Chasing the Unknown

Do you know what you're chasing?

My guess is that most of you reading this do not. Given how good cameras and lenses have gotten lately, I'm not entirely sure if I'm chasing anything gear-wise anymore, either.

I see all kinds of placeholders for what people are chasing—more dynamic range, more frame rate, lower blackout times, more pixels, no-brainer autofocus, etc.—but I wonder just exactly what it is that would happen were you granted any of your requests. Does your photography suddenly improve? As a pro do you instantly make more money? Is your previous gear immediately rendered useless?

You know the answer to those questions: no, no, and no. 

Now there are some specific things I've been chasing. The biggest of which is to get the gear I normally use down in size and weight, since I'm growing older and feebler. And to get my gear closet down to just the equipment I'm actually using. So I have to, for instance, look at the Sony A1 and the Nikon Z9 in that light and evaluate accordingly. The Sony A1 and a 400mm f/2.8GM lens would be a substantive size and weight reduction from my current D6 and 400mm f/2.8G. But suddenly having to buy backup Sony gear and replace my entire lens set is a drawback that I can't really justify. So that's a chase that I'm not likely to undertake (I do keep an A1 and three Sony lenses in the locker so I can evaluate against other gear, though). 

I was struck by all this by watching the Olympics, by the way. 

Olympic athletes have something quite clear they chase. First, to get into the games. Second, to do their best at the games and perhaps win a medal. For a few elite athletes, only the gold would mean their chase was successful.

When you have a very specific goal like those athletes do, it focuses your decision making. You can ask yourself a simple question at every juncture: does what I'm about to do hinder or enhance my chase? If the answer is hinder, then they know they shouldn't do it. If the answer is enhance, they absolutely do it (which has been taken to extremes at times with performance enhancement drugs).

My hypothesis is that you're not clear about what it is you're chasing, though. So how do you evaluate the decisions you make along the way? Well, you probably don't. Which means that you'll make bad decisions, avoid decisions, or just take a random walk with your decisions.

Almost none of us are doing exactly what we want to be doing right now because of the ongoing pandemic. If there were no pandemic we'd be traveling when and where we wanted to, balancing work and leisure normally, and tackling side projects as we had time and saw fit. Very few of us are doing any of that at the moment. For me, the primary things that aren't happening are overseas travel and some sports photography commitments. Which has changed my photographic focus and has me spending more time in my photo library than I usually do.

It seems clear to me that we're in a new world now. The likelihood that COVID completely goes away is now pretty low, so we have to come up with a new plan of how we deal with the world around us. Some risk is involved in every endeavor, but the virus has reset those risk values enough so that we should all revaluate and come up with our new plan. 

From a photographic viewpoint, though, nothing really changes. Many of you have been simply chasing "own the latest, greatest gear" as your goal. That's a bit like getting on a vertical climbing machine and not being able to get off: you'll use a lot of energy (money), but you don't actually get anywhere because you just have to immediately do it again, over and over.

This is a really good time to evaluate what motivates you to photograph, and how you want others to see those photos. If you don't know what those things are, it's difficult to spend both your time and money wisely, because you're chasing the unknown. 

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