The story behind a photo of a plastic bottle or: A (slightly defensive) response to a comment posted on my Sony A7rii review

The above is a photo of a bottle that me and Janine (my studio photographer at F8) recently took for a client.

Quite boring isn’t it? Though, technically it’s quite a good photo of an empty plastic bottle. There is an anecdotal reason for me showing you this picture, but I’ll get to that later. First I want to post a (slightly defensive) response(/rant) to a comment that was posted on my recent Sony A7rii review.

If you haven’t read that review, here is a link. But it might also be worth you reading this post about a ‘dad’ cam of yore. If you can’t be bothered to read either, the crux of the comment comes down to something I mention in both those posts; my definition of the what I call the ‘dad’ photographer.

In both these posts, I go some way to define what I call the ‘dad cam’. In brief, the ‘dad camera’ is designed to appeal to the ‘Dad’. The ‘Dad’ – as I say in the A7rii review – is the show-off guy who wants something that’s the best, but because he has no knowledge of a subject, can only guess what best by what has the highest value and highest levels of functionality…

I intended this to be fairly tongue-in-cheek, but actually, I stand by it. I’ve met these sorts of people – in some contexts, I probably am one myself – what I didn’t so much anticipate was one finding and taking umbrage with my definition…

The following is the comment I received:

I suppose I fit the definition of a ‘dad’…..I would buy the all singing thingy knowing most of the ‘professional’ photographers out there give it more than a 7 out of ten and about the same price as other cameras of +7 reputation. The fact that I don’t want to spend time tecnoing up putting in the years to finesse the technical perculiarities of camera a,b or c appears to merit a special if not negative ‘dad’ label.
I suggest the root issue has more to do with that the more technically competent photographers are more aware their market advantage are slowly disapaiting. Companies – like Sony – have reduced the technical mystery of photography and flatten the differentials, which have existed amongst the likes of Canon, Leica and Nikon. I imagine to a ‘professional’ – technical admiration of the new mixed with sadness at technical skill erosion has got to expose mixed emotions.
‘Dads’ can now take photo’s using one of these ‘modern’ cameras which may be indistingusable from any hardened professionals offering. The reason I suppose is that the ‘creative eye’ is not a technical competence it is a human right – an evolution of sensing and seeing.
Sony and their likes are simplifying the technology and making space for the ‘creative eye’ …….. and it may be worth noting – ‘dads’ have eyes too.

I started writing a response, but when it reached the 500 word mark, I decided it was worth just publishing it as a post by itself. It’s not entirely relevant to the rest of the content of this blog, and whislt I am I bit of a ranty in real life, I do try to keep it to a minimum on here… But, since this blog offers me a bit of a self-built soap box, I thought I’d use it to sound off on all of this, especially as it ever so slightly touched a nerve…

Here’s my response:

Ok, firstly, I apologise if you took offence – it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone with my ‘dad’ camera definition. Secondly, I feel I should apologise further and in advance of what I am about to write. As a hardened professional photographer talking to a ‘dad’ camera buyer on this subject there is a good chance of some or all of it coming across as a touch condescending. Primarily, this is because you’ve managed to almost perfectly articulate the ‘dad’ perspective that my comments are based around and as such have perfectly lined yourself up for this sort of response. That being said, hopefully, you can see this as me taking an opportunity to vent in the general direction of an opinion you share with many others, rather than me having a go at you specifically.

So, to start off, yes it’s true that – as I outline in my review – the Sony A7rii does make the job of taking a photo easy for me (perhaps too easy). It’s also true that in your hands, were you to point the camera in the exact same direction as me and the same time you could possibly get the same, or at least a broadly similar result. That is at least assuming we weren’t taking a photo of something that required high levels of technical competence… but I’ll come back to that in a mo.

It’s also true that as you put it ‘dads’ have ‘eyes’ too, which could perhaps increase the chances of one pointing the camera in the same direction as I would, given the same subject. But I feel this is where the truth in what you say ends.

What first separates you as a ‘dad’ and me as a ‘professional’ is not just our shared choice in camera, or indeed creative eye. Primarily it’s the considerable experience I have of using my eye and tools so regularly for the last decade that ensures that my photography both is consistently and repeatedly good enough for my clients, as well as being commercially viable for me to produce (I’m fast at it). The ‘dad’, or even the competent amateur with the same camera as me might take the odd same or similar shot, but it would be highly unlikely that this would be repeated throughout any given shoot to the same standard, especially at the same pace as any competent professional would be capable of.

Which brings me back to the subject of technical competence.

Whilst this camera makes the job easy for me, it is still important as a professional to have the base-level technical competence to get the most out of it. There is no escaping the need to understand the relationship between aperture, shutter and ISO (and that’s before we start talking about the many other variables a camera like this brings.) Understanding the reciprocal relationship between these settings is what allows me to make good creative and technical decisions about how the end result will look.

However filled with tech these cameras are, they can’t make those choices for me, the ‘dad’, or anyone else for that matter, as effectively as I can! Even with the ‘scene’ modes that these sorts of cameras offer – which in truth might help get a ‘dad’ closer – there is still no substitute for a true technical understanding of how a camera works and how to harness that for the best, and most appropriate outcome as repeatedly as is required from the professional photographer.

This is important at any level of photography – amateur to professional, inclusive – but it’s absolutely vital as a professional. The distinction being, that not only does it allow the pro to take the photos they want at any given moment with little or no thought beyond built up muscle memory, it also allows the pro to take the photos the client wants.

But – and this is perhaps even more important still – beyond even the ability to give the client what they want, the level of technical competence I am talking about also allows the pro to know when they can’t give the client what they want. This is often because what the client wants is something that’s physically – or indeed budgetarily – impossible, but either way, knowing where that line lays is a vital part of being a pro!

This might sound nuts, but the amount of times in my career I’ve had to explain what to me seems like the basics laws of physics – and is at very least the very most basic laws of photography – is unbelievable. In reality, it does happen, and quite often, but each time it does it just goes to remind me that actually there is a vast technical basis to my understanding of photography; a technical basis that my career is built upon. It reminds me of this because, almost every time it happens, what to me seems basic, is often not even on the radar of the client… and – with respect – is probably also not on the radar of the ‘dad’ either!

This might seem like I’m bragging about my skills, but in practice, without these high levels of technical knowledge, it would be hard to say “no” to a client. Without that ability to say “no”, I could quite readily end up in quite a pickle by trying to achieve something that takes too long, is not worth the added time for the outcome and therefore isn’t cost effective (even the outcome is better). Believe me, I remember these sorts of pickles well! There was a lot of them in the early days of my career! It’s fair to say I learned a lot from those experiences… in fact, whilst it happens much less often these days, it does still happen, and I’m still learning from them even after ten years as a pro!

However…. they are just a few of the ingredients…. (!!!)

Beyond the technical knowledge of how a camera works, it would also be highly unlikely that the ‘dad’ would also have any or all of the adjacent skills required to be a professional photographer. Believe me, professional photography is probably only 10% (if that) about skills with a camera.

The other skills start with the obvious and closely related skills such understanding light (colour/intensity/direction), understanding lighting (strobes, studio lights, how to work with artificial and natural light effectively, with or without reflectors etc). Then there is understanding the software, understanding how to process files (efficiently and effectively), as well as understanding what sort of deliverables are required by different types of clients – file types, file sizes, “archive ready”, “Amazon ready”, “press ready”, appropriate metadata etc etc. There’s also the required understanding of copyright and image licensing, model release, the laws around where certain types of photography can and can’t be taken, and how those photos can or can’t be used.

All this is before we have even touched on the skills required for running a photography business, both in terms of efficiency as a photographer but also in terms of making sure the right kit is on hand for the job, being able to budget for that kit, knowing when hiring kit is a better option than buying.

And even on top of all of that, there are the adjacent skills one accrues as a professional that sit outside of the raw photographic. Skills in dealing with clients – as mentioned, how and when to say yes and indeed no – but also how to set expectations and deliver within them, repeatedly. Then there is knowing how to maintain and nurture client relationships etc, how to market a business, how to find work/clients in the first place, how to close a deal with a potential client, and even a knowledge of what is an appropriate amount to charge. I could go on…

So whilst yes, the ‘dad’ might – just might – given quite a specific set of circumstances be able to take the same photo as the pro with the same camera, the chances of the ‘dad’ being able to compete with a highly competent professional just based on camera choice – from a standing start – are practically zero.

So do I worry about my market advantage being dissipated?

Do I feel threatened by uncle bob with his new Nikon D5? No, not really… I did, when I first started out, when I just another guy with a DSLR, but now after a decade, now I have a true understanding of my trade, a large client base and an appreciation of what being a professional photographer actually means, I ain’t that worried about what technology brings to the table, thank you very much!

What does bother me, and what has spurned me on in the idea of writing this response is the idea that as a professional photographer, I’m just some bloke with a nice camera, and some vague idea of where to point it, as I hope I have illustrated, there is a shite-side more to it than just that!

That said, it is true that DSLR’s have lowered the entry point, and that many photographers (myself included) were encouraged to dip a toe into the world of professional photography through ownership of such a device.

It’s also true that modern technology allows slightly better photos to be taken by wholly less skilled people. Photography has indeed been democratised, but – and this is a big but – my career choice and all the skills, knowledge and required technical competence that come along with it haven’t be democratised, certainly not by merit of the advancement of the camera alone, and there is no doubt in my mind about that at all!

Which is why your assertion that I would somehow feel threatened by the technology and therefore see any old uncle Bob who chooses to buy the same camera as me is a threat to my career couldn’t be further from the reality of how I actually feel!

So that’s that point… but there’s another point I’d like to make, and that is to touch on a missed irony in what you’ve said.

A professional photographer – at least one who’s worth their salt – should be able to take a highly competent photo with almost any camera. And through what you seem to see as a democratisation of photography, you’re saying you too can take great photos. The thing is, if you (or uncle Bob with his D5) aren’t going to take advantage of the massive amount of subtle options available in a Sony a7rii that arguably make it so good for the pro, you’re just as well off buying a much less expensive camera.

The subtle technical advantages the Sony A7rii brings are very unlikely to help you if you don’t have the massive background of technical know-how that a pro (or serious ameture) does. If you’re only ever going to use it in its ill-placed ‘dad’ modes you’re never likely to see any advantage from its potential either.

In short, buying a professional camera like this as a ‘dad’ photographer is – I’m afraid to say – a waste of your money!

You see, the laws of diminishing returns apply to these things.

For a ‘dad’s’ use, a £500 (or whatever they cost) Nikon d3300 (or whatever the latest entry level is) would likely perfectly suffice for the archetypal ‘dad’ needs. And in fact, in terms of the results most ‘dads’ will get, they’d probably never notice slim visible advantages even if they were apparent in the end results. This is the case because it is actual fact that the sensors in the likes of the entry level cameras are but a nat’s whisker away from those in the top flight cameras these days.

Buying a camera like the Sony A7rii as a ‘dad’ is akin to buying an entire rack of Snap-on tools to change the odd fuse or spark plug in a car. Or kitting out your shed with the most expensive Makita power tools just to once in a while put up a shelf, or build a bird table.

And to top it off, the most frustrating thing of all of this – especially to someone like me who really enjoys sharing his ever growing knowledge and skills with others – is that since these cameras are so heavily automated, and come with so many features controls and options, they are actually fairly prohibitive in the logical learning process of photography! I.e. even if you did want to get to the level of technical know-how needed to be a professional, you’d have to fight the Sony to allow you to learn.

As I say in the review, they’re just not logically laid out in their controls for the likes of most photographers, because – and this is the ironic bit – they are partly designed to appeal to you, the ‘dad’ who has no desire to learn in the first place! Which by this merit, at least in my opinion, almost creates an infinite loop of ridiculous!

In summary, it’s your money, and you have every right to spend it how you wish, but the fact that Sony insist on ladening their top flight cameras with these modes, and the fact that it therefore encourages you to buy them is a shame for both you and me! Me, because they get in my way, and because you simply didn’t need to spend that kind of money to get the results you, the ‘dad’, actually needs or even likely aspired to.

As such, I’m afraid to say, are both being buggered by the camera industry, and in fact, the sociopolitical landscape that supports it!

If you want my advice – which after this rant I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t – now you’ve spent all that money, go and buy a book or two and learn how to get every pennies worth out of your investment!

… and apologies again for taking this rant out on you!

The relevance of the plastic bottle

So that’s my response to the comment on my A7rii review. You might now be wondering what the relevance of the plastic bottle is? Well, I’m including it because it provides a relevant anecdote to back up my above rantings…

A few weeks ago my company was approached to photograph some plastics. This bottle was one of the many items. Quite often these days we invite the client into the studio for an initial test shoot. Knowing there are many ways to skin this particular cat, I decided this was to be one of those times.

The chap came into the studio laden with plastic bits, the first of which I felt like attacking was this clear plastic bottle. Funnily enough, in my ten years as a pro, this was the first time I’d had a requirement to take a photo of an empty plastic bottle. I took some photos, but they weren’t what the client had in mind. Not least because the controlled reflection approach I initially took showed up imperfections in the bottle, which is something I’d simply not thought about. What he had in mind is what he’d seen when he been on YouTube looking to work out how to shoot them himself… …

He’d found a technique whereby the bottles could be back-lit. This removes reflections in the sides of the bottle from direct light and thus doesn’t show, or at very least very much minimises the impact of any imperfections in the plastic. I’d actually not tried this technique before, and in fact was unaware of it. As such, I got the client to show me the video, at which point I had to concede that it looked quite effective. Here is the video in question:

As you can see, it makes use of household bits and bobs and what appears to be a low-rent DSLR. Despite this, my client was unable to emulate the results at home himself. This is why he came to us, the professionals…! Funnily enough, as a pro, after little more than freeze-framing the end part of the video I was able to set up an equivalent in our studio, and as close as dammit, emulate the look to the client’s satisfaction.

Of course, I would have just as easily been able to produce the exact same photo with for e.g. the D3300 I mentioned above. More importantly – and specifically relevant to this now rather excessive rant – my client wouldn’t have been any better off had he had access to my Sony! It wasn’t my camera that enabled me to take the photo to the satisfaction of my client, it was the combination of something I learned through a YouTube video together with a massive background of many other things I have learned previously as a professional photographer. And despite not being aware of the technique in the video – which could have made me look incompetent – thanks to all of my adjacent skills, I managed to conduct myself in a way that didn’t didn’t lose the confidence of the client.

So this beggars the question as to why I need or want a camera like the Sony? Well, because – despite my enormous frustrations with it – it does have a good few features that are very useful to me as a multi-disciplinary photographer… and moreover – as I talk about in the review – it also allows me and my company to offer high standard video production.

Does the ‘dad’ need all those features? Or would a D3300 probably suffice….? I’m pretty certain I know the answer, which is the whole crux of why the ‘dad’ features being included in the Sony is so frustrating from the perspective of a pro!

Rant over…


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51 thoughts on “The story behind a photo of a plastic bottle or: A (slightly defensive) response to a comment posted on my Sony A7rii review”

    1. I get it at weddings the most “that must be an expensive camera” – in this case it’s just being trying to make polite conversation, but…
      I dunno, most of the time it doesn’t bother me…

  1. He he, good one. 🙂 Well in this case I’d say that there is no need for “dad’s” to feel offended. To simplify idea – anybody these days can buy Subaru Impreza STI / Ford Focus RS (automative equivalent of A7RII), but that doesn’t make you Ken Block / Colin MrRae (automative equivalent of pro photographer)…
    I dont know why people see it differently in photo world…

    1. Subaru or Ford??? I think you mean the “dad” who buys the 400+ HP BMW because he wants to be one with the road, to be in total control of his motoring machine, to be able to handle the autobahn. Then you discover it is one of the SUVs with automatic transmission. Sigh….

      1. Go and drive a recent, high performace ‘executive’ car with an automatic transmission, drive it in trafic, drive it over a mountain pass, then judge it.

        Prejudice, everywhere. Bah.

  2. I actually enjoyed the comment when I read it in the original post just because I am literally a dad, in many ways a ‘dad’ as well. I believe skill trumps gear, so I understand the response. And the bottle put a nice real world example to it. I also use the example to people about the uber expensive guitar, it doesn’t make you Clapton or someone like that. Visa versa I’m sure he could make the cheapest pos rig sound amazing. I’m still buying an M-A

    1. I’m a dad, and as I suggest in the post, I probably have been guilty of being a ‘dad’ too … the power tools analogy comes from a place of internal conflict about wanting a Makita drill.
      I do try not to assume that if I had one I’d be able to set up as a tradesman overnight though…
      (Buy the m-a! I dunno what your waiting for?? 😉 )

  3. Thanks, Hamish. Your points are always well laid out. Whether I agree with you 100% of the time or not is irrelevant. Continue on!

    1. You don’t know the half of it! Multi-disciplinary local-level commercial photography is an exciting place to operate. I can show you photos of hifi cable, sports brand t-shirts, corporate headshots, corporate event photos etc. Honestly, it’s a thrill a minute round here 😉

      1. Until you’ve done plant pots you haven’t lived! I always wanted to get to the point where I could use a point and shoot like Terry Richardson.

    2. Ken Hindle-May

      One of my friends is actually a top marketing/advertising photographer and from the point you’ve conceived/agreed a vision with your client, the creative part of the job is pretty much over and it’s mostly process-driven from there. The difference between a pro and an amateur is that the pro arrives on location already knowing what lighting setup he’s going to use, already having a pretty firm idea what he’s going to do with his models, which poses and shots to work through to get what he needs, already knowing almost exactly what he’ll do in post-production to make the raw shots match the vision he’s sold to the client. It’s not that an amateur couldn’t arrive at the same finished product, it’s that there would be a lot more trial and error, and a hell of a lot more time taken, to generate that product. And time is money.

      So how does one become a top advertising photographer, I hear you ask? Well in this case, you complete a degree in fine art photography, then work for free in London whilst pulling night shifts in a care home to pay the bills. After a decade of that, you might’ve built up enough of a client base to stop working in the care home. Another decade after that, you might be earning a pretty good living and shooting global campaigns for Olympic Games sponsors. You’ve got to love it to live it and I can’t honestly say I’d rather have followed his path than be earning a solid living within my comfort zone and taking pictures as a hobby.

      p.s. I also know a TV/motion picture cameraman who maintains that what you do with the camera rolling is the easy bit. Getting all your equipment through customs, on-site and functioning is the biggest challenge!

  4. As ever, a thoroughly enjoyable read, but I’m perplexed as to why you need to defend your stance on the ‘dad phenomenon’. These ‘dads’ or ‘experts’ exist in so many walks of life, and the character that you describe is almost inevitably an expert in many, many other areas of life; educationalist, the environment, musical history, doping in athletics…. the list of their expertise and talents is, I am sure, endless. Famous ‘experts’ or dads if you like, include Piers Morgan and Jeremy Vine. They already know everything, and there is nothing that you can tell them.
    You are an artist and as such, your skills and techniques are judged against an almost entirely subjective aesthetic. Almost everyone can push the shutter button and so almost everyone can take a photo. The ‘expert’ views the pushing of the button as the execution of the artistry, and as you point out very well, there’s a lot more to it than that.
    So my point is this. You are entitled to your love hate relationship with your Sony, so you don’t need to defend it. My guess is that 99% of your readership rolled their eyes when they read that comment anyway. And by the way, as you know, Sony needs to add those consumer features to their pro gear, to attract wealthy consumers to buy them.
    If you will indulge me for a further paragraph or so, I recently had the pleasure of guiding a gentleman and his friends and extended family around the arboretum where I volunteer. It quickly became apparent that I was in the company of an ‘expert’ / ‘dad’ as he proceeded to take over the tour, and give (mis)guided commentary on almost every aspect of arboriculture and our tree collection. I was reduced to escort rather than guide and I listened intently as he waxed lyrical on various horticultural and biological impossibilities. I noticed one or 2 of the party raising eyebrows as the outlandishness of his comments grew and his lack of real knowledge became obvious and I decided that the best strategy would be to let him say his bit and then quietly guide anyone who was interested or receptive on the salient facts without challenging his commentary. The point is, that most of the people that knew him already knew he was a bullshitter, and those that didn’t know him, worked it out pretty quickly for themselves.

  5. Really edifying post, Hamish. It would make a perfect introduction piece for anyone taking their first steps in a career if it was re-written specifically for that.
    I am almost entirely self-taught as a photographer but did study reprography at Glasgow GCBP. There was a short photography course as part of the DipGR course and our first studio project was to shoot glass objects. The lecturer left the class to it for 15 minutes then interrupted to show us why we were all doing it completely wrong. In short, the only thing I was ever taught about photography was to back-light glass!

    1. Thank Ronald – since I have written it, I might repurpose it. I am supposed to be a talk at a school later in the year to kids looking to go into photography… it might come in handy!
      Self-taught too… Which has its advantages, and most definitely its disadvantages!
      Lessons learned: Always backlight glass ✓

  6. Hamish, are you familiar with the “Pro Photographer Cheap Camera Challenge” series of videos on YouTube? I’m sure you will be. I find them really inspiring to see what skilled and experienced photographers can do with very basic kit. In most cases it’s the limitations of the equipment that brings out their creativity and skill. Kind of the inverse of a very amateur photographer (what you’re calling a “dad” I think) with a top end pro camera…

  7. Christos Theofilogiannakos

    In 2008 I got a brand new Nikon D90. Then I got a SB-900 speedlight. Then I got a Lowepro bag and a Manfrotto tripod with a couple of extra lenses for “portraits”. My photos were s*it. I sold everything and used the money to buy some furniture. Then I was given a meterless Praktica with a 50mm lens, I resurrected my dad’s Trip 35 and borrowed the “National Geographic guide to 35mm photography”. I’d advise the “dad” in question to do the same.

  8. I feel compelled to reply. I’ve listened to the original “Dads” ever since Nixon was president. The latest comment was 5 days ago. A person with a high end Nikon DSLR was scrolling through images, showing me one deadly boring, but perfectly exposed picture after another. He asked to see some of my work. I pulled out my phone, and shared some of my B&W work I’ve got on flickr. Of course, the subject of camera came up. I told him I work with a Leica. Uncomfortable silence. ‘No wonder you take good pics, you’ve got a digital Leica. They’re expensive, huh?’ No, I take good pictures because I work damn hard at it. I agree w/a quote from Martin Parr (I hope I get it right): “95 % of what I shoot is crap, but 5 % are worth saving.” I shoot w/a film Leica. I’ve been pushing film through cameras for 47 years. I’m still making mistakes, still learning, and still have a sense of a little child on Christmas when I develop a roll of film. Most of what I shoot never sees the light of day. But the keepers, boy do they give you a sense that you’ve mastered a mechanical machine, tamed light & optics, and had the great sense to point the thing in the right direction, and waited until no one walked in front of you.
    Most of us carry a fully automatic camera nested into our phones; ya can’t really screw things up with them. And yet, we shudder with the thought of all those thousands of images we’re forced to look at. The sameness. The dullness. I’m more interested in a photograph that somehow was made by a person overcoming technical difficulties, fumbling with controls, slight blur, maybe swallowing fear & great shyness to ask a stranger to pose for them. That photo has a soul. That person worked to get that picture. That person tamed a machine.
    I’m probably way off topic. Thanks for letting me rant.

    1. Not at all Dan, bang on contribution to the convo! Especially the “I’m still making mistakes, still learning,…” And isn’t that half the fun. The irony in these modern cameras is that they have apparently convinced people that they don’t need to learn… Such a shame!

  9. I’m really sorry but this bottle sucks. I mean it’s dull and it’s a rather simple way to ‘solve’ (actually – not) a problem of direct light reflections revealing surface imperfections. Truly professional approach is not to mimic someone’s stupid youtube tutorial but to invent a way to make an appealing look without sacrificing aesthetics. I am shooting different objects (from shoes to 100000$ jewelry) for a decade and I insist on actually solving the case, not simplifying it to finally get a dull, toneless photo. I’m assuming that with this particular bottle there IS a way to make an expressive shot (though you’ll have to make something more complicated than just backlight it). This is really a ‘professional approach. But in fact, indeed, the camera itself doesn’t matter. Here’s my article (russian only, sorry), showing off that a good object photo could be made even with a smartphone camera:

    1. There perhaps is an “expressive” and more “complicated” way to light it. Would it be easily and cost effectively repeatable for the same plastic bottle in the 7 sizes it comes in? And what about the further 5 slight variations shape with their up to 10 variant sizes? All with different imperfections. What you’ve explained is a solution that might need to be changed regularly throughout a shoot.
      What I have taken, as I admit myself very early on, might not be a life changing picture of an empty plastic bottle. But, we able to take it, and a lot of others like it, quickly, to a good enough standard, to a standard that the client is very happy, and above all else it was all done within the couple of hours of time that the clients budget could stretch too.
      I’d love to reinvent the wheel, and inspire future generations with each and every one of my professionally taken photos, but unfortunately in the real world, it’s just not practical!

  10. I was just wondering Hamish if you’ve given any thought to reviewing a canon rangefinder like the canon P? I know youre very content with your Leica m3 and m-a but the canon can be had for a very good price and I’d be curious to hear your opinion on how they hold up to other unmetered rangefinder bodies that you have used.

      1. Oh go on, buy one. (said the devil on your shoulder) There are so many on the auction site that you can be picky, you won’t spend more than $200, possibly a lot less, and they’re a load of fun.
        Perfect match for one of your thread-mount Sonnars.
        [Wrinkles in the stainless-steel shutter are normal, but make sure the viewfinder is bright and clean.]

  11. Everything you said has some truth but the weakness in the argument comes from the fact that there is not a large amount of knowledge gap between being a ‘dad’ level photographer and a professional photographer. It is mostly a matter of the amount of time spent performing the task that generates the difference rather than an acquiring a complex skill set. For example, there is a wide knowledge gap between being a ‘dad’ engineer doing home projects vs being a professional engineer. The ‘dad’ engineer will likely not achieve anywhere near the level of skill that the professional will, despite years of experience, because the knowledge gap is enormous. In photography, a dedication to practice will yield results much closer to a professional in a smaller amount of time. There is still a difference, but it comes down to repetition of experiences rather than a knowledge gap.

    1. I completely disagree. I’ve been learning photography since the day I started, and can’t see me ever stopping learning. There are so many complex skill sets, and that doesn’t take into account concepts such as exposure that seem to unravel the more you learn.
      As I have said though, it’s not just about one photo either. Repeatability and consistency is key.

  12. “Nice picture – you must have a really nice camera” and it’s corollary “Wow, that’s a nice camera – you must be pretty good”. I was once told at a wedding I was shooting (albeit by a drunken guest) “a few more years and no one will need you. My phone can take pictures as good as that camera” to which I replied “ya but I bet I’ll do a better job with my phone than you do with yours” and walked away.

  13. Thanks for posting my rant!
    I’d like to expand upon my comment: “I’m still making mistakes, still learning,…”
    Last year, I restricted my photography to using just my 50mm lens…it involved discipline, lots of missed/crappy pics, but in the end, I think my ‘eye’ is better. The year-long exercise working w/the 50 led me to realize that the lens length that most matched what I saw/felt when I looked at a potential scene was the humble, 40mm lens. Now I’m teaching myself to focus w/the rangefinder, and compose with the slip-on aux. viewfinder. I’m getting a bit faster. My goal is to make the process seamless by the time we visit London in June.
    I also took it upon myself to buy the film I never shoot…Foma, Kentmere, Acros, etc. Speeds from ISO 50 to 400. You see, I was curious and who knows, I just might find a new favorite (love the Acros 100). Again, some bad pics, but I tried ’em out, and I had some fun.

    1. Dan, a year with a 50mm would make for a great post… Do you think I could convince you to share some thoughts around that as a learning experience etc?

  14. This is brilliant. And it reminds me of a photo I made of a piece of glass art which I lit from below and behind, on a home made light table that, while stable, didn’t look anything professional. The piece I photographed was valued at $5K USD back in 1980-ish when I had it in my studio, so you can imagine both the value now, plus how ridiculous it seems that such an expensive piece was suspended on home made rig.

    I don’t remember how many exposures I made, but it wasn’t many – the film was 4×5 Ektachrome, the camera was a Toyo 45A field camera fitted with a Fujinon 150/5.6 which I still own. I used two Balcar strobe heads and a Minolta IIIF meter – simple, basic equipment. It was my understanding of light, aperture and perspective that allowed me to make a successful photograph.

    1. Thanks, Earl! Makes me wonder how Mr ‘Dad’ I referenced would get along with the scheimpflug principle…? I haven’t yet found the auto-scheimpflug mode on the Sony… … 😉

  15. Ken Hindle-May

    I think the key question to ask yourself when considering an upgrade is ‘is my current camera/lens/guitar/bike holding me back?’

    If you’re being truly honest with yourself, then in many cases you’ll find the answer is no. About a year ago I made my first major overhaul of my photography gear, selling the Canon Eos 30D and reasonable set of lenses to go all-in with Fujifilm. I’d contemplated doing this several times before, and had come very close to shelling out for a 50D and a 7D, and various bits of ‘L’ glass. These were mostly whims, though, and on more robust examination I had to concede that have a slightly wider maximum aperture or slightly sharper lens wasn’t actually going to make me a better photographer. It could potentially give me a little more latitude in low light and give my finished shots a bit more impact from the inherent sharpness, but it wasn’t going to improve my application of photography’s fundamentals (subject, composition, timing). And that’s the thing – gear can enable you to shoot in a wider variety of scenes and conditions, but the things that make better photographs come from you, not what you’re holding.

    What finally pushed me into a major upgrade was firstly, the growing realisation that actually, the low (by today’s standards) file size and poor high ISO performance of my old body were really limiting a) the range of conditions I could shoot in and b) what I could actually do with the shots afterwards. I didn’t do anything with that right away, but while reviewing my past 12-18 months of shooting it became obvious that I wasn’t actually using the Canon gear much at all. Instead, my Fuji X100 had become my go-to shooter and I was only using the Canon for the increasingly rare occasions that called for long lenses. The simple bulk of a DSLR meant I wasn’t prepared to carry it around unless I was specifically going to shoot something with it and the kind of photography I was increasingly doing (street, architectural) didn’t actually need a DSLR’s powerful and broad feature set anyway. By selling my Canon gear and adding a couple of hundred quid, I was able to get a compact Fuji body with far better IQ and low-light performance, along with a three lens kit (high quality standard zoom, fast normal prime, cheap drainpipe telephoto) that did everything I wanted in a far, far more portable package. It doesn’t have a DSLR’s stamina or rapid autofocus, but by getting a camera that does fewer things better, I feel like I’ve got something I’m far more in tune with.

    I think the ‘dad cam’ mentality is the opposite of that. You look to become a better photographer by having better equipment, rather than doing the hard thinking about what can make your photos better, or developing your own voice. A friend of mine has just decided to ‘get into’ photography after a big promotion at work and has invested in a top-of-the-line body and lens combo that’s cost him more than I’ve ever spent on gear in total. What will he use it for? Probably not much more than photos of his kids and his holidays that he could’ve gotten on a G1x. And it’ll be too big for him to carry around most of the time. Hell of a dad cam, though.

    1. I remember going to a race at Silverstone a few years back, I was photographing for a team so had access to the pits… was pretty cool! Anyway, there was a chap there with a D3 (I had a d300 at the time). It was in a bag in the corner of the pit garage thing – I didnt see him use it once. As it transpired, he didn’t know how!

  16. David Bradley

    I can fully understand where you are coming from Hamish. I am a serious amateur with a sony A7Rii and I love it. I realise that, as with most professions, I will never become a top professional photographer. I simply cannot buy the years of learning from mistakes which you will have accumulated. However I do have lots of time to wade through the superfluity of the camera and get one or two fantastic “keepers” which might be worthy of framing or competition entry. For me the small footprint and the ability to use non-Sony lenses makes up for the ergonomic shortcomings – which only really matter if you are working at speed for a fee.

  17. Interesting this two-year-old essay has so much life in it. IN 1972, I was working on daily newspaper in West Virginia USA and spent a lot of time with the paper’s Navy-trained photographer.
    He helped me a lot with photography.
    1. Another camera is not necessarily going to improve your pictures (I was rocking a Zenit-E at the time).
    2. The difference between an amateur and a pro is that a pro can deliver a top-quality photo of a subject that someone else wants. An amateur only needs to please himself/herself.
    I stuck to the news writing side of things over the decades. All but one of the pros I worked with were kind, sharing people.

  18. Dude, maybe you think of people having a “dad” mentality, but from what I read…you have a “child” mentality and are bragging about your photo of plastic garbage. The only person who seems upset by gear is you. The Sony a7ii is still a pretty regular camera…It’s not until medium format or large format that gear has any major advantages. I’m sure as you grow up, and if your lucky enough to become a dad, you’ll realize just how kiddy you once were. We all hope at least. Good luck , and may I suggest a roll of paper towels for your next “subject”? Looking forward to your next ten page

    1. Ok, I’ll try and unpick something of your comment…
      I’m not bragging about the photo, I’m bragging about being able to understand how to take the photo without any prior experience of creating that same sort of image.
      Upset about gear…? You realise it’s a camera? Vast swathes of this website is about cameras. I write about them, they interest me, but I don’t get upset about them. Have a read of some of the comments on the original review. That’s upset people. It’s opinions about cameras – they are basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
      What “upset” me – though that’s not the word I’d use – was the suggestion that I was threatened by a camera, which is just absurd. Hence my lengthy and very satisfying to get of my chest rant.
      The Sony a7rii is just a regular camera, that’s part of my point.
      There is nothing about my image that couldn’t have been taken with a much “lesser” model. My point was exactly that the camera had nothing to do with it.
      And I have no idea what advantage you think medium and large format cameras would bring to this particular table…?
      Also, I am a father, and I was when I wrote this article. Like most people, I enjoy being childish once in while – in fact, having children is quite good for reminding a person that it’s ok to be childish sometimes. That’s what I’ve found anyway.
      As for looking forward to another rant – this article was published nearly 4 years ago, so perhaps you should read more of my content since. You might come to realise that this article provides too small a sample size for you to have fully grasped the type of person I am.
      P.s. the shallow ad hominem nature of your comment makes me think your a dick. Is that unfair – too small a sample size for me to draw an opinion maybe……..?

      1. I guess if the article is 4 years old pull it and stop being a “dick” yourself. Man, as far as what I consider a photographer you are at the bottom of the list. Anyone can be trained to take photos like you do, of set up studio lights…but a photographer…one with an eye, a way to capture a slice in time and show it to the world….AND it takes people breath away…is a natural talent that cannot be taught. So how can I say this, keep practicing with….plastic. If I had to say something positive, it’s that your a better writer than a photographer, and that’s not saying a whole lot, but good job. Hopefully your kids don’t one day want a decent piece of gear, then you will have to tell them how lame they are…”dad like”. Instead give them a full manual Soviet camera so they can become pro like you…oh and make sure they shoot on Portra 400 so the hipsters except them. Later Bro

        1. I’ve got no reason to pull it. As you’ll see above, those who engaged with with the actual point I was making had something to add.
          You’ve not added, you’ve just attacked me and not my point – I suspect because you missed the point I was making…?

          You certainly missed the point of my response. Let me explain the latter part again:

          You are judging me as a person and my entire career as a photographer on one article and one image respectively. Does that not seem a little myopic…?

          To emphasise my point, I called you a dick on the basis of your comment. But tried to hint at the fact that I’m sure you’re not a dick – it’s just the sample size of information I have is too small to judge. I did this to further highlight shortsighted nature of your stance.

          In short, I have taken other photos and said other things, so just judging me on this one article is as daft as me judging you on one comment. Make sense?

          1. It’s does make sense, but my point was that..from what I read you were the one upset, about “dad” types. From what I recall you were the one doing the judging. Everyone judges each other, it a human trait. I’m sure I came across (and probably was being a dock) BUT the point I was trying to make, is that for all you know the “dad” photographer might just be someone that could teach you a thing a two about photography. Heck for all you know I’m a photographer you look up to. Some people might have a better camera, and it might just be sitting on the ground unused that day, or moment. For all you know his kid was in a car accident, lost a loved one, or found out he had cancer. So instead of judging him, enjoy that fact you are shooting and just be happy about it. Remember you were the one REVIEWING GEAR. Clearly the dad types aren’t. And guess what, your review help them make decisions in buying that camera. So maybe it’s you that create the dad photographers. You are I guess, the king of dad photographers. Your just not aware of it. Again, sorry to be rude. I’m just human and I got a bit upset. Later

          2. Of course we do. And we all make mistakes in our judgement – especially on the internet. It’s why I used to write such long articles. I don’t anymore, but when I did I hoped by writing so much, people would get greater insight into my opinions. In reality, that’s not the case, people still read what they wanted to read rather than what I actually wrote, or at least felt that I meant in what I wrote. People get mad like you did at something they think they read, when actually all that happened is my point was misunderstood. What bothered me about your response was how typical it is for online discourse – why not just discuss your different opinions with me rather than trying to just diminish mine?
            It’s all I ever see online these days – especially on social media. No discussion, just “you’re a dick”, “no you’re a dick”. It’s so dull!

            As for learning of anyone – I totally agree. I actually have a section of this website where I encourage new-to-film-photographers to share their experiences. I’ve learned a lot off them – just as I did the client who wanted his bottle shot in a specific way. Every day is a school day, as they say.

            And as for the guy I picked on. Well, I did apologise to him for singling out his comment. But actually, the idea that professional photography just amounts to having a good camera is ludicrous – surely you agree with that?

            Finally, I am – of sorts – an expert I suppose. So yes, some “dad” photographers maybe do read what I say and act on that. But, if you read more of my reviews, you would realise that I actually don’t hand out advice readily at all. This website is built on the idea that we as photographers all have different needs, experiences and goals, and as such my reviews differ from the bigger sites. I don’t rate stuff, rank stuff, measure stuff etc. I just talk about what I like and don’t. The true kings of the “dads” are those that write “the best camera of 2020” type articles. The “dads” just want the “best”, “best” sells, so the manufacturers and big website pander to that desire for the “best”. That’s not what you’ll find here… which you would know if you read a few more of my articles… which of course takes me full circle to my original point ????

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