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It Is About Gear & It’s Not | Is Your Gear Outperforming Your Vision?

By Ryan Longnecker on February 22nd 2017

As a kid, I would wake up early on Saturdays to watch Bob Ross, for his soothing grandfatherly voice to guide me through worlds of friendly trees, telling me that it’s “your world” and that I “could do whatever I want with it”. My parents bought me a Bob Ross painting kit with a palette, fan and filbert brushes, a knife for mountains, and a couple of canvases. Guess what? Right away I nailed it. I had the right tools and was able to do it exactly like him. I then became a professional painter and was soon selling my art for stacks of cash and my name was household. All I needed was that kit. Crazy right?

Yeah. It really is as stupid as it sounds.

Here’s the reality. Bob Ross could paint a better scene with his fingers than I could with the right tools, and, give him the right tools and he could paint better than he could with his fingers. You guys should all just take a moment and go watch some Bob Ross (see below).

Good gear will NEVER make you a better artist, but there’s only so much you can do with bad gear. You can get some fun, nostalgic, well-composed, vacation shots with a disposable camera, but you’ll never be able to adjust those to your nuanced style and branding as a professional, unless someone has already figured that out (very possible that is someone’s thing).

Editing can be a very similar problem. I fall here a lot; I focus so much on editing techniques and styles that I forget the reality that polishing a turd only goes so far.

Making art is so multi-faceted that we disrespect the process and undercut our attempts to improve when we get distracted with the outer coating. I’m constantly challenged to pour my passion and heart out and this is what will move my work forward. I see work from people who shoot very few frames in a session, like Ryan Muirhead, or regularly leap from their comfortable position of success to try new things like Ben Sasso, or are historic figures of an age of photography long before me, like Vivian Maier (watch the documentary) and it’s a good reminder.

It’s not just an argument about expensive digital gear or expensive film gear. They can both be distractions. Does the gear you currently have prevent you from creating genuine art? Involve other critical friends into that conversation, and if the answer is ‘yes’ then get what it will take for you to make art from the center of who you are. If the answer is ‘no’, then get off Craigslist, stop imagining having that next thing, and go out there and shoot. Chances are your gear is outperforming your vision.


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I grew up in the Eastern Sierras and since I was a kid I loved being outdoors and art. I went to school for music and theology and think both of those weave their way into my photography. I have a passion to change people from being cynical about people and this planet to being hopeful and seeing the beauty in it. I have a wife and two daughters and they could care less how successful I am at taking pictures, and that’s great, because it’s a constant anchor to what is best.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Herve A

    Agree 200% and I relate to your story about Bob Ross.  I was fascinated by his show and his skills to create a decent painting in less than 30mn.  

    SO like you, I got into painting before jumping into photography.  He taught me how to use my imagination to create a scene and therefore shape my composition skills. 

    Photography was a smooth transition.  yep, I got into the trap of purchasing different lenses and camera body (canon 5dm3,  Sony A7r2) to achieve the best quality photo.

    But I realize now this  is non sense.  Internet and social medias are flooded by photo everyday.  

    Each photo is reduced to its minimal resolution web format.  

    All the effort and money to create a beautiful image is just flushed to the toilet.   

    What is left is the overall composition. 

     Do we need great gears to achieve this?  nope. 

    Unless you want print and  exhibit your art inside a gallery.   

    How many among us photographer does this?



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  2. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Funny you mentioned Bob Ross. I did the exact same thing with a painter named Charles Garo and his local tv show called “Le plaisir de peindre” :)
    I would watch his show religiously and went out and bought a painting kit. My first painting is still hung in the house :) haha

    As for gear, I stopped buying any once I understood skills made much more of a difference than gear. Now I use this money to take pictures traveling  other countries :)

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  3. Mircea Blanaru

    I totally agree with you. After tens of years of taking pictures with different cameras I understood that not the camera takes the photo but the photographer does it… My budget was also on the low side so, I didn’t experienced Pro lenses but that thing didn’t opposed to make great images. It is also a cool thing to make some changes from time to time, that keeps the passion alive. I also think that a change in the daily routine it is welcome but it must be carefully done as we live in dangerous world. It is not always a good idea to take expensive gear in remote or poor areas were people will live for months with the money of a high grade objective… Right now I discovered cheap manual lenses I can compare with Pro ones (of course without AF) that I can recommend them to all!

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  4. David Hodgins

    It’s unfortunate that access to top-tier equipment isn’t easier, especially for people starting out. My own “lightbulb moment” was the day I was holding my new Nikon D800 with my 70-200 f/2.8 VR II, and an SB-900. I had the gear McNally used, and now I was out of excuses. Bad pictures were now MY fault. I think it would help more people if they got to go out and try the advanced equipment for a few days, and get past the “Wow! f/2.8 is really cool” moment and use it enough to really see what it does to their pictures after the initial hour or so of not being able to do what they could before. It might help more people start to look at their photography, and not just see what they could suddenly do at the new f-stop or focal length or whatever.

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    • Ryan Longnecker

      yeah, although people without experience (and some of us with experience) do get wowed by things like bokeh and sharpness and still get don’t necessarily focus on telling stories or having a unique voice. But access to these things is available for them. There are entire websites out there like borrowlenses that you can rent from for a short period of time. So the option to have that realization is there.

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  5. Griffin Conway

    Great reminder to focus on what’s most important! Enjoyed the read Ryan!

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  6. Justin Haugen

    I think you’ll know when your gear is the ceiling for your creative vision and ability to perform your job. Every upgrade I make raises the ceiling, because I’ve identified a shortcoming or need in my work that is hindered by the absence of a piece of equipment. 

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    • Ryan Longnecker

      yeah, totally! I think that’s when upgrades make sense. But what I was more getting at was how distracting the pursuit of new gear can be when a better idea is to improve your vision or skills.

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