Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Double negatives and self improvement...

In life it seems that many people obsess about the "best" whether it's the schools their kids attend, the house in which they live and of course the computer and photographic equipment they purchase. It's an interesting thing to look at opinions and ratings, but like money it is not really the best criteria on which to make a decision. It certainly feels good to have something apparently objective to backup our choices in life and that hint of confidence is often enough to self-justify our decisions. The problem is that this approach leaves no room for improvement… (bigger versions)

There will always be better schools, nicer houses, faster computers and more accurate and precise photography equipment. By following the path of trying to choose the "best" we are all destined to continually chase the ones that follow and end up in the pursuit of something we can never really obtain. More importantly, this approach leads to the incomplete understanding of what we already have. For example, if one chooses a lens because it is the "best" at something (let's say portraits - bokeh, low aberrations, focusing distance, tight depth of field…) then that's what we will expect and tend to use it for… Over time we acquire a collection of objects, each with it's own purpose and area of expertise and we happily choose the "best" tool for the job and are completely confident. As adults this is the strategy we use for most things in life - choose what you know will work.

This isn't the approach we used as children. Hand a lens (or even a cardboard box) to a kid and they will attempt to do a seemingly endless series of things with it. Kids tend to try everything to find the possibilities of all that can be done with an object while adults tend to define things by expectations and limited categories of usefulness. My suspicion here is that adults tend to care about how they are viewed by others and retreat into the safety of acceptable behavior and that children are unbound by this… It doesn't really matter why, most of us tend to self impose more and more limits on our behaviors as we become adults in society.

Sometimes, rather than trying to choose the "best" tool it is sometimes better to look at the problem as not choosing the "wrong" tool. Once you begin to redefine things by their limitations rather than their areas of known use there is a potential to find something new. There is a potential then for you to grow - learn new ways of doing things, achieve better understandings, see unique perspectives, gain new skills.

Good long lens technique is absolutely critical and unforgiving. The reason I use several different approaches is that the commonly accepted methods don't work equally well in all situations. There really isn't a "best" long lens technique that will work perfectly in all situations for like all things in life a particular approach to a problem always has an ideal fit under a limited number of circumstances and becomes more generalized in others. I select the method based on experience and adapt as needed to changes in the situation. Selecting a camera, lens, tripod, light modifiers or any of the hundreds of settings and variables involved is much the same… Of all that I have before me I try not to choose the tools that I know from experience won't work in a given situation. Oftentimes I make a choice that looking back upon I would not make again… That is a great thing, for at that moment I learn something I didn't know before… If I had instead chosen the "best" tool or technique then I would have been left unchanged.

It really comes down to this: If you choose the "best" tool for a job then your chances of achievement are higher but your chances of impairment are nil. If you don't choose the wrong tool for a job then your chances of maximum achievement are lower but your chances of improvement are higher…