No Matter the Brand, Your Camera Is a Door into People’s Lives

Photographers often ask me which camera or lens I think is best. “Would past masters have used Photoshop and digital cameras?” they wonder. “Should ‘real’ photographers choose Leica, Canon or Nikon?”

I’ve learned in my career that those aren’t the right questions to ask. It’s not about the brand of camera, or the method of making a print. It’s about the journey — the many doors into people’s lives that photography can open for you.

Defining My Job

Over the years, I have worked with many different cameras from all the main manufacturers. I have worked in wet trays developing both color and black-and-white film and prints. I have planted myself in front of computer screens editing digital images. All of that is well and good — but none of it defines my job.

What defines my job are the people I meet, and the places my camera has taken me.

I have had the opportunity to peer into the lives of people ranging from rich to poor, famous to anonymous, powerful to impotent. My interactions with all of them — talking and sharing on assignment — are what have made my career a rewarding experience.

Even after all these years, I still get butterflies and a feeling of excitement before every shoot. This feeling comes from wondering where the day will lead — what new discoveries I’ll find. In what other career can you go from covering Paul McCartney one day to the manufacturing process of a car’s steering strut the next?

Enjoying the Unexpected

Photography opens magical, and unexpected, doors if you are open to walking through them. I’ve learned that going into a shoot with preconceptions is a sure way to miss great images.

Yes, you should think through the shoot and discuss what’s needed with the assigning editor or art director. However, that should never limit your vision. I always talk with my subjects and try to understand where they’re coming from. I never view them as human props — a means to a photographic end — but as people to befriend and portray in a realistic light.

By taking this approach, I’ve found that assignments that might have seemed boring at the outset turned into some of my most engaging and memorable.

Photography has sent me on hikes through the Linville Gorge, walking around the top of the Georgia Dome before the roof was installed, shooting from the sidelines of the World Series and Super Bowl. It also has sent me to small towns across the South, into people’s homes and small local businesses.

Never once while on these adventures did I stop and think, “I wish I had a Leica (or Nikon or Canon) camera.”

So stop worrying about which brand is best — and start using your camera to find out what life is like on the other side of the shutter.

8 Responses to “No Matter the Brand, Your Camera Is a Door into People’s Lives”

  1. Awesome, Awesome, AWESOME post!! It could not be more right on!

    Love it!

  2. When my Nikon D300 is making super load shutter noises I sometimes wish I had a Leica.

    It seems you have to choose sides though.

    One and a half years ago when I was in the market for my first DSLR, having only used Olympus bridge cameras before, I had totally no bias either way toward Nikon or Canon. I knew I wanted to go with either one of them because the ecosystem for each was just too large to ignore.

    I lived in Tokyo at the time so I could literally walk 15 minutes to three huge camera stores (Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, Map Camera and others too). I put hands on with all the Nikon and Canon models in my budget, and made my decision on which body felt best in my hands mostly and had the minimum features I wanted at that time.

  3. Still working on both sides here, digital AND film. I miss - as you described it, Jason - the Leica; for being quiet ... ;). So far for that. But I never spent too much thoughts on equipment: Creativity is an attitude, not a matter of gear. And most of the work I do while shooting people is discovering the person's soul and character, while working and talking with them.

    Lots of photographers spend too much time on discussions about gear, brands and technics instead of style, creativity and photography itself. One of my teachers in portrait photography used to say: "Folks, the one who KNOWS photography puts a hole in a campbell soup can, adds a film - and is still able to take great photographs .....!"

    Thank you, Harrison - this is a great post. I'm looking forward to read more of this really inspiring stuff 😉

    Best regards Heike

  4. What is that camera in your profile picture? (KIDDING)

  5. Jason you say: "When my Nikon D300 is making super load shutter noises I sometimes wish I had a Leica."

    I know exactly what you mean. There are times these days when shooting in quiet locations I wish I had my Leica, however I have yet to get a digital Leica so I am using the relatively loud DSLR. In the editing before my post was published one of my sentences was changed and it really changed the meaning. Now it reads:

    "Never once while on these adventures did I stop and think, “I wish I had a Leica (or Nikon or Canon) camera.”"

    I originally wrote it to read: "I am here because I have a Leica, Nikon, or Canon camera”

    I feel that the changing the word "because" to "I wish" changes the entire meaning of what I wrote there.

  6. Love this post. It is so true.

  7. Harrison, that's my fault. My apologies.

  8. You've a beautiful and honest message. But the brutal and ugly truth is that it does take a talent, not everyone posses, to put down and pick up different brands of equipment and not have it stunt your production ability. I think it's this difficulty that leads t brand loyalty more so than just brand loyalty for it's own or popularity's sake.

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