I recently picked up a new vintage-inspired neck strap for my camera. My old neck strap (the one that came with the camera) is fine, except for the fact that it advertises the camera make and model to anyone within a 25 foot radius. Not only does it shout in bright red embroidered letters, “Hey, I’m expensive, you should steal me!” but it also never fails to start small talk that I have no interest in spending energy on. Usually it starts off with a stranger walking up to me saying something like “Hey, shootin’ the Mark III, huh? Nice!” As an introvert this is the height of social awkwardness for me. How am I supposed to respond to that? “Yeah, my camera is pretty awesome” sounds pretty arrogant. Saying “thank you” is silly because telling me my camera is nice is not really a compliment to me. Saying, “yeah, what do you shoot with?” is insincere because I couldn’t care less. It’s not that I’m antisocial; I love to meet new people. However, rather than small talk about the weather, my camera model, or how the Cardinals are playing, I would prefer to engage with people on a more meaningful level.
The title of this post is absurd, and intentionally so. There is no piece of equipment that can make you a better photographer, including the camera. Yet for some reason people constantly want to know what kind of camera photographers are using. I’ve even had people look at my photographs and say, “You must have a really nice camera!” According to that logic, I should be able to walk up to any stranger on the street, hand them a Stradivarius violin and expect them to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Major like a pro. Hopefully you are catching my tone of sarcasm here. It just doesn’t work that way. The camera is merely the tool of the artist; a heap of metal, glass and plastic. The photographer wielding the camera produces quality work, not the camera. The artist provides the unique perspective; the creativity; the technical prowess; the vision.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that quality equipment is not important. It is. But people typically over-emphasize its importance in the creative process. Owning better equipment won’t suddenly make you a better photographer. So, then, what will make you a better photographer? Here is a short (not exhaustive) list:
- Take more pictures with whatever camera you currently have (even if it’s just a mobile phone).
- Practice composition often (by taking more pictures with the camera you have!).
- Learn to read light better by exposing yourself (no pun intended) to a variety of different shooting scenarios.
- Look at the work of artists who you admire and study it until you can explain exactly what it is that you like about their work or technique.
- Stop copying photographs that you’ve already seen on Flickr, Instagram, 500 px, tumblr, etc. Work on realizing your own vision and show us how YOU see the world around you.
- Critique photographs by artists you don’t know so that you can be objective.
- Get involved with a local club or photographer’s network.
- Show your work to someone who is more advanced than you and allow them to critique it objectively.
- Challenge yourself with new assignments that will stretch you creatively.
- Practice pre-visualizing how you want each picture to look before you even touch the camera.
Before you buy a new camera, take the time to learn the different functions, features and limitations of your current camera. Knowing these things will help you to troubleshoot when your images aren’t coming out how you expected. More often than not, you may even find that the “limitations” are coming from your lack of experience or understanding of your equipment rather than the camera itself. Never stop shooting just because you feel frustrated or limited by your equipment. A well-composed, creative photograph taken with an inferior camera is better than an uninspired, sloppy composition taken with the latest and greatest gear. To quote Ansel Adams, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.“
To the photographers out there who are drooling over the next piece of equipment, my advice is this: Be content with what you have and don’t spend a dime on new equipment until you have fully learned your current camera and can explain exactly how something different will open up new possibilities for supporting your vision as an artist (adding more megapixels doesn’t count unless you are consistently selling large prints or displaying on billboards). To those of you who are not photographers, my plea is this: Don’t insult an artist by giving credit to his or her tools; take the time to appreciate what that artist has done with his or her tools and then pay the complement to the artist rather than the tools.
Photo taken with an iPhone 5