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If you’ve ever seen two photographers at the same event, you may have noticed they play a little game I call “Whose Lens is Bigger.” It’s like a dick-measuring contest—but publicly acceptable, and supposedly signals something about one’s artistic merit or level of professionalism or whatever. 

It’s nice to have all the fancy stuff, and I believe in using the right tools for the context. But why do we glorify the camera or the enormous lens over the photographer? I have absolutely no idea what kind of brushes Monet used, or what kind of paint was Van Gogh’s Gogh-to (har har), or what kind of fabric Christian Dior used. And I don’t care. Do you?

Because we remember the artist, not their tools. Because they created with their eyes and their hearts and their minds, and the stuff they used was only a means to get to the finished work. (Not that any artistic work is ever truly finished.) 

Have you ever been in a situation where a professor said you could do whatever you wanted for the assignment? Did you feel overwhelmed by too many possibilities, and because you didn’t really know what they wanted from you? Did you produce something you were proud of?

I’d like to propose that constraint is a necessary part of creativity. Limiting ourselves makes us work harder, and ultimately keeps us from taking the easy, boring, predictable path. It doesn’t allow us to duplicate what we’ve already seen. It doesn’t let us think our gear is doing the work for us.

What if I only bring a prime (non-zoom) lens to something I’m photographing? That means I have to move my feet, and think a lot more about composition. I can’t leave out everything around my subject. If I have a zoom lens, I can stand still and take all the predictable shots that won’t show anything new about the subject. It might even mean—gasp—that I get better at something, because I chose to focus on it and work on it. 

Give it a try?

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