Thousands of photographers covering world-wide
news use a Canon D20 or a Nikon D, and the same three or four lenses. Either camera insures digital
images that are crisp, bright, and saleable.
goes with the pack of his fellow digital photojournalists– up to a point. He looks different from the rest because he
carries so much more stuff. He likes to stretch himself to get that outstanding shot. He’s the guy that the other guys
talk about and admire.
"Digital is incredible in a lot of ways and it
has pretty much totally replaced shooting 35-mm slides. But I started to notice a sameness in th look of most things.
As a photojournalist, you’re just trying
to get someone turning the pages of a magazine to stop for that extra second before they go on to the jeans ad or whatever.
So I started thinking about different looks."
He found the ‘looks’ in his closet,
because he never got rid of his old cameras– about 50 of them, along with a slew of lenses. So, in addition to his Canon
20D he started to lug around his ‘ancient’ 4x5 Speed Graphic, along with a tripod.
He’s also carried a Mamiya and Rolleiflex,
and, for fun, a chintzy Holga. It adds to the bulk, but it also adds to the possibilities. He usually comes up with the ‘wow"
photo that captures and captivates the viewer.
Michele Stephenson, director of photography at
Time, says she worries about David’s ack, carrying all of this stuff. But she never worries about his eye. "David has
always been a curious person and has always tried new and fresh approaches," she says.
No Luddite, Burnett has used his Mac computers
for photo work since the 1980's. Diginal remains his medium of choice when he must file pictures quickly to an editor or when
he wants to shoot dozens or hundreds of photos at once.
The instant feedback
offered by a digital camera is a big help in fast-moving situations, as is a big memory card.
"Digital is fantastic when you want to transmit
an image around the world in seconds– or when you[‘re in the jungle waiting for a tiger to hit a good spot. You
can see instantly what you’ve missed, so it can realy hekp yu fine-tune your composition."
Yet, when Burnett talks about the evolution of
photo technology, he recognized the give and take, and what has been lost in the process. "Focus and exposure used to be the
craft of the business. Autofocus opened the business to almost anybody.
If you can hold it steady and aim, you get a sharp
picture most of the time. And if you screw up, you can fix it and shoot another." There’s no art in that.
"The thing that bugs me is when I see people taking
family pictures at the Grand Canyon or whatever, they spend so much time fumbling with the controls that whatever real moment
there might have been is inevitably lost.
"Technology is just a tool that lets your eye become
the picture. It’s easy to get caught up with all of the gadgets and all of the technology, but the most important thing
is just to get comfortable with the tools you have." (Amen to that.)
Burnett, 54, has been a paid photographer
since high school, through college, and four decades of war, politics, and sports, in 75 countries. He has worked freelance
and on contract for Time, Life Magazine, the Gamma agency in France and has won all the prestigious awards.
His photo essays have appeared in Time, Fortune,
ESPN Magazine and major advertising campaigns. In 1975 he founded Contact Press Images in New York.
recommends the audio/slide show on the New York Times, with David Burnett. Link below.