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This morning I had 5 emails from different readers all asking for advice on which gear would improve their photography the most.

Each one expressed the sentiment that they wanted to improve their #photography and that do so that they felt they needed better gear.

While I'm sure gear could play a part in that kind of improvement (some were shooting with quite old and low quality cameras) I wonder if perhaps our obsession with gear sometimes gets in the way of us actually improving our photography?

By no means are these 5 readers the only ones - I myself spent way too long this morning surfing the web looking at #camera reviews and lusting after different cameras/lenses/accessories/bags etc.

What if I'd spent that some amount of time with camera in hand actually shooting? I'm certain I would have made some new discoveries and honed techniques that would have tangibly improved my photography.

Just my two cents worth - I think there's a blog post in this emerging.

Thoughts #Photographers?
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53 comments
 
Just had the same thing today with people wanting a "better" audio mixer when what they need is training.
 
Whenever anyone asks me about what piece of gear to use to take their photography to the next level, I always tell them a Tripod. Any Tripod. Anything that gets your camera to sit still while you make an exposure. I dunno, but its always been one of those things thats proven the Ah hah moments for people understanding shutter speeds and how they affect what you see photographically.

We totally over obsess over our gear.. :)
 
You could expand your blog post to include any activity that improves with actually "Doing it" rather than thinking about it or lusting about the tools of the trade...we have the same issue with our #taichi students.
 
I think you can create some amazing images if you know the limitations of the camera you are working with.... I've a holga with a sticky shutter... if I want to use it as a snap shot camera, forget, it'll never ever work right.... but some long exposure...spot on!
 
I agree with this +Darren Rowse . Most of the time people start obsessing with the "tool" instead of the "user". People keep forgetting that most of the photographers before didn't have access to the technology we have today...

...much like Da Vinci didn't have access to a Wacom Cintiq, but he still managed to pull off a LOT of masterpieces that are still regarded as the best paintings to this day
 
You could go all sorts of directions with this.. rather than hijacking +Darren Rowse post here, I will write something up on the ones I dig and give a Good/Better/Best option. Just want to be respectful of his convo.. as this is a real valid one.
 
Spend money on books, either traditional or ebooks, either technique, theory or photobooks. That's a safe investment in improving your photography.
Having doubts regarding what gear will make you evolve usually is a sign someone doesn't know which way to go, haven't seen or taken enough photos
 
as good as this advice is in general, I think you get to a point where the technical quality of the result becomes an important learning step. at that point, gear is a relevant issue.
 
Thanks ... and, you're right ... sorry, +Darren Rowse. I'm a relative newbie to photography (as opposed to just taking photos) and I agree, time spent with camera in hand is more valuable than a 'better' camera. I'm loving getting involved in photowalks, and learning from others about how my camera works, and how to compose shots to get a better image.
 
I'm going to make a rather bold statement here +Ron Wiecki :)

There has never been a time where I have had a conversation with someone who has said "well. you know, RC.. I am looking to get this X piece of gear to get me to the next level.. cause this one is holding me back" Where I have looked at their work and said "Wow.. you are completely right. You have totally outgrown and outperformed this camera. You my friend need to move into the next level"

another semi-bold statement: Usually, the people that I have run into that have wanted to pound into me the technical is important have had ( more often than not ) the most lackluster of portfolios.

I, somewhat lovingly, refer to them as Photographists - the photography scientist.
 
+Darren Rowse I wonder if perhaps pandering to people who have no talent and want to compensate with buying shit is why you're feeling disillusioned and in need of a break? :)
 
Having recently upgraded my camera I have to say that gear can make a difference providing you know what you are doing in the first place. If you are unaware of what makes a good photo to start with it wouldn't matter if you used the best equipment or the worst. I am no pro but I can see advantages of having certain equipment for certain situations but if I was unaware of what ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed do for me in taking a photo then I would also be unaware of what improving my equipment will do. Buying a nice new fancy lens makes no improvement if you don't know what the numbers on it mean and what effect they will have on your shot. I would say that an accomplished photographer would know what gear he/she needs to improve his/her shots. If you don't know what gear you need to improve then you need to improve as a photographer first. Your skill should exceed the abilities of your gear not you gear exceeding the abilities of your skill.
 
+RC Concepcion I'm not talking about the vision that one brings, which is what makes the photo work. and that's what counts, ultimately. But Ansel Adams, e.g., would have been a very different photographer with a polaroid instead of his view camera. Same with Stephen Shore or Joyce Tennyson, or numerous others. What your vision wants to attempt might require a certain level of technology.
 
I want to take up photography as a hobby. Currently my gear is a Droid Razr, so as I go forward, I need to think about getting a real camera. I am clueless where to start,. The question for me is less about what gear what make me better, but what I should get that gives the best change of learning about photography.
 
+Ron Wiecki These days, when you see things like a D3200 at 24mp 1080P video for under a grand, or a Sony NEX5N smoking shots at around 800, its hard to have a conversation where your vision is limited by the technology that's out there. I agree, Adams having a Polaroid versus a View camera is a big jump, but - Thats a BIG jump between technology - and it presumes that consumer level cameras are limited in tech that a pro-grade gives you a big boost. The consumer cameras of this past year smoke most of the cameras that have come out in the past 10. Are there people that Still would argue that their vision is limited by tech- absolutely. Are they valid? Probably. I'm arguing that those people are the absolute fringe cases.. Not the general rule.
 
+Eric Sagel , you can get yourself an inexpensive "Point and Shoot" or a compact camera. You can't go wrong with the stuff available today. Even tablets have really nice cameras these days. Olympus and Panasonic always makes good compact cameras.

If you want to be a bit serious and want more range (and if budget allows), you can invest on DSLRs or the now becoming popular "Mirrorless Cameras". It will definitely give you a lot options, but you really can't get wrong in investing in a good point and shoot first so that you can get a "feel" or what type of photography you want to pursue.

You can go from there after that... :)
 
I have always found it most interesting that the people who say gear doesn't matter already have the gear that generates clear sharp photographs in high resolution and sized for professional services, not the ones who do not who realize once they have better gear, particularly lenses in their hands they know the difference immediately and would never turn back. Be careful because it is an expensive venture once you realize this though. So I do agree with you +Ron Wiecki .
 
Far to many that label themselves photographers are really collectors of photo gear. Not that collecting photo gear is all bad. Having the best gear doesn't do anything to insure the best photograph. The photograph starts with the minds eye and frequently requires impeccable timing to catch that perfect moment that tells the whole story. A fast lens can facilitate a photograph with lower light but so can a tripod although the image is of course effected by movement during longer exposures. A detailed understanding of how your equipment records images in different situations and exposure latitude is a more valuable tool that the most expensive equipment.
 
+Darren Rowse The real answer is when you need a piece of equipment to improve your photography, you won't need to ask what kind of gear you need. You'll know from the experience of creating/capturing an image what could be improved. The best piece of gear you will always have is the six inches of space between your ears. I've shot some pretty big budget campaigns with equipment that might have gotten me a nose snub by amateurs. If you have to ask what you need to improve, it's almost always your perspective and vision.
 
Fun story from my Dad, an amateur photographer:

Dad's Friend says to Dad: "Wow, those are some great pictures! You must have a really good camera."

Dad goes to Friend's house for dinner one night. Dad says to Friend, "Wow, that dinner was wonderful. You must have some really nice pots and pans."
 
I think you are correct too +Matt Dutile but when you understand that, gear does matter. It doesn't mean you can't still fulfill your vision or take good photographs, it just means you can tell the difference in technical quality and for some that does matter. I just think to dismiss it fully is not honest either.
 
+Dru Stefan Stone I'm not trying to dismiss it. All I'm saying is that when you actually do need gear to improve your ability, you won't have to ask others what you need. Until that point what you need to improve is the experience of creating an image.
 
I'm in the process of downsizing my gear. I've sold my 5DMkII, IR converted 5D, and some L glass. Still more to sell. I'm moving to u4/3. Why? Size and weight. It took three bags to carry all my Canon gear and now I'll fit almost as many u4/3 bodies and lens in one bag. In my case, less gear means more shooting.
 
Sure, gear matters but there comes a point when your gear is good enough. At that point you grab your camera and start taking photos.

After that, if you still think that you need better gear -- maybe it's not the gear.
 
+Dru Stefan Stone - I'll add to my previous statement.

I can't tell you how many more people we run into that say "Oh, its easy for so and so photographer to say that the gear does not matter, they already have the gear"

Whenever I run into this person, I usually attribute the statement as an opinion of have vs. have not, and almost never on the craft of photography.

Let's break down your points:

Gear that is high resolution sized...
Hard to argue when you can get a Nikon 3100 with 14MP. That gives you an 18x24 - that after using something like Perfect Resize can easily get you to a 24x30.

Sized for Professional Services
Considering that the amount of people that are rocking print sales higher than 24x30 are smaller and smaller these days (what with everything going on a touch device and Facebook), The D3100 or Canon T2I still doing well here. I'll do you one better, the entire amwac controversy started largely because consumer cameras could be used for pretty pro sized prints/jobs (I happen to love amwac's... Go get em, moms!)

Sharp
I shot a D70 with an old 50 1.4 and sold tons of prints that were actually pretty sharp? More often than not, the average user that complains about sharp these days is usually dragging shutter and blurring rather than not focusing..

That said... I do agree... when you make a lens jump and stuff.. does your quality get better? Sure! That's what its supposed to do. Is it a quantum leap? I doubt it.
 
+RC Concepcion that's a valid point. My xsi, which I got when it was the new kid on the block, is still serviceable and I'm happy with it yet. But it's also nearing the back end of its expected life. and it's no longer the cutting edge that you cite, either; not that I'm interested in video, anyway.
 
Oops.. forgot to close. +Dru Stefan Stone - yes.. there are technical qualities to improve on an image. You can definitely invest in getting something technically perfect - and you are absolutely right about that.

That said, I almost never run into someone who's looking for that technical perfection. Those who find that they need that technical edge, usually just know it, and know exactly what they need. The person who generally asks what gear makes photography better is (more often than not.. there are exceptions) still under the impression that there is a [specific camera with a specific button, in a specific location that you press] that they have not been told of yet.
 
+Matt Dutile I didn't mean to say you were trying to dismiss it, but there are plenty of people who are saying this even on this thread. You actually made sense to me, except I do believe you can understand the gear you plan to purchase better to find out if you will be happy with it if you know someone who has it or have read a review about it. A great example is a tripod. I read reviews and bought one based on that. It was awful and I sent it back, instead I asked for recommendations from friends and found a GREAT tripod that meets my needs. I would do the same if I were questioning a choice of lenses, recommendations from those who have used the equipment is a good step to getting more of what you are looking for, so going to +Darren Rowse for those doesn't seem to be a bad decision, although I would likely choose people with whom I have a more personal relationship with. Ultimately it becomes a decision for you once you know they are happy with the "gear" you are trying to decide between and purchase. Unlike most. I don't have a lot of gear. It packs in one bag, but it is "good gear" not cheap by any stretch of the imagination although there is much more expensive and high quality out there and I always lust for more, but I am more than happy to work with what I have but I do realize gear does matter. Although if you obsess over it, you are likely looking in the wrong place to improve your photography.
 
There is also the an inverse that I see happening too sometimes on the entire "Oh, easy to say you dont need gear when you have gear." arguments that come out. People sometimes buy expensive gear because they can - and theres nothing wrong with that. I once taught a workshop at a really cool place, and saw immensely priced cameras at the hands of people who had little experience with them. There were a bunch of doctors and lawyers. Is it wrong for them to have good gear? Not at all. Are they trying to buy their way into a great shot? Doesn't matter. Their money - good on them for getting them.

I wouldn't disparage someone shooting with a lower model camera - and I wouldn't disparage someone with a above their means camera. In the end, they are just cameras.
 
Hmmmm...interesting +RC Concepcion they must be the absolute newbies who have money to throw away! I can't identify with those folks, but I say let them spend money, it might make my gear cheaper! LOL...
 
There are lots of factors behind gear fetishism. They include:

1. To some extent, gear is fundamental to making photographs - photography, like instrumental music, is an art that is made using technological tools.

2. For many people, the first challenge of photography is understanding the gear and the arcane language used to speak of how the gear is used. Again like music, you have to understand the gear at some level before you can do the important stuff with it.

3. Oddly, when people thing of the accoutrements of photographers - the things that identify people as photographers - they most often seem to think of the gear of the photographer and not the photographs produced with the gear. Many of the romantic notions that people have about photography and photographers therefore, and to no ones surprise, revolve around the stuff that they think makes you look like a photographer.

4. You do have to get some gear. It costs money - often a lot of money, at least by the perspective of a person who is first getting into photography. People don't want to blow their money on bad stuff, so they want to know - even though that answer isn't really all that possible - what is the "best" stuff and what is the "right" stuff.

5. For many, it is a lot easier to write and talk about gear than to write and talk about photographs. Frankly, it is pretty easy to write a books worth of information about lenses and shutter speeds and apertures and formats and tripods and the rest. It is damned hard work to write something interesting, meaningful, and useful about photographs, much less what makes them good, bad, or indifferent.

I could write much more. But I won't. At least not now. ;-)
 
Ah, the perennial artist vs. tool debate...

I'm going to throw in a wrinkle I didn't see in the discussion so far:
* If you have really good light, the the "equipment" is almost inconsequential, provided that you/it are capable of pulling proper focus.
* When the lighting turns challenging, better gear does matter. Full stop. (Begin debate regarding which gear...)
 
+Dru Stefan Stone You've got some valid points. I do ask recommendations from friends and even browse online sometime too when I am upgrading equipment. What I'd really like to stress to anyone though is that gear is such a minimal factor. I could pack all the gear I own too in one bag and I've got a list of clients including Oakley, Islands, First for Women, New York Times, New York Mag and more
 
True +RC Concepcion very true...I figure let them buy, they are in no sense any threat to anything that I hold dear and I always say the more people shooting photographs the better this world is even if they only get enjoyment from it, let them have fun and shoot, it's really a pleasure thing at that point. So now I'm totally confused about why this discussion matters at all, unless we are talking about serious photographers and God help us if we are!
 
+Dru Stefan Stone - I tend to call them beginner photographers who have the means to get what they want. I know a guy who wont go to the movies because they are a ripoff but wears a 200 dollar watch. We spend money on the things we value. Its not mine to make a judgement call on why they did it. If I bemoaned their financial decisions, i'd be caring too much about what they have.. which I dont. I just gently remind them that they couldve done that same shot with a camera 1/5 of its price.
 
Gear does matter, but for the investment of moving up from a consumer-prosumer-pro camera, you are only getting IMO a +10-20% bump in features, and unless you hit that threshold where you do need them, it doesn't matter.

But this is photography, its different than all other forms of art because we are limited with the camera, for the most part a painter can't buy a better brush, a writer can't buy a better pen to improve his art, we can to a certain extent. But that only.


I had this same conversation with a student in a workshop recently, he said he could take pictures like me if he only had my gear. I was going to give him mine but then the excuse would be he didn't know how to use it, so then I pulled out my iphone and shot the rest of the day withit, and to his astonishment my images were decent.
Oh and one more thing the proper response to "Wow your pictures are great, you must have a nice camera."

is

"And Shakespeare had a really good pen."


Dunno if it makes sense, still haven't had my coffee.
 
BTW, I'm far more inclined to believe that the camera doesn't matter so much, but the lens does, just for the record. (Although if you are looking at sizing your work as large as Gursky it does!)
 
Oh and it also matters what you do with your photography. Since I also teach in addition to shoot, I love people who don't know anything about photography but buy good gear, it means they'll pay for workshops and allow me to spend money on gear that I don't really need :)

Yes a lens can matter, Gursky is a good point, but most of the people I assume we are talking about are just going to post to Facebook or G+ which then becomes a mute point.
 
+Darren Rowse, I commented that exact sentiment on a post of yours here on Google plus several months ago and was nearly lynched in the comments and was explicitly told by several users that they had blocked me. Basically, I was telling them to stop obsessing over gear and take the best compositions that they could with what equipment they have even if it was an iPhone. I hope those same fools are reading your words now. Personally, I am shooting with a relatively older digital camera, an iPhone, and a Canon SLR (not DSLR). I get great shots because I understand how each piece of equipment works and its strengths and limitations. Happy shooting.
 
+G Dan Mitchell well considered words...

It has indeed taken me a while to figure out more than the fundamental basics of the relationships between aperture, shutter speed, (sensitivity,) and exposure -- and to become able to start applying this knowledge to improve my art / craft / photographs.

This learning has been enabled by a set of cameras that shared one key trait: manual controls. I "graduated" from a maxi-zoom (that took forever to focus and had no manual focus capacity) to my current DSLR system. This change in gear has broadened the number of shots that I can capture "relatively easily" and helped me learn more as a result. That has led to deeper exploration and greater experimentation...
 
I often get asked the same question and my answer these days is "what is it your current setup isn't doing for you" in most cases the people asking don't have an answer.
 
Perhaps I think I am too passionate about art in general and believe there is an inner artist in most people. I say get the best gear you can. Set yourself a budget do your research and buy away within the budget you set for yourself. Then go out and shoot, if you don't know something, find out about it, then go out and shoot some more, repeat.

+Mitchell Masilun love that outlook!

I absolutely would love to print something as large as Gursky's Rhein II, no reservations about that one. I work large in my fine art pastels and oils and wouldn't hesitate doing so in my photography.
 
The gear doesn't make you a better photographer. Photographing makes you a better photographer. Honing your photographic eye and looking for good subject matter, composition and light are among what makes an engaging image. Sure better equipment will give you a higher quality output of an image than a low end camera; but if you don't have engaging subject matter, composition and lighting, it doesn't matter if you're shooting with a Nikon D4 or a Kodak Instamatic. Just like you're won't suddenly become a better driver because you get behind the wheel of a Ferrari when you usually drive a VW Beetle. You need to develop your skill set.
 
Photographers obsess over gear because it is easier than becoming educated as to what actually makes a good photograph.

It is easy to memorize spec sheets and megapixel counts. It is much more difficult (and more rewarding) to understand the dynamics of light, shape, color, line, perspective, repetition, contrast, etc. I almost never read or see any conversations online about the actual visual qualities of an image (Craig Tanner is a noteworthy exception).

If we change the conversation and instead educate our friends and colleagues about what photography is really about, we could put this discussion to bed and actually make some great images.

Just my take.
 
The paintbrush doesn't make the painter
(but it helps to have decent paints)

I think there is a balance. I am currently using a point and shoot, so I am pretty limited in alot of the types of shots I can get (wide angle, telephoto, etc), so I have to concentrate on composition and light to make a good shot with what I have available to me. I personally think for my own situation that even an entry level DSLR would be better just because it would widen the range of what I could accomplish compared to what I use now. But honing the skill it takes to see the photographic potential in a subject has absolutely nothing to do with the equipment I use to capture it and everything to do with my heart and soul as an artistic human being. They are completely separate concepts working in concert and you have to find that balance.
 
Totally agree. Using the gear you have makes you a better photographer.

We tell our kids to play with the toys they have, why can't we?
 
For me as a newbie photographer, I wanted to make sure I had equipment up to the task. Years ago I did competitive shooting and in that sport, there is a certain level where the rifle quality is high enough your skills are to blame for any issues. I believe it is the same way with photography.

I just bought a Canon T3i because I felt I needed it to take better pictures. Sure, my 4 year old Olympus point and shoot camera could have taken great pictures, but in my mind, my equipment was not sufficient for the task. In my case, the equipment has made a difference because it is easier to use, to experiment with, and more flexible (it shoots great video).

You don't have to have all the gear in the world, but a minimum level boosts not only confidence but the quality of pictures. I don't have the feeling that my gear is holding me back, even if it isn't. At this point, I need to get better to take advantage of the very limited gear I have and thinking long and hard about more stuff. Thanks
C Cid
 
Only people with great camera's say stuff like this. Put a pns camera in my hand and my photos aren't that crash hot, give me back by D700 and 85mm 1.4 and I'm doing ok... I'm sick of people saying it doesn't make a difference - it does and you know it. It's not everything - the camera doesn't take the photo for you, nor will it make up for lack of skill but it damn well does help to end up with a great result.
 
+C Cid, Take a 30-year-old camera--let's say a Canon AE-1Program, for this exercise--and a Nikon D4. Put a 50mm f/1.8 lens on both. Compose the same shot at the same settings. And since we're comparing a film and digital camera, print them both out.

If the composition is good and the subject-matter interesting, you will likely get a decent quality image from both cameras. If your subject is boring, have bad composition and over- or under-expose for the shot, you'll have a bad picture from both cameras.

Yes, you get better technical quality images with better quality equipment--but you still need to have the fundamentals of capturing a good image. There are a lot of people out there that think a higher-end camera will do the work for you.
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