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.