Why Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter

On my recent article written for DPS there was some interesting discussion in the comments, particularly about Point #5 – Gear Doesn’t Matter At All, and I would like to explore that concept a bit further here.

First let me welcome the new followers to my blog, who may have found me via the article.  Welcome!  I try and write a post at least once a week, although due to working full time, and doing photography in my spare time, sometimes there are lapses – only human!  Of course there are 7 years worth of articles already post that can be found on the navigation bar or searching through the categories.

OK so this rather contentious concept that all that lovely expensive hardware you spent all that time saving up for, all that time learning how to use it…….. they who die with the best toys doesn’t actually win?

For some people, it is ALL about the gear.  They like having the biggest, fastest, latest bits and pieces. They get excited about calculating hyperfocal distance, exposure times for long exposures with 10 stop filters.  For them the joy is in the numbers and science and technology, and having the best toys.

That’s OK, there is plenty of space in the photography world for them, and I wish them all the happiness in the world.

There are also other people who don’t care about the gear at all, other than the fact its a tool to allow them to make images – in my experience often very creative or artistic people, they might have a Lensbaby or something similar in the tool kit.

Then I suspect are the rest of us, those who have the gear they want, need or can afford, learning to use it to the best of their ability and trying to figure the whole thing out.  One of the things I personally love about photography is how its IS a blend of the technology and the creative.  For me, my camera is a tool that allows me to create images and art.

One of the comments in the DPS article said essentially in answer  “NO, gear is all that matters”.  Several other people said similar things and my response to one was this:

“the camera doesn’t choose how you frame the image, the camera doesn’t get itself out of bed and drive to a location, the camera doesn’t decide if it wants silky waterfalls, the camera doesn’t see the light and texture and shadows and see the opportunity to capture a memorable image.”

You, the person, the walking talking driving monkey with thumbs, you are the one making the decisions where to point the camera, when to click the shutter, how to configure the settings for the desired outcome.  You are the one saving the money, booking the plane ticket, driving all the way, it is your legs hiking the trails and your will power that gets you out of bed in the morning for the sunrise.

So I want to talk about some of my experiences and the images that happened as a result of those experiences, because as a photographer you have to go out and put yourself in new places and situations to get the opportunity to capture images.

You can imagine my excitement on finding out there was going to be a Zombie Run held locally for the first time.  So I emailed the organiser and asked what needed to happen for me to be an event photographer, they told me the conditions, which were acceptable and I spent a fabulous afternoon out taking photos of the zombies and the runners.

An opportunity was seen, the people in charge were contacted and that got me on the site.

Head of Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy, taking photos of the wonderful scenery when  these two birds take off, so I waited until they were in clear sky before taking the shot.

I was lucky enough to attend a conference in the area, so organised for some leave given being the area already.  Note that this destination is 6 hours drive from where I live.

Turns out the Fly Agaric grows in pine forests.  This is Naseby Cemetary where I spent a good couple of hours crawling round on my knees and elbows in wet sheep shit (they have sheep to keep the grass down) taking these photos.

Being prepared to get down and dirty (in the rain as well) in another destination 5-6 hours drive from home.

The wonderful Purakanui Falls in The Catlins – 8 very long hours drive from home.  It hadn’t rained in a while and the water was quite low and there was a large flat rock near the middle of the river that made a lovely platform for my tripod.  It required me to take of my hiking boots and socks, roll my pants up, and very carefully make three trips to the middle of the stream with camera, tripod and bits. Plus I had to beg the indulgence of the other tourists on the viewing platform  – as my gear was now setup right in the middle of their point of view.

Seeing a better viewpoint, taking a risk, preparing to get wet meant that I got a *different* shot from everybody else.

This was taken on private farmland again in The Catlins area.  The sun was lighting up the wonderful bare white trunks.  I found the nearest farmhouse, and knocked on the door to their great confusion, and asked permission to take the shot.

Because I wasn’t trespassing, I had time to walk around and see all the possibilities and took many images that otherwise wouldn’t have been taken.

This image is one of my personal favourites.  I had stopped earlier to take an image by a farmhouse, and an elderly gentleman with a cane came up to me and told me where to find this cemetary – not far off the main road, but not visible and easily missed.

It was high up and gave a good view of the surrounding countryside, but this image I saw in my rear view mirror driving away, the sun just lit up this white limestone headstone brilliantly, so I stopped and captured it.

Stopping, listening to advice from a local and taking it, and then seeing the best shot on the way out and STILL stopping – a series of decisions that led to this image.

Here we are on Hamilton Island – a tropical getaway in the Whitsundays – up by Great Barrier Reef.  Lucky enough to go on a work conference for 4 days, I made the easy decision to pack my camera.  The island was three hours behind my usual time, so sunrise at 6am island time was quite civilised for me.

Even at 6am the sand and the water were warm and lying full length on the wet sand wasn’t cold and unpleasant at all, though I did need another shower when I got back to my room.

Despite only going for 4 days and not having much free time, the decision was made to take the heavy camera gear and forego extra sleep time to get up early and capture images.

This is one of my most prized images – this is the very rare NZ Falcon and even seeing one would have been a thrill.  But to get the opportunity to capture a reasonably good image?  My heart still beats fast at the memory.

This was taken in the Maniototo – another 6 or so hours drive from home – the weather was overcast and cold and windy and patchy rain.  So I just packed the gear into the car and drove randomly around, just exploring the area.  One road went up into the schist foothills, it wasn’t sealed but was a good quality road and I just kept driving, occasionally getting patches of sunlight and opportunities for images.

I happened to have my camera with my long lens on the front seat when I zoomed up and around a corner, and I caught this beauty with my peripheral vision – I was actually on the look out for the Harrier which is a much more common bird.  Pulling the car carefully to a stop (but forgetting to turn off the engine) and blessing my electric windows, I had about a minute or two, time to get several images and then just gaze in delight as this lovely bird took his time checking me out.

It is my hope that this exploration of some images and the stories behind them encourage you to have some adventures of your own.  Maybe now the concept that the gear you have means nothing if you are not out using it makes sense.

For the gear heads out there, yes when it comes down to the crunch for some images, like the falcon shot, the fact I did have a 70-200 lens right there made the difference, so yes the gear does matter, but it is only a part of the overall experience that goes into creating an image.

As always, love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

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About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
This entry was posted in Camera Adventures, For Beginners and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Why Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter

  1. These are wonderful photos!
    I totally agree with you. It’s the photographer that makes the photo, not the gear. There are lots of wonderful photos out there taken with a point-and-shoot camera.

  2. loisajay says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I would love to have a big camera with all the lenses, but cannot afford that so try to do my best with my little point and shoot. My photos are nothing like what you take, but some of them do make me (and sometimes others) smile. Really good post to let this sink in for me. Thanks so much!

    • I’m glad it helped, yes there are instances where special lenses will make a difference etc but it all means nothing stored in a bag in the closet for most of the time!

  3. Sue says:

    It’s largely what’s between the photographer’s ears that makes the photo….

    • Such a good point Sue 😎

    • green_knight says:

      … but when you get a chance to use a GOOD camera, you find that saying ‘it’s all the photographer’ was a bit overoptimistic.

      I did not miraculously become a better photographer when I switched my second DSLR for my third, but in the intervening years, sensors have improved a lot: almost all of my pictures are just a notch better than the ones I took a year ago, and in most cases I’m even using the same lens.

      • Sue says:

        Nothing to do with vision, emotion….

      • Yes better gear helps you take better images, but the gear does not magically make your images better simply by you owning it. Thats the biggest problem a lot of people seem to think.

        Yes faster and/or longer or specialty lenses help when you need it. Cameras that have better low light ISO when you do lots of indoor shooting are better than those that don’t. But once you get into the area where the gear *does* make the difference, you also get into the area where it matters that you also know how to *use it properly*

  4. Thomas Renshaw says:

    Good message. Love the Falcon image.

  5. desleyjane says:

    I agree with you. I have seen some magnificent photos coming from an iPhone and way better than the photos that I’ve seen from expensive DSLRs in the hands of people who don’t know how to use them. Great post and great shots.

  6. TheHairy1 says:

    Gear matters. When you know that the shot you wanted would have succeeded with THAT lens, or THAT body which you don’t have. Otherwise it does not matter. 🙂
    A good photographer will take a good photo with any camera. A good photographer understands the limits of specific gear and works within those limits. And won’t show the failures!
    I have always found that avoiding upgrades or new purchases until they have a clear and specific purpose (e.g. I want better low light performance) has kept my costs down and made me think carefully about my camera gear. I’d rather spend the money on going somewhere.

    • Good points, yes I planned my purchases to give me the most scope of opportunity to use my gear, and I know that my current camera is WAY more capable than I am – I would like to go full frame to have the extra pixels for bigger print outcomes and better dynamic range, but I don’t NEED it 🙂

  7. KatrinaK says:

    My thought on this matter is that having good equipment won’t make you a good photographer but having bad equipment, or the wrong equipment for the job at hand, may prevent you from getting good results. Having the right gear is at least as important as the quality of the gear.

    My own preference is to use a relatively high-end “point-and-shoot” because it is incredibly versatile without having to switch lenses or carry extra gear, it allows me to choose to set all sorts of things if I want to do so or to let the camera make the choices, and because while it isn’t small, it is a lot smaller than a DLSR with similar zoom capability would be. A DLSR would give me higher quality photos, but for my purposes, the trade-off in not being able to quickly switch from photographing birds to flowers to landscapes isn’t worth it.

  8. Everyone is a photographer, only some of them don’t have cameras. I guess that sounds too zen-like to be true. So, in the real world the camera does matter.

    Isn’t there a single photo that you could have taken better with a different camera? I always have my phone with me, and there are many photos I’ve taken with my phone which I thought would be bettered even by the tiny old camera with a X4 optical zoom I have at the bottom of my drawer.

    There wildlife shots I could not have taken without the enormous lenses I keep specially for that.

    Is the camera all that matters? If you are interested in taking good photos, then, no. That is your point, I think, and there I agree with the things you wrote.

  9. filkferengi says:

    Great pictures! I especially love the falcon, partly because it’s gorgeous, and also because I have one on my wall. There’s a wonderful artist named Mark Poole, who paints lots of cards for games. He also does big pieces on his own. He needed an orange falcon for a piece & painted that one. It’s a piece called “Lone Observer”; there’s a link here: http://www.fantasygallery.com/store/comersus_viewitem.asp?idproduct=1408

    It was the first piece of art we ever bought together, the year we were married. It came matted in dark blue. My dad liked it so much, he had me buy it for my mom, only he matted it in forest green.

    🙂

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