Andy Hawthorne

Thoughts, stories and ideas

Photography: focus on the picture

Photography has been part of my life for years but talking about equipment doesn’t interest me.

When I take a photograph my instincts are all about the scene before me.

There’s no point where I think about the camera I’m using or what equipment I could do with. I don’t even think about what lens to use, unless it’s for compositional purposes.

That’s why I find photography magazines boring. They are full of articles about the latest camera from this manufacturer or that one.

They bang on about equipment like it’s the most important part of being a photographer.

There’s reviews on all kinds of kit. Everything from flash guns to filters and back again. Yet none of it interests me.

When I pick a book about photography up the story is different — or it could be. If the book is full of great photographs, I’m in. If it’s full of content about gear my interest falls.

I find it like asking a mechanic what his favourite spanner is. A camera is a tool. I would never want to be without one. But I don’t want to spend time talking about them.

I’d rather talk about the process of making great photos. That I can talk about for hours.

There is a reason for this view.

When I was a young fella, money was scarce. Cameras were as expensive then as they are now. So, you used what you could lay your hands on.

I started with my Grandads Box Brownie. From there, I went to a Kodak 110 and then a Zenit E SLR that belonged to school.

After that, I purchased an Agfa Optima 1535 compact. I loved that camera and I learned a lot while using it.

The point is, you used what you had. What was important was learning how shutter, aperture and film speed all worked together to make good photos.

And you learned that composition was key while adjusting by a half stop could make all the difference to the resulting photo.

You also learned that every frame was key. You couldn’t afford to waste a single one.

All that meant bothering about kit was pointless. You used what you had.

And I’m not telling that story like it was hardship. It wasn’t. It was bloody marvellous. Because things were simple. You focused on the photograph and only the photograph.

Sir Tim hadn’t invented the World Wide Web yet. So we all read books — proper photography books featuring work by David Bailey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Don McCullin and more.

We read books a lot in those days. Those books inspired us to make better photographs, to learn how to do what the masters did.

And never once did I look at there work and think: I wonder what camera they used for that photo?

I’d try to work out why they composed the photo they way they had. I’d try to figure out what aperture and film was at work. That felt like the important things to worry about.

Today, I have a Canon DSLR and a couple of lenses. I love it, it’s a fine camera. But I still don’t worry about whether to go mirrorless or buying more lenses and other kit.

The point of all this is: next time you go out with your camera, take one lens. Or use your phone. Work on getting the picture, not what kit you are using. It’ll be a revelation.

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