A journalist interviewing a famous world leader asked “Why do you wear virtually the same suit every day?” Their response, to paraphrase, was “When you have as many important decisions to make as I do in a day, you do all you can to eliminate all the trivial ones.”
When I was shooting a dozen rolls of film a month with a dozen different cameras, I eventually arrived at very similar feelings.
Choosing what to shoot, how to frame it, where to focus and when to release the shutter are some of the fundamental, irreversible and thus most important decisions we have to make as photographers seeking to create our best work.
Deciding whether to take with us a Super Takumar 55/1.8, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 55/1.8 or SMC Takumar 55/1.8 is not a decision likely to have an impact on the images you make that day.
Even if I got down to one brand, let’s say Contax, I was at a point where I had seven Contax bodies (well, two were Yashicas that were 95% as good). And around 15 M42 lenses I could shoot on them (via an adapter).
That gave me 105 different combos to choose from. Add say three types of film, let’s go with my three favourites – Fuji Superia 100, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 and Ferrania Solaris 200 – and I then had 315 options.
How rich was I!
Well, in fact, I didn’t feel rich at all.
I felt like a spoilt five year old given free reign at a bakery tasting day, and having licked, chomped and gorged on dozens of different cakes and pastries, was now rueful, with a busting stomach ache on the verge of vomiting.
The expression “Decision Fatigue” fits extremely well here.
I would define it simply as being so exhausted from having so many options, that even if you do manage to pick one, you’ve lost all enthusiasm and energy to follow it through anyway.
Eventually I honed down my Contax collection to just one, then evolved into shooting digital almost exclusively anyway.
With three DSLRs and those same 15 lenses I was at least down to 45 permutations rather than 315!
But 45 options was still far too much.
So the last four months ago I’ve only used four cameras.
Two are so similar in use you don’t miss a beat switching between them. I use the Ricoh GRD III when I want a 28mm lens. And lately I’ve used its older sibling, the GX100 (which has a 24-72mm zoom) fixed at 35mm.
My decision which to use mostly comes down to whether I want to shoot as wide as 28mm or not. Yes? Grab the GRD. No? Up steps the GX100.
I also have the Pentax Q, and whilst it’s an interchangeable lens camera, I mostly use the 47mm f/1.9 lens it came with. I also have for it the decidedly quirky and individual “07 Mount Shield” lens which makes images like nothing else I have.
Then I have my Xperia camera phone which I mostly use when I don’t have another camera with, or I want to just travel super light and simple.
So my decision process now looks something like this –
Do I want to take a “proper” camera or just use my phone?
If just the phone, off I go.
If a proper camera, do I want the unique Q 07 lens look? If not, do I want 28mm, 35mm or 47mm?
I confess another factor is how close I want to focus.
The Ricohs go ridiculously close, the Q and Xperia still close but maybe 0.25m rather than 0.01m.
So, close focus and wide? Take the GRD, 28mm.
Close focus and “normal” (35mm seems normal to me on a compact camera, film or digital)? The GX100 is the one to use.
Not bothered about close focus and more of a traditional normal of 50mm? Step up the Q and 01 Prime 47mm.
Want that lo-fi pinhole characterful look? Q plus 07 lens.
This handful of decisions is obviously far easier to mentally mull over than 300 or even 45.
In practice I don’t really make the decision in such a step by step analytical flowcharty (is this a word?) kind of way anyway. I just sort of know which camera I want to use and grab it. Plus my recent run with the GX100 means I’ve not picked up the GRD or Q in weeks now either.
Obviously the impact of reducing 300+ options to just a handful, has been radical.
(And the 315 choices only included Contax cameras and M42 lenses remember – at its peak my collection had 50+ cameras, 25+ lenses and maybe 15 different types of film. I don’t even want to do the calculation!)
I feel more free in my photography than in years, and once I’m out with the camera I’ve chosen don’t give that decision making a second thought.
And this is an important additional point.
Another problem with a vast choice in anything, is the more you have, then even if you do manage to pick just one, you endlessly second guess yourself and worry about if you’ve picked the right one.
For me, this whole experience is a thing of the past, thankfully.
Decision Fatigue is a horrible, draining, exhausting and demoralising affliction. One I’ve known all too well, for all too long, and am delighted to be almost entirely free from it.
Of course I could go a step further and just use my phone camera the whole time. But I bet even our famous world leader had different coloured underwear or socks in a drawer to pull out now and then.
Have you experienced Decision Fatigue with your photography? How has it impacted how you make photographs?
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