Experiment

I’m a big believer in photographer David duChemin‘s credo—gear is good, vision is better—the meaning of which, to me, is that better cameras don’t necessarily yield better images. In other words, the camera is a tool to server your vision; not the other way around. For example, choosing to use a full frame DSLR gives you a lot more opportunities to control depth of field for a particular image, but the idea to limit the depth of field and focus the viewer’s eye in a certain way comes from your vision of how you feel and want others to feel about the photograph.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to focus on what my vision is and I gotta tell ya, it’s a slippery devil. Sometimes I think have a pretty good handle on it and manage to make an image or two that I think reflects it. Other times, I can’t really find it and just flail away making images that, while perhaps technically and even compositionally good, feel flat to me. Even when I think I’ve nailed it, if I look at the image a few weeks or months later, I realize that I now have a different idea of how I wanted that image to look.

In his books and in several interviews, David mentions that a photographer’s vision is indeed a slippery thing and that there’s never a day that arrives when you’ll go, “Well, I’ve got my vision down now.” It just doesn’t happen. Either it’s hard to define what you’re trying to say, or your idea of what to say at all has changed. Argh.

He also talks about “stirring the paint” by trying new (or old) technologies and techniques. He recently bought a used Hasselblad and goes out to “wreck some perfectly good film” with it, though I seriously think that film is anything but wrecked.

So, I’m going to try an experiment.

I’ve bought myself a Panasonic GF1 with a 20mm f/1.7 prime lens. For the next 30 days, I am going to limit myself to that camera and lens (gear) and see what I can make of it (vision). Why not just bolt a 50mm f/1.4 on the D700, you ask? I want a camera I can easily bring with me and is less obtrusive than the big Nikon. Why not use an iPhone/pocket cam? Too many limitations.

I am also committing to publishing at least a photo a day on my Flickr feed—kind of like a 365 photo project, but only for a month.

I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. First, I think limiting my gear will force me to push myself to find pictures that I would normally overlook. While I do try to “work” a subject, many times I accomplish this by using multiple lenses, rather than looking for fresh POVs. Secondly, I’m two months away from a photo workshop in Liguria, Italy with David, Jeffrey Chapman and seven other participants. I want to feel more confident about my photographic chops, so I can relax and pay attention to what I want to say photographically about my experience there. I’m hoping it’s a way to undercut the formidable expectations we sometimes set for ourselves upon embarking on that “big trip”.

The camera arrives on Monday, so Tuesday will be the official first day of the experiment, and it will end 30 days later, on March 25. I’m excited about it. Again, I’ll be posting an image a day to my Flickr account, if you’d like to follow along.

Care to join me? Have some advice? Post your Flickr feed, blog URL, or other link to your latest experiment in the comments. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and/or what you’re working on.


20 Responses to “Experiment”

  • sabrina Says:

    Bravo Stuart. This is a brilliant idea. I, for one, am going to check in with you each day and see how you are doing with your experiment. I am excited to see the results and to learn from your experience.

    Oh how I wish I was going to Italy with you, Jeffrey and David!

  • Stuart Sipahigil Says:

    Uh-oh. Now the pressure’s on. So few people read my blog, I thought I wouldn’t actually have to follow through! (I’m kidding, really. I am excited to see where it leads.)

    I’m still hoping for a 2011 Lumen Dei with you, me, Mark Olwick, Sue Ables, and maybe some more of our Twitter friends.

  • Marco Ryan Says:

    Bravo Stuart. Great idea. That makes two of us following you now :-) ) i know what you mean about the weight of expectation and I am in need too of being “match fit” for Italy! I am tempted to follow your example but with a few modifications to suit my packed travel agenda! But great post and Mr D would be proud of your example, I am sure!

  • Jeffrey Chapman Says:

    “photographic chops”? I thought that we were going to Italy to dress up like safari guides from a John Waters film and eat boatloads of focaccia, washing it all down with equally obscene quantities of wine! You mean I have to bring a camera too? :-)

    • Stuart Sipahigil Says:

      Jeffrey, feel free to not bring a camera. :-) That way you can just follow me around and tell me what I’m doing wrong! (And I’m still having a tough time finding that safari hat and scarf.)

  • Brink Says:

    Cool Idea Stuart. I look forward to what you come up with.

  • sabrina Says:

    Wait a minute Marco, are you heading to Italy too? Now I’ll have both of you in my sights, oops I meant on my radar.

    I’m still dreaming about Lumen Dei 2011. Now that’s a trip I’ll need to get prepared for!

    • Stuart Sipahigil Says:

      Unfortunately for me, Sabrina, Marco is in the second week of the workshop, while I’m in the first. Bummer. However, my flight schedule leaves me in Genoa an extra evening, so I hope we’ll still be able to meet.

  • Ray K Says:

    Some of us read your blog but don’t have a lot to say. :) I like your idea of the GF1 and have been really looking them along with the E-P2 over with the idea of it being my ‘carry everywhere’ camera. I am looking forward to the experiment and images.

  • John Batdorff Says:

    I’ve been following your Flickr feed. Good stuff.

  • Chris Ward Says:

    Anything Sabrina RT’s I go check out :-) been thinking of doing something similar. Been taking images with my iPhone but I agree that it feels too limiting.

    I fear that a lumen dei trip will be one of those things from the top of my “life list” that just won’t happen.

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  • Ed Says:

    Great idea, and great work Stew. Loving it. Wish I could be in Liguria, or even Lumen Dei next year but it’s cost prohibitive at the moment. Keep up the good work.

    • Stuart Sipahigil Says:

      Ed, thanks for the kind comments. I understand about the trips; it can get expensive to travel internationally. I have to say, though, I am thrilled to be able to attend a workshop with David and Jeffrey. I’m sure I’ll learn an amazing amount of stuff, and I should get several blog posts of material from it, too!

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