On Gear (Or, Why You Should Put Away Your Credit Card And Go Make Photographs)

"Eye" - St Paul, MN

 

Today I have a quick shot from the archives, and a few words.  This shot is a little over a year old, but it is still one of my all-time favorites of this little guy.  I love the sharpness and clarity of the focus on the eye; the colors and light are spot on; the focus fades away quickly enough, but too quickly, to be distracting to the viewer; and the vignetting works here, although this lens can vignette a bit too much for my taste at times.  This was a fantastic camera while I had it, and now it has been sent off to another great home.  I’m not even going to mention what the camera is, since it’s not important.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I show someone a photograph, and they say: “That’s great, what camera did you shoot that with?”  That’s analogous to going to a fancy restaurant and asking what pan the chef used.  It’s also pretty insulting, since it makes the suggestion–no claim, even–that the camera did the work, rather than you doing the work.  No camera in the world can take a photograph without the photographer.  Some make it easier for you with gadgets and gizmos, but you still have to be there and see something.  You have to raise the camera to your eye and compose the image.

As we all battle our constant battle with ourselves about acquiring more gear–“Man, I just have to have that f/1.4 lens to take my photography to the next level”–it is helpful to remember sometimes that the best camera is the one you have with you.  Sometimes it’s your iPhone.  Other times it’s a disposable film camera.  Still other times, your $5,000 DSLR with the soccer-mom kit zoom.  That last one was tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea.  There is no camera in the world that will get you a shot; you have to go out and get the shot yourself.  The only thing you need to remember is to bring a camera with you, and use it.

Sometimes we all lack motivation, or get stuck in an artistic rut.  It happens to anyone trying to create something–sometimes the well just runs dry.  At those points in my photography is when I find myself most clamoring for more gear.  When times are good and I’m in a groove, I’m too busy out shooting to worry about buying any more gear.  If you need inspiration, remember this: Don’t Buy Gear, Buy Books.  Read up on the great photographers of the past, or just of some that you enjoy personally.  Broaden your photographic horizons and maybe step out of your artistic comfort zone.  Living in the cold northern states of the USA, winter also puts a damper on my photography.  So does life, sometimes.  Just remember that gear doesn’t matter.

Not just anyone can create a great shot, but a great shot can come from anywhere.  Now get out and shoot.

-Trevor

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16 Comments

  1. Hi Trevor, not sure whether you follow my blog, but I posted one about gear this week. Reblogged one from LIsa Bettany, who is professional and currently touring the world with an iPhone. Not sure why?
    I do agree about reading books. I studied an old one of mine today, that pre-dates digital. I wouldn’t ask what camera, but I might ask what lens. Very keen to know peoples views on Zoom lens versus Primes. Especially really good primes. I just won e~Bay bid on Canon EF 100m f2.8L IS USM. I can’t wait to revisit some favourite landscapes and try to improve on previous shots. Much will depend on time of day, lighting etc. But now I have the means to capture. Lots of F stops to play with like my old film camera lenses.
    I’m also surprised how many good photographers only focus on one genre, if that’s the right term. Most of the people I follow on Google+ post images that predominantly have the same style. Good if you like it, but I’m surprised they are not more adventurous. I guess it’s their living and they get good by focusing on one type.

    Reply

    1. It’s been said so many times, but: no. You gear does not limit your ability to create meaningful photographs. It may not be the shot you want, but just like any tool (which is all a camera is) you can evaluate its strengths and weaknesses and once you do that, you are only bound by your own imagination, just like any other art form. Look, a pencil is not a paintbrush, and the sooner I understand what a pencil can and can’t do, the sooner I can put my imagination onto the paper. Still, there are times you may want to paint rather than draw; you can either switch tools, or use the pencil to create a perfectly good picture, though it may be different from what you wanted to create at the time.

      That’s just my take. The pendulum can’t go too far either way in the gear debate: gear is necessary to make photographs, and there are reasons for various pieces of gear. Let’s just not confuse “want” and “need”.

      At the end of the day, it should facilitate you making art. If you spend too much time obsessing about gear, your ability to make art is severely restricted.

      Reply

  2. I hear you!!! I’m on a 366 project of my own that I hadn’t started before because I wanted a faster lens, and a couple speed lights, etc… I forced myself to begin it with what I had and I have been able to push the boundaries a bit further. I realised, for example, that I will seldom use an f/1.4 aperture for a regular shot in a bright day (my camera has a 4000th of a second limit… and they are not that sharp in that extreme, anyway) I’ve been using windows and regular bulbs to light my still life shots, etc.

    I read somewhere that a poor photographer is a recourceful photographer… or something to that effect.

    Lovely work you post in here!!

    Reply

  3. I’m convinced that film is going nowhere. Look, Kodak had said all along–and their numbers back them up–that their film business has been consistently profitable. Surely, profits aren’t what they used to be, but they are making money on film. In fact, it’s now the ONLY part of the business that makes money. Hence, bankruptcy.

    Fuji is still going strong with film, although they have recently created quite a niche for themselves in digital with the X100 (and their successors). Ilford really has no other business to speak of, so I doubt they would scale back too much. People still shoot film. It has a vibrant community all over the world–though some places more than others. I wouldn’t worry about it. The best way to make sure companies keep selling it is to keep buying it.

    Reply

  4. Gotta love gear envy.

    On a different topic – maybe you addressed this in another post, but I haven’t read very far back yet: do you have an inexpensive source for film? I want to get back into film. So far, it seems freestylephoto.biz has the best prices, but figured I’d ask around on the off chance there’s a better source.

    Reply

    1. I get all my film from Freestyle Photographic…I have always had good luck with them, and I’d like to support a bastion of film. Additionally, local shops have basically stopped selling film altogether.

      Reply

      1. I’m a little concerned that when Kodak officially closes, other producers of film, like Ilford, will scale back production, which would in turn drive prices up even more. Basic supply & demand economics. Was thinking of stocking up, even though that shouldn’t happen for a few months – Kodak still has to get through the bankruptcy courts.

        If you or anyone else has thoughts on this, I’d like to hear it.

  5. I totally agree. This happened recently: a few people I know are currently getting into photography, most have kit lens. One of them showed off a picture she took with a 50mm f1.8 lens, and almost everyone said, “ohh I need that lens so I can take better pictures!”

    Le sigh! Some of them did go out and get this lens. It’s a fine lens, but just because they have a good lens doesn’t mean they’ll be a good photographer (as you well know). A couple people who jumped on the bandwagon have now realized they need to develop the skills. On the upside, they have a nice lens to learn on now.

    Hope this made sense. I’m waiting for my first cup of coffee to brew.

    Reply

  6. Interesting… No offense—I’m a huge fan of your work and follow you closely on both the blog and flickr but you have more gear than anyone I know! And with links on the header of your blog and details within your flickr profile touting what your own.

    Reply

    1. You’re right, I do indeed have a page on my blog that lets people know what I carry with me and use just about every day. People are curious, but it’s not meant to be a contest. The blog entry today is not meant to be patronizing at all, just to encourage people, myself included to stop fretting over gear and focus on getting out and shooting; I even made note in the blog today that I struggle with it as much as anyone, particularly when the weather is unforgiving, or life gets busy.

      I may have more gear than anyone you know, but I know people who have a lot more than I do 🙂

      Thanks for following, and I appreciate your comment!

      Reply

  7. Trevor ~ great post. A short time ago, I would have been that person who asked you what camera you used. Now that I have begun to take photography much more seriously, and even since being on this site, I have been blown away by some of the amazing photographs I have seen from people who take pictures with their iPhones (which I have not mastered yet) or instamatics. Since my husband bought me a very nice camera recently ~ not a quite a $5000, soccer mom zoom ;), but albeit a very good quality camera all the same ~ I was wondering why my photos weren’t significantly better. Well, duh ~ that’s when I realized, the photographer behind the camera must hone her skills. I’ve since gone to a class (paid for itself within the first 10 minutes) and am continually practicing new techniques now.

    I confess that I will probably never be someone who will master the technicality of this profession perfectly because I still and always will shoot from my “heart” but I appreciate this post and the reminder that it’s not the type of camera you use but the skills you use.

    Reply

  8. Nice Ratatouille reference… such good life lessons! This is great insight into the plights of an artist–be it photographer, painter, chef or writer. Take it from someone who has abandoned all her artistic outlets…. Just keep doing it! Find inspiration somehow and keep making art, whether you think its good or not, the process of making it and not getting sucked down into a rut is beneficial to continuing your artistic endeavors.

    Reply

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