Cole Sprouse Says Good Things In This Video

YouTube knows me well and knew I'd click on "Just Go Shoot. A Photography Vlog 137" with Cole Sprouse in the thumbnail.

I'll start with a quote of Cole's:

"The only practical advice I wish I would've received was: go to your local antique store or go anywhere you can buy the shittiest, like, Hello Kitty camera that you can find and get a good lens for the worst camera and just start shooting. And that's it. And take it everywhere. And your camera will end up conditioning your eye better than any piece of advice could, you know, because good photography is a conversation between the tool and the user and I think if you have yourself a camera that no one else is using, and it's conditioning you in its own way, you have already given yourself a leg up in the currency of photography - which is making your work look original and making your work look entirely unique. The goal is, if your photograph was thrown into a stack of thousands of other photographs that some student could be working through it and go, 'Ah that's his work.' And if you've gained that currency, you've really, you've made it. That's it. If people could look at the work you're doing and go, 'Yeah, I know that, that's BLANK,' then you've made it."


I thought I'd be writing about that quote, but I'll just leave that there for now. I ended up getting caught up in something else he said. (However, if you would like to chat about what he said up there, I'd be more than happy to.)

The interviewer, Duan Mackenzie, asked:

"What kind of cameras do you use?"

(Fair question during a photography interview.) 

Cole answered,

"I don't talk about my cameras, actually...just because people rely on that bit of information like...We rely so heavily on the conversation of cameras because photography is often seen as a conversation of big guns. People think that to take the most crisp, most quality image means that you're a good photographer and that's often times not the case."

I got so excited hearing him say that, like did a woop-woop-fist-pump-in-the-air-in-the-middle-of-Peet's excited.

I, too, don't like talking about cameras all that much. Maybe for different reasons? Maybe some of ours are the same. I get the feeling he withholds the info for the sake of originality, doesn't want to give away his secrets or something, maybe wants people to seek out their own antique finds, create their own look. But, his "photography is often seen as a conversation of big guns" part got me thinking, so here we go.

Back in the day, I felt so intimidated by all the gear-talk, and I know many of you may feel the same. All the equipment conversations made me feel like I didn't know anything. Or like my photos didn't count for anything until they were shot on that. That if I showed up to something with the entry-level camera I had, I'd look silly. Self-doubt seeped in from this "conversation of big guns" and it was overwhelming. I'd sometimes feel intimidated just by the proud way someone said they shot with the Canon Mark Whatever. Sometimes just seeing a certain strap around their neck would instantly make me feel less-than because shoot, I didn't even own a camera yet. I borrowed them, and had carried disposables and point-and-shoots around my whole life (which I now realize were conditioning my eye without me even knowing it, woop woop!).

All that being said, when people ask me equipment questions, I often want to respond to their question with a question.
When they ask about cameras straight out of the gate, I want to know why that's their first question.

Are you looking to buy a camera? Are you making small talk? Do you feel like talking about camera gear is what we should do if we're both interested in photography? Will me responding with a certain camera type cause you to feel small or disheartened or like you need a better camera stat? Do you feel like a better camera will drastically change your images? If so, do you know what features you're looking for specifically or you just sort of feel like the Mark IV will be a game changer? Does your mind go to the photographer's sight or camera curiosity when you see a photo that impresses you? But, I also want to be polite and helpful, and so I typically just answer them.

Those close to me have probably heard me rant from time to time about this sort of thing, about how it stings a little when someone tells me they like a photo I've taken and immediately follow that with, "What do you shoot with?" And don't get me wrong, I get it. Sometimes you just really gotta know because the blurriness in the background is interesting or it looks really dark and there's no noise at all and how?! If you see something and feel like your camera isn't helping you depict that, sure, figure out which one will. But don't jump into the game thinking the Mark IV will make magic without you first seeing magic.

I don't mean to fault people who've asked because I totally have asked too, but I'm just arguing for it not being what our minds go to right away. I'm proposing that maybe that doesn't need to be what we jump into straight out the gate. I think there are much more interesting things to discuss prior.

A large part of my thinking comes from Shannon Leith's "seeing" class I took years ago - 2010 maybe. She mentioned that it didn't matter what camera you brought to the class, that the camera wasn't the point. I don't think I owned one yet, so I felt relieved going into it knowing I didn't need some fancy camera to participate. I was curious how this would all work. A photo class without cameras? Hmmmm?

During our time there, we spent more time looking without a camera up to our eyes than we did looking through any viewfinders, and it. was. incredible. She had us soak up information she shared, look at things from all sorts of angles, notice what we noticed, examine light, appreciate beauty, and share about the little things that caught our eye. We used our cameras at the end of the class, for a little, but honestly, I think my eyes changed that day. I suddenly felt so empowered to be a photographer, even without owning a camera.

That day was a turning point for me. I wish everyone could've experience that SEEING class. Seeing comes first. Then, the fancy camera stuff (if desired). You can shoot on disposables or on your iPhone. You can borrow cameras. You can shoot on your Fujifilm Instax thing. And make powerful images. All these different mediums can condition your eye, but even without any of them, you can focus on keeping your eyes wide open to the world around you and seeing in your own unique way.

Just like buying a super rad guitar and super sick pedals doesn't mean you'll be a good guitarist, having the best camera out there doesn't guarantee great images. Having fancy paint and great paintbrushes doesn't mean you make great paintings. Having a technically good singing voice doesn't mean you sing from your soul. To reduce the photography conversation down to equipment is to take the heart out of it. The unique vision each person has. The philosophy they hold. The why behind their work. 

When you admire a photographer, think of the fact that they saw what you're now seeing too. Think of their eyes, and the heart connected to them. Ask them what they're drawn to. Ask them why photographs matter to them. Look at the light. The composition. The details. The space. Talk about stuff that changes your mind, your approach, your sight. Ask yourself the same things. Go on walks without a camera and just look around. Go on walks with a different camera than the one you've used for a while now. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Train your eyes. Let yourself appreciate photos you take that feel good, even if they aren't totally in focus or they're grainier than you'd like. Don't toss out the ones that speak to you, even if you can't figure out why. Keep your mind's eye open and your sense of sight strong. 


In light of all of this, here are some photos taken on my iPhone that I like.

Thank you, Cole, for being your straight-forward self and inspiring me to articulate my perspective on all this, to remember that limits can make your work so much better, to go scout more often, to aim for originality, to keep more of my non-crisp images, and to stay inspired.


Cole's Instagram & the train photos for Conde Nast he was talking about.