It’s Not the Camera

Stormy Sky Photo

or the stove….

One fine day a local professional photographer was invited to lunch by a well-regarded chef who was about to open a new restaurant. The chef had seen some of the photos that were taken by the photographer. He was impressed with what he saw and hired the photographer for a food shoot. Later in the week the photographer packed up his gear and made his way out to the new restaurant and the waiting master chef.

One by one the chef brought out wonderfully prepared and presented plates of food and the photographer did what he was known for. The chef was eager to see some of the pics of his food and the photographer obliged him. The chef was elated with what he saw and told the photographer that he must have an incredible camera to do such fine work. The photographer just smiled and as they sat down to eat the chef kept a watchful eye on the local camera guy. As they talked the chef was wondering if the photographer enjoyed what he had prepared. The chef couldn’t tell what was on the pic taker’s mind. It was driving him nuts.

When they were finished eating the chef asked the photographer if he liked the food that he toiled so hard and long over. The photographer looked up, smiled and said it was one of the best meals he had ever had. He further commented on how wonderful each dish looked as well. Then he looked straight at the chef and calmly said you must have a wonderful stove. The chef was caught off guard for a moment and then smiled and began to laugh.

He got it.

not the camera

It’s not the camera that makes you a good photographer nor does having the best stove in the world make you a master chef. The camera and stove are just tools of the respective trades. Now I say this with a grain of salt. Your camera, much like the chef’s stove, has to be capable of doing what you need it to do. Along with having the right camera body you’ll also need lenses. That sounds easy enough and is self-explanatory right? That is so far from the truth it isn’t funny. Often times the glass is more important in photography than any other piece of equipment. The lens a portrait photographer would most likely use is far different from the lens used for expansive landscapes.

Lucky for us photographers just about any halfway decent camera combined with carefully chosen quality lenses will yield excellent results no matter what the genre or subject matter.  Again, the key here is knowing what your primary subject matter will be and then building your kit around it. Choose wisely and your job becomes much easier to do. Choose poorly and you’ll fight for every single photo you take and in most cases the image quality will be terrible as well.

Another thing to avoid is the equipment trap. When you start saying, “If I only had this great new bazillion megapixel Gold pressed Latinum body and new whiz-bang hyper sonic rotor rooter lens my pics would be so much better!”, you’re screwed and caught in the trap. If you say that in a store the nice salesman will sell you the place and laugh all the way to the bank. Say this to a professional photographer and you’re most likely going to get a sneering glance and then an education in photography. The equipment trap is a nasty thing. You’ll blow money like crazy and your photos will just be the same old same old. Having Peter Lik’s camera won’t magically give you the skills, eye or insight to see what he sees and then captures.

So what’s really important?

What’s more important is do you know how to use every function on your camera? Do you know what each function is and how it effects the image? It doesn’t matter if it’s film or digital. It doesn’t matter if it’s a point and shoot, something in between or the latest greatest 10,000 buck camera with an 8000 buck lens hanging off it. You must know the equipment inside and out before you can even begin taking advantage of what’s in your hand.

Once you know the piece of equipment do you know how to use and manipulate the three elements that make up exposure? Those three elements are ISO (film speed), shutter and aperture. These three things can be combined in an infinite number of ways to create different photographic effects while maintaining a properly exposed photo. Do you know what effect each element has on the other? If you don’t I urge you to take the time to gain a working knowledge of exposure and then go out and practice what you learn. I promise you it won’t take very long before you go ah ha I got it! That’s step one in what it takes to be a good photographer.

Once you learn how to run your camera, instead of it running you, along with a thorough understanding of exposure is when the fun really begins. Right off the bat your photos will be a 1000 percent better. After a little experimenting you’ll probably want to learn a bit about light and how to use and manipulate it. I’ll rephrase that. You better master light. It’s the essence of photography. If nothing else this is where you should spend most of your time and effort if you want to be a master of the art of photography. This is what separates the real pros from the seemingly endless masses of people who call themselves a good photographer or worse yet a professional photographer.

Now you can be a master of light, exposure and know how to drive your camera like it’s a Ferrari but there’s another thing you’re going to have to learn before you start making really great photos. Yes, I said make and not take. Understand this and don’t forget it. You make the photo. Now to do this you do need to learn a thing or two about artistic composition. Yeah, I can hear the crying now. Oh no I failed art class and I can’t draw or paint. Don’t feel bad. I can’t draw and my idea of painting is taking a roller to a wall. Part of composition is lighting but a large part revolves around lines, arcs, vanishing points, diagonals and so on. There’s also a couple of guidelines you should know about as well. Two of them would be the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. These help you with your framing and subject placement. Do you know what negative and positive space is? It’s worth learning what it is since it plays a huge role in balancing an image. There’s much much more to composition but a working knowledge of it is necessary to craft a good photo. Take the time to learn some basics of composition and you’ll see what a difference it makes with your photos.

not the camera

Anyway, enough of the talk. To drive home my point the 3 photos you see in this article were taken with 3 different cameras. One is a 35 year old beat up film camera, another is an entry-level DSLR and the third one is what the industry considers to be a “pro” camera. Can you figure out which one was used for which shot? I can’t and neither can anyone else for that matter.

Again it’s not the camera.

If you don’t believe me go take a look at what Adams and Weston did with what many today would call junk cameras.

It really is all about you and your skills. Start with the basics and work up from there. Practice what you know. Learn new techniques and tricks. You’ll have fun, make better photos and who knows. You just might be the next winner of the Iris D’ Or Competition.

Oh the pics, right. The pic of Paul was taken with my old trusty Minolta SRT 102 with a 58mm f1.4 lens and Kodak Ektar ISO 100 film. The color pic of Christa was taken with a Sony A200 and the original kit lens. The black and white pic of Christa was taken with my Sony A77 and a 16-50mm f2.8 HSM lens. The Minolta film camera was bought in a junk store for 40 bucks. The A200 was a 6 or 700 buck camera when it was new 5 years ago and the new kid on the block A77 is 2000 bucks. I could have taken all 3 shots with any one of the cameras and the results would have been pretty much identical. For that matter I could have used almost any camera for these shots. I knew what I wanted and made it happen.

The cool thing is with a little patience and practice you could do the same thing.

None of the images were overly worked to make my point with this article. I do not believe in spending much time post processing an image. If it needs more than a simple exposure tweak or a crop I tend to delete the image and go out and re shoot it. I’m a photographer and not a graphic artist nor do I rely on software to fix my mistakes. As a matter of fact the more you mess with an image the worse it looks.

Repost of my article on DYSong Photography’s site dated 07.12.2013

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This entry was posted in Photography Tips.