It's Not The Gear

Have you read What the Duck? It's a very funny comic strip aimed at the photographic community and many of the strips will resonate with anybody that has spent a lot of time with a camera in their hands. In particular, this one early strip pretty much summarizes what I'm about to write about. For those of you that haven't looked, one character makes the statement, "Your camera takes nice pictures." The other responds with "Your mouth makes nice compliments." That, in a nutshell, says it all: it's not the gear.

Ansel Adams once said that twelve good images a year is a good crop. Henri Cartier-Bresson said that the first 10,000 pictures are your worst. These quotes are from photographers that are often credited with essentially creating certain forms of photography in eras where the functional capability of their photographic equipment is positively antique by the standards we enjoy today. Yet, somehow, these masters of the craft managed to produce stunning images that are being poured over and admired still today. We can translate their quotes to a more modern concept, but the essentials of it are the same: it takes effort and practice to make great photographs. See what I did there? Adams also is quoted as saying that you don't take photographs, you make them.

Well, that's great, you say! 10,000 photos? I can do that! Sure, between my last three digital SLRs, I'm in the neighbourhood of 30,000 shots and that's in a span of about four years. Notice a trend there? Four years, 3 dSLRs. I might add that I'm no Henri Cartier-Bresson despite taking three times as many images as he mentioned. Why is that? Well, the gear today really exceeds most of us, it lets you do things that film would have never allowed for, really. For instance, I can see a scene on a street and fire off 15 shots in a row, no big deal. However, the 15 shots didn't really contribute to my growth as a photographer and, arguably, they may have hurt it.

Hurt it? How? The glory days of film taught photographers to shoot using very manual cameras. It took time to setup, compose, and shoot the image. You had to pay attention, be aware, react to the unfolding scene. Lenses were manual too, you didn't just point, press a button, and have everything snap into focus. In other words, you had to work at the craft of photography. This is why Ansel Adams was happy to get 12 significant photos a year. This is why Henri Cartier-Bresson said the first 10,000 shots were the worst. Think about how long it would take to reach 10,000 photographs on a film SLR with all manual controls and lenses. A looooooooong time indeed. So, why does snapping off 15 shots of the same thing hurt me? Well, it's because I'm no longer really anything but the guy that holds the button down, anyone can do that so I'm relying on the camera to get something, anything, that might end up being usable. Ugh. Is that really photography? Maybe, you still have to have the eye for the scene, but it's not helping the development of technique that takes the images to the next level, perhaps the level that people admire them in galleries.

So, bring that all back around to the title of this post... The gear doesn't make you a good photographer, it's the dedication and desire. It takes a while to figure that out, a lot of us get trapped in the cycle of equipment buying, but it's not that activity that will make a difference. Do it, if you enjoy it (and I sometimes do), but you still have to get out there and shoot! So, shoot and, while you're at it, spend a little more time seeing the shot and setting it up instead of just using the machine gun option of your camera.

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