*all images in this post were from random drives, where I was happy I had my camera with me. All were shot with either a 50mm or a 24mm*
I am a gearhead. Always have been, always will be. For those unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition: “a person who is extremely interested and knowledgeable about computers, electronics,technology, and gadgets; also called nerd, geek”. I always want the newest and greatest thing whether it be lenses, cameras, lights, computers or software. Anything photography or technology related, I want it. When the iPhone & iPad came out I, drooled for days. Everytime Apple releases anything new I lust for it. When Nikon releases new lenses or cameras, I read everything I can on it, then I generally want it. Any little gadget or advancement in technology generally hits on my “nerd nerve”, and triggers my “want” senses. One thing I have realized though, and a word you see peppered through this paragraph, is that I WANT them, I don’t NEED them.
My friend and fellow photographer Dan MacDonald has an in-depth 4 part look at this topic titled “It’s Not About The Gear” on his blog. I definitely agree with many if not all of the points he makes, and I really suggest taking a look at his posts. As photgraphers, especially in this digital age, we always feel like we need to have the latest and greatest piece of gear, but why? Is it because a certain lens will allow you to take images you weren’t able to take before? Is it because a $6000 camera will take images that you weren’t able to before? Is it because you’re current computer is simply too slow and won’t allow you to work at the pace you need? If the answer is yes then by all means drain that bank account, put yourself in massive debt and buy everything you can. But wait, how is it that people in the 1970s were able to take sports images? It’s not a myth, they really did. Crazy isn’t it? They didn’t have cameras that shot 8 frames per second, they didn’t have autofocus, they couldn’t instantly see the image on their LCD, but there are some great images from this time period. Have a look at Larry Berman who photographed primarily basketball & musicians in the 70s, he wasn’t shooting with a Canon 1D Mark IV and a 70-200 2.8IS was he?
Without a doubt the invention of autofocus, auto-advance, and now digital functionality in cameras helped some things became easier. Now you can fire off a 20 frame burst without thinking about how many frames you just used up. You can “spray and pray” hoping that somewhere in those 20 shots something decent will exist. Isn’t it wonderful? Here’s the issue: many photographers will get spoiled by this function in that they’re not able to properly expose or compose and will just “fix it in Photoshop”. I learned photography on a film camera. I had to know what I was doing in camera, I had no LCD to check my exposures and I had no computer to save me if something went wrong. This forced me to learn everything the hard way, I had rolls of film that were complete garbage, exposures way off, focus way off, but the key was knowing why that happened. It was definitely a more hands on learning process than with today’s cameras, and you learn the hard way (which is usually the best way).
If someone was to ask me “how should I get started in photography?” I would tell them to buy an old film camera, a 50mm lens, and go shoot 50-100 rolls of film. Not just shoot the film, study it once its been processed. You can go out and buy all the greatest equipment in the world but if you don’t know how to expose & compose, you’re images will be worthless. Also make full frame prints of your negatives, don’t crop anything. Take your camera with you everywhere you go, and train your eyes to see. You’ll begin to see things in a way you hadn’t before, force yourself to take images where you think there is nothing.
I recently read a wonderful article where Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) interviewed Nick Onken (read it here) and he talked about his ABS theory (Always Be Shooting). As a photographer you can’t just be happy shooting for other people. You need to shoot for yourself, constantly improving and evolving your work. Photography is like anything else, you need to be doing it all the time to be improving, it’s not enough to just read about or watch instructional videos. Sure there is a tremendous amount of resources out there for you to learn about photography, many of them free. But spending all your time reading about it won’t make you any better unless you are constantly shooting, putting the things you learn to use. Shoot, shoot, shoot, no matter what kind of camera you have or how much it costs, it isn’t the equipment that defines your images, it’s you.
A truely talented photographer can make great images, no matter the equipment. While at times the right piece of gear can help what you’re doing it shouldn’t be a necessity to make great images. Work on your technique, your vision, do things that set yourself apart from the others. There are a million photographers out there, with access to all the same gear you have. It’s not what equipment you use, it’s how you use it to interpret your vision.