In Photography, It’s the Archer, Not the Arrow


I’m a big fan of technology, and it’s easy to get swept up in the shiny new toys that the big camera companies roll out every year. I love the fact that I can now record video as well as stills from the same camera bodies, for example, and that the low light sensitivity of those bodies can produce amazing results without the digital noise we once had to work around.

But a few weeks ago, I read a quote that I thought applied well to photography: “It’s the archer, not the arrow.” I took that quote to heart, and decided to take a step back from my arrows and focus on the archery itself.

Shooting with a Holga

Here’s what I did: I got a cheap, plastic Holga camera and two rolls of film and conducted a fashion shoot on the rooftop of my studio.

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From the moment I started photographing my model with 120 film, I felt a sense of excitement, and a bit of pressure. With each roll of film, I only had 12 shots, 12 chances to make it work, 12 frames to fill — without the ability to see through the lens.

That’s a lot different from an 8 or 16 gig compact flash card that might hold 800 raw files, and the ability to review every shot after you’ve taken it.

Feeling Giddy

I dropped off the film and had to wait overnight before I could get my negatives and proofs from the shoot; I had forgotten that sense of anticipation. As soon as my film was ready, I went back to the lab to pick everything up. I felt a little giddy waiting to see what was captured on the emulsion. In the end, I thought we created some unique-looking photos.

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Film was and still is an amazing tool, but the point is that a photographer is more than the sum of his tools.

Try something for me: think about something you have been wanting or meaning to shoot. Now, go and do it — not with your go-to camera and lenses, but with an old 35mm body or a pinhole camera, something as different as you can find from what you normally use.

I guarantee this exercise will make you rethink the way you approach a shoot. At the very least, it will force you to slow down and think more about what you’re doing, versus shooting and chimping to see the results.


9 Responses to “In Photography, It’s the Archer, Not the Arrow”

  1. Hi Aaron,
    We went out on a similar mission a couple of months ago (http://photo.niphylosoft.com/?p=523) I totally agree - it's something everyone used to the luxury of their digital camera should experience.
    The rooftop shots are amazing. Congrats!

  2. I LOVE photography... love being behind the camera, and adore being blessed to veiw other peoples work. Although, with technology as what it has become. I often find myself reveiwing a piece and the first question that comes to mind, was camera set on auto, and then editing... how much time did they have to edit it, what program did they use... For me 35mm SLR, FILM developed prints are truely works of art! :) kel

  3. So in essence, what you're saying is, occasionally its good to change arrows, to see if they make you a better archer? ;)

  4. Thank you for this post. Great reminder to focus on the art not the brush.

  5. Well put. It's easy to get caught up in the technology hype and forget about developing the art. Especially when you love toys!

  6. Very nicely done. I got an F100 recently for this exact reason, although I still haven't taken it out for a good shoot just yet. But I totally agree that you should really think about the shots you're getting before you click the shutter. Film forces you to do just that.

  7. And do any of you make these into silver gelatin prints yourself? process the film, etc? At what point do you turn your craft over to someone else?

    While it is nice to see that the passion and excitement is there, it is a the whole process camera to shutter release to processing to print that needs to be rediscovered. Hands on and personal.

  8. While I certainly agree that "it is the archer, not the arrow", a good archer will never-the-less seek equipment that can best result in a good shot. A crooked arrow will result in a missed shot. And I am sorry... the Holga is a HORRIBLE camera... a bent arrow, as it were. Sure you got something that was 'different'.... but not all would agree that you got saleable or interesting shots.

  9. Horrible?..... that's a bit harsh. the photographer doesn't have any technology to hide behind and the camera itself takes a hit of mastering for best results.

    But isn't that true of most kit, to start with?

    Horrible, no. Idiosyncratic, yes!

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