The Archer and the Arrow · DEDPXL


I’m a comic book nerd. Always have been. One of my favorite characters was Green Arrow. He was a superhero archer. Dressed up like Robin Hood. Totally dumb, right? But his arrow arsenal consisted of all these awesome gimicky arrows; a boxing glove arrow. A boomerang arrow. A net arrow. Fire-extinguisher arrow. Handcuff arrow. Whatever he needed for that particular story he’d reach into his arsenal and, bam, he’d pull it out and go nuts.

In the mid 1980s, writer Mike Grell got rid of all the gimmicks and went for more realism. Plain arrows. Simple. No longer did he have a whole bag of tricks. He refined himself down to the basic element. Archer. Bow. Arrow. Skill.

Sometimes in my little fantasy mind, I like to think I’m like Green Arrow. I used to love having a bag of gimmicks that I could reach into during situations. “Oh, this calls for my Gary Fong Dong!” or “Aha!  One simple shot with my Lensbaby and I’ll save the day!” I’d buy into marketing and my bag would fill up with all these gimmick arrows. The more gimmicks I had in my bag, the harder it was for me to reach for the plain arrows.

I always get sick of the gimmicks. I looked at all the other superheroes around me and saw they were all using the same bag of gimmicks to fight crime. It could be a certain kind of action set, or a specific lens, or a particular kind of light. (“One blast of my IceLight and I’ll save the day!”)  I knew, like Green Arrow knew, that it was time to toss the bag of gimmicks in the trash and start searching deep within myself. The true archer, the true photographer has been here all along — deep within. I had been burying him with all the stuff the Internet League of Photographers told me I needed to help save the world; specific lights, specific things, specific stuff. But that stuff never really helped how I saw the world — it came with promises to help change things for the better; save more people, illuminate more faces, make more money, but it was really Kryptonite for me — it pushed me further away from understanding how I shoot and why I shoot the way I do.





Buying new stuff all the time just puts more stuff in your bag. It clutters your mind and takes your attention away from looking deep inside yourself and finding your core photographer. The photographer. A camera body. A lens. A light (sometimes). A bow. An arrow. The Archer. The skill. You.

As I go through the years doing this photography thing it turns out that it’s the ability to know what I do and which tools I’ll need for the image at hand. It’s technically knowing your stuff. It isn’t “either/or”. It’s both. It’s the archer and the arrow. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t keep buying new cameras and lenses all the time. I’ve lived with my gear for a long long time — I know this camera body and this lens like Green Arrow knows his bow and his pack full of arrows. When I reach for that arrow, I’ve got an established history with it. I know how it will fly. I know the tension I need to pull back, to stretch taught. It’s part of my arm. It’s a part of my eye. My fingers dial the camera dial almost blindfolded, because I’ve lived with it for so long. So, in theory, it should only take one shot to hit the target.



Instead of buying more stuff, more gear this year, give yourself a challenge. Pretend you are Oliver Queen (Green Arrow). You are stranded on an island with tons of people that need to have their portrait taken. But you only have one camera. A backpack holding two lenses. Could you do it? Take your time. Take aim. Feel the tension in the bow. Clear your mind. Find your composition. Be one with the arrow. Guide it to it’s destination. Do the calculations. Breathe out. Release. Nail the shot. And know why you nailed the shot.

The bow. The camera. The arrow. The lens. The archer. You.

Gear alone can’t make the image. It needs you. You need it. The less clutter, the more it becomes an extension of you. So that when someday, as you stand there thinking about the job before you, you won’t have to worry about if you need the boxing glove arrow, or the net arrow, or the boomerang arrow.

Instinctively you’ll grab your bow and your arrow and know that you got this.

Go get ‘em, hero.

Sid Ceaser

Sid Ceaser is a commercial, editorial & fine art photographer based in Nashua, NH and is a monthly contributor to DEDPXL. In addition to shooting he also teaches workshops and runs a podcast with designer Dave Seah.

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  1. Scott Wesinger

    And try not to get hit by all those Green Gobblin Photoshop action bombs!

  2. Trent

    Good one, thanks.

    IMO, this is the biggest technical challenge of our profession. You’re on location with a dolly full of strobes, C-stands, octas, all that jazz. Rolls of gels (yummy!). Fog machine. Generators. Sandbags. And it takes an incredible effort to _not_ start setting up this crap, because the natural light is so great…

  3. Sewing Faille

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot. When I got my first DSLR, I got a 31mm f/1.8 prime, and it was The Best Thing Ever. But, I kept running into situations the 31mm couldn’t handle, so I got a 15mm, and it was awesome. With those two lenses, I was unstoppable. Then I got the 21mm because I could, and…

    Now I spend more time worrying about which of those three lenses I should be using and less time thinking about how to frame shots. This bothers me, and I’m not sure how to climb out of the hole I’ve dug myself. The obvious answer would be to sell the 21mm, but I don’t want to do that, because it does have an important function in my bag– it’s the tiny pancake lens I use when I carry my camera around with me during the day. It just drives me nuts when I go hiking for landscape photography.

    And yet, I still keep lusting after new lenses. This also bothers me.

    But…I’ve gone through this phase every time I’ve taken up a new hobby. I have to Collect All The Stuff. I’m curious what things are and how they work, so I have to buy them and try them out. I have a box with so much sheet music I’ll never be able to learn it all. I have boxes full of more fabric I can sew up in my lifetime. And then there’s the lenses.

    At the same time, I’ve gained a lot from this exploration. I know which two or three composers I’d be happy to play for the rest of my life, the ones who write great music that’s also technically fun to play. I’ve tried all the different types of fabric, so now I know which ones are the most technically interesting to sew and the most fun to wear. I wouldn’t know any of this without the experimentation.

    Now I think this phase, the Collect All The Stuff phase, is just a part of the learning process, something I go through to figure out what’s out there, what my style is, and what I really need.

  4. Richard Wintle

    Two lenses? That seems like one too many. 😉

    I do have fond memories of the old Batman TV show. The gadgets on Batman’s belt were much like Green Arrow’s quiver of gimmicky arrows. I swear there was an episode where someone is found dead beside a bowl of alphabet soup, and Batman pulls out the “Bat Alphabet Soup Container” from his belt.* Really, I am totally convinced this happened.

    Back on topic though, I am also among those that (a) work the heck out of a very small number of cameras – but in my case mainly because I really can’t justify another purchase (which is another good reason, and also a good deterrent to buying more than I need). But even so I also get stuck in the “AAAGH WHICH LENS?” inner debate more often than I should. I suspect that a nice 24-70mm f/2.8 would solve 90% of my problems, apart from those requiring telephoto.

    Of course, I don’t own a 24-70mm f/2.8… oh, wait. Drat.

    *Any resemblance to an ordinary Thermos flask, painted black, is entirely coincidental.

  5. Ellen ingram

    Bazinga! Your green arrow struck me right in the heart of my illusion. I’m one of those people who love technology and gadgets, and thankfully, my budget precludes me from indulging in these little distractions. Since 2009, my workhorse,and best friend, has been my Nikon D90. She and I have been on many adventures together. Last year I purchased a used Nikon 18-200mm lens and the love affair was complete (I also use a 40 mm prime). However, I know her strengths and limitations and sadly she makes a lot of noise when I push her beyond ISO 800.

    I’m finding myself in more and more low light situations, where flash is not an option, so two weeks ago I succumbed to the inner tug-of-war and bought a Fujifilm X-T1 . She’s intuitive and versatile, but there are still things my D90 still does better, only now she has to share the spotlight. Each of these cameras is unique with their own special qualities and I love them both equally.

    Sid, great stuff. Every now and then, we all need a reminder.

    • Richard Wintle

      Heh. I missed that you’d bought an X-T1 (have you posted on Flickr with it already?). Congratulations. I have a D70s as my second shooter and while I too love it, it is rubbish above about ISO 800 too. Nothing that a D4S wouldn’t fix for me… agh there I go again! 😉

      • Ellen

        I futzed around with this decision for months. I didn’t look at any other camera brands because of the information about Fuji on Zack’s blog, plus a ton of research on my own. If I had looked at other brands, I’d probably be brain dead by now. My goals: light and compact; good in low-light; inexpensive (relative I guess); mirrorless; interchangeable lenses; and easy to learn and use. I could only afford 1 lens (18-55mm/2.8) which is a good thing. I love the auto toggle between the LCD and EVF, amongst other things. I’ve now fallen into the Fuji rabbit hole.

        I originally purchased the X Pro1 and sent it back. When I used the continuos shot mode, the buffer was so slow I had anxiety attacks because I was missing good candid shots (translation – I’m impatient and I didn’t understand the mechanics of how to use the camera). Just another adventure. All in all, I really like the X T-1, but will still be using my D90. Just can’t let her go.

      • David Taranza

        For 11 years now, I am shooting an old D70. It is not rubbish at high ISO as long as you mount a good glass in front of it. Like, 50 mm or 85 mm prime. Mount a zoom lens (18-70 grade) and you’re screwed at ISO 800 and higher. But still, this grandpa can kick some ass!

        • Richard Wintle

          To be fair, I have shot my D70S at ISO 1000 and higher with both 35mm and 50mm primes in front of it, and the results can be acceptable so “rubbish” was perhaps too strong a term. I love the camera and use it a lot. But I do wish for something I can shoot with in the dark. Sid’s 5DMkII that he mentions in the next comment would do nicely.

          But then I’d need new lenses, and etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Argh, there I go again.

    • Sid Ceaser

      Two years ago I picked up a lightly used 5DMkII. I have had the original 5D since it was released. I saved up a long time to get that 5D. I used that camera every day until I picked up the MkII, but even now, I’ll use the 5D. It’s an awesome camera. It produces great files. Tie a blindfold on me and I can work that camera. It’s an extension of my arm. the MkII was a really good used price, I wanted a few extra pixels to play with, but mainly I wanted it for the video.

      My two primary lenses are a 17-40 f/4 for my environmental and location work, and a 135 f/2 for my studio and head shots. I do have an 85 f/1.8 because if I’m shooting head-to-toe in my studio the 85 gives me a tiny bit more room to work with than the 135. I actually group those two lenses as “1” lens, since mentally it’s almost the same lens for me since I use it for the same purpose. (though the 135 is a magic wand – my favorite lens ever. EVAR!) and I’ve had my 135 for so long; with its slightly fading rubber, I know what my images are going to look like with that lens. When someone comes in for a head shot, I can close my eyes and know exactly what they are going to look like with this lens. It’s like Zen. Oooooohhhhmmmmmm!

      I have a few other lenses but usually it’s for specific things: my 100mm macro lens is just for my fine art toy portraits. And I’m still trying to get over that Lomography Petzval. I purposely leave it in the drawer so I don’t keep using it for *everything*.

      And that’s pretty much it. I don’t use my film gear for client gigs right now, so when it comes to day-to-day work, I can totally do it with 1 body and and two lenses.

      I’ve got a Sunpak 120J that I’ve had since the Dawn of Man that I call “Frankenstein”, since it’s been physically broken in half at least twice and is held together with JB Weld and balsa wood and tape. It’s ugly. It’s a monster. And it’s my favorite light source ever. I’ve got such history with that flash, when it finally goes to the Great Beyond I’m going to be really really sad.

      If a comet fell out of the sky and crashed into my studio, as long as I had my 5D, my two lenses and Frankenstein I’d be good to go.

      But I think everybody has to go through that phase of “I NEED ALL TEH STUFFS!” to help them whittle it down to their essentials, which is why I seldom recommend specific lenses to people – because everyone’s “core kit” is going to be different based on a myriad of factors. Which is why renting is awesome.

      (I must admit – I recently purchased an old used x100 to have as a carry-around camera. It’s amazing. And I’ve done a few jobs for a local magazine and it totally does a kickass job, which kinda surprised me. I’m not a Fuji convert, but it’s a pretty cool little camera)


  6. Mark Loader

    GAS Wars – (high pitched girly scream) – the horror….a few years back that was me. Yep, 4 lenses in 4 years, all similar focal lengths, 28-75, 17-50, 24-70, all f2.8 of course. Madly thinking that each new one would improve ME.
    No. Hell no. Damn no. Should’ve stuck with the first one. Did I gain anything from this foolishness? Not a thing. I LOST money and time focussing my attention away from learning and practising the craft. I became an Inaction Figure. Never again. Thanks for the *painful* reminder of the dark past. Ouch, I needed that :-/

  7. Daf

    Zack has posted such discussions before.
    Although I agree to a certain extent I also believe that if you enjoy trying/buying/using new equipment – essentially new “toys” – then you shouldn’t deny yourself this fun. However also realise that they are just that. To be a better craftsman/woman you should know your main tools well and not get distracted by the others too much.

    • Sid Ceaser

      I totally agree. Try stuff out. Rent stuff. It’ll save you time and money. I secretly love reading the guys over at Fred Miranda forums who constantly buy and sell the stuff they just bought because something newer is announced. That cycle just goes on and on and on and on. It can run away with you.


  8. Jarrett Hucks

    Fantastic write up. I seriously enjoyed that. Very insightful!

  9. Flip Flops

    Great Piece here Sid, Thanks for sharing.

  10. Axel Widjojo

    Hah, great timing for this blog post.

    I think that with photography is that…no matter how much research you do and however many blog posts you read, you will never, ever, ever really know what will ‘fit you’ until you actually experience it for yourself.

    Which is why borrowing, renting to actually experience the gear really is the best advice one can receive. And, you can’t downplay the importance of making mistakes–I would never have been able to appreciate the Fuji mirrorless cameras which I ended up with if I didn’t go through the experience of using Olympus 4/3, Nikon DX, Olympus 4/3, then Nikon FX, in that order.

    It takes a lot of courage, discipline, willpower and self-reflection to be stay with the ‘less is more’ approach. And to embrace simplicity, you could argue that you need to experience its polar opposite.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I think I’ll just save my money for the X-Pro2 or a used X-T1 while getting rid of the lenses I don’t use…

  11. Axel

    Haha, it seems to _always be the right time_ for such an article.

    I got caught by the dreaded GAS myself just yesterday. The XF 1,4/16 is officially out. I want it. Do I need it? No. Just got the 2/18 in December, and learned to love it. Does it make my X100s obsolete? No, that one can sync 1/2000. Do I want to sell my 2/18 to replace it with the 1,4/16? No, the 18 is wonderfully small. Makes my X-T almost as portable as the X100s. Shouldn’t I bring the Xs instead? It lacks the face detection…

    On the other hand, I agree to the “two lenses only” approach from the bottom of my heart. Do street/travel in a really hot country, and you’ll learn to value that approach. I shot Bangkok and Chiang Mai that way in winter (as an amateur). And chose every morning: temples and markets? Samyang 12 and the 18. Just a short walk around the block? X100s (this got me the best shot of the whole trip, btw). Afternoon/night tour? 18 and 35. That saved my day when I unexpectedly ran into a small metal gig and could give the band a few snapshots right after their performance (finally I found a use for Wifi).

    Using only primes kind of frees my mind, or at least I like to think so. Limiting myself to only two focal lengths make me focus on what I can do with those, without really bothering (or feeling sorry about) shots that are out of the reach of that minimal kit.

    Walking around with just a belt pouch instead of a heavy backpack of gear got so much more important for me than having all my gear with me. This approach makes me nimble, so I’m much more motivated to literally go the extra mile for a nice opportunity.

  12. Dr Alo

    I agree. I see so many people buy so much gear and not use one tenth of it. They buy it because they can. While I run around with my very small handheld camera and single lens and create amazing pictures and video. I have access to unlimited funds, but I don’t buy tons of new gear. Learn to use your gear and get better and post production. Your work will look awesome!