever if you don’t know what the camera actually does.

God Bless America

Lets get this absolutely clear. I love America. Many wonderful and amazing things come from there.

The world invents something, often Japan, the plucky Brits, the odd Frenchman – and America runs with it and turns it into something amazing.

Take the modern internet (but h/t to top Brit Tim Berners-Lee for actually inventing it) for example – there’s no doubt that the US is the centre of the internet these days – I have no idea where this page is actually physically hosted, but I’ll bet it’s in the good ole USA.

This trusty and very desirable MacBook Pro that I am typing on – it’s a computer, invented in other places, manufactured in China or Japan or Taiwan or someplace, but designed (by an Englishman as it happens) and lovingly created in, yup, you guessed it, America. You don’t see the Brits or the Spanish or the Australians doing stuff like this. I don’t know why really.

Anyway, on to my point, and this is where many of my American friends will have to take a breath and realise I am not having a go at them, not at all. I love you guys (to coin a phrase). So, the story:

My wife (tee hee, still makes me giggle) is writing a book – it’s an Australian book, Aussie characters who say Aussie things. She went on a forum for critique, and got slammed for stuff that really highlights something deeper.

She got big red underlining and very rude comments for spelling. Words like neighbour, colour, realised, specialised, mum (I’ll come back to this one) and recognised.

Now, lets just take a minute here – these words are actually spelt like this everywhere outside of America – its quite well known. The dropped ‘u’ and ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ are American specific spellings. Now, when we get books and magazines from the US over here, we don’t melt in a puddle of rage at the misspelling, so why should everyone else in the world have to pander to them?

She also got slated in her book for things like when kids leave school, when they get a driving licence, car types and names, the use of the word ‘Ma’ when describing your mother (it ‘has’ to be Mom, apparently, ‘Ma’ is too redneck). Well, I’ve got news for you, America – people from Yorkshire who have emigrated to Australia often call their mothers ‘Ma’ – more to the point – no one outside of the US calls their mothers ‘mom’, but somehow in books and films that get exported around the world from America, we can get past this fact as we know that’s just the way it is in America, things are different, its ok.

So – why do we have to change stuff that’s not American? Why does Hugh Laurie, an English actor famous for his voice, have to play Dr House with an American accent when it’s not relevant to the story?

Listen up America – there’s a whole wide world out there that does things differently, spells stuff the differently (some may even say the correct and original way, but you’re big enough and ugly enough to have your own way if you want) and speaks differently. This is a good thing and we’ll be buggered if we’re going to change stuff to suit you.

Celebrate the differences, understand there are differences for good reasons and don’t try to make everything uniform American colour. I want to see actors from Australia (Sam Worthington in Avatar for example) speak with an Aussie accent in films – why should he have to speak with an American accent – hell, other people in the film speak with different accents – I don’t get it.

So, America, I love you, but I will never spell colour as color or attempt to disguise my (very) English accent. It’s what makes me me.