If someone looks at your pictures and go, “Wow, your pictures are really good! What camera do you have?”, what would your first reaction be?
I’ve been on enough online forums to know that a lot of photographers take offense. In their mind, it’s sort of like having dinner at someone’s home and saying, “That was a delicious meal. You must have a state of the art oven.”
Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
I guess, to non-photographers, when someone bakes a cake, he/she has to do a lot of precise prep work to put the batter together before placing it into the oven. And unless someone bakes a cake on a campfire (in which case he/she deserves huge kudos), most ovens will get the job done. The magic is in the skills of the baker. Conversely, non-photographers don’t think that there is a lot of work that goes before the making of the picture. They believe that if a group of photographers show up at the same spot to take photographs, what differentiates their pictures from one another is the gear they use.
I do agree with that belief, up to a certain extent. After all, that’s why photographers tend to have gear acquisition syndrome (GAS), always lusting after the latest equipment on the market. That’s why I bought the 135mm f1.2 lens; it has that creamiest, dreamiest bokeh that a 50mm 1.4 can’t hold a candle against. That’s why when my crop sensor Canon 70D fell victim to seawater (it still works, 80% of the time), I upgraded to the full frame Canon 6D. I wanted the superior low-light sensitivity of the 6D, and the differences in my night photographs are startling. With astrophotography, I can on the 6D push my ISO up to 3200 and shutter speed up to 30 seconds and still see relatively little noise.
Let’s be honest here: gear is important. And having professional gear does make a difference. There is a limit with what one can do with a point and shoot. But there are two key rebuttals to this.
In the first place, what non-photographers fail to realize is that there is actually a lot of preparation work that goes into making pictures. Before photographers leave the house, they obsessively peruse temperature forecasts, cloud forecasts, sunrise/sunsets/moonrise/moonset times, tidal charts, and even astro charts, then zoom around Google Maps trying to find the best spot to take pictures given the above conditions. Before they go on vacation, they not only look up where to stay and what to eat, they also do a lot of research about the best spots and best times for photography. (I use “they” because I’m not quite there yet. Half the time, I do a bit of research beforehand then just wing it, and play with the hand I’m dealt)
And if conditions don’t work out the first time, they go back again. And again. And again. Or even if the conditions seem perfect the first time, there is always something to improve upon. They are the ones who drag themselves out of bed hours before dawn to make the trek to their chosen spot. Who stay when the sun has set and the wind has picked up and everyone else has left for some hot dinner and cold drinks. Who continue to stay into the wee hours of the night for astrophotography, then squeeze in a couple hours of shut eye before rinse and repeat. I try not to subject Jeff to too much of this sort of schedule when we go on vacation, but truth be told, he prefers to go traveling with me in the winter, when the night hours are longer so he can get more sleep. In the summer, the sun sets later and rises way earlier. If I had my way, I’d sleep during the day.
The second rebuttal knocks the assumption that one can take an amazing picture just by owning a better camera. The pictures will likely turn out better than what they were taking with their point and shoot or phone, just by virtue of having a larger sensor and faster lens. But even if two photographers wield the same camera and stand in the same exact spot and shoot the same composition, their results could vary vastly depending on the settings they choose. Use a fast shutter speed to shoot waves, and you could freeze clear droplets of water in midair; a slow shutter speed will turn the water into a creamy soup. Understanding that, and being able to consciously make decisions based on that understanding is key.
So at the end of the day, while it’s not really fair to compare cameras to ovens, there is quite a lot more that goes into taking pictures. But if someone asks me what camera I use, I take the compliment for what it is, because I’m still learning to appreciate just how much work there is to make an amazing picture.