It's Not The Camera - It's Not Aperture

by Micah Walter

I am currently on vacation. On Wednesday, I took a ferry from my home in Dominica to Guadeloupe, a French island just to our north. The trip was really nice. We left around 8 pm and it took about two hours. Guadeloupe is a busy place, and much more built up and modernized than Dominica. It feels like being in France, minus the Louvre and add some palm trees.

Before leaving, I contemplated what type of photography equipment to bring. Normally, I have a LowePro Stealth backpack that I fill up with cameras and lenses and my laptop. It's the perfect bag for a trip like this because I can stuff a good deal of equipment and accessories in the bag and still have easy access to things like passports, and other travel items.

However, for this trip I decided to do something different. Instead of packing up my entire arsenal, I decided to try an approach that I really found useful back in college. I brought with me one camera, and one lens, nothing more. I chose this option not simply because it would allow me to travel light, but really, because I have found it to be a great exercise in creativity.

I used to do this back in college all the time. Though, back then it was even more restrictive. I would take my Nikon F3 and a 24mm lens, two or three rolls of film, and go out shooting for the day. Every time I did this I came back with really great photographs. It causes you to really slow down and think about what you are doing. It forces you to compose, and move around physically, looking for better angles. It challenges your creativity, and the next thing you know, everything is flowing.

For this trip, I decided to bring my Canon 20D and my 10-22mm EF-S f/3.4-4.5 lens. I really love this lens even though it is a little slower than my 17-35 f/2.8. It is pretty compact, very sharp and the wide angle (16-35mm equivalent) is really nice. In addition to the camera and lens, I brought a card reader and my laptop.

Sometimes I feel like digital photography can limit our creative juices. There is just so much immediacy. It allows you to be more liberal with your shooting, and sometimes can cause you to become a little lazy. There is always more hard drive space, and you don't have to pay for processing. You don't have to wait either. As soon as you shoot you can see your image.

So, I am going to limit myself digitally. As I shoot, I plan to refrain from reviewing my shots on the LCD. I plan to download my cards into Aperture when they fill up, but I am not going to look at the shots. Maybe I will set up Aperture in List Mode so I can't see the thumbnails. I am planning to wait until I return to Dominica to look at my images. Maybe I am crazy, but I think it will help. I am really interested in revitalizing some of my creativity. I have tried all types of things in the past, but this time I am going back to my roots. One camera, one lens, one 4 gig card. I may even tape down the zoom ring and fix it at 21mm.

Since I began using Aperture, I have really enjoyed being able to develop my images on the fly, quickly and easily, without any hesitation or workflow constraints. I can make as many versions as I want to, and I can try things out and decide that I don't like them later. It's really an amazing way to work that I believe has truly helped my creativity in some ways. But, this time, I am going to use Aperture as a storage facility. Aperture will keep my photos safe, secure, and organized until I return home. At that point I will open my Aperture library, turn on the normal viewer mode and begin my editing process.

I am hoping that my experience will be similar to picking up my three rolls of Velvia at my college lab. It was such a reward to open those film bags and lay the rolls out on the light table. They just jumped off the table, rich with color and ready to be looked at. I miss that experience, and I miss that type of creativity. So, stay tuned next week when I post my results of this little experiment in creativity. It should be interesting!


2007-08-24 08:48:44
Great thought about limiting yourself so the tools are not the focus. I tend to do the same thing frequently. I will restrict myself to a single lens that has not been used much. It stimulates creativity and also helps me get in tune with that lens. I carry enough CF cards to do the entire shoot if possible and only bring a laptop when I am away for an extended period. I do review the images on the LCD but mostly to make sure the exposure is as desired and to occasionally monitor focus and DOF.
Dave Camp
2007-08-24 09:18:35
If you have a place locally that rents lenses, another fun thing to do is rent a lens you've not used before and just shoot with it for a weekend. For example, my everyday lens is a Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS. I rented a EF 17-40 f/4 L ($20 for a weekend) and took only that lens to the beach for a day, forcing myself into the wide/standard range. Not only was it fun to see things in a new perspective, I got some great pictures too.

The other thing that sometimes helps me is to not review my pictures too soon after taking them. I find the reviewing process goes better if I let the images sit for a day or two. Maybe it has something to do with mentally disconnecting the reviewing process from the shooting process? I don't know.

John Houghton
2007-08-24 09:48:51
OK I am going to come from the other side (devil's advocate) and say i think this is a bunch of whooie. To a certain degree I do this anyway when I shoot, as I can only afford the 24-105L right now so that is the only lens I carry with me. However, it has a broad enough range that it is more than a single range lens. I want to be as creative as I can in the camera so I constantly frame with the zoom.
I have never used the LCD to view images for worthiness, just too small, but I always look at the histogram for each image. So maybe I am with you here.
I can't wait to see what I have shot so I am importing into Aperture as soon as I can. I want to follow the train of creativity of the shoot to either reinforce my thoughts or critique myself on a preliminary level. I usually reject the obvious, out of focus etc, and keep the rest.
There are many levels to processing. Immediate to stay with the feeling, thought, view of the shoot and later on when images have had a chance to settle. Some I get excited about at the shoot and during immediate processing and others I need to work on to understand where the images are really going. These thinker images I still reflect about from the start though, I can't not look at them.
Don't forget, with Aperture you can make a new version from the master and store them in a new album and come back to them a year later and see what you can visualize from a fresh point of view. Even those jump out images that were worked on right away can be reviewed at a later time for a different perspective.

I was born 30 years too soon as in retrospect I hated film and all of its time constraints. Now that I am solidly in digital, I would never go back to any way shape or form that resembles film. Film and all of its headaches just stifles creativity.
Ok off the soap box now.

Blair Cook
2007-08-24 09:56:38
I think this is a wonderful idea. I am going out of town for the weekend and I think I will try the same thing. Turn off preview and just shoot some pictures this weekend, and see where I am Sunday night :)
Blair Cook
2007-08-24 09:58:32
I think I might also might try to do this with an uncomfortable lens. The 17-50 2.8 would be the obvious choice, I think I am going to try this with an 80-200. Push the comfort zone and make me think about how I interpret scenes and capture the image.
2007-08-24 10:07:33
My highschool photography teacher (1975) explicitly counseled us all to beware the pitfalls of equiptment obsession that beset many photographers. He was also the tennis coach and likened over equipped photographers to tennis partners who were always questioning the suitability of their rackets after missed shots. He counseled us to work on seeing the world and translating what we felt about a subject onto film by understanding the equiptment we had well. So grateful to have had that advice early on. Equiptment obsession is a kind of hell in my opinion..get the least good stuff you need and get out there.
2007-08-24 10:27:51
I took a day trip with a similar setup and found myself frustrated being limited to a wide angle lens. Looking forward to hearing your experiences, especially whether you'd do it again or opt for a longer lens.
sean ross
2007-08-24 14:47:31
Thats funny, I have been using a 50mm on my 20d for the last few weeks; limiting myself to its somewhat telephoto (85mm equivalent or so) and finding it quite refreshing. I also like that instead of zooming I am actually moving in and out physically to change the frame. Also, I haven't been using the autofocus nearly as much, gauging my shots via the distance first, and then checking if they are in focus. Although all of this was a bit awkward for the first couple of days, I find that I am getting very comfortable with the lens/technique combo; and that I am seeing things differently; and my pictures feel different too.
Mihalis Tsoukalos
2007-08-30 01:25:14
I did something similar: I took my Canon 30D, my 28-135 IS USM and 5GB of CF memory with me and I am pretty happy with the results. I did not have a laptop with me.