Posted on January 5, 2011
All The Gear and No Idea.
Its a common problem. A newbie rocks up with many thousands of dollars of shiny new kit and has not a clue what to do with it.
You can find examples of this everywhere and in sports and hobbies of all kinds. Its an issue where people have lots of disposable income and somebody tells them (or maybe possibly hints at a kind of a compliment) they have an ounce of talent.
All of a sudden, they have dreams of being the next Lance Armstrong (cycling), Annie Leibovitz (photography) or Valentino Rossi (motorcycling) or Eric Clapton (guitar) and go out and spend as much as they possibly can on the very best equipment.
A flash, full carbon, dura-ace equipped bike, a top flight digital SLR and a brace of professional lenses and flash guns, a race replica motorbike or a Fender Stratocaster and Marshall amp and cab combo.
Whilst all the time have absolutely NO idea of how to use any of it.
I’m going to focus on cameras as it’s the thing closest to my heart (well, cycling is too, but I’ll leave that one alone)
I’ve seen this so many times. Someone takes a nice shot with a point and shoot camera, takes this as a sign of massive untapped talent, so spends thousands on a super DSLR, with which they promptly take hundreds of super high quality but utterly shite photographs, increasingly blaming the failures on the camera, the light, the subject, etc. Anything but themselves.
So, I’ll enlighten everyone.
Bar a few circumstances where professionals or serious amateurs will make use certain features, the camera makes almost NO DIFFERENCE to the result.
Yes, I know – you’re thinking this has to be wrong. Well, it’s really not.
An image needs to speak to an audience, to capture imagination, to stir the soul or heart, to provoke a reaction, to inspire and cause the viewer to stop and admire.
So, how many of those things has anything to do with equipment?
Clue: Pretty much none of them – its all to do with aesthetics. Which you can capture with anything, and in many ways, advanced technology actually works against this.
Yes, sure, sometimes you need a specific camera to do something – a long lens for wildlife or professional sport, an underwater housing for the best marine photography or a very low noise DSLR for low light portraits or weddings, but 99% of the time, the camera has nothing to do with it.
How many of the great shots that you have seen are due to the best quality smallest pixel, lowest noise and highest resolution?
Clue #2: None.
You know how I know this? I bought a Nikon D50 when I couldn’t get the right shots with my antiquated point and shoot. No additional lenses, I just spent time working out how it worked and made horrific mistakes, got way ahead of myself, got a reality check and kept on learning. Then I bought a D300 just after they were released. And it did pretty much nothing to improve my shots until I went back to basics and worked out what I wanted the camera to do for me.
I went through that trough of disappointment with digital and bought a Holga and a Trip 35 and even a Hasselblad 500C/M to teach myself how to read light, how to compose and how to take a good shot.
And I’m still learning.
My favourite shot? I’ve not taken it yet 😉
So go out, take photos with whatever camera you have to hand – the iPhone is a prime example of this – shoot, look for image you can see in your mind, create, experiment, learn to read the light, go back to basics, try film, polaroid. Do all of these things, even buy a second hand vintage camera from ebay to experiment. Look on Flickr for photos you love and work out what it is about that shot that moves you and try to replicate it.
Point and shoot cameras usually have enough manual settings to do most things. You know that Av and Tv mode you keep on looking at but never using? Ever used that macro mode on the point and shoot? Learn what they do and when to use them before moving on. Learn when to use a certain setting to control the end result.
But whatever you do, don’t go straight out and buy $5000 cameras and lenses to do any of that for you. I guarantee it’ll make no difference whatsoever if you don’t know what the camera actually does.