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It’s Not The Camera, It’s The Photographer – An Inspirational Article by Matthew Saville

By Matthew Saville on January 6th 2012

Digital photo technology is progressing so rapidly these days, it seems like everything is obsolete within a year or two. Sometimes I just have to step back and ask myself, “is it really worth it?Do I really need that latest upgrade?Or is my current camera still perfectly good quality?

Photographers LOVE to say”it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer!”…Then they pull out their $5,000 camera, slap on a $2,000 lens and a $500 flash, …and immediately start bragging about their setup, bickering about this brand versus that brand, or just plain looking down on everyone with “beginner” equipment.So I have to wonder: is there anybody out there who ACTUALLY PROVES that the photographer is far more important than the camera?I give it a try every now and then, just for fun, but from day to day I’m just as guilty as the next guy.I crave the latest and greatest technology.

 

 Olympus C740 point & shoot camera, (3 megapixels, JPG only) circa 2004.


Nikon D70, Tokina 17mm f/3.5 – 2007


Nikon D200, Sigma 50-150 2.8 – 2010


Samsung Galaxy S cellphone camera – 2010

 

At the very core, a camera is just a tool for capturing light.Even as technology is getting so crazy that you don’t even have to focus anymore, the impact of an image will still depend on the subject matter, the composition, and the light.Surprise surprise, these things CAN be captured on ANY camera!

 

But of course it’s not that simple, otherwise we’d all be running around with disposable film cameras, or at least our cell phones.SO why do we spend thousands of dollars on high-end gear?Well partly just because it’s fun, I mean money is for spending and if this is your hobby, why not save some cash and upgrade to a newer camera every now and then?No harm done.And of course as a professional it is a given that you’ll deliver good quality images, unless you’re some kind of wacky fine-art “artiste”…;-)

 

But as the famous Ansel Adams quote goes, “there’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”Meaning, don’t focus on equipment so much that you forget about what really matters.Always remember to put your vision and creativity first, and let the tools follow.

 

Here is a list of some common genres in photography, and how theyrelate to the philosophy of”it’s not the camera”…I have highlighted what I think are important things not to forget:

 

• Casual photos with friends
Any old camera will do, of course.Mostly I use a cell phone, or sometimes an old film camera if I’m feeling especially retro, but of course it sure is fun to have some sort of lightweight, beginner DSLR as long as there’s a good (small) prime lens so I can shoot in lower light…Either way, keep it simple!
Simply having ANY camera with you, and knowing how to work that camera, is far more important than the camera itself.

 

• Landscape/ architectural photography
Resolution is nice, and so is a good sharp wide angle lens.But most of the time you’ll be on a tripod, so you don’t really need that fast-aperture prime / zoom lens, or that high-speed flagship camera.
However light, composition, and time of day will always be more important than your megapixels or image corner sharpness.

 

• Macro photography
It’s all about the lens.And a tripod.Fortunately, practically EVERY macro lens in production today is fantastically sharp, so it’s not really critical WHAT you get, just so long as it has true macro capabilities.
Composition and creativity in general will be far more important than sharpness, or any new bell or whistle stabilization feature.

 

• Wildlife photography
It’s all about the lens again, and unfortunately if you want to photograph bald eagles at sunrise or something, you’ll probably “need” quite an expensive lens.Yeah, some of the “big guns” may cost $10,000 but if you have decent light and a crop-sensor camera, you can make great images with the average 70-300 zoom lens for just a couple / few hundred dollars.
Good timing, motion tracking, and hand-holding skills are going to be more important than your lens aperture, or bokeh.

 

• Sports / photojournalism
A good camera body will go a long way towards making your life easier, but don’t “spray and pray”.Just because a camera has 5-10 frames per second doesn’t mean you’ll never miss a moment.Know every function on your camera, and be careful not to bump things.
Being able to anticipate moments and react quickly is much, more important than having the best ISO or FPS.

 

• Night time / star photography
Your tripod will be your most critical tool, THEN your lens/camera.To make the most extreme, eye-popping images you’ll probably have to spend a pretty penny on both the lenses and the camera body, but the best thing you can do is get a good tripod first.
If you don’t have stability, no amount of good image quality will save you!

 

• General portraiture –
In normal daylight conditions, all you really need is a the right lens for the “look” you have in mind. Focus on the light, the pose, and consider your background- it should be un-distracting, yet still add something to the composition.
Posing and lighting skills are certainly far more important than bokeh or image noise!

 

• Wedding photography
Having a good all-around kit is the best way to approach a wedding, especially if you are the official photographer.Know your camera, know your lenses, and know your flash.And practice, practice, practice!
Being confident in your abilities, knowing your equipment like the back of your hand, and having a calm, practical attitude are far more important than silly things like Canon versus Nikon, or crop versus full-frame sensors.

 

 

Lastly, I’d like to pose one more scenario to you:You’ve bought all sorts of awesome equipment, and you know your gear pretty well, you do your best to focus on the important aspects of what makes (or breaks) an image….Does that mean you’re DONE with “making do” with cheap gear?No more worrying about any of this; as long as you REMEMBER that “it’s not the photographer”?

 


Jack Black of Tenacious D – Nikon S210 point & shoot, ISO ~1200, 1/150 sec, f/3.5
 

Actually, sometimes it really does pays off to at least know HOW to work a cheap, “limited ability” camera…For example, pro (anything big!) cameras simply are NOT ALLOWED at most concerts.Now what?Should I give up, just because I don’t have my DSLR?No way!!I made the above image using my sister’s plum colored Nikon Coolpix. (yes, plum colored)The camera doesn’t even have manual exposure, but with a few minutes practice I was able to use the exposure compensation and some other features to achieve decent sharpness and exposure in near-darkness, with a $175 camera.Not bad!

 

I also firmly believe that working within limitations helps you become a better photographer in general.Use a prime lens, so that you have to move around and think about your composition.Maybe shoot a roll of film,so that you have to think twice before each click.Or simply “make do” with an old / cheap camera.Because if you can teach yourself to milk every last bit of performance out of whatever camera happens to be laying around, it will make you that much better of a photographer in general.

 

Nikon FM2, (manual film camera) 50mm f/1.8 lens, Agfa Ultra film – 2009

Nikon FM2 (manual film camera) 50mm f/1.8 lens, Agfa Ultra film – 2009

 

I hope this article was helpful in some way!And please, feel free to contribute your own thoughts and encouragements, they are always much appreciated!

Take care,
=Matt=

 

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Kent Johnson

    Quite interesting but I would point out that the Nikon FM 2 was a TOP camera in its day; and expensive at the time.. I wrote something along these lines too but a different take you might enjoy. Cheers! http://fashionphotographysydney.blogspot.com.au/2016/12/the-stove-might-be-terrific-but-it-wont.html

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  2. EvelynRobinsonPhotos

    I know this is over a year old, but I just had to share my experience…every year we have a local ‘parade’ where hundreds of people line the streets. I photograph it every year along with other media photographers. One of my contacts, who is a well known journalist, told me that my photos were better than the other media photographers because my shots captured the ‘essence’ of the event….I was using. canon 300d, while the others used expensive bodies and telephoto lenses!

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  3. Fredbear01

    Thanks for a well written article.   Makes a nice change to read something succinct and in plain English.

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  4. Rajsingharora

    outstanding…..probably one of the most honest n insightful article’s on photography…:)

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  5. victor aktor

    if its not the camera then its probably not the lense…

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  6. Mandy

    The camera can’t take the image until the photographer presses the shutter (well for the time being anyway!)

    Capturing a great image is down to the photographer – the camera (whichever one it may be) just helps out…

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  7. Pigboy

    California camera club in 1970s. One “older” member, who understood light and composition, had a Leica with one lens. Another had a cart full of camera bodies, lenses, filters, etc. but did not know an f-stop from ASA. Guess who won all the competitions?

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  8. Scott

    I started a 365 project in 2010 to prove just that. I forced myself to use my iPhone 3Gs and not my nice gear. Not every photo is a winner, but I think there were some very nice photos: http://www.scottbolster.com/itook.

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  9. Anonymous

    If the photographer can’t see it then the camera can’t take it.

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  10. Steele

    “Wildlife photography –
    It’s all about the lens again, and unfortunately if you want to photograph bald eagles at sunrise or something, you’ll probably “need” quite an expensive lens.  Yeah, some of the “big guns” may cost $10,000 but if you have decent light and a crop-sensor camera, you can make great images with the average 70-300 zoom lens for just a couple / few hundred dollars.”
    I know that this is only a fraction of the article but I have shot a lot of bald eagles and I have no set up that is mention above. However visiting the right location I think is more a better point. Homer, Alaska from May to September to get your  bald eagle fix. But I do agree that it isn’t always the setup you have but the person behind the setup. 

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  11. Zak J

    I’ve found that using my dslr like a film camera really helps improve my pictures. I turn off the instant review, set the iso and shoot in manual mode. I only shoot 36 shots – no deleting.

    I started a Flickr group called 36prints. Try it and post your results!

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  12. Zak J

    I’ve found that using my dslr like a film camera really helps improve my pictures. I turn off the instant review, set the iso and shoot in manual mode. I only shoot 36 shots – no deleting.

    I started a Flickr group called 36prints. Try it and post your results!

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    • Matthew Saville

      That’s an awesome idea, Zak.  If more people did this their photography would improve greatly, quickly!

      =Matt=

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    • mani lindeman

      that’s a wonderful idea….i will keep that in mind considering i use to shoot film….

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  13. Matthew Saville

    Thanks for the comments, guys!

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  14. Zadumas

    Otherwise it like saying the paint in the tube makes the painting, not the painter, even if you give the best brush, paint and canvas to a child…..no way he can come up with the best painting agains a real painter, it never was the equipment, I might give you confidence and it might help you but the said equipment can’t compose, evaluate and direct the light like you want it. It’s all in the head, the eyes, the eyes my friends.

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  15. Thphoto

    A huge difference in “taking” verses “making” pictures. A highly respected AP photographer friend always said he was going out to make pictures. Some have the eye and others have the tools, when you have both look out!

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  16. LisaSYates

    I actually watched a program on the History channel a few years ago, which pitted an iphone against a number of different cameras.  Point and shoot as well as DSLR’s.  They also brought in a few photographers (professional) and a model and asked each of them to take a photo of the same model with all the cameras.  Of course it’s TV, but after judging it was deemed that the best photo was from the iphone.  Why?  Because of the artistic approach the photographer took and the quality of the photo as well.  I couldn’t believe it.  I TRULY believe that it IS the photographer and not necessarily the equipment.  HOwever I can hand my camera Canon 5D MarkII to my 9 year old grandson and he can whoop my a** if the camera is set up for him!  Guess there are pros and cons to both.

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