May 14th

2013

The Magic Wand

This weekend I posted about my experience with the new Fuji XE-1. It’s a great camera. It’s capable of making some beautiful photographs. But I didn’t say the one thing I most wanted to. My heart was screaming to say it and got over-ridden by my mind and it’s always a mistake not to listen to my heart. I wrote it because it might be helpful to some. I wrote it because these kinds of posts get traffic. And now I’m writing this one, knowing I need to say it again, traffic stats be damned.

The Fuji XE-1 doesn’t matter. There’s a bandwagon forming around this camera, and I hate bandwagons. They never seem to gather around things that truly matter.

I get asked about gear all the time. Once in a while I write something about it. And yes, gear matters in the sense that without it we’d be drawing with pencil and paper. Certain photographers have specific needs, and faster, bigger cameras can meet those needs. But you know what? In a year or two there will be a new, hot, camera. In a couple years, many of us with today’s greatest camera will be swapping it out for something new, convinced by the voices in our heads that we need it if we’re going to make photographs as good as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Avedon, Karsh, Galen Rowell, or whomever. All of whom, by the way, didn’t have cameras remotely as sophisticated as we have now. All of whom created iconic work on the cameras we now pass over in our lust for something new, for some magic wand, addicted as we are to cameras and not the photographs they make.

I’ve been saying for years that there is no magic wand. I was wrong. There is. It’s making photographs. Thousands and thousands of photographs. It’s being honest with ourselves and not trying to be someone else. It’s giving the craft time to grow and not expecting to master something overnight that others have taken a lifetime to do. It’s studying photographs and knowing what they provoke in you and why. It’s looking to painters and designers and others who work in two dimensions and learning from them. It’s relentlessly looking for light, lines, and moments. Some of us can do astonishing things with 12 strobes, and can HDR the crap out of 16 frames taken on a $40,000 Hasselblad, but still can’t make a photograph anyone truly gives a damn about. The internet is full of them: technically perfect, frequently lauded with “Nice capture, man,” and utterly forgettable. I think I’d weep if the best you could say about my photographs is that they’re tack sharp and perfectly exposed.

We’re all looking for the perfect little box with a hole in it, and they’re sexy little things, I’ll give you that. The best ones feel good in the hands and I’m the first one to tell you I love the tactility of this craft, but Leica’s red dot isn’t going to make my photographs any better. Thinking differently will do that. Wrestling with new ideas and compositions will do that. Replacing the gear catalogs and popular magazines that are packed with ads – voices telling you you can “shoot like a pro” with the newest camera – with books of actual photographs, will help you do that. Putting down your fancy D4 and picking up a completely manual 35mm camera for a while might do that, too. And yes, a small mirrorless camera like the new flock of Fujis might do that for you. Or it won’t. If you aren’t making beautiful, honest, photographs with the camera you have now, you won’t do it with the one you’re lusting for. I promise.

I know I’ve preached this sermon before. I know it gets old. I also know it might get read as a rant, but it’s truly not. The camera collectors will collect, with no interest in making something that moves hearts or opens eyes, and God bless’em if that’s what makes them happy. But most of you, at least the ones reading this, want that. So do I. We want it so badly it hurts, and the long years ahead to mastery feel like a joy on the rare days they don’t feel so damn frustrating. But things get cloudy sometimes and it doesn’t help that people like me once in a while tell you how great this new camera or that new lens is. And those people – including me sometimes – need also to be reminded that none of it really matters. Just get a camera that feels good in your hands, does what you need it do without getting in the way, and then go make photographs. How new, shiny, sexy, small, large, or European, your camera is doesn’t make a hill of beans’ worth of difference to how it moves the human heart. Astonishing work is created on old lenses, Polaroids, Holgas, old Digital Rebels, and the venerable AE-1. You won’t impress anyone, other than other photographers, with your list of L-lenses. The only thing most of us truly care about are the photographs. The rest is irrelevant. Don’t let it sidetrack you. Envy, gear-lust, and the lie that better gear will make more compelling photographs just pulls your mind and heart from making art. Beauty can be made with the simplest of means.

Comments (70)
  1. May 14, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I’d be lying if I said I’m not infatuated with gear, and I try to maintain the perspective of these amazing machines just being tools. But I also get terribly annoyed with the classic “…that’s a great photo – you must have a nice camera” comment. Drives me insane every time I hear it.

    This is a great reality-check post. And the funny thing is, you mention “preaching the sermon before” – here, in your books, eBooks. But it’s always in the back of my mind when I’m out shooting nonsense and putting the camera to my eye wondering “what am I trying to say”.

    That is and will always be a massive challenge. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out. Photographically Speaking went a long way towards this.

  2. May 14, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Well I have seen allot of your posts , and admire what you do , I have to say I have been telling people who call in here that for years . Well done and well said. If you ever find yourself in Ireland , south west Ireland . I would be happy to have a pint or two if you have time . well said . best regards Eoghan Kavanagh

    • May 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      It is funny that you lost me when you mentioned: South West Ireland and all of a sudden my mind just left the building imagining how amazing it might be to be over there, sure I live in Costa Rica and most people would love to be here, but there is nothing like going elsewhere, when you are not bothered by the every day things from home and obviously with my camera along.

  3. May 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

    So glad you got back to it David. Well done!

  4. César Silva

    May 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Hi David! Great article!
    Photography is what really matters. Camera and lenses are the instruments by which we capture what drives us. There is no equipment that replaces what drives our minds and hearts to photograph.

  5. May 14, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I have recently traded in my expensive, high end camera gear for something that would be considered a lesser camera.

    I intentionally downgraded for a lot of the reasons that are mentioned here.

    I was way too hung up on having the best gear to get me the best images, but that’s not what makes great images!

    I wanted to take a big step back and consider what I’m actually photographing rather than how I’m photographing it.

  6. Jackie

    May 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I simply want to say THANK YOU!

  7. May 14, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Great post David! Remember that $12 plastic viewfinder I showed you? That’s my magic wand :)

  8. May 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Dang David, how do you always seem to time these things so precisely? I’ve been mulling over a camera switch fro the past little while, from an already new camera (based on ergonomics, of all things), and there you go, bang with one of you sharp and all to true posts again. I’m not sure if I want to shake you hand or scream at you…probably both ;)

    • David

      May 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

      I guess if I’m willing to take the credit I also need to take the blame, eh? Be gentle with me, I bruise easily. :-)

  9. Ghita Katz Olsen

    May 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

    So very true, thank you!

  10. brotherjoe

    May 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

    You’re uncannily timely with this post. Thanks.
    And your photos are razor sharp!

  11. May 14, 2013 at 11:38 am

    The journey doesn’t have to be a struggle with yourself and your gearlust. I do agree with your “Vision is better” mantra, but the fact is that I also like to play and experiment different cameras. It’s part of the fun. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one ;-)! Just like line fishing is a mix of enjoying the time spent outdoor, experimenting gear, and sharing with like-minded folks. The fish itself is not the point. And even if gear shouldn’t really matter, every craftsman has his favorite tool for some reason, the one that just fit in his hand, works exactly the way he intends and help him to be better at his craft. The one tool that sometimes has strange quirks, is not the one that would be recognized as the best or the most expensive, but yet is his beloved one.

    • David

      May 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Totally agree, Antoine. What I’m talking about is the awareness that new gear will not make anyone a better photographer. I love my tools as much as the next person, but we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves the gear is going to make us better. To use your fishing analogy, people do this for all kinds of reasons. For me the art is the point. For others perhaps not, but I can only speak from my own experiences and longings. Do what you love, and if that’s making photographs then just be aware that better photographers are not defined by their gear.

  12. May 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Hear hear!!

    Thank you for this reminder of what’s important in this craft. I’ve been resenting my camera for not being the one I want it to be, occasionally to the point of not using it for weeks at a time. Of course it’s not going to get me the results I want if this is the way I use it!

    From now on I’m going to focus on getting the heart and soul back in my photos, when the time comes to upgrade my gear it’ll be because I’ve earned it using my current camera to the very edge of its ability.

    I’m a longtime lurker coming out of the woodwork to say thanks for all your wisdom, grounded sanity and inspiration.

  13. Bruce

    May 14, 2013 at 11:50 am

    I find myself daydreaming about new gear on occasion thinking it would help me make better images. But as you point out so well it doesn’t make a hill of beans in the end. It is all about vision…

  14. May 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

    As much as getting new gear can be fun and easy with a credit card I’ve forced myself to only buy gear when I have money from paid photography. Lucky for me this has been a good year :)
    After using my Rebel xsi for 4 years and replacing the CMOS twice I finally upgraded to FF and have bought some decent glass.

    While a faster camera is great and it is hard to go back to using a tiny crop camera I still look at all my gear merely as a tool to accomplish the images I have in my head.

    It’s always nice showing up to family functions with a camera that confuses people because they have to look through a viewfinder…

  15. May 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I love your reminders that it is not all about gear. I’ve been following that faithfully since I first stumbled upon your blog, and have really only picked up the kind of gear that I need.

    Recently though, I find that I will be needing to purchase a newer model camera in the next year and have no idea where to begin. I feel bogged down and over saturated with information when all I want is something that will do what I need it to do, help me convey what I want to convey.

    Agh. It’s so damned complicated. Too much information and too many products.

    If wishes were horses we’d have four choices, three not right for you and one that will stick with you for the long haul.

  16. Tony

    May 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Like what a few others mentioned, this is a very timely reiteration of things you’ve always preached and things that we all (should) know. Nothing comes easy. I’ve always known that to be good at something, I have to keep on doing, learning and re-learning it.

    On my recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had lots of ideas, but when I got there, I just couldn’t seem to put them into reality. I was overly concerned with making photographs that will determine the fate of the world (exaggeration of course) and forgot the simple joy I get from just making photographs, so I became lost and pretty much stopped shooting. Sometimes, we just have to keep on shooting, albeit crap, to move forward.

    Thank you for a great post, David!

  17. Pamela

    May 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    ” It’s giving the craft time to grow and not expecting to master something overnight that others have taken a lifetime to do.”

    So so true. Mastery isn’t easy. It takes time and commitment. Hard in our age of the next new thing or the belief in the overnight success.

  18. May 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    The journey should start with an understanding what photography is, its characteristics, limitations, and how to work within its constraints. Unfortunately, it starts with hot camera, huge lens, and technique, in addition to all this, a huge “brush envy” (my term). Why do people get so enamored with gear then try to produce “painterly” photographs? I think it is mainly due to a lack of understanding of what a photograph is, what photography is. There is a need for a larger conversation on this. I am glad to read this, as I have written many similar posts.

    Expand the circle, get more photographers involved, ask recognized names to speak about the subject.

  19. Woody

    May 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    No arguement what so ever.

  20. May 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Timely post! I realized this weekend that I actually ‘see’ better with my iPhone. There is definitely more functionality for action shots in a dslr, but I seem to make better composed images sometimes than with my ‘real camera’!

  21. Meredith Bradbury

    May 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Dear David,

    I love it when you rant like this.

  22. May 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    You see, I was a little down when I saw your previous post because I was feeling that you jumped into the same band wagon you mentioned on this post., I am truly glad you didn’t forget this, since you are the main reason I learned this lesson from.

    Gear lust is a damn thing, how difficult it is to avoid it as we make all sort of excuses to justify that new lens, that new body, that new whatever, thinking that it will make a difference when the truth is that probably expending $5 on an ebook will have a bigger impact on our photography than expensing $1400 on a lense that is 1 stop brighter than our current. Thank you David for your continuous efforts to bring some common sense to the photographer community.

  23. Roy

    May 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    As much as I do get excited about well made camera gear from time to time, its post like this that say how I feel about photograpy so well.

    Beauty can be made with the simplest of means.

    Damn if that doesnt say it so very clearly.

    Roy-

  24. May 14, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    David ~ I never tire of hearing this “sermon” – it’s the voice of reason and definitely not a rant. Trained as a painter, working as a textile and beadwork artist, I purchased a DSLR three years ago and have been loving the fascinating art and craft of photography. I have to say though, the gear-centric-ness (think I just made that word up :)) of this medium threatens to suck everyone away! A wee bit crazy, isn’t it?!
    P.S. I promise to never comment on the quality of your focus or exposure…… Seriously, thanks for all the inspiration and amazing images that you gift all of us!

  25. Frederic Colas

    May 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    I’ve had my little Nikon D40 for about 5 years now and every once in a while I lust for a Nikon D90 or one of the new Fuji X cameras…So thank you David for reminding us all that we can learn photography on any camera, even one with only three focus points!

  26. craig

    May 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Hey David,

    Good discussion. The age of I want it and I want it now really feeds the gear addiction frenzy. Much of it has to do with what Nicholas Carr calls “Digital Immersion.” In his book “The Shallows”, he discusses how the internet has affected the way Generation Net (kids who have grown up using the web) absorb information. ” They don’t necessarily read a page from left to right and top to bottom. They might instead skip around, scanning for pertinent information of interest.” Duke University professor Katherine Hayles confesses ” I can’t get my students to read whole books anymore.” Hayles teaches English; the students she is talking about are students of literature.

    It is absolutely crazy the way manufactures have feed their businesses on the instant gratification model. Show a few great photos taken with the latest and greatest gear, sit back and let the internet sell the goods to the naive. Your points are well taken. It would seem that the photographers that want to separate themselves from the crowd need to just slow down, flush the instant gratification model and learn the craft!! Heck, buy an Olympus OM 2 for $39.00, Get some film, learn to process it, print it , etc and create something special!!

    Just a thought:)

    Craig

  27. May 15, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Ah, but, you are forgetting the famous mantra: “No idea need all the gear”.

    For example, Heifitz could play a cheap mass produced violin and make it sound wonderful. But I can’t. I need a decent violin to make a decent sound.

    Those of us with little talent need the gear to give us a chance of producing anything at all. Have you watched digitalRev’s cheap camera pro photographer challenges? It is amazing what those pros can do. But that doesn’t mean that everyone can work that kind of magic with cheap broken cameras. Clearly prices need reversing. The pros can then be happy being creative with their broken, but very expensive, junk, and the rest of us can afford all the gear we need to make us competant.

    I think not everyone has the ability to get good photos out of any old camera. It is wonderful that you do, but there is surely a middle ground between being a total gear-head and creating photographic magic with any old piece of junk.

  28. May 15, 2013 at 12:51 am

    Amen David. Who gives a shit about listing the technical specs to go along with images, unless it’s a how-to book. I never post technical specs on the internet unless I’m asked to because it’s irrelevant to what I want to convey.

  29. May 15, 2013 at 1:42 am

    When it comes down to it, the camera and other gear is simply a means to the end – creating an image…..hopefully one that you and others will respond to.

    It will never replace your eyes, your vision, your ideas, your creativity, your individuality, your passion. You can’t buy those things. Just cherish what talents you have and put them to good use with whatever “tools” you have at hand. It’s the image that will stay in people’s memories, long after the gear has been fogotten!

  30. Wade Johnston

    May 15, 2013 at 4:26 am

    Another lovely post David. It’s like cooking a nice meal and guests complementing you on your stove. (I didn’t make that up but heard it years ago).

    It has also helped me stave off some of my gear envy as I’m still using a Rebel Xti from 6 years ago.

    Thanks again.

  31. May 15, 2013 at 4:46 am

    This was a terrific reminder and boost.. Reinforces my snail pace of getting the pictures I want to get in camera. Thank you for this post…so true!

  32. May 15, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Now David, don’t you think that if we didn’t have cameras to lust over that the discussion would be about the latest tech in paper? And of course, there would be raging debates over mechanical vs. “analog” pencils. :o)

    As always, your work and your words are insightful and appreciated.

  33. May 15, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Thanks for the “follow-up” post David.

    Just so you know there was nothing wrong with the gear post. I enjoy reading about what excites people. For me, it’s not about how I need to buy the gear to be just like you, it’s about the energy that comes through in the post. You found a new toy (tool) and had fun with it, that’s supposed to happen.

    Concentrate on the art and craft, and when you find something that excites you, let us know that too, I’ll still be following you.

  34. May 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

    David..awsome! And amazing timing! There is no better time for me to read this… Today i recieved Canon macro lens (100mm 2.8)… i’ve notticed that i bought the old one model without USM (after i bought it, sic!)… i just started then to look for USM one…checking prices etc… but then i said “STOP… that’s shity!” i read more and more about that non-USM lens… and then i said “no no no.. this is awsome lens! USM? no need for macro! is there any great value for changing it for USM one? NO! just learn what you can with that one!” and then i opened your blog… and read that post… Thank you for that “sermon” and keep it repeated as often as you can :)

    ah, i think there is something more to remember too – we have to rememeber, that even faqir doesn’t start with only one nail :) so yes – “gear is good” but it’s not the most important… we have to try screw out the gear we have as much as we can (’cause the truth is that in general we use just few percent of its scope) instead of buying new one every year.

    Cheers!

  35. Stefan Mokrzecki

    May 15, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Well David, I think you sum it up wonderfully when you say:

    “If you aren’t making beautiful, honest photographs with the camera that you have now, you won’t do it with the one you are lusting for. I promise you.

    Many people confuse need for want.

    Your photographs are tack sharp and perfectly exposed, but most importantly show that you somehow connected with the scene before you.

  36. Owen

    May 15, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Great post David.
    The desire for newer, better, faster does tend to creep up on you.
    Cheers,
    Owen

  37. May 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Well said David. Thank you!

  38. May 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    So well said, David.

    As I have said before it’s your images that keep me coming back. I too have witnessed it many times; gear-heads love to talk gear, tack sharp, etc., but their images can put you to sleep.

    This needs to be said over and over, because those of us who believe the image is the ultimate test and that artistry is the most important element are in the minority. So many of the magazines and “names” are simply into the business of selling equipment.

    Now, I have a camera bag full of equipment, in order to deal with the different situations that present themselves, but it’s all very practical and certainly not all the latest greatest, just solid, good equipment that, most of the time, will do what I want it to.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful article.

  39. May 15, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Last month I spoke at a conference and afterwards an attendee came up to me to tell me she loved my photos because “they tell stories”. I nearly started to cry. It was one of nicest compliments I’d ever received. I’m not the best technical photographer – I still have so much to learn. And I don’t have best gear. But after hearing that, I didn’t care :). That’s what we all want to hear.

    Funny thing was, I was speaking at the conference as a web designer, not a photographer!

  40. May 16, 2013 at 1:32 am

    dude, you know i’m sitting here nodding my head and thinking “amen, brother” as i read, because we’ve talked about this.

    i read something this morning (and i paraphrase) about how, in creative endeavours, tools and resources can be the *best* things, but not always the *thing that matters*. i think this can be true for photography … the *best* thing being the gear and the *thing that matters* being the storytelling.

    the photographs i am drawn to aren’t always made with high-end cameras and expensive gear, they’re made by people who are using their cameras to say something evocative. some of them are young artists, using the only camera they can afford, some are polaroids that are so engaging that i want to step into the image and wander around to see what else was there, others may be made with high-end gear but the gear is not what lingers with me.

    in my day job i work with a lot of guys who have lots of gear. one of them has just bought himself a ‘very nice, and expensive’ nikon (not that his previous one was too shabby either), which he proudly brought over to show me. it’s been over a month now and i don’t think he’s even used it! :-/

    i’ve been loving analogue recently and am more likely to travel with a polaroid in my bag than anything else right now. i am grateful that i can afford to have more than one camera and the ability to choose depending on my mood.

    thanks for making this an ongoing conversation

  41. May 16, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Of course we all agree- we all who love making photography, but where I would embrace the challenge and still produce imagery on a point and shoot it, would make me weep opening and in public if I lost my 5D MKII.

    I used to be a practicing and performing musician and the same argument applies there- but consider this: a Stradivarius cannot be replaced by a country fair fiddle and I would not be able to make the work that I want on the original iPhone camera.

    I think the people who are most susceptible to these rants are photographers who are coming up and still developing their opinion on gear. I figure the best message in the end should just simply be: “do what you want! and buy whatever you can afford that makes you happy.”

    Now to change the subject- you’re loving making Le’s these days eh? Nice work.

    Have a good one!

  42. May 16, 2013 at 4:19 am

    Oops, typo- “shoot, it would make me weep openly and in public if I lost my 5D MKII”

  43. May 16, 2013 at 7:01 am

    David,
    I agree a thousand percent with what you are saying. I for one, just purchased a used Nikon D7000 , because my wife will be visiting abroad for two months and she is taking my D90 with her. I thought long and hard about going Full Frame, and will at some point. But, with 50mm 1.8, and my 24mm 2.8, I can make some pretty good pictures. Sure , I would love a 70-200 2.8 zoom and a whole slough of other lenses, but the reason I love photography is that I am capturing a moment in time. I can do that with really any camera. Yes, I have dreams of getting paid for my passion, but for now, I will keep shooting,shooting,shooting, till I get better at my craft. Once again, thanks for the frank and candid words.
    Cheer,
    Aaron

  44. May 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for this post David. I have been away from your blog for a while and it is nice to come back to this.

    As I spend hours in front of my computer keywording, re-sizing, tweaking, and uploading, it is nice to be reminded that the most important thing is to just get out and make photographs that are important to us.

    Great to see the things you have done by following your creed.

  45. May 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Hey David!

    I got the package with my new x-e1 yesterday and I have to say, that your blog-posts about this camera triggered the thoughts that made me purchase this camera.

    The thing is, I am all about picture quality. I know that low noise and all that stuff doesn’t make a picture stand out in any way. But I want to take the pictures I love to take AND I want them to be in the best technical quality I can afford. So I am walking around with a big D800 and two huge pro zooms and I really love that camera and the lenses.

    But the thing is: I don’t take them everywhere. I only take my camera with me, when I know I want to take a certain picture. And that’s where the x-e1 gets interesting to me. This is a camera I could and will take EVERYWHERE.
    To me beeing a photographer is all about the way I am seeing this world. When I walk around without a camera, I still see the world through a photographers eyes and I still take pictures in my mind. I think this is the reason why I improved a lot during the last year, even though I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures.

    Knowing that I will be able to execute a lot more of those pictures I see in my head everyday really gets me excited. I took the x-e1 out for two hours last night, and I was surprised to notice that it changed my way of interacting with my surroundings. Maybe it’s because this camera is small and light, but I approach the world in a different way, using it. I guess I use it a little bit more playful, than I use my D800.

    So what I wanted to say: Thanks for your blogposts! I got a new camera now, and it does change my life as a photographer for the better.

  46. May 17, 2013 at 8:58 am

    David,
    Excellent post and in complete agreement.

    I did a short talk at a camera club last weekend and extolled the virtues of yes honing the craft but then allowing yourself the ability to just go and make photographs that speak to you, the creator. Those pictures might not be technically perfect but how does it make you feel?

    In short, many spend too long searching for technical perfection and checking out the numbers, any numbers, forgetting that capturing the ‘decisive moment’ is as true today as it’s ever been.

    Don’t let the equipment or those pesky numbers get in the way of making photographs.

    Before doing so, I’d like to share this article with the group…is that OK?

    • May 17, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Something that I think is being lost in this discussion is that the reason that the camera is not the be all, end all, is the fact that a good photographer, who has honed their skills in composition, light, post processing, etc. can get excellent results whatever the equipment because of those carefully honed skills.

      An impressionist painter didn’t worry about tack sharp focus like a photorealistic painter, but who would give a darn about a Van Gogh or Cézanne if the work didn’t reach out and capture their emotions and stimulate the senses?

      It’s not that equipment is inherently good or bad, it’s that people substitute it for artistic vision, thinking that if their images come from great equipment they somehow become great images by virtue of the equipment itself.

  47. Rico Kanthatham

    May 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Bravo, David. Bravo.

  48. jennie

    May 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Hear, hear. I love it! So true.

  49. philippe

    May 17, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    David, thank you for an enlightening post… again!

  50. May 19, 2013 at 7:27 am

    David, so well said regarding equipment photographers use. I totally agree with you that a good photograph is not necessarily the type of equipment that you use, but rather the talented eye of the photographer. I have read many of your articles and your first book. All very inspiring and well written. Keep it going. Just a final word on equipment. Yes it is great to have the best,but we all know some folks out there that buy top of the line gear…..and Yes,
    still shoot in automatic. For those folks that is certainly up to you, but If I were you I would save your money and put it towards a really comprehensive class on how to use your equipment properly. Amen

  51. May 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Thank you – well put! I’ve read it before in your writings and it definitely bears repeating from time to time. Speaking as someone who must stick to a relatively meager photo equipment budget, the message is greatly appreciated. In January I added a blog to my photo web site, and the very first blog post (i.e. the message that I was *itching* to share) was on this very same subject. I appreciate having a limited budget, since it requires serious thinking before making any purchase.

  52. May 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Great post David! So many times we focus so much on the technical side of photography that we lose focus of the artistry of it.

  53. May 20, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Absolutely right. This is something I always try to tell people when they ask me what they should buy or when they tell me their camera is not a match to those good looking expensive cameras. What I find is that many people buying the expensive cameras do not know how to use them… they just want to have something around the neck that makes people go “wow”. It’s like buying a Jeep to go round in town!

    It’s the mind behind the viewfinder or LCD that matters. The more you know about Light, the more you can tame any camera, even an automatic compact, to your Vision. It’s not the other way round!

  54. Shawn

    May 20, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Hi David,

    I think part of the problem is that everywhere we see the gear list, we see the awesome photos, and consciously or subconsciously we start to marry the two in our heads. Good photographers rarely talk about the making of the pictures themselves. At times it can appear that they just wandered through a city or countryside casually snapping award winning photos with every the click of the shutter.

    What they rarely discuss is what decisions they have had to make to get those great photos. I look at a good photograph and ask myself questions like:
    “What drew them to this subject?” or “How did they find this subject?”
    “Were they there at the right moment or did they have to wait for it?”
    “Did they stumble upon this light or move themselves or arrange their subject?” and subsequently “How did they know, or figure out, that this light would be a good choice?”
    “How and why did the photographer decide to use this specific DOF, how did they get so much (or so little)?”
    “How did they decide where to focus and why?”
    “Why did they frame it the way they did” and “Were there other framing options available and if so why was this one the best out of those?”

    The problem is I can only guess at some of the answers. When I find an interesting subject to photograph, my own internal reasoning falls apart and I start to flail. Thanks to the Internet I am a very capable technician, but artistically barren. This is because there are a million articles on the technical (autofocus, back-button focus, ETTR, metering modes, hyperfocus, etc…). There are very few on compositional and artistic decision making (I don’t count the 2 million articles on the “rule” of thirds).

    Perhaps it is time to change the discussion from just showing photos and talking about gear (I’m guilty of loving gear too). Maybe it’s time to really start dissecting photographs. There are years and decades of experience behind most great photographs which I feel the photographer didn’t consciously think about. The challenge is that I haven’t read much out there that can begin to bridge that gap (maybe a few more decades and I’ll learn it on my own). I think it is possible though. For starters I would love to get a breakdown of your latest Postcards from Italy.

    Thanks,

    -Shawn

  55. Joe S

    May 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I am using a 5 year old camera body. I have all the lenses I need and more. My focus is on making better photographs with the gear I have. Sure, occasionally there is something, like a new filter that I may want to get but other than that I am content!

  56. Daniel Jason

    May 22, 2013 at 12:50 am

    A Vintage David duChemin post! I salute you, sir!

  57. May 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more, David. The gear, no matter what the avocation, whether it’s photography, cars, music-making, audiophilia, etc. …in the end, the gear is all a means to an end.

    The guiding factor is..does the end result move you, or other people, emotionally? Thanks for bringing it all back down to earth.

  58. May 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    What a wonderful story on showing what counts and what is less important. When my friends ask me about buying a new camera, they always look for the nicest gear. When I then recommend them to consider on what they want to achieve and then recommend something smaller, they are often disappointed. But normally come back after some time saying that they now can do what they wanted to capture.

  59. June 1, 2013 at 4:07 am

    What a great write up. I wholeheartedly concur.

    I’m no great photographer, but to me the camera is not the issue. I have a bunch of old cameras (I shoot film more or less exclusively) and I’m often surprised by how little the camera’s “quality” really matters. Recently I got some great results from a 1959 Kodak Colorsnap 35, it has three zone focusing, a 43mm lens, one shutter speed (not sure what it is) and an f3.9 aperture.

    I’m just as happy with a Canon A1, a Lubitel 166 or even a Superheadz that cost 16 bucks, they all take pictures that are in their own image, like the individuals that use them. To me it seems that the camera you use should not be a limitation, but rather an extra prism beyond the photographer, adding a further dimension and allowing for greater self-expression.