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Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?

I was truly disappointed when Nikon posted this on their Facebook page “A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses, and a good lens is essential to taking good pictures! Do any of our facebook fans use any of the NIKKOR lenses? Which is your favorite and what types of situations do you use it for?”

Nikon later posted a sort of apology, “We know some of you took offense to the last post, and we apologize, as it was not our aim to insult any of our friends.”

But the question is out there now. It annoys photographers immensely when someone says, “That’s a great picture. What camera do you use?”

As if the years of practice didn’t count, only the camera. Sometimes, the size of the camera around the photographer’s neck is the thing that impresses people the most. Thus is propelled the commercial perpetuity of the camera companies.

And so the hobbyist who’s just starting out with that camera that isn’t so big and doesn’t have that fancy lens begins to doubt they have what it takes to improve their photography, and questions why they should continue with their hobby.

Although it is true that professional photographers need the flexibility and control a complicated dSLR affords, it is untrue that the most expensive gear makes you a better photographer.

When I first started with digital cameras, I came across a young man named Joey Lawrence in a forum called DP Challenge.

This young man was using a one-megapixel point and shoot.

And he was winning challenges left and right with his dramatically lit images. Joey L was using that little camera to capture some amazing images. Here’s a screen capture of one of his shots.

Man in Black by Joey L from DP Challenge

One of Joey L's winning shots taken with a point and shoot. Copyright Joey L.

Joey L now uses professional camera bodies for his commercial work, but when he used a little point and shoot, you could already see his “signature” on his images. It’s this signature that makes him the photographer he is. It’s called vision.

It’s the skill of knowing how to light. The camera has a great computer which meters on the light in a scene and calculates what to do to render a good exposure. But it is easily fooled, flooding the sensor with light when the scene is too dark, or making a subject too dark when against a brightly lit background. It’s the photographer who controls the camera to see what he or she sees, making the image.

Edge of shadows copyright Aloha Lavina.

The shadows fool the camera's meter. The photographer makes it right. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

It’s the skill of knowing what makes a good composition. Cameras do not think about balance, about tension, about color palettes in an image. The photographer does, and the photographer decides how to create these elements.

It’s the skills of artistry. What to include in the frame, what to exclude, to make a message. It’s how shallow to make the depth of field, or how sharp everything needs to be. It’s how the values need to be, to create contrast.

flanked by shadow Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina

The camera is merely a tool to render what you see in the mind's eye. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rob and Lauren Lim over at Photography Concentrate wrote about how studies point to the value of the photographer behind the lens. The studies found that “One of the biggest differences was in how [artistic people] think. Experts tend to notice more details, and have more understanding of their thought processes.”

So it’s not your camera.

It’s you.

It’s the hours you spend getting to know the gear you have, practicing the skills you learn, learning some more, and being persistent. It’s being reflective and imaginative, and always reaching for that next level in your creative approach.

geometric shadows copyright Aloha Lavina

It's not the gear, but the gears working in your head that makes a shot. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

No camera or gear upgrade will give you good images automatically. Conversely, no matter what gear you have, if your vision is strong and your skills are strong, your pictures will come out strong.

Hold that camera in your hands–the one you have now–as what it is, the tool that you can use to capture your vision.

Unleash yourself on a learning spree, take lots and lots of pictures, and again, learn from what you do. Ultimately, you are the author of that signature.

 

_________________
Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Are You Paying Attention?
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

16 Responses to “Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?”

  1. I use Nikkor lenses but have shot with several Tamrons and Sigmas and honestly, it just depends on the shot you’re going for and what you need to be able to get it. Different lenses are great for different things. Its not that you need all the equipment, just to be able to acces what you need and when.

  2. Just love it. Thanks Aloha, very well written. :) I do not know yet what all the buttons on my Nikon D90 do, but is a great little camera. I am learning the gear, and the vision or signature slowly unfolds. I am still at times disappointed with the gears limitation. You some time see this awesome scene, but the dynamic range is just to small, or the lens not wide or long enough. But on the other hand I learn the boundaries and how to push them.

  3. Hi Tyler, Thanks for the comment. I too have used third party lenses and relatively ‘smaller’ dSLRs and a couple of point and shoot cameras in my work. It is really the equipment you need for the purpose you need it that counts, not necessarily fancy-ness or cost of the equipment. Cheers!

  4. Hello Schalk, Thanks for your comment. I agree that the D90 is a great tool, and it has all that you need to take ‘pro’ looking stunners. I also agree when you say that it is all coming together gradually. Patience is key when you’re trying to get better. Have you seen the video by Zack Arias on ‘transform’ –he talks about what it’s like for even a pro, to constantly strive to get better. I like to watch it when I need to be reminded that learning is key to the staying power of our passion for photography.

  5. I sooooo agree. The camera doesn’t make a better photographer. The camera is merely a medium that translates a photographer’s sense of visual expression.

  6. We love our Nikon gear and would never change it, but only the gear doesn’t make a good photographer. You need the picture in your head and get ideas from different sources. I think the most important thing is to open your eyes in your daily life and get some expressions out of it.

  7. Thanks Chad! It’s the kind of wisdom you’re talking about that I want my students to realize in this article. Thanks for putting it so clearly in your comment! Rock on!

  8. Hello Florian, I have used Nikon since I was a teen, and that’s why their pronouncements hurt. I love the colors a Nikon renders, but it’s seeing the colors first and deciding to use them in compositions that matters. Thanks for your comment!

  9. Although I have the D3s and D700 camera bodies, I have several Sigma lenses because they perform better that the Nikon version.
    That D3s will get images out of focus just like any ol’ camera, but only faster!
    Vision is still the essential tool for great photography, and you can’t buy it at a camera store.

  10. LOL. Thanks, Lester–you hit it right on the shutter button. :)

  11. Some of my more satisfying images have been shot on an old Kodak Pony 135

  12. It’s easy to buy your way into digital photography. It’s so very difficult to create one’s own visual landscape of images.

  13. Stephen- it’s the photographer, not the camera. :)

    Mike–the creative part is the part we got into it in the first place. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Upgrading Hobbyist February 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you for this post, it surely enlightened starting hobbyist like me. I was at a point of questioning my gear and then move forward with the ideal one … but then, looking at the materials here, its seems the real gear is not the one you are clicking with your hand but the one clicking inside when you take your photographs.

  15. Hi Upgrading Hobbyist, the upgrade needs to begin with the ways we see. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the blog as much as I enjoyed writing it! Cheers~

  16. Thank you for enlightening my thoughts, I always feel intimidated when people with big camera’s come over so I tend to hide my lil’ camera right away…. after reading your post, I then realized I need to unleash myself and learn more of those elements….thank you once again…and now I can maximimize the use of my lil’ camera

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