According to Buddha, the Middle Path, or the Middle Way is a concept used to describe the Noble Eightfold Path, a series of Buddhist practices and mindsets that will lead one to the liberation from samsara. This path includes eight practices: right view, right effort, right speech, right conduct, right resolve, right livelihood, right mindfulness and right meditation into a spiritual union. But what has any of that to do with photography?
Well, this concept of the Middle Way can successfully be implemented in our daily lives. As Buddha proved before, the path to any of the two opposite extremes is dangerous and will not yield neither the efficiency, nor the expected results of what we try to achieve. This can apply to almost everything we thing, feel and do. To exercise this type of philosophy in the way we act, now and in the future can be seen in synonymy with the ancient Greek principle of moderation. In ancient Greece, “Nothing In Excess” is the conclusion that embodies this philosophy and it was written on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Although not doing something excessively is not exactly the same thing as the concept of the Middle Way. But both visions can converge to a final philosophical way of seeing things and acting accordingly.
I would like to apply this summum of principles in the way we choose and use our gear in photography. And, as in some previous articles of mine, I would like to specify that this could greatly help the photographers out there, that are beginners, intermediate level, enthusiasts and semi-pro. It could be as a guideline, assisting you in knowing where you are and what might be your general, conceptual needs, in terms of hardware. For those who do photography as full-time professionals, for those who need specific tools to achieve your not-so-common type of photography objectives, just ignore my story. If the Phase One 100 MP camera at 50 thousand dollars is the essential tool for your work, then this philosophy might not be for you.
But for those who want to manifest their passion and enthusiasm in photography, you know that one tool can be almost as good as another, as long as you focus your efforts in learning, mastering your skills, composing, taking your time to express your true feelings and visions through photography. What is the main goal, when choosing the right photo equipment for you? To achieve that fragile balance between affordable budget, high quality image, a bit of performance, while being comfortable, trust and even like the type of gear that you will be using. Another useful thing is to determine your needs, because it is quite a difference between what you like and what you need. As an enthusiast photographer, do you need that Phase One camera I was mentioning above? Certainly not, even if you have the budget. You might want it for its exceptional performance, but for your photography outcome, you don’t really need it.
It was a time, at the beginnings of my road in photography, when I was continuously reading camera review websites and blogs, comparing cameras, lenses and other accessories, wasting a lot of time while checking the lists of their endless technical specifications. It’s alright, we all do it, at least for a while and we need to stay informed, we need to know the level of progress in this technical area and to determine what might be useful for us. But wasting too much time, looking for the latest model, reviewing the best high-performance camera from the best manufacturers will certainly not make us better photographers. Being lucky to get that Nikon D850 as a beginner, or enthusiast photographer, or getting you on the track of purchasing it, will surely fuel your G.A.S. dependency. And it’s not the best outcome for any of us.
I was a Canon fan and I was interested in both Canon and some Panasonic GH series products. I even liked the performance of Sony Alpha series – their ambition always was to create products that mesmerize you with a super long list of specs. I don’t question their performance, but other aspects that, after many years since learning about DSRLs and mirrorless cameras, still keep me away from choosing a Sony. So, my choice was a Canon DSLR and I was happy with it, until I’ve found out about the future that could be mirrorless (at least in terms of semi-pro level cameras) and made the switch from Canon to Fujifilm.
Now let’s get back to the principles of moderation and the middle path in choosing and using photographic gear, for an enthusiast, passionate, but not (yet) full-time professional photographer. How and why to apply those principles? Because I believe in a sense of moderation and modesty when we behave in society, when we act (and also, do photography). As a beginner, or mid-level photographer, just ask yourself that question: Do you really need that Nikon D850 with a battery grip and an enormous zoom lens to take pictures at flowers and cats and colleagues at a school party, or it serves you more to just show the people what big camera you have and what capable photographer you are? And when the people congratulate you for one of your pictures like “wow, great photo, you must have a very expensive and powerful camera”, do you even bathe in contempt, with a big smile on your face? Don’t you know yet, that great photographs are made by the people, not the cameras?
I think it is healthy and constructive to really identify your needs. This is why, I belive that the middle path will keep you away from both extremes, in terms of amateur photography. How? Well, in your quest for the best photographic personal performances, you might step away from using the smartphone. That’s one on the extremes, at the lowest point. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against using just another tool (handy, portable, always on you) in your photography. But you don’t feel fulfilled as a growing photographer, with a phone in your pocket. It is too small, too Automatic Mode; not the best tool to learn, explore and really push forward your skills. You need a real camera that can work in full Manual Mode, a zoom lens, a prime lens. If you don’t have a camera on you, use the phone, but if you have the camera, forget about the phone.
The other extreme, at the highest point, again, far away from the middle path of moderation is using something like the Canon 1D-X, or a Nikon D5S while still being just an amateur photographer. Why? Because a spoiled kid is not necessarily the most talented, hard-working, skilled and efficient person and the process of coddling him/her, or yourself will just impede a natural growing-up development that we all need to go through. And surely, as a beginner, or amateur, you will not gain more value in your work, by using the most expensive tools that the most eminent professionals use.
Don’t you think it is better to stay in the middle, between a smartphone and the 1D-X / D5S and with genuine effort and modesty, to carve your own path into the world of photography? Do you see the ridiculous in owning a high-end super pro-grade DSLR and not knowing/using/needing more that 50% of its capacities? Isn’t it frustrating and unnatural to drive a 600 HP Ferrari, or Lamborghini only at 30% of its power (because you can’t handle so much power and there is no opportunity to use all of it), when other people have maximum of fun with a Mazda Miata with only 160 HP, or a BMW Roadster with 200 HP, while driving and enjoying them at their fully capacity and performance? I think you can get a very genuine, powerful feeling of fulfilment, when you reach the maximum potential of something, anything. Isn’t it cheating (because of rich parents, for example) to begin your journey with the most expensive gear, without learning from the struggle of technical limitations and also, without using the full performance of what you own? An there isn’t any long and successful road ahead, by cheating, by skipping lessons.
Yes, I’ve said it before and most of us know it. To reach any type of limitation (and here, we are talking about the photographic gear with the technical limitations) can trigger 2 reactions: frustration and the will to overcome those limits, to do better, the best. It is a very constructive struggle (I have a lens with a maximum aperture of only F2.8 – how wonderful it would be to use one at F1.2! My maximum ISO value is 6400, but I’ve heard Sony have some A7 series cameras that reach to tens of thousands of ISO value. What can I do with only 16 MP, when 50 MP is “the standard of today”?). If you feel frustration, think that this is way much better than photographing with the smartphone, with its tiny lens and minuscule sensor. If you feel the need to overcome the problem, think that you’ll become better at what you do. You will flex the muscles of your imagination and your wisdom and you won’t return home, without a decent, great outcome, no matter the modest camera you are using. You will become creative. Powerful. Outstanding at what you do. And you’ll get the public appreciation and you will know those captivating photos are noteworthy because of you and your creativity, not your ordinary camera.
The Middle Path might be just what you need, to find out where you are right now and what kind of photography road you want to walk on. Avoiding the extremes, always being aware of your location and direction on this path, you will be just fine. And don’t cheat. It is your passion, not your geometry class that you hated. So learn all the lessons that need to be learned. May the Light be with you!
All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com