My Camera Equipment Secrets
At exhibitions and in interviews, I’m occasionally asked about what cameras I use. I typically dismiss these questions with a flippant “Good photography has nothing to do with equipment and everything to do with talent.”
That’s not really true. One needs both.
Taylor Camp, as well as my images of Heera Mandi (Pakistan) and Kolkata (India), were shot with very rare and little-known manual control/perspective control lenses that allow me to maintain absolute true and parallel architectural lines as one does with a view camera’s swing and tilt features. Even professional photographers often miss noticing this, but everyone feels it. I was trained with viewfinder cameras and did a lot of product shots and advertising with a 4x5 when working for Loewy and Snaith in New York, so operating a manual camera with swings and tilts come naturally to me.
My choice of equipment has always been carefully thought out and suited to each project. Until 2011, I used film cameras exclusively – Nikon SLRs for Taylor Camp and the Kaua‘i Album (along with a 4x5 view camera), Contax viewfinders for Bhutan, and now Sony mirrorless cameras.
Most of the photos in the Taylor Camp book were made with a Nikon 35 mm perspective control (PC) lens. The project features environmental portraits where accurate architectural backgrounds were essential elements of the images. I always composed with grid pattern viewfinders and whenever possible, I used a tripod. Since it was a short walk into Taylor Camp from the road, equipment weight was not an issue.
In Bhutan, equipment weight was the issue. To make my book and film, I trekked well over 1,000 miles, packing still cameras and video equipment. I used the very compact Contax M-series cameras with prime 28, 35, 50 and 105 lenses. Two bodies with these lenses and accessories fit into a camera bag well under a square foot. I could not afford the weight of PC lenses so I glued target levels to the camera bodies, used a tripod, and kept the scene level and square whenever doing environmental portraits or architecture.
My Sony cameras have features built in that provide grid patterns and levels. Combined with Canon 24 mm and 35 mm PC lenses, they are perfect for architecture and environmental portraits – though these lenses are bulky, heavy and fully manual, which can sometimes interfere with capturing that “decisive moment.”
Another critical aspect of my photography is film type and how I exposed and developed film. And now, how I expose and process digital image files using the same principles to get detail in both shadows and highlights. But that will have to be for a future essay.