the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

MAKING IT MINE/YOURS

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE EARLIEST PROPONENTS OF THE IDEA OF MAKING CELLPHONE CAMERAS the “go to” devices for everyone were also big fans of the motto, “the best camera is the one you have with you”, a sentiment that, for me, has always had a big honking asterisk connected to it. Yes, I guess having a limited camera is better than having no camera when an opportunity arises, if you believe that a compromised version of your vision is better than having made no attempt at all. Certainly, in an emergency, you can use a butter knife as some kind of screwdriver. However, that begs the question: why don’t you have a screwdriver?

A better version of this maxim might be something like, “the best camera is the one that does the best job for you”, coupled with the corollary “and you should always have it with you”. I’m much more aligned with the idea of going through the process of deciding what camera is perfect for your needs and always, always, having it alongside. How can any other option be as correct?

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Of course, this means examining your own habits, biases, and talents, and matching them to the particular machine that mostly translates those things into good pictures. Sounds ridiculously obvious, and yet you still meet many people who excuse a failed image by saying “I didn’t have my good/real camera with me”, and so maybe the idea of properly pairing yourself with the right gear isn’t that on-the-nose, with everyone, everywhere.

This is really basic stuff, reducible to a simple checklist. Is the camera easy to carry, or is it a burden to lug around? People love their cameras, but not if they think of them as luggage. Are the ergonomics right, that is, are the buttons and functions that you use the most easy to get to? How about set-up time? From the moment you take it off your shoulder to when you frame up your shot, how many arbitrary get-ready steps are in the way before your camera’s ready to rock? Does it have the optical ability to approximate what you see in your mind? Is the camera sufficient unto itself, which is to say, can it take pictures that you like without the purchase or assembly of additional gimcracks and toys? Do you understand all its functions, or do you just use the same settings and features over and over? And, if so, is that because you’re successful doing things that way, or because you are, to some extent, afraid of your camera?

To twist the “best camera is the one you have with you” thinking around, you can’t (often) take your best picture with “whatever’s at hand”. Or, more precisely, you can’t make pictures you love with a camera you hate. If you are not on intimate terms with your gear, then get a no-fault divorce from it and marry something that (apologies to Jerry McGuire) “completes” you. You gotta make them little boxes yours. Really yours. “Best available” will always be second best.

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