One question I always get asked is how much your gear matters. Does your photography improve all that much when you take that leap and purchase a much better camera, or do you only need so much? Having thought about this quite a lot, I devised a simple way to test whether it’s you or your gear, and I came up with some surprising results. Do you want to know what really makes great photographers great? It’s not what you’d expect.
Are you still making basic mistakes?
Certain basic mistakes are entirely skill-dependent, and if you are still making them, new gear probably won’t help you all that much. A new lens won’t help you get the composition right. Neither will a faster camera or a better memory card. None of the following mistakes depend on gear, so if you still find yourself doing them, focus more on your skill and less on what to buy.
- Always placing the subject in the center of the frame. Doing so usually kills the intrigue and mystery of the image, forcing your viewers’ eyes to stop dead on your subject. Don’t buy a new camera. Try placing your subject anywhere other than the center of the frame, and you’ll notice a big improvement.
- Always using flash. Excessive flash usage can alter or destroy the colors in your image. Try to take the picture with nothing more than the natural light you have available to you. If you have no choice but to use flash, place a piece of tissue paper over the flash unit and take a few steps backward to dampen the harsh light coming from it.
- Not getting close enough to your subject. In most situations, it usually helps to get as close to your subject as possible. Try to fill the frame with your subject’s features, and pick one of them to emphasize. You don’t need a better zoom lens to do any of this. You can do it all yourself.
When To consider Making A New Camera Purchase
It’s only the gear’s fault when it’s virtually impossible to get the shot without the gear. Only a few types of images fall into this category. Imagine trying to get a closeup picture of a faraway surfer without using a big lens capable of zooming in that far. You could purchase a waterproof throwaway camera and go for a somewhat risky swim, or you could buy a digital SLR with a 500mm lens. There really isn’t a third option here.
Other gear-dependent shots include:
- Macro photography with extra magnification. (Macro lens)
- High speed action sequences. (DSLR with a fast frame capture rate)
- Nighttime photography. (A professional tripod.... sometimes)
- Images with a blurred background. (A lens with a large aperture)
- Vibrant colors and sharper subjects. (Adobe Photoshop Elements and a computer)
It’s funny because I actually strained to come up with these examples. For almost all of them, there is some counterexample that doesn’t involve the extra equipment you’re considering purchasing. Nighttime photography is one of them. A tripod makes it a lot easier to control your image, but the gear is by no means necessary. You can use other surfaces to keep your camera still through the long exposure times.
In almost all cases, it’s not the gear. It’s you. The great photographers of history had much less gear than you do, and they still managed to create moving images with a distinct style. They did it because they worked harder than anyone else. The skills they accumulated are worth more than anything you could buy.
So if you’re ever stuck wondering if it’s you or your gear, always assume the former. Gear will come and go over the years, but it takes someone with a vision to make something great with it. The early photographers did well enough without face recognition and all of the fancy features we see on the market today. You can too.
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