Rule 38: Shoot With What You’ve Got

Little Torches

As much as I like having an all-in-one zoom in my kit, I’ve been making a point lately of keeping it home. At first blush, that might seem like a downside or an inconvenience. While it’s not as though I worry about the other lenses feeling neglected, I do worry about my skills going soft if I’ve always got that much range at my fingertips. So the last couple of weekends have seen me shooting with my compact, and with an 18-105.

Of course, as soon as you step out of the house with one camera, or one lens, you will almost certainly come across a shot that requires precisely the piece of equipment you haven’t got. I’m surprised that a flock of pigs didn’t go flying past just out of spite. But I digress.

The first “missed” shot or two was frustrating, to be honest, and I started to second-guess my choice of lenses. But then that little voice in my head reminded me of a few things:

1. You don’t want to settle into a rut. All-in-ones can be great at those times when you have no idea where you’re going, or what you’ll find when you get there. On the flip side, however, they’re like a bulky, heavy glass crutch. If you keep that same lens on your camera all the time — and this applies equally to anything else in your kit, whether it’s a fast prime with which you’re particularly enamored, or a speedlight — pretty soon you might find yourself settling into a certain type of shooting without realizing it. Changing one variable has an interesting way of creating a cascade of other little changes, sometimes in composition (especially when you find you have more wiggle room at one end of the spectrum and less at the other), and sometimes in something as simple as shooting with your feet versus your zoom.

2. You took this thing — this camera, this lens — on purpose, whether for the optics, the pocketability, or to challenge yourself. Stick to your guns. Again, this is your habits trying to reassert themselves. We can be the nicest, most accomodating people, but when it comes to our own bad habits, we can be positively intractable (just ask my wife). That applies double, I think, to how we shoot, because all of us at one point or another have mistaken technique for vision. So, just like giving up chocolate for Lent, it’s going to take some discipline in the beginning to redirect that habit energy.

3. You have a camera, don’t you? Quit complaining! At some point, I reminded myself that my first camera when I really started to “do” photography (my beloved, and now-deceased, Kodak) couldn’t do a lot of what either of my current cameras can do. I had some of the same complaints then as now from time to time, but I learned that complaining about it wasn’t helping things any; time spent complaining, essentially, is time not spent making photos. So at some point early on, I familiarized myself as best I could with all those limitations. Sometimes it was so I could work around them; sometimes I got creative enough to use the limitations themselves. The funny thing about doing this long enough is that it becomes a perverse point of pride when you’ve found some new thing your camera can’t do. I figured that I must’ve been getting better on some level, or I wouldn’t have known I couldn’t do that!

And when it’s all said and done, that’s probably one of the healthiest things you can do. Don’t curse the limitations. Embrace them if you can, work around them if you must, and if you’re really lucky, you may find yourself hitting some other quirk or limit. Let it send you off in some new and¬†unpredictable direction like you’re in some kind of giant pinball machine, and have some fun with it.

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