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essential-photography-tips News & Insight

A Simple Photography Tip Which Could Drastically Improve Your Photography

By Max Bridge on December 23rd 2015

I recently wrote an article about a question that amateurs believe to be so important, but, in fact, turns out to be relatively useless; “What camera settings did you use?” That got me thinking about other incorrect assumptions which hold back progression. This article will address the thing that many of us hold, ashamedly, close to our hearts. Gear.

[REWIND: WHY ‘WHAT CAMERA SETTINGS SHOULD I USE?’ IS A POINTLESS QUESTION]

One of the photography adages we hear all too often is, “It’s the photographer, not the gear.” That is not what I want to address here but you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s where this article is headed. No, this is about a mentality; a mentality which holds photographers back and stops them from progressing.

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Stalling Your Progression

Formal education is expensive and with so much available online these days, it is often seen as pointless. I understand that viewpoint, however, I do not totally agree. Yes, if I were advising someone whether to go and get a photography degree, I would probably tell them to do something else. Have a fallback plan. There are, however, some significant advantages to formal education. One of which being the logical manner in which the courses are taught. A step-by-step structure which gives you a more rounded perspective and thus avoids these kinds of pitfalls; advice which is rarely touched upon in online education.

As you develop as a photographer, you come to realize what goes into making a photo; be that a million pound advertising campaign, headshot, candid portrait, whatever. You begin to understand the different elements necessary: crew members, lighting, cameras, lenses, editing techniques, locations, and so on. This knowledge, or understanding, is taught at photography schools but rarely touched upon online. The result of which, for online educated individuals, is a skewed perception of what is important to creating a photo.

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The Incorrect Assumption

It’s quite logical when you think about it. You buy a camera and begin the lengthy process of learning its menu system and all the settings contained within. That process makes you settings obsessed. You then realize you need a new lens or two for whatever type of photography you want to do. Research begins and you obsess over acquiring some new gear. That process makes you gear obsessed.

[REWIND: THE CURE FOR GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME (G.A.S.)]

This leads me to my all-important photography tip: Stop believing that gear is what “makes” the shot. In just the same way that settings do not create beautiful photos, neither does gear. It is NOT the basis of a good photo.

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 I Know What You’re Going To Say

I know, some of you will no doubt be thinking, “What is he talking about?” Of course gear makes the shot! You need “x” lens to create “x” effect and incorporating such and such light with “x”, not to mention that “x” photo is not achievable without blah, blah, blah. Yeah, you’d be right.

But let me ask you this: if I gave you the best camera, best lens, and best lights money could buy does that mean you can create the best images? Obviously not. If that is the case, then the only logical conclusion is that gear does not “make” the shot. You do. Without a doubt, certain pieces of equipment will be necessary for certain jobs, but it is not the equipment alone that creates stunning imagery. The mere fact that you possess whatever it is your heart desires does not mean you will be a better photographer.

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So, What Is Important?

I don’t want you to read this and assume gear is not important. It is. I could not do my photography without the gear I have. As such, I am not a photographer who will tell you gear does not matter. Hand me an Android phone (who still uses iPhone anyway?), ask me to go and take some wildlife photographs, and I will probably come back with utter rubbish. Gear IS important. But it is NOT the be all and end all.

The single most important thing that any photographer needs is education. I think that deep down we all know this, but it’s the long road; the harder route to mentally travel. It’s so much easier to say to ourselves, “I could definitely make a photo that good if only I had…” rather than “I’m not that good,” or “I have no idea how they created that photo, I’m not good enough.” It’s self-preservation. We never want to admit that other people are better than us. So we attribute their success, their abilities as a photographer to these trivial things that we don’t have. Change that mentality and you will become a better photographer and your photography will improve drastically.

[REWIND: PHOTIGY PRO CLUB MEMBERSHIP REVIEW PART 2 | STILL THE BEST WAY TO LEARN PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY?]

It’s this that I want you to take from this article. Not that gear is unimportant or that it’s the photographer, not the gear. We’ve all heard that chestnut a billion times. No. I want you to realize that the only reason your photos are not as good as your peers or as the very best professional is you.

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Where Do I Go Now?

I don’t just like to preach this stuff and then leave you in tears wallowing in self-pity. No, that would be mean. I like to show you the light and guide you through it. So where do you go next? I regularly watch online photography courses to advance my knowledge, pass on what I learn on to you all, and so I can advise you on where your money is best placed. Here’s a couple of articles I wrote a little while back which have some fantastic courses for you to check out:

I will be devoting as much time as I can spare to watching newly released tutorials and telling you all about them. Currently, I’m working my way through Fstoppers’ newly released course covering cityscape photography (see the first course in the series on Landscape Photography) and will hopefully have that review ready for mid-January. I can’t watch everything that gets released, though. If you need some advice, turn to the SLR Lounge Facebook community group. There are thousands of photographers there who will happily help you out.

If in doubt, be sure to check out the SLR Lounge tutorials. I have genuinely never found education that I believe to be of a better quality. That benefit of formal education (giving you a more rounded logical progression) is something that the SLR Lounge tutorials do amazingly well; a step-by-step gradual progression. You can find everything in the SLR Lounge Store here. For the rest of this week, everything in the store is 30% off with the code: happyholidays30

Finally, for those of you suffering from severe gear obsession, make sure you read this great article by our very own Chad Diblasio all about tackling that mentality: THE CURE FOR GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME (G.A.S.).

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Lee G

    Great article

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  2. Paul Nguyen

    I’ll admit I skimmed your article a bit Max, but I think I agree with your premise.

    When I first got into photography, I improved markedly within the first few months when I learned about how to control my aperture and depth of field. Then I stalled for a while, but over time, I would learn in batches, e.g. learning about how to use flash and strobes, then how to use shutter speed for creative control…etc.

    That said, I think there comes a time where technical improvement only goes so far. The rest is about how you see and there’s no shortcut to learning that. I think I’ve stalled for a really long time now, my images don’t look any better, perhaps they look even a bit worse as I have become too technical and less fluid in my composition.

    Ultimately, it’s all about having a good eye and having an imagination. Just like you can teach someone various techniques to drawing and painting, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to create a masterpiece. I have friends who say they love fashion photography, but would never be interested in opening a fashion magazine.

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for commenting Paul. The route of progression which you describe is common for many I think.

      This may already be something which you have done or are doing but have you explored other types of photography? I’ve found that by learning about other genre’s of photography (ones I don’t do professionally) my knowledge advances further. This makes me a more rounded photographer which ends up helping with creativity. You certainly won’t have those same leaps you had before but it’s worth a go if you feel you have stalled a little. Speaking figuratively, it opens one’s eyes a little more.

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    • Paul Nguyen

      Yep, definitely. Initially I always wanted to photograph people, whether that be portraits of models, family portraits, events – that kind of thing.

      But over time, I’ve started carrying my camera with me on trips to do landscapes, I take my camera with my every day when I head to work in the city and I’ve begun taking more pictures of family and friends – all of which has really helped me develop as a photographer.

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  3. Lawrence Smith

    I seriously enjoyed reading this! Gave me a lot to really think about and acknowledge, both good and bad.

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    Without a doubt, certain pieces of equipment will be necessary for certain jobs, but it is not the equipment alone that creates stunning imagery.

    Lenses, as is the camera, are a tool. Certainly, one doesn’t need to have the best available lens, but have the right lens for the shoot; there’s wide angle, normal, telephoto, and supertelephoto. One wouldn’t photograph a sport, such as football, baseball, or soccer, with a wide angle lens; a telephoto or super would be more suited.
    As a spectator, I brought my SLR and 80-205 zoom lens to a baseball game. The venue has a lens length restriction of 6 inches. At the gate where my lens was measured, the guy said “Zoom the lens out”; I said “It’s already where I’ll be shooting”. He turned the focusing ring to make the lens move outward and it measured out. I said “Dude, you just changed the focus. I won’t be shooting 4 feet from the game” and showed him the distance scale. “I’ll be shooting more likely 60 feet away”; it measured in.

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  5. Bill Bentley

    So really not a simple photography “tip” after all. ;-)

    *Good post though*

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  6. Martijn van Eeten

    Though a good lens won’t make the shot, having an optically poor kit lens harm an otherwise decent (lighting, composition, etc) shot, resulting in contrast-lacking images that just don’t seem to be really in focus anywhere, makes you wish you had invested a little more. Better-than-kit-lens optics are worth investing in. I remember buying my first f1.8 prime really opened my eyes: so much more contrast, and so incredibly sharp!

    I think every starting photographer needs a little GAS, has to through that phase. Just don’t get stuck in it. By doing so, you can exclude all other limiting factors except…. your own talent.

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for the input Martijn. Gear definitely is important. As I mentioned in the article, I simply could not do some of the photography I do without certain pieces of kit.

      Striking a balance between what we need and want is a difficult thing to do. It’s something that more experienced photographers will arrive at naturally. I just hope this sort of article encourages some people to get there quicker.

      Merry Christmas

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  7. Deirdre Ryan

    I used to sell cameras at Samy’s when they were located on La Brea back in the late 90’s when digital was the new thing. People were always asking, which camera takes the best pictures, and my response was the person behind the camera.

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  8. Colin Woods

    A big part of this is advertising of course. Kit companies make zero dollars from me understanding lighting and using that old and beaten up 50mm f1.8. They want me to believe that if I go and spend another grand on an f1.4 that weighs 2lb I will be a better photographer. Not true of course, I will just be a photographer with an emptier bank account and sorer back. We are bombarded daily by ads telling us we need more stuff and it plugs right into that GAS place in the brain, bypassing rational thought. I know I need a 35mm f1.4, it takes willpower to fight off this need. Advertisers know what they are doing. I am dreading the days when my children will be at an age when they will fall victim to it.

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    • Max Bridge

      I suppose advertising does play its role. However naive it may be, I do like to think that I am somewhat immune to it. At least in relation to photography equipment. It’s usually the bank balance which wins, not the advertisers.

      Hope you and the family have a good Christmas!

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  9. Ben Young

    There’s so many aspects that go in to making a good photo.
    Yes, there’s the gear but I’m not so hung up in what brand or system people use. Though I believe using the “correct” lens (read focal length and or aperture) for the job for is important.

    I tend to spend a good deal of time thinking about light and shadows – the intensity of light and where it’s coming from. Where are the shadows going to fall? Or the placement of my own light sources if I’m using any.

    However, when working with people it’s very important to be able to communicate with them and get them to do what you want in a way that keeps everyone happy.
    I was recently reminded about this by a make-up artist who has many years experience. In fact, she has more years experience as a make-up artist than I have as a photographer.
    We were working with one model for a beauty/fashion shoot and after we’d finished and the model had left the MUA said to me that she really liked the way I talked to the model. She liked the way I explained myself tp the model what I wanted and the way I communicated under ways to the model the small adjustments to her poses.
    All parties were happy with the resulting photos. What was the reason for the successful photos?
    Was it the camera I was using? Or was it the lights I was using?
    Ultimately it was a combination of everybody involved! Though, for my part in the project I was mostly pleased with the model and her poses and her being able to understand me and give me what I wanted from her than I was with my camera, lenses or lights.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey Ben,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I really liked how you summed that up at the end. “Ultimately it was a combination of everybody involved!”. Substitute everybody for everything, and I think that is a great explanation. As I always say, I do think gear is important but it is just one small part of a larger machine. A machine which also must encompass knowledge and a range of skills.

      Have a merry xmas and new year.

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  10. Mike Upton

    This is an argument I get into a lot. I meet other photographers and the first question they ask me, before even looking at my photos, is “Do you shoot Canon or Nikon”? As if that’s the most important question to ask. Not even a glance at my photos to determine whether I’m any good or not. Just “What camera do you have?”

    It’s a Sony, by the way. And before you tell me Sony’s are no good, check out Trey Radcliffe at Stuck In Customs.

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    • David Blanchard

      I’m sure they exist, but I’ve never personally met a truly rabid brand conscious photographer. If I ask a “whatcha shooting” question, it is mostly as a conversation starter.

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    • Max Bridge

      I would never say that Sony was no good! I was very carefully considering jumping ship to Sony some time ago. They have some amazing equipment.

      Have a great Christmas

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    • Mike Upton

      I’m glad to see some people that understand that a camera is just a tool. I was speaking to a “pro” some time ago about starting my business and they asked if I shot Canon or Nikon. His response: “First thing you need to do is throw out all your gear. You’ll never be taken seriously by a client if you show up swinging a Sony around your neck. Pros use either Canon or Nikon.”

      I was so offended. He hadn’t seen any of my work! When i told him about people like Trey and the folks at Dyxum.com, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, I haven’t seen any of their new cameras or anything. They may have gotten better.”

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