Today, the rapid acceptance of digital imaging has created an enormous and highly profitable market for all manner of photographic tools.
New and exciting camera technology is debuted almost monthly and any camera body more than six months old has been superseded by something faster, sexier and probably more expensive. As a matter of fact, now that the camera has actually become a handheld computer dedicated to image capture, it gains a broad consumer appeal as a technological gadget and boy does the commerce machine know how to foster technolust. Indeed, a whole industry has blossomed around the fascination with “gear”. In fact, even with the advent of the print media downturn, I subscribe to four photographic magazines, three of which are monthly publications focused 50% on equipment, 15% on techniques and 35% on advertising. And there are at least 26 more on the international scene the majority of which follow a similar format.
The crux of the matter is that the marriage of technology and photography has created several classes of new photographers. For some the cognitive content of the photographic process is mastery of the technical aspects of the digital photographers tools; complete understanding of the science of F-stops, solving the formulaic mysteries of sensors and pixels, comprehensive understanding of the nuances and tools of Photoshop and encyclopedic knowledge of all current cameras and their attributes. They are scientists behind a lens; however not to be lightly dismissed, for such understanding is an accomplishment in itself just not necessarily an end onto itself.
For some, it is simply a sophisticated and rather expensive game of “one-upmanship”, pointing a seven thousand dollar body and equally expensive lens, set on Auto (“Dear camera. Please make all the decisions for me.”) at something perceived as a “good subject” and letting the “great camera” produce a work of art. Somehow I tend to envision a smug driver behind the wheel of an automatic transmission Ferrari.
However, there are still old and upcoming photographers whose primary interest is the image, the light and the possibility of telling a story within the fixed confines of the two dimensional frame. For those persons and those who may be on the way to becoming one, a successful image depends on the confluence of these three critical elements in space and time. And so no matter the number of megapixels, aspheric lens elements, autofocus sensors or other hardware statistics; none of the above can engineer the “decisive moment”. Instead, the shooter must prepare oneself to the best of their ability and then… Wait! It is at such moments that a photographer needs the one thing that can’t be purchased online or at the camera store. That one element is patience.
Sometimes a subject requires waiting for a potential change in the weather, change of the light; perhaps a person strolling by or the circling raptor to get just the right wing position. How about the need to return several times until a certain blossom blooms just right, or a storm wind blow-down causes unexpected numbers migrating birds to stop and take a rest. And don’t think that studio photographers are impervious to the need for patience. With all their preparation they too still must wait for the twinkle of the eye or the turn of expression that captures the true nature of their subject.
Amongst nature photographers there is a joke that goes…”I’m afraid I’m not a very patient photographer. I wait all day and if nothing happens then I go home.” Alas, it’s one of those jokes whose foundation is firmly rooted in actuality. The key to many a great photograph is not equipment but patience.