Being a photographer for roughly 20 years, I have shot Nikon almost exclusively. Not because I feel that they are superior to their competition, but because they have always made excellent gear and that’s what I chose at the very beginning of my journey.
I never got into photography to collect equipment. In fact, looking back, I can tell you I have made more regretful purchases on gear than finding true keepers for my kit. Lenses that collected more dust than light. It happens, even with someone like myself who tries to spend his money wisely.
You never really know how a camera or lens will shoot until you actually get it in your hands and knock out a few thousand clicks under extreme circumstances. Shooting in low-light or fast action can stress the design of your equipment. Specifications alone cannot tell the story of your gear.
There is a relationship that forms between you and your gear over time. The hope is that the two of you can learn to understand each other on a level that you no longer have to think about what each other are capable of. You hope to get to a point where you just “do.” This allows you to focus on your work and the relationship between you and your subject.
I for one fell into the trap most of us do early in my time shooting. If I had this lens I could do X. If I upgraded my body I could do Y. Truthfully, at the end of the day I was just lying to myself. Every camera you pick up today is technologically more advanced than anything Ansel Adams ever used. Yes, he had the best of glass for his time. But by todays moderns standards, he was shooting an antique. To become a master of anything, only relentless passion and experience can get you there. You learn through doing.
A few years ago Rolling Stone published an article in which Willie Nelson told the story of his legendary guitar “Trigger.” If you have ever seen Willie perform, you probably have a pretty good idea which guitar I am writing about. It has a massive hole in the side where the pick guard either once was, or should have been. The body being held together with a strap. This Martin N-20 acoustic classic is almost as recognizable as Willie himself. It has become such a legend that people will arrive well before the show begins to take pictures of it before it ever hits Willie’s hands.
Willie has always been known as a phenomenal song writer. He has made a legendary career out of telling the stories of others, so it’s only fitting that someone told his story. The story of a man and his guitar of almost 50 years. A guitar he ran into a burning house to save back in 1969. A guitar he asked his daughter to hide from the IRS when they were seizing his assets. Through all the ups and downs of his life and all the amazing songs he has written, Trigger has remained by his side.
So how does this relate to photography and what could Willie Nelson teach us? It’s simple. We need to love what we have so we can love what we do. We need to focus on learning the art and less time focusing on the gear. Learning our gear inside and out is more important than upgrading it. As I look down at my camera body released back in 2012 and see the grips starting to peel away and all the small dings littering the corners. I am not sad at all. I am happy to think about all the great times we have shared along the way and how many more clicks we have in us.
Willie taught me to be a collector of light, life, time and art. Not camera gear.