Thursday, October 1, 2015

Your Gear Doesn't Matter

The Closed Road - Fish Camp, CaliforniaCaptured using a Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone. 
In yesterday's post I said, "[It] really doesn't matter what camera you use... All digital cameras today are great, whether they are labeled 'entry level' or 'pro' or whatever other name camera companies give them."

The truth is either you can craft great photographs or you cannot. If you can craft great photographs, it makes no difference what camera you use because you'll craft that great photograph with whatever camera you have in your hand. If you cannot craft great photographs, it makes no difference what camera you use because your photograph will be poor using whatever camera you have in your hand.

If you are a skilled photographer, it could be an old cell phone or a $20,000 camera with a $25,000 lens--whatever camera you have you'll use to create something great. If you are not a skilled photographer, your pictures are not going to be good even if you have that $45,000 set up. This is because the camera is not nearly as important as you think it is.

Ansel Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." In other words, it is the photographer that makes an image either great or terrible, and the camera has little to do with it.

A great pianist can play a masterpiece using any old piano. A great painter can create a masterpiece using any old canvas and paints. A great writer can use an old #2 and some scrap paper to pen a great story. The opposite is also true. Someone who cannot play the piano won't be able to even with a beautiful grand piano. Someone who is not a painter can't create a masterpiece even with high-end canvas and paint. Someone who is not a good writer won't be able to pen a great novel even when given the use of modern computers.
Gas Station Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
Captured using a Samsung Galaxy S cell phone. 
Some will argue that certain types of photography require specialized equipment, so equipment is important and the camera (or lens, etc.) does matter. The reason that this is wrong is because these people are not thinking outside the box. Sure, if you want to create images that are just like every other person's in that genre, then yeah, equipment matters. If you want to create something different and unique, then no, equipment doesn't matter.

Often "lesser" equipment has limitations. Those limitations can be turned around and made into assets if you'll let it. You certainly can use your imagination and figure out how to create great images with non-conventional equipment by photographing in non-conventional ways. The very things that would turn people off to certain cameras can be the very thing that gives your photographs uniqueness. In this day where everyone has a DSLR, it is uniqueness that will get you noticed. If your photographs are the same as every other person's images, you will never get noticed.

Camera manufacturers have done a great job over the last 12 or so years making people want the latest and greatest models. Camera manufacturers and those who sell cameras have created camera envy.

15 years ago when I was taking photography classes in college, I used a 20-year-old SLR that worked just as well as it did the day it was made. I had it recommended to me by a successful photographer as "one of the best cameras ever made." If I still owned it today (and I wish I still did), it would work just as well as when it was made.

Imagine today a 20-year-old digital camera still considered "one of the best ever made." It isn't possible. Even the best DSLRs manufactured this year struggle to capture with the same quality that film cameras can. Cameras are worse today than they were 50 years ago. Yet we want the latest and greatest, and using a five-year-old DSLR will get you laughed at.
The Best Palm To Buy - Las Vegas, Nevada
Captured using a FED 5c and Kodak Plus-X 125.
Every year camera manufacturers make small improvements to their product line, and people go nuts! None of these cameras are worth going nuts over. They are all "good enough" and none of them are truly great. Pretty much all digital cameras on the market today have good enough image quality that a photography master can craft great images with. Yet none of them get anywhere close to competing with the 8x10 view camera that Ansel Adams lugged around 75 years ago.

Worry less about what cameras you own. Worry more about what makes a photograph great. If you own a digital camera, you have what you need to craft great photographs. If you are truly interested in image quality, abandon digital and buy antique equipment. If not, then don't worry about it. What you have is good enough.

So if equipment doesn't matter, what does? Photographic vision. What is in the photographer's mind and heart is what's important. Without photographic vision there are no great photographs.

The photographer must know what it is that he or she wants to create. And then the photographer must make it happen. The photographer must be both creative and active.

It doesn't matter what camera you use. Either you can create great photographs or you can't. Worry more about creating great images and worry less about gear.

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