In this week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, Ben Long explores the fact that the photographic tools you use ultimately change the way you see. This is an important point to recognize as you get new gear—and subsequently struggle to get the best results out of it. The name of this week’s installment, “Let a lens reshape you,” is inspired by philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who wrote, “We shape our tools and our tools shape us.” What does that mean? It means that the tools we create—whether for painting, making music, or taking pictures—change us by expanding our abilities to paint, make music, or take photographs.
Think about it. The invention of the paintbrush enabled artists to create images with finer detail than fingertips could allow. The invention of the harpsichord enabled a single person to play music with complex chords and harmonies. And the relentless evolution of photographic tools leads to new ways of seeing and capturing the world around us. This isn’t just some abstract philosophical point. This point hits home when you explore a new facet of photography, such as shooting with a new lens. If your first attempts disappoint you, Ben contends, it’s because the tool hasn’t yet shaped you. Your photographic eye hasn’t yet evolved to fully take advantage of what the tool can do.
What’s the solution? Practice, of course. And that’s the assignment behind this week’s The Practicing Photographer. Get out there and shoot with a lens you rarely use—or, for a zoom lens, at a focal length you rarely use. Force yourself to use your tools until they reshape you. You’ll get more from your gear and become a more versatile photographer.
Help us practice
If you’ve been following The Practicing Photographer since its debut last month, you’ve seen Ben Long explore a spectrum of topics: buying a camera, using a reflector, employing an iPad in the field, and more. Photography has many facets, and we’d love to know which facets interest you. What kinds of practice challenges do you find helpful? We welcome your feedback in the comments below.
After you’re done practicing, of course.
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