Don’t Baby Your Camera!
Cameras don’t need to be coddled.
Your camera is a well constructed tool that’s built to take a beating. The more relaxed you are about your gear, the better pictures you’ll take. After all, the real beauty of a camera is found in the pictures you produce with it.
Think of the stereotypical camera toting tourist: the slightly out of place looking guy or gal with the big camera bag in hand. How many great pictures will this person take with the camera safely tucked away in a padded bag? Probably not many. When something interesting happens, will this tourist have time to take out the camera, set up the shot, and take the picture? Not a chance! A long time ago that tourist was me. I had spent a lot of money on my first DSLR and I didn’t want it to get scratched, dropped, stolen etc. So it sat in my backpack all day when I walked around, and I used it only occasionally. I soon realized what should have been obvious: that I could take far better pictures if I kept the camera out of the bag all the time.
My methods evolved. I left the backpack behind and I walked around with the camera dangled around my neck, the lens cap on and the power off. It quickly became a lot easier to take good pictures, but it still wasn’t enough – I had to untangle the camera from my neck, turn the power on, and take the cap off the lens before I was ready to shoot. Moments came and went faster than I could take pictures of them, and I was missing too many shots. The relative security of keeping the camera around my neck and powered down was preventing me from taking the pictures I wanted, and I needed a better technique.
Which brings us to today (really the last 5 years or so). I now carry my camera in my shooting hand. The lens cap is always off, the power is always on, and the camera is always ready to go. When I see a fleeting moment I simply point the camera and press the shutter button. I can now capture moments as quickly as they happen. I keep a small strap wrapped around my wrist for security (and as a backstop against dropping the thing), but otherwise the camera is as free as my hand is. This method is the best I’ve found for taking pictures. I realize the unprotected lens might get scratched, so I keep the camera pointed down and use a lens hood to protect it. I really don’t want it to get scratched, but it’s not a huge deal if it does. Minor scratches on the front element of a lens have zero effect on image quality.
Let’s talk dirty for a moment: It’s not just how you hold it, how you use it matters too. In the picture at the top of this post, I lowered the camera onto a ledge on the side of a bridge, scuffing it up in the process. Some of my most interesting pictures were obtained because I was willing to use my camera without being overly protective. At various times I’ve placed my cameras in shallow puddles, taken them out in snow and rain, and I’ve even given one camera to a small kid in India who inadvertently ended up taking a great picture.
Overall I’m far more relaxed about my gear today than I ever have been, and if you saw me in the street you’d be forgiven for thinking I don’t care at all. The truth is I care more about taking good pictures now than ever, and I care about my gear to the extent that it allows me to take the pictures I want to take. I want clean, solid equipment in good working condition. But more importantly I want my camera to be ready to shoot when I am. Even the best cameras are worthless when they’re safely tucked away in your camera bag.