Different tools : different outcome

This week, I watched a really interesting documentary by Keanu Reeves about the transition in the movie industry from using film to using digital capture.

Now before I go any further, I wish to make it clear that this posting is not a 'film vs digital' debate - it's a tired topic and one I feel there is little benefit in getting involved in. Instead, this post is really about the creative process, and how using different tools often require us to work differently, and that in itself,  often leads to a different outcome.


In Reeves documentary, we have people in the movie industry from cinema-photographer's to directors discussing how their process has changed. Some of them question whether it has been a good thing for them and some question whether they feel they've lost something along the way.

Martin Scorsese for instance, feels there is too much reliance on digital capture to give instant feedback whilst on set, stating that he never trusts anything until he sees it on a big screen.

Conversely, a film editor says that cutting a movie and deciding which camera angles to take to make a scene flow in the final edit has become enormously easier to do and re-do in the digital domain. Cutting celluloid often required a great deal of logistical effort. But he does state that he felt that working on editing films requires a more considered effort, that was maybe not there so much with digital.

These are just some of the examples in the documentary, but they resonated with me, because ultimately, what they were saying is that when they change something in their work flow, the outcome is often affected in some way.

I have always believed that whenever I change anything in my working process, the outcome is always affected.

I may gain, but I also lose something in the change because by nature, change is change. It's just often difficult to measure just how much the change has affected my work. And although this may be liberating at times, it's also a daunting place to be for the simple fact that there are things in my existing workflow that I do not wish to mess with, because I love how they produce a certain result. I'm aware, that by simply changing one little thing in my workflow, as inconsequential as I may feel it might be, I know it has the capacity to remove some of the elements I love about what I've done in the past.

For example, changing the aspect ratio of my camera has often led me to find new compositions that I wouldn't have seen before. For about 12 years I shot a Mamiya 7 camera which has an aspect ratio of 4x5 (yes, I know it's a 6x7 camera, but when you measure the images, they are 4x5 aspect ratio). Three years ago I bought a Hasselblad 500 series camera from a dear friend. I knew at the time, that it had the potential to really mess with how I 'see'. I think, over the years, I've developed a good eye for composing in rectangles and although I was keen to see where working with a square aspect ratio camera may lead me, I knew that it wouldn't be easy to go back once I'd gone down a certain creative road for too long. I also knew that any change in my workflow would require at least a couple of years of my time to understand what it had brought to my photography overall. In short, I tend to reflect quite a lot about what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it, and how things might change, and how things have changed for the better or worse along the way.

As creatives, we should always be asking ourselves questions. The creative process is really an internal dialogue anyway. One where we create and then we ask ourselves if we like what we've created. It's one where we make new decisions upon that. Having a sense of enquiry about what we do, being self-aware as always, requires us to think about how our work is changing, and how the tools we choose affect those changes. Good artists can't help but ask themselves these questions all the time.

So before you buy that latest lens, or new plug-in to try, ask yourself how you feel it may change what you do. And when you begin to use these new tools, ask yourself how they are influencing what you do whilst  using of them.

A creative life is one full of enquiry. We make work based on how we feel, and how we respond to our environment, but we also make work based on how we interact with the tools we use. Consider, reflect, adapt, change, revert where necessary, but always keep a sense of enquiry about what you do.