Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like. – David Alan Harvey
A few months ago, after shooting almost 50,000 photos on my T2i, I decided it was time to upgrade. Reticent at first, I eventually caved when a friend of mine (who taught me most of what I know about photography), sent me a text saying my “night shots could really use a full frame sensor.”
That was the final straw. I will forever be a nighttime photographer, and my Rebel T2i was like the little red caboose that couldn’t quite get up the hill.
I put my cherished and reliable friend up for sale on Facebook and with seconds of clicking “post,” it was gone.
I never anticipated feeling so many emotions packing up that little guy and shipping it away. It’s a strange feeling, really. It’s just an object – and one that I was going to upgrade. But folding the strap into its original box, manuals still in tact, I could see all the miles I traveled with my Canon in tow, from Los Angeles to the Riviera Maya to Munich, all the emotions I had felt, and all songs I’d heard on my iPod during our long nights on the town: Running Up That Hill, Fiction, Holocene, Baby Says, Cult Logic, Vanished… My camera had become my best friend.
A person’s relationship with their camera, regardless of their skill level, is one of the most intimate relationships one can have. The things you experience together are forever logged in your memory. Perhaps it’s the act of creating something tangible out of what you experience that engrains it into your memory – or simply the level of intimacy required to capture a moment that communicates how you feel. Regardless of how it happens, it’s a relationship that requires technical mastery and emotional candor.
After just a few short years, I had developed an intoxicating dependency on my Canon. It was there when I was angry, when I was hurt, happy, bored, and quixotic. I explored the deepest layers of my being with that DSLR. And now nothing looks the same. I’ve combed every single street in downtown Manhattan multiple times taking pictures, and gotten frost bite on my gloveless fingers more times then I can count on them. And now looking at those streets, I can feel every raw emotion I worked through, spilled out on the pavement like a thick coat of paint.
There’s a famous quote by Dorothea Lange that says “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” I can’t think of a statement with more truth than that. Having one has heightened all of my senses in a way I never could have imagined.
It took me a while to let go of my old friend, so I didn’t replace it right away. My boss lent me his Leica during a photo shoot last month and I told myself I had to master that before I committed to something new. The Leica and I get along great. It’s like a rendezvous with a fabulous French boyfriend.
I learned how to use the rangefinder by watching a YouTube video. Had someone at work not mentioned his amusement with the focusing process, I probably would have kept on trying relentlessly to focus using the ring, without a visual way to check it until I snapped the picture. (For those of you who are not photographers, a rangefinder is an entirely different way to focus, involving lining up two boxes in one window (the rangefinder) and then composing your image in another (the viewfinder). It’s a delightfully tricky and amusing way to take photos and will be hard to give up.
Last weekend, after I felt like I sufficiently mastered the Leica, I went out and bought a Canon 6D. Upgrading to a full frame meant a few of my lenses would need to be replaced, so I did that, too. It’s been a big year. I deserve it.
Now I’m off to Austin for SXSW, but all I can think about is how I can’t wait to rack up some miles on my New and Improved BFF. And see how these streets will transform once again.