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Does Having Better Gear Make You a Better Photographer?

By on Apr 18, 2017 in Getting the Shot, Photography, Theory Thursday | 0 comments

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*** Update #1: This article is not really for the pro or advanced “semi-pro” photographer but rather the new photographer who has the mindset that a brand new and more advanced camera will somehow make them a famous photographer. If you are a working professional or even a hobbyist that has years of experience,  you probably know more about your style and what you need than I do. That being said, this article is not really targeted at you. It is more for those considering purchasing the latest 1D X mk ii when the 6D or even 70D would do just fine. 

At some point in our journey through photography we find ourselves lusting after the latest and greatest gear. We suddenly want to go “full frame” or “mirrorless” without fully understanding the camera that we currently own. We fall for celebrity photographer ads talking about the latest camera or gear that will somehow take pictures so good that we will become famous over night. The sad truth is that this is all BS and too many of us fall for it.

Sure, we all like to say that “the best camera is the one that’s with you” giving off vibes that you are a humble photographer that can use anything to take a photo. However, when it comes to the camera “that’s with you” we sometimes get a little carried away. This leads us down the path to G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. This is where we purchase gear in a hope that it will make us or our photography magically better. The truth of the matter is that it will not but somehow we think that it will.

Learn Not Lust

Recently, I posted an article from the creativelive blog about this topic as I know that it would strike a chord with my photographer friends. Just like any hobby or passion,  photography has it’s trappings of shiny things that are expensive. We want better lenses and newer cameras and then we have to upgrade our computers and buy more storage. Yet, somehow we forget to upgrade our skill set and our understanding of the actual art of photography.

The internet has made this a lot worse too. Allowing for one-click purchases and speedy delivery. It is intoxicating. I remember when I first upgraded to a Canon mk iii and bought a bunch of gear as well. I was buying new gear for the first time in a number of years and it was an awesome feeling. However, it did not make me any better than when I had my used 7D or my old 30D. My carbon fibre tripod didn’t get my photos on the cover of National Geographic at all.

What did make my photography improve was actually doing side projects that pushed my skills in different directions. Working on food photography that required different lighting and having to find out how to do it. Applying all that knowledge that was taking up space on my hard drive was how I was able to improve my photography.

Learn to Walk Before Using a Crutch

I see it all the time, people using their gear as a crutch to give them an excuse as to why their photography is plateauing. Many of us think “if only I had XX camera, then I could get that shot” However, we need to step back and reexamine what it is we want to achieve. There are times when your clients want an ultra high res image and you need those extra megapixels but how often is that? There are also times where you need a fisheye to get to everything into the frame, but can you rent one instead?

The biggest is question here is why? Once you have successfully answered that question, then proceed with your plan. When we get stuck in G.A.S. we often have no idea what it is that we are going to shoot. There is no solid plan but just a need. Understanding what your camera is capable of is the one thing that can get you out of G.A.S. The other is understanding your personal style. Do you really need that macro lens if you primarily shoot landscapes?

Also don’t let the lack of gear hold you back either. Again, knowing what your gear is capable of often makes you realize that you don’t need to upgrade. Not to mention sometimes just using your phone is enough. What I mean is that if you are just walking around town shooting street scenes and your coffee, you don’t need that Leica camera. I see too many comments like “this is just an iPhone shot, I am not a pro” and I chuckle because the iPhone now has more megapixels than my first 2 digital cameras. In many cases, the phone on your camera will do just fine. It is understanding what that camera can do and what it can’t that can make all the difference. Also all the images in this post were from a day out with just my phone because I wanted to test out this idea.

Fill Your Head Not Your Bag

As an educator I must implore you to study the craft. Perhaps even buy my courses…lol. The point being that we live in an age where there are free to moderately priced courses out there to learn almost every part of the photography spectrum. Yet, many people will drop massive amounts of money on a fancy camera and a telephoto lens before they drop $5 on a course or ebook that will show them how to use the camera that they already have. Photography education is one of the most bloated markets in the world. I also find it is one of the more neglected areas for new photographers. Almost every photographer (including myself) has courses to teach you something but many  are still looking for that magic wand that will take amazing images at the click of a button. Youtube is full of of free tutorials from some the best photographers out there. If you are like me, you  even go so far as to buy courses and struggle to watch them or never use them at all. Yet, when we buy a new lens or camera it is with us 24/7.

The reason being is that people would rather show off their camera than spend hours studying composition and theory. You don’t get a trophy or anything shiny for finishing David DuChemin’s Photographically Speaking book. It is a strange thing to me. People hum and hah about picking up my $5 lightroom course but will drop $800 on a lens that they probably don’t need. It’s because in many cases it boils down to that awesome feeling you get when you buy something expensive that is also followed up by the selfie you take with it and the comments from other photographers like “is that the new sigmanon TK421 art blaster-master F/0.5 10-10000 mm? That’s so awesome!!”

Interestingly enough it is the plethora of courses available from the top photographers around the world that will teach you to be the best.  It takes time to go beyond just click a button to studying and putting the knowledge to use. That time investment that is so hard for people. Even if they buy the courses, they take up space on your hard drive because we haven’t yet reached that matrix-like level where you can download everything and know it in seconds.


The Bottomline

What I am basically trying to say is that you need to learn how to use your camera first. This goes beyond the basics to learning how to properly conceptualize a great image. From there you need to learn how to take the concepts from your mind and make them a reality using your camera. A new camera or lens will not teach you that. A new camera will not get you to the “next level” unless you are pushing that level already and are truly limited by your camera. So the golden rule here is to upgrade when you hit that level where you need to upgrade to grow.

I know what you are thinking “Jason, can’t I grow into a camera?” I am going to say no because by the time that you have grown into that camera you will have probably moved on to another camera. What you should focus on is the process of creating great images with what you have available first. Master the art of using your equipment to create your vision then when you are at a level where you’ve done all that you can do with your camera or have moved into an area of photography where your current camera can’t keep up, then upgrade.


**the seemingly unrelated images here were taken on my iPhone. It was part of an experiment on the weekend where I decided to focus on just taking images as I walked around the city. This goes back to that idea of the best camera is the one that’s with you. Also it was partly to see if I was capable of taking usable photos without the crutch of my DSLR**

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