Gear is a funny thing. When i first get a new piece of equipment I usually dive into the manual and try out every single function. The immediate effect is usually something that broadens my horizon. I see new possibilities. My creative juices start flowing and I find new ways of doing things that change the type of images i shoot - sometimes in a subtle way, sometimes drastically. It doesn’t matter what type of gear it is: flash, lens, body, software. The excitement brings change.
But inevitably I settle into a groove. It’s a new groove mind you. But still a groove. On the plus side it means I’ve gotten comfortable and can use the new equipment instinctively. But it usually also means I tend to forget about exploration. So other functions that haven’t become part of my everyday workflow are somehow forgotten - or simply dismissed.
I’ve been shooting my D300 for three years now. I shoot RAW. My entire Aperture workflow is built around RAW and I’m used to how adjustments behave on NEF files. I’m used to everything I need to do to get my RAW files to look a specific way, be it colour or black and white. And that’s the operative word: I’m used to it.
This weekend I switched the D300 to RAW+JPEG. I switched the JPEG parameters to monochrome, boosted the preset contrast and lowered the built-in NR. Then I started shooting. At 1600 ISO.
What a kick in the groin. Seeing the images on the LCD the way I intended them to look in the end was not only useful but incredibly liberating. And just like a new piece of gear, it got me excited. It got me moving and thinking.
The crazy thing about this is how stupidly obvious it was. It’s how I used to shoot with my old Olympus P&S, before I was a “pro” and worried about optimal files, highlights, sharpness and shadow details. You get so caught up in the gear that you sometimes forget it’s about pictures not workflow or lens IQ. Whatever works, right?
In Aperture, minimal curve adjustments on the JPEG files got me exactly where I wanted to be in seconds. No muss, no fuss.
I’m not arguing against RAW here. I’m so not. There’s much more to work with in post, even in monochrome. I would never give that away. To me a JPEG is what it is: a processed file, an instant, a Polaroid. RAWs are negatives and there’s no way in hell I’d give that up. But the point is that my habit of working exclusively in RAW had made me forget about the other possibilities my D300 offered. Gear rot through neglect...
We shouldn’t take things for granted or continually lust after more and better. Sometimes we should just look at what we have and make the most of it.
The pic below is from Alex Majoli (link to a great 2005 feature by Rob Galbraith). He’s with Magnum and shoots with P&S cameras. Seriously awe inspiring and a hell of an eye opener.