Wizards and Alchemy · DEDPXL


Soooooo… That Crop or Crap post I made went around the Internet a few times and sparked some discussions. Photographer Sid Ceaser left a comment here on DEDPXL that had me standing up from my chair and throwing my fists in the air.

Here is Sid’s original comment:

Whenever someone around me wants to argue sensor size (“Mine’s bigger. Mine’s better. Mine sees in the dark more. MOAR BOKEHZ! bigger Bigger BIGGER!!!) I go to my flat file and I pull out my wedding portraits. My wife and I met in art school (Oh, gawd, lovey-dovey schmooze!) and when it came time for us to take the vows, we knocked our brains together (and, ahem, other things) and we wanted special photos taken. Not the “documentary-stylistic-brou-ha-ha-capture-the-feeling-emotion-day-time-zone-blahblahblah” crap that gets shoved down everyone’s throats. We wanted special. We were both photographers. We wanted to honor craft. The history of photography. Back when it was part Wizards and alchemy and magic chemicals and dirty-finger stains. We found a guy that shot 20×24″ tintypes.

20. by. 24. inches. Of pure tin. Plates. That’s like Godzilla walking in and step-splatting everything around. Squash.

The results were breathtaking. I almost died. Not because I exposed myself to silver nitrate for too long, but because the images where gorgeously crafted and huge and beautiful and instantly had a sense of history and time and place and appreciation of craft. I almost had a stroke. Photo coma.

I don’t know why I mention this. Maybe because I remember shooting 8×10 and 5×7 in college. Maybe because shooting 4×5 pinhole images with my then girlfriend now-wife brings back not only nostalgia of shooting giant negatives, but celebrating the alchemy of photography with someone I loved. Because no matter how far we get with digital cameras and stoopid photoshop actions and large-format-pigmented-inkjet-shut-the-hell-up printers, I love to remember where we’ve come from. Those completely insane guys with a horse and a cart with giant wooden splinter-giving wheels with no shock absorption at all traversing the world with giant bottles of lethal chemicals and huge glass plates that could break any time with looks on their faces like they are all just a *tiny* bit off kilter, because of the desire to make amazing photographs. They would say, “I love this thing. I love it so much, I want to document it and photograph it and show others all over this world because I love this thing so much I need to show it to people”. And they did. And it is more amazing than what we deal with today.

Today we argue and self-justify what we bought and we stop thinking about the images that we should be taking that could, maybe, one day, change how someone might see something. Change their world.

The first time I made an 11×14″ contact print, a part of me died and went to heaven. It was awe-inspiring. In these days of digital and everyone arguing about what is better Better BETTER BEST we need to put the brakes on, climb up into that horse-drawn carriage, and mix a few chemicals for our own sanity. Our fuzzy eyes help us see better.


YES! YES! Wizards and f*cking Alchemy!!! YES SID!

I asked Sid if he had any photos he could share with us. Here is one of him and his wife, Sara, and the photographer Wizard, Yige Wang, who took the photograph. There’s also a behind the scenes video you can see here.


“I love to remember where we’ve come from.”

I love to remember where we’ve come from.

I love to remember…

I love…


More and more comments went around the web about how all of that video was just a sponsored Fuji Ad and how full frame is actually twice as large as APS and how Nikon blah blah blah’s are better at blah blah blah, and how no pro would ever blah blah blah, and, actually, I am wrong about depth of field because of blah, blah, blah, blah. For everyone who thinks I’m just paid to say all this. Please see this post. Thanks. This is the last time I’m ever going to talk about it.

I love the comment someone made to them… “Do you hear that swoooosh sound over your head? That’s Zack’s point.”

Wizards and Alchemy.

I love to remember where we’ve come from.

Sid, you created so much signal that cut through the noise and I thank you for that.

ForTheMotherland_0 1941

The image above was photographed by Russian photographer Dmitri Baltermants in 1941. Dmitri is part of where we come from. We stand on his shoulders.

What camera or format was that image above shot with? Who knows. Who cares?

Bouke White chryslerbuilding

Margaret Bourke-White kicking ass on top of the Chrysler building with God knows what brand of camera. We stand on her shoulders.


I seriously doubt that any reader of this blog, author included, has yet to create the type of iconic images that Dorothea Lange created with whateverthef*ckitis she is shooting with as pictured above in 1936. I’m far more interested in her shoes actually. Those are some amazing kicks. We stand on her shoulders. She passed the baton a little further down the line so we can chase the light.

APS. Full frame. CCD vs. CMOS. Fuji sponsorships. Well actually such and such is better. No… blah blah blah. No… I just posted on DPreview that blah blah blah. Yeah. Gear. Love gear. Will talk about gear. Review gear. Gotta have some gear if we’re going to do any of this right?

All of you who are “blah, blah, blah, blah’ing”… author included… I want you all to go look at Pep Bonet’s photo essay from the Kissy Mental Home in Sierra Leone.

Everyone needs to look at that essay. And we all need to STFU and remember moment, and light, and expression, and composition, and connecting to our subjects and to the world at large, and leaving something behind that might just change someone’s life one day or remind them why they fell in love with each other or take them back to that first time she smiled or to remember that war is still ravaging the earth and maybe we should all stop fucking killing each other. Photography has this power to do something and it doesn’t matter one bit what effing sensor size you use.

Thank you Sid for your comment. Thank you.




Zack Arias

A full time commercial and editorial photographer, Zack shoots everything from bands to CEOs to ad campaigns. A gifted teacher and communicator, he has an uncanny ability to meet and connect with all types of people.

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  1. Jeremy Hall

    I’ve been taking this more and more to heart. I just got back from my family vacation where I took both kits, my full Canon gear and my small Fuji walkaround stuff. Other than using the Canon to do the requisite family portraits, I used the Fuji the entire time for all the family doings, cute kids, learning to surf, etc. Not only do the photos look great, they are starting to look *better* than when I shoot with my full frame. Are they creative genius photos? Nope. But there are a few in there I’m really happy I shot, and likely would not have even attempted it it required pulling out the big dog camera.

    • Zack

      Same here. I have so many more family moments captured because I’m carrying a small camera that beats the crap out of the same shot if taken with a cell phone.

      Hope you had a great vacation Jeremy!


  2. Sid Ceaser (@sidceaser)

    Whenever my wife and I took a vacation anywhere I was the dumbass that was lugging three bags of crap.

    Wife: “honey, come over here and enjoy the view of Lake Champlain”.

    Sid: “Okay, let me set up some lighting and a softbox so I can take a picture of you standing by Lake Champlain”.

    Wife: ” . . . ”


    I did this over and over and over. Like some monkey lugging around crap. Meanwhile, I was missing the most important thing: being on vacation with the woman I loved. I was photographing the vacation of my wife, but not actually *being* part of the vacation. That sh*t needed to stop.

    Now a days it is less about holding a camera, and more about holding my wife’s hand.

    Less chimping. More kissing.

    Don’t forget that, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t *ever* forget that.


    • Zack

      Quit writing more future blog posts Sid! Jeebus!


      Less chimping. More kissing. —> T-shirt!!!


    • Carrie

      I love u Sid! I couldn’t agree more. Enjoy life and the pictures will follow and hold meaning.

    • Pierre

      Funny how the stars align when you’re in a spirit.

      I went to Venice, Italy last February for a week of photography with Within The Frame (highly recommended) and only brought an X100S. I loved it (the camera) and I loved it (Venice). After 4 days (out of 7) I got creatively jammed. I had shot all the typical Venice stuff. I’m just beginning in street (and canals) photography, so this was a blessing to get stuck in the middle of the week and find some other inspiration. Jeffrey Chapman and Winslow Lockhart (our photographer guides) just critiqued some of my previous-the-trip pictures that afternoon and told me: “You’re technically very skilled, you control light etc etc etc but relax…”. So I went at night, no tripod, 6400 ISO f2 and shot shadows and silhouettes for 4 hours. I was inspired. And the more I look at those pictures, the more I love them,not only for what they show, but for what they represent. And no one ever saw those pictures. Took’em for me. So that was the Wednesday.

      Then I got stuck again on the Saturday (the day before we left) and realized I was missing something in this beautiful photogenic city. Actually, I was missing someone; my wife, with me, right there, seeing the same thing I was seeing.

      Going back together this fall for our 25th anniversary. A bit of chimping but man, a lot more kissing!

      So Sid, you can not be more right. And I want that T-Shirt.

  3. brooon

    Love this, I dont have any input on the technical side at all, I switched because of cumbersome gear to light and portable….that’s it, nothing more nothing less albeit maybe a few influences along the way like turning up to a particular walkabout town shoot with a DSLR when everyone was using small range finder type camera`s for street but geek aspects have never really influenced me, I want to broaden my creativity and today I ploughed some £££ into two books yeah books who`d a thunk it. A Larry Fink book and a photography playbook and you know what? I cant wait for them to turn up. Its been said before its not the camera that makes great images its the person behind it……cheers Zack!

    Vive la révolution du signal

    • Zack

      Well said friend. Oh, and did you notice that fine t-shirt I was wearing in that crop or crap video? That was all for you big guy! 🙂


      • brooon

        You know, I kinda seen it but was uncertain if it was, fits well though! oh and the irony of wearing such a T and then giving up beer! OMG that’s you straight up ass bummed for any trips back to the UK then huh?

  4. Al

    Okay, Zack. I’ve been reading and following you for a few years now. I’ve no beef with what you write. It’s honest and straight-on. Like it should be. However, I need to give a voice to something I’ve really yet to see spoken around here:

    I have no history with old cameras. Never once have or want to do “old” photography. I’m not interested in developing chemicals and shite like that. Have no memory to go by. I listen to all of these current photographers with their “I remember when…” stories and I don’t care. Because, well, I don’t. I care about images, not how they are taken or what box they using to get the exposure. It’s images. Only photographers look at images and even dare to think of what they were taken with. Let’s think critically about that for a moment: When was the last time you looked at an image that truly moved you and the first thing that you asked was, “full-frame or crop?” “Digital or film?” WTF? If those are the questions being asked, then either the image isn’t a good one anyways, or the point has been missed altogether about this craft.

    That being said, I have to say that even now, as a photographer who didn’t get into photography until it was “affordable” and “digital”, I don’t care about film or how it’s done. I sucked at using film cameras. I loathe the fact that I ever shot film, because I can’t find one good shot I ever made with film. Even now, film cameras, with the knowledge and experience that I have would kick my ass. I have learned to rely on what digital provides. Is this wrong? No. It’s not. I don’t need to reminisce with chemicals and film to appreciate stuff. That’s grandpa talk. It’s like telling someone that they need to drive Model T’s and covered wagons to really appreciate driving or something. It’s all about the image. Let’s leave this gear thing alone, it’s too tiring.


    • Zack


      Look. There is some stuff from the days of old and large format cameras that nothing in the digital world has been able to touch. There’s magic out there but it’s hard to find and even harder to do.

      MY POINT …. MY POINT….

      Moment. Light. Composition. Connecting with people.

      Digital. Film. Whatever. Do it. Rock it. Own it. New shit. Old shit.

      Second point…

      Respect where we come from. Study where all this came from. Study those crazy ass photographers who got this ball started for us. Tip the hat and thank them and then do your part to be a good steward of this craft for the next generation.

      Gear is always going to be part of some discussion about photography. It just is. It just can’t be THE subject all the time.

      Remember too that I’m not trying to preach to the choir here. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. If you never ever shoot film you won’t lose any respect from me. Rock those ones and zeros. But… I’m telling you. I know you don’t care… there’s a magic out there in that old way of doing things.


      • Dan

        I saw a blog post this days that said “no one is making a bad camera this days. So shut up about it and just shoot”.

        I’ve just moved to a full frame (and you sir, and your 5k challenge had a lot to do with it), but I know I would be just as happy with a Fuji system (I guess even happier, with that compact size and nice colors).

        The only reason I didn’t stick with APS-C, is that the for some f*ck up reason, a camera like the X100S costs the same as a Nikon 610 here in Brazil, the X lenses go even higher, so I saw no point in giving up my old lenses and spending all my money moving to a completely new system that doesn’t have customer service down here.

        But I will gladly spend that dough on a trip and books to improve my portfolio. Gear will not last for long, the only thing that remains it’s the craft.

        My hat’s off to you, Mr. Zack. Photography is an art, not a TI job, and you are always remembering us of that.

        • Zack

          Passport stamps > cameras.



    • Sid Ceaser (@sidceaser)

      My wife is also a photographer. She shoots with a 4×5 pinhole camera. She makes albumen prints. She floats paper on mixed egg whites to get her substrate. She uses silver nitrate and a printing frame. She loves taking pictures of landscapes and things that have never been touched by the hands of man.

      Never before or since have I ever seen her come so alive with photography than when she married all of those processes together. She loves the pinhole because it’s a wooden box. It’s basically a tree with a teeny tiny hole in it. She loves using the albumen process because it’s created from a living animal.

      Each step of the way she is connected to her method of photographing in a way that every other way of photographing didn’t affect her. Not to say “I’m cool because I use an old method” but because she came across this method and it changed her way of seeing. Of shooting. Of using raw materials to help her make gorgeous landscapes.

      To her, the specific tools absolutely has everything to do with how she shoots. She couldn’t care less about digital. I’ve tried to push it on her – bought her a DSLR. No dice. “It isn’t the same” she tells me. And I see the love that goes into her process and I know it’s true from her heart and from her creativity.

      Use the tools that float your boat. But history shows us where we came from. It’s good to dip your toe in it at least a little bit. 🙂


      • Sean McCrossan

        This is something that I have been studying hard of last as it is (partly) the subject of my masters course. The thing that I liken it back to is art look at the amazing things that are possible now with computers and there are some people who do amazing stuff on photoshop or illustrator who may not have even touch a paint brush.

        That doesn’t mean that they’re not standing on the shoulders of the renaissance artists who perfected composition or the sign writers who traveled around the states, trundling into town with their brush and ink ready to help those business folks advertise their wares.

        It also doesn’t mean anyone should stop painting with a brush and tubs of colours. It’s not that different to film and chemicals, they are a tool and they are there to be used.

        I’m not hating, I just really wanted to get into this conversation. This post’s comments seem to hold some of the most rational posters on the internet at this time.

        • Sid Ceaser

          The right thing for you is whatever it is in your brain that “clicks”. For my wife Sara, it was the second she mixed the wooden pinhole camera, the albumen process and landscape photography. It was like watching a firework go off; a great flash of sunshine. You could feel the love coming out of her heart and her brain. It took that concoction of things to set her on fire.

          When I was speaking with Yige between the tintypes he was taking of us, I asked him what got him into tintype. He told me that he loves old, rotting, destroyed barns. He wanted to photograph them. He tried so many methods of photographing those barns – 35mm film, slide film, medium format, 120 film, square, rectangular, super-wide-landscape, etc. Then, one day, he discovered the wet process and he tried making a small tintype of one of the barns.

          The image he saw was what he envisioned in his head when he closed his eyes.


          Fireworks and flames.

          Digital, or film, or making digital negatives on transparency film and making fiber-based prints, or polaroid transfers, or little sticker prints, or a Hasselblad, or a Toyo, or a toy camera – when that right thing falls into your hands and you have to put it down because the fire in your heart has the potential to melt it, then you’ve found the right thing. We are all different. Thank God there are so many ways to freeze a second and let us make it unique.


      • Shannon Herren

        Sid–your comments resonate so strongly with me! Your words have eloquently captured exactly what I feel about photography (beginning with the very comment at the heart of this post of Zack’s).
        Thank you!

  5. Keith McFarland

    Amen, brother. Once you nail an 8×10 color slide, you’ll never look at your digital camera the same way again. I’ve sold my once-beloved Canon 5D and associated gear. Almost all my shots are now done with the 8×10. Sometimes, I’ll use the Mamiya C330S if I wanna take less expensive snapshots.

    • Keith McFarland

      And I’m considering pulling the trigger on some wet-plate gear & chemicals. They just look awesome.

  6. S. Dirk Schafer

    Ask yourself if whatever you are doing is on purpose … If you make images on a 110 camera or next weeks Dleica does it matter? Really MATTER?

    Yes I’ve used big film cameras and gotten my fingers wet in the darkroom but I completely empathise with anyone who finds that story BORING and pointless. To quote Zack, “blah,blah,blah.” (But we are all here because a story that would clear the air about sensor size sounded so enticing.)

    If your photographs are somehow better using a crop sensor then you have mastered the force, Luke. If that is true with your hand-me-down D100 or your pre-release D810 you still win. You know what I miss most? Satisfaction with my equipment that lasts longer than 18 months … Quality aside, if you bought a 4×5 in 1972 it would still be fine today. A camera/lens that makes the images you want is all that matters but the photographic-industrial-complex has a vested interest in making gear-envy more important than the photographs you make and the story they tell.

    On purpose. (Yours or their’s, your choice)


    • Zack

      Well said Dirk.


  7. Bartek Buzuk

    Every time I hear people complaining or arguing about gear, pixels, noise I try to remember this quote from Jeff Widener: “Forget shutter speeds, F stops, camera brand or anything else. Feel your subject and let your finger flinch. If you see something that raises your heart rate, push first and think later. When an image reminds a viewer of a past lover or an old song that lingers onward, then you have succeeded.” This what matters at the end – a photo and what is on it.

    Great comment Sid and great post Zack. Cheers!

  8. jarWoodson

    Just wanted to say I’m reading every word of this like it’s gospel. I stand on the shoulders of Raymond Depardon, Henri Carter Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Julius Schulman, Edward Muggeridge. All those that had the chutzpah to do what most of the modern world does not even consider when they press the shutter button on any photo-capturing contraption. I’m not saying all this to puff up my chest for photo-geek cred. I say this because I love this….every bit of it. Thanks so much. JW

  9. Rob Timko

    People get really mad (especially the Leicalitists) when I chime in with that most every iconic Cartier-Bresson photo could have been taken with an iPhone, and at better quality.

    • Zack

      No joke Rob!


  10. Jacob delaRosa

    Holy Bejeezus! Even on that tiny web jpg I can count the threads on Sid’s overalls!!!!

  11. Kaisa

    One of the unfortunate downsides of all the talk about gear to me is that sometimes it scares “common people” off. I have heard more than once: “oh, I am not gonna take out my camera, there are people with more professional ones here” etc. The deep rooted belief that the gear sees, shoots and creates. And hey, I don’t think everyone should be a photographer and shoot, but I think the reason not to should never be the “shame of gear”.

  12. Edgar

    Thats fine and dandy, but did he pee on it !!!!!

  13. Cary Norton

    Not that I can even remotely touch what I just watched in this video, but I’ve got to say that shooting large format, the EXPERIENCE of shooting large format, rather, is one of my favorite parts. I’m not saying I’m going to start making a 20×24 and shooting wet plates, but the quote “I love to remember where we’ve come from” is just dead on. The experience of creating/crafting an image in this way is often as impacting for the photographer as the subject. At least in my experience. I don’t get to shoot LF enough, but when I do, it is rewarding (if a lot of work*).

    *Relative, of course, obviously.

    • Zack

      Thanks for chiming in Cary. I always think of you when the discussion of large format comes up.


  14. Jayson

    Just today I had a NY-based creative director cold call me inquiring about me shooting for one of their clients here in the Bay Area. We went through a lot of shots on my portfolio that they liked, and wanted to use as inspiration.

    About 20 minutes into the convo, he asked “So, what camera do you shoot with?”. When I told him Fuji X-T1, he paused and said, “Oh. I’m not sure that will work – my client is expecting a ‘professional’ camera, and if you showed up with one that looks like a point-and-shoot, they won’t understand.”

    I tried explaining to him that even when I had my Canon 5D3, 100% of the client selects were always from the Fuji. He said he’ll see what he can do, but this is absurd.

    I’m wondering if anyone asked DaVinci what type of paint he used…


    • Zack

      #facepalm – That is still out there in the world. Rent a big camera and keep it around on a tripod. 🙂


      • Jayson

        UPDATE AUG 12, 2014 – they called me back this morning to do the shoot after all…as a “rush”, too, shooting tonight. The client (Anheuser Busch) still wanted me with my Fuji “point-and-shoot” even though I’m not breaking my back lugging around a huge DSLR. #fujiforthewin

        • jamie

          awesome news. i know people who are afraid that the client won’t like them if they just show up with a dslr, because everyone has one and that a medium format camera demands respect.

          so great news, jayson.

          it’s funny that you put david hobby and zack on your list of heroes right next to AVEDON… no disrespect of course to dh and za…

          i see that you are busy doing other things besides photography, and despite the relatively small number of pix on your website, you are working or the Big Boys. I’m looking forward to digging into your blog. good luck

        • Zack

          Hobby and I have no place on a list that also has Avedon on it. Unless the list is something like “Male humans who owned cameras.” I feel comfortable being on that list with Avedon.


        • Jayson

          Jamie, thanks for the kind words. Shoot went great. In regards to that list, each one of those guys is on there for a specific way that they’ve affected me and my photography.

          Hobby is there because he jump started me into the world of strobes in a simple, easy-to-digest way. He’ll always hold a place as one of my faves because he provided me the foundation that I was looking for.

          Zack is there because he continually gives me things to digest and try and change and think about and research. He simply inspires me. He cuts through all the bullshit and gives you a straight answer that you can understand – with no sugar coating. Zack (even though I’ve never met him) has been a mentor that has pushed me into a way of photography that I love.

          Thanks for checking out my blog – I have some cool upcoming posts. Hope to hear from you again.


        • Zack

          Yeah! Congrats!


  15. John Grubb

    All the camera companies make good cameras. It’s just a matter of choosing the camera that will work in sync with you. I have Canons and I have Fuji’s and I have a few film cameras that I still love to use on occasion. They all take fantastic pictures. If the picture sucks, it’s not the camera’s fault. I’m the one telling it what to do so I’m to blame. Although I have a 5D Marklll, the only pictures currently on my wall are from my old 400d (Rebel XTi). 2 12×18 shots printed on metal plates and they look great. That’s 7 or 8 year old technology. Of course my film cameras are a lot older technology but I still can get great shots from them too. I believe it was Ansel Adams that said the most important part of photography is the 12 inches behind the camera or something to that effect.

  16. Mike Beecham

    I almost don’t feel like I’ve paid my dues enough to warrant a comment on the topic, since I’ve only been shooting for a couple of years now, really since I could afford to own any camera…but I’m going to plough on through anyway…

    Personally, I couldn’t give a rats ass about whether a camera is crop, full-framed, digital, film, rangefinder, PaS, whatever…who cares, I mean honestly…who gives a crap?

    I think I want what most other photographers I know want. I want the shot. I want someone to look at my picture and just stop for a second and somehow become part of that moment I’ve captured. I know that’s what I want from someone else’s pictures. I want to be affected emotionally by a photo.

    I couldn’t care less if that happens with a Polaroid, an iPhone 5, a Canon 6D or my beloved x100. I want to make pictures that I’ll look at in 40 years and still find myself staring at them.

    Sure, the technical plays a part in that, but it’s a really really small part. It’s more about the moment. It’s about THAT moment which will never happen again in that way for the rest of eternity which, if we’re lucky, we get to record for someone else to look at in wonder.

    Of course, I could be talking complete arse, but that’s what I want, and I’m not sure it really matters what sensor I use.

    • Zack

      I’m sure you still have dues to pay Mike but let me tell you one thing… your heart and mind are in the right place.

      Keep going for that elusive shot.


  17. Roo Powell


    You made me go look at the photo essay by Pep Bonet. I am now typing this response with tears in my eyes! Bloody powerful stuff! So much so that I want to help those poor people stuck in that shit-hole.


    I first had that feeling when I saw the work of Don Mcullin, when I was about 14. I tried to emulate his work and for years used an OM2n (still got it) – Brilliant camera.

    When I got older (and richer) I got an M6 / 35mm f2 summicron. – Also a brilliant camera. Biggest mistake I ever made was selling it to fund a Canon DSLR system! Ha – what a fool!!!!

    I now have a Fujifilm x10 and now X100s. This is the best camera I have owned – without doubt.

    HOWEVER – NONE of those cameras can drum up the emotion I feel when l look at photos like those taken by Pep. It’s compassion that has made those images and that is what Don McCullin had too.

    Those photos of Pep’s in Sierra Leone have probably moved me to take photos more than anything recently. The kit is completely irrelevant!


    • Roo Powell

      Sorry Zack, I spelled your name wrong. Forgive me.


    • Zack

      Yeah… Pep’s work. Don’s work. Unbelievable stuff. Glad to have turned you on to Pep’s images.


  18. Mark Zelinski

    Great post, @zack. I was wondering, did you type it on a Mac or PC? I want to write something inspirational too but not sure if a PC would be good enough. 😉

  19. Filip

    I’ve got this funny feeling, that all those who get a hard on on gear and sensors, pixels and all that bullshit are the ones who actually lack something elusive. Something that was called ‘having an eye’. You may call it a vision. I’ve been asking myself this question: what’s most important in photography? And I can only say for myself, that connection with other human being, and ability to capture this connection. Why capture? Because we are human, we need emotions, and photographs are this form of nostalgia that bring us back or takes us somewhere. If you know what I mean.

  20. Jorge

    Yet another great post Zack!
    Every now and then I put away my X-T1, my D800, and all my other sh*t, load a 12 exposure cartridge of Velvia in my Mamiya 645AFD, or my Bronica, or my Yashicamat 124g and just go shoot.
    Funny thing I was doing just this up on the Maine coast and I met a guy shooting a 4 x 5. Man did we talk and talk! He actually shoots all summer, but doesn’t go into the darkroom until the dead of winter. When its dark and cold outside, he develops and prints his images and brings summer back into his life. Pretty neat idea actually. I think us digital folks are way to eager to see to do that. Heck, I don’t think I can do that even when I break out the film.

  21. Dave Cooper

    I think a lot of this “debate” stems from a faulty premise. The idea that there is going to be only ONE CAMERA that you could do everything with. That’s never been the case and never will.

    So if I’m trying to find the signal within the noise, it’s this: digital cameras are getting better all the time. Hooray for us who use them!

    • Rafael Morales

      I call that the “Excalibur” theory. 😀

  22. Ian

    Love all of this.

    I gotta say, one thing that hasn’t been brought up (well, in a negative way Jayson’s art director talks about it) is the gear’s effect on the subject. I like taking pictures with disposable cameras (full-frame… btw 😉 of strangers because nobody thinks I’m serious, so they let loose. And I like using 4×5 for portraits because people take it very seriously, and the resulting portraits have a certain weight to them irrespective of the actual “quality” of the medium.

    I bet when Sid and his wife stared down the barrel of that 20×24 monster they had a different level of reverence than they would have with an SLR.


    • Sid Ceaser (@sidceaser)

      The Petzval lens on that thing was like one of those warp-pipes from Super Mario Bros. It was massive. It made you want to climb in it and take a nap.

      I mean, I’ve worked with 8×10, which is huge, but It still didn’t prepare me for the 20×24″. Plus, LOOK AT IT! It looks like it’s been through a war. Yige had to prop up the lens with a stick because it was so heavy. And the camera is over a hundred years old. Incredible. Everyone needs to expose themselves to it. Simply to see how easy they have it today, and so they can STFU.


  23. Edd Carlile

    So, I took it back some to knock out the noise and hear the signal. I love my Fujifilm x100s but now (after buying a Russian FED2 off ebay and loading up some film) I feel a lot better knowing I can pick up any truly mechanical camera with no light meter in any way and nail a working exposure.

  24. Joel

    The whole thing about not caring about what tools a photographer uses as long as the image is powerful and resonates with people is true both ways… Not only do I not care if someone is using a full sensor or medium format, I also don’t care if they’re using a mirrorless.

    I don’t think Zack is guilty of this but so many comments on these posts have been something like, “yeah, I don’t care about sensor size or brands… which is why I use Fuji (or m43 or Sony, etc)…”

    Again, this is not directed at Zack or the original articles I just find it odd that a post about how sensor sizes don’t matter, half the audience (or at least the ones who comment) seem to focus on bashing full frame or DSLRs in general. Why?

    Use what you’re comfortable with and as Zack says, STFU.

    • Wes Taylor

      same style went into the 30’s. I remember keds when I was a kid!

  25. Melinda Potter

    Oh good God Zack! What a blog post!
    “Well.. Hmmmmmm.. I’m kind of bored. I wonder what’s going on at dedpxl. Did Zack finish the down low critque? A new blog post maybe?”.

    Damn! And then all the great comments and discussion to boot? And that photo essay… I think you have shut this mouth from ever talking photo smack again. I’ll just keep my mouth shut and continuing making my immature, happy little photos that might be good enough to hang in a dental office, and make a handful of people smile, and keep trying to do more, do better, and enjoy the whole gust rating process.
    Thank you for that beautiful slap in the face

    • Melinda Potter

      Gust rating? That’s frustrating 😉

  26. Bjorn

    Zack, go read Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. The first section of the book is about hot air ballooning and early photography–how rising above provided provided an unimagined perspective on the world. Sooo much Signal in that book.

    • Zack

      Thanks for the recommendation!


  27. Erik

    Documentary Photography and the art of telling a story well:

    I love that Zack Arias and others on this forum are pointing us towards photographers who’s work is inspirational, and “on who’s shoulders we stand”.

    FYI: I will add some of my favorite photojournalist’s links (who are doing the type of documentary work that I am working towards), here and in the main post below this list:

    Tyler Hicks: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/tag/tyler-hicks/ (I love his style)

    Balazs Gardi: http://www.balazsgardi.com/

    Eros Hoagland: http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/30/station-of-the-cross-scenes-from-2009/


    Paolo Pellegrin: http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL535Y9H



    Lynsey Addario: http://www.lynseyaddario.com/

    Rena Effendi: http://www.refendi.com/

    In addition to my primary photography clients; I have also been working on some self-funded, documentary photography projects, but to a lesser degree (in terms of amount of time being spent). That being said, documentary photography is what I would love to do more of.

    There are 2 annual workshops/ conferences that I would recommend highly if you want to learn Documentary Photography and the art of telling a story well through images. (Also, both workshops have nothing to do with the type of gear that students use in making their photographs).

    1.) Foundry Photojournalism Workshop

    I was a student at the 2010 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop held in Istanbul, Turkey: http://www.foundryphotoworkshop.org/ – which is run by Eric Beecroft https://www.facebook.com/eric.beecroft.7 (I learned a tremendous amount, as well as experienced a strong community among many international photographers who share our same goals).

    These are the two photographers who I studied with at the 2010 workshop. They are both doing photojournalism documentary work, primarily on women’s & children’s issues (especially those effected by conflict):

    Andrea Bruce: http://andreabruce.com/ (NOOR: http://noorimages.com/ )

    Stephanie Sinclair: http://www.stephaniesinclair.com/ (VII: http://www.viiphoto.com/http://vimeo.com/50982590 )

    Another photographer that I met at the same workshop and who did my portfolio review:

    Kael Alford: http://kaelalford.sites.livebooks.com /

    More of Kael Alford’s work in the south (USA):





    This idea of telling a story through photography (for the purpose of awareness for a non-profit) is something that I have been thinking a lot about since attending Foundry. Our course was set up to learn that the most effective stories have the greatest “access” to the subject’s entire life, going beyond mere documentation of daily activities. For instance, overseas – it is easy to get a “process story” of an artisan like a tinsmith 1.) tinsmith with raw materials; 2.) tinsmith working the metal in a workshop; 3.) tinsmith selling his wares in a shop or stall. But as you know, this only tells a small part of the story and only the public face. When I studied under Andrea Bruce and Stephanie Sinclair at their Foundry Workshop class, they pushed us to go beyond that and to gain greater access to the “behind the scenes’ lives of people. They even encouraged us to attempt to gain enough trust to ask if we could spend the night in their homes. The goal is to show what is it like when the “photo subject’ wakes up in the morning, what does his home look like, what does his neighborhood look like, how does he interact with family members making breakfast or dinner? The idea of very personal access with subjects is an incredibly hard one to practice, and only a few photographers from the workshop in Istanbul succeeded in being allowed to spend a full 24 hours with their subjects; but those photo stories were incredibly powerful. There was one young Japanese woman who photographed a group of refugees that raised chickens communally and then slaughtered and plucked them for sale on the street. This group even slept and raised their kids communally on one large room – this view into their lives told an incredible story over and beyond the striking images of certain older members of their group who sold the chickens from a street cart. Seeing the sleeping areas with kids and chickens running around educated the viewer and allowed them to feel empathetic to their plight as refugees in a very successful way.

    Andrea Bruce, Stephanie Sinclair and Kael Alford have started teaching similar workshops to native photojournalists in the middle east. They want to teach them how to go beyond the typical conflict images from the daily scrum and try to explore the greater issues through this type of extended access. See this article in PDN: http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/features/QandA-Training-Iraqi–3507.shtml I met Metrography agency founders Kamaran Najm and Sebastian Meyer when were fellow students along with me under Andrea Bruce and Stephanie Sinclair at the Foundry Workshop in Istanbul. (unfortunately, Kamaran was killed in Iraq this year covering fighting around Mosul).

    I think that if “documentary photographers” could learn these same skills it would go a long way to being able to provide more effective stories.


    2.) Foundation Workshop


    (which I have not “yet” attended)

    This is the brain child of the excellent photojournalist, turned wedding/ portrait photographer Huy Nguyen: https://www.facebook.com/huyhuy?fref=ts


    (staff: http://fworkshop.com/staff/)

    They also hold a conference for alumni: http://fconference.com

    • Ian

      THANK YOU for all these leads. One of my favorite things about the comments here is all the new (to me) work that gets introduced. Awesomeness.

  28. Patrick

    Thanks for that long post Erik – I’ve only had time to explore one of the links but watching the documentary at http://fworkshop.com/ was incredibly moving. I started off thinking “why are these people crying and choking up – it’s an effing photography workshop – get a grip”. And then, watching it, it becomes clear why, and it’s beautiful. And of course gear and software and everything tech isn’t mentioned once, the pictures are far too important for that.

    • Zack

      Agreed. Thanks Erik.


  29. Jared

    In a time when the internet is full of ‘selfies’, fantasy football, entertainment news, angry tweets, angry re-tweets, “likes”, friend requests and constant bickering about how what is in their bag is the “best” – content such as THIS post and this site comes along and allows you to remember some of the good that all this technology can bring into the world.

    I LOVE photography – the actual photo-making part, not so much the tools used part. I think I might have found a group of kindred spirits here, and that is exciting to me.

  30. Matt

    Awesome! In the beginning I had the passion but not the skills. Then came gearitus where the gear improved but I kind of reached a plateau. Then I was forced to sell off some off that equipment which has me focussing on the craft again and improving. Just like golf it’s not the clubs it’s the guy swinging them! Going to dust off the Speed Graphic and the Bronica Etrsi and have some fun!

  31. Scott Campbell

    Yours is one of the few blogs I check out when I have some down-time, which is not often. I like how you share. Really like that.

    As for me, I don’t care about gear. I think my average repair bills for gear is about $2,000. I don’t really pay attention to my gear. I probably should, but I care more about the image. Which is why I don’t read much in the way of photo blogs, photo magazines, or photo anything – because I am too busy out shooting…. I don’t have a choice, really. It is a compulsion… and addiction. It’s like I imagine how it is for crack, meth, or heroin addicts (not that I would know).

    Ooops. Look at those clouds. Gotta go…..


  32. Phillip

    Great story. This, and your previous Crop or Crap video really puts perspective on things.

    I was a Canon 5D II user with grip and a barrage of lenses. When I became a dad, I was slowly carrying less, and selling off equipment. I was finally left with the body and one lens. The 5D II and 50L was all I had for 3 years, and I worked it for all it was worth. It was still a heavy combo to carry (considering I was carrying diaper and lunch bags instead of a camera bag).

    I dumped it off for Fuji and haven’t looked back. I enjoy photography more now than I did before. It’s no longer a “chore” to lug around my camera. I love the image quality, and I don’t know what it is, but it puts a smile to my face whenever I look at my pictures taken.

    Whenever anyone asks, I always tell them I upgraded from a full frame to an APS-C camera. The camera is merely a tool. A chisel to the photographer, with the world a huge slab of stone.

  33. Ranti Dev

    For Zack,
    Thank you,
    I’m going to go and buy some chemicals to develop film now.

  34. Jeremy Sale

    I totally hear what you’re saying, Zack. Point made. Absolutely. Big fan, always have been. “Eff the gear, your camera doesn’t matter, choose life.” But…

    How many people—you and me included—would be willing to forgo captioning photos with make, model, and medium information? (ie just let it stand on its own as a pure take-it-or-leave-it image)

    Obviously, process and medium is a significant part of the journey, and when digital photographers (re)discover film, tin-type, cyanotype, pinhole, etc… they deserve to be praised for going against the grain, slowing down, and embracing the spirit of the craft.

    But more and more, I am seeing photos that are immediately buttressed with disclaimers about the limitations—and thus, coolness—of their tools. Hell, the “Fuji X Photography” group on Facebook is about 40% photos of our bloody cameras and after-market accoutrements!

    Forget the #icebucketchallenge. I challenge ALL photographers to caption their work with zero tech details for a year. Give me a background on the story behind the shot, and let the pixels speak for themselves. Just a thought.

  35. Mark

    This post rings true on so many levels. The web is awash with comments on whether this camera or that has a better film look without stating exactly which film’s look they wish to emulate. I’ve recently restarted my film career after starting in the art department at Shepperton studios during the early 70’s eventually working my way up to an art director. I’ve been lucky in working with some directors, DoP’s etc on top of their game, if not iconic; however after struggling trying to remember what lens/film stock/f stop etc etc they used for a particular situation, eventually and not before time, I realised it was all the tears, effort, experience and desire to do it better. As an art director one of the biggest compliments ever paid was a simple “that’s fine” by Lester Bookbinder, a photographer notorious for perfection even by Kubrick’s standards. Repeating the effort made then in my current idiom of video/photography is the current challenge and having just upgraded my GH3 to a somewhat amazing, for me, GH4 (plus some gorgeous lenses) its great to be free from the logistics/politics of a full crew on a not so good film, learning about being a solo shooter; mistakes and all.

  36. Daf

    Came across this video via PetaPixel – thought it might be of interest to this and the crop post.
    A bit different – but quite inspiring in a funny way.
    Showing Paris through the viewfinder of a Pentax 67 camera.


  37. Joe Rusz

    Zack, my apologies if this comment winds up in the wrong bin. I’m new to your blog, but have been lurking, as you mostly inspire me and sometimes piss me off like when you and Hobby convinced me to buy an X100-S (black). It’s a great camera and I know my way around them things, but three months down the line it’s still the boss of me ’cause it throws me a curve when I least expect it. But when we’re on the same page, something clicks.

    To the point of my comment: Those thingamajigs Bourke-White and Lange, on whose shoulders you stand (He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother) are Graflex cameras, prolly the D model. They’re single lens reflexes (reflexi?) jes like what we use now. Kinda. The Wikipedia post “Graflex” gives you all the blah, blah, blah stuff.

    OK, so maybe some dudes and dudettes don’t think it matters, but to me, blowing off what that thing is, is like pointing at say, a Model T, which gave much of America it’s wheels, and calling it, “That wagon thingy with the wheels.”

    Other than that, blog on. I’m here for you. Now ask me what pisses me off about my Fuji.

    • Zack

      Great comment Joe. If I’m not pissing people off every now and then… I’m doing something wrong. 🙂


  38. John Seidel

    I love this post, Zack. Thank you for saying what needed saying and thank you for luring Sid into getting in on it. 20×24 tin plate…Wow. And Pep Bonet, I don’t know what to say.

    Margaret Bourke-White – gotta remember to look up at the greats. Dandy shoes, too.

    Keep it coming. Very stimulating.


  39. Bob Hayes


    I just took a huge risk, sold my Nikon gear, and went all-in on Fuji. I have a X100S because previously I had an X100. I was carrying that camera everywhere. it made me fall in love with photography again. It just took pictures. It let me see the light and the moment and not stop and try to figure out what lens I wanted to put on and whether the other photographer over there was impressed by my camera and did he know this was the GOOD 85mm and not the cheap one and I’m not having any fun anymore but I am afraid to admit it and I feel like a complete hack and does everyone know I am a fraud or is that just me….

    Anyway, the Fuji kind of just quietly cured that. I had it, it took great images. Photography was fun again. Shhh.. sometimes I shoot FULL AUTO! I know, right? in JPEG!

    Anyway, I am getting older, and the big rig was killing my back after a wedding or event I needed two days to recover. So when the XT1 came out I visited with it at the camera store. And then I sold all my Nikon gear on craigslist so I could buy it and the lenses I wanted. I figured I had to sell it fast before everyone else figures this out and nobody wanted to buy my Nikon gear anymore.

    So I bought it and shot with it and loved it and then second guessed myself silly, since I had had no paying gig since I made the switch and wondered if anyone would respect the guy with the two tiny cameras who couldn’t possibly be a pro at this wedding because there are two other guys there (guests) who have huge cameras and monopods and truly epic giant lenses and they must be the guys, right?

    Fast forward to this past weekend where I did have a gig and I shoot the XT1 with the X100S. A friend of the bride shot the wedding alongside me with TWO D4s! On a belt holster, no less. (Truth be told, he was a really nice guy)

    I was worried about all of this until I was at church the next morning, and that two D4 havin’ photographer showed up (what are the odds?) and asked me what I was looking at on that there giant tablet, and I said the images from yesterday’s wedding. He looked over my shoulder and said, “wait, you stayed up all night editing those?” and I said no, these are the JPEGs from the camera…

    And in that moment, because you know what, I AM good at what I do, and the Fujis take rockin’ images and the look on this guys face as the whole big picture came together for him, it came together for me, too – just look at the images.

    • Zack

      OMG. That’s my favorite Fuji story ever!


  40. Matt Burfield

    So true Sid – on a recent family holiday to Rome I took just my x100 – best decision ever. No lugging. No arsing about with shit I didn’t need. Enjoyed my wife and three girls more – they probably enjoyed me more if truth be told as well!

  41. Bill Evans

    You show two images in this post, one with Margaret Bourke White and one with Dorothea Lange each using a similar camera and you expressed a casual curiosity to the make and model. My father had one back in 40’s and 50’s very similar to it. I think you will find it was a Graphlex 4×5. I guess it was a press camera from the era of prohibition. Made a hell of a racket when the split mirror got out of the way for exposure. I think it also had some form of any early focal plane shutter but that may have come later. I kind of wish I still had it, but my mother let it get away while I was in the Air Force. Love you site and work.

  42. Erik High-Five

    Full frame this and bokeh that. I love my Fuji kit to death and i’ll take it over any canikon full frame tank any day. And guess what. I am a working photographer and I’m getting paid for my work and my customers are more than happy with the results. So the “no pro would ever” thing is quite invalid in the end isn’t it?

    But in the end none of that matters because my favourite camera ever is my Holga and i love the stuff I’ve shot with that little piece of crap plastic camera.

    But I also get the people questioning what’s going on inside Zack’s head. You really gave up beer…??

  43. williambanzai7

    That video you made is absolutely hilarious!


  44. Robertus

    Hi Zack,

    I have been following your work for quite a good while now and I must admit that even if you didn’t quite pull me INTO the Fuji world (that happenend when I was looking for a supersession of my aged Olympus WZ 5060 as a compact for travelling – I saw the X-10 and fell in love). THEN I saw your video on your Mumbay tour wit the X-PRO 1.

    But actually this isn’t what I wanted to tell you….;o)….

    I wanted to comment on the bro who had his wedding pictures taken with this gigantic camera.

    This is what the point is about all that fuzz about sensor sizes and lenses and gear. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter which gear you use to take great pics. You just have to do it.

    And this is exactly the point that many out there have forgotten.

    I had a discussion the other day about sensor sizes when taking wedding pictures with my PRO1. A guy with a D800 askes me why I was using such a small camera. He stated that at least you “should”(!) use a cam with 36MP, otherwise you will not be able to crop.

    I told him I don’t crop. He asked why. I told him that I was “old school” and try to catch a picture “as is”. No cropping. He shook his head and said: “Boy oh boy, you are one hell of a goof. You should get a proper camera to be able to crop. This is how a modern photographer works. Then he went on with all this talk about post-production and how important it is. I asked him about his flickr account. He didn’t have one. Then he showed me the pics he had taken….

    ….they needed some cropping.

    Best regards