Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Equipment Doesn't Matter Or Does It?

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but when I read another article about this today I was finally spurred into motion because I think it's high time someone set the record straight.  If you live in the world of photography, you become bombarded with the phrase "equipment doesn't matter" over and over and over again.

And I'm here to tell you that is a big fat lie.

Now before I get crucified for that statement, let me be clear.  I am not claiming that you can put high end gear in the hands of someone who has no clue how to use it and get amazing photos.  Nor am I saying that an awesome photographer can't take incredible images with a cell phone camera.  But what I am saying is that many in the industry spout off "equipment doesn't matter" like it is the end all be all golden rule of photography.  But it's not, because let's be honest here...  If the same image quality could be obtained with a cell phone camera verses a high end DSLR, pro photographers wouldn't be spending thousands of dollars to purchase them, and if a single lens could do an incredible job of capturing every photo imaginable, pros wouldn't own more than one.

Equipment does matter.  It matters a lot.

All this phrase does is confuse those beginners who are just starting and leave them wondering why they can't get tack sharp images and amazing bokeh with their 18-55 mm f/5.6 stock lens that came with their entry level DSLR camera.

Three years ago, I was that beginner.  

As I sat in my first photography class surrounded by more advanced students who owned better equipment than I did, I constantly wondered why my images didn't look like theirs.  No matter what I did I couldn't get my photos to look as in focus as theirs, nor could I get a gorgeous out of focus background behind my subjects like they could.  Then I bought my 70-200 f/2.8, attached it to my camera, and BAM! tack sharp images and amazing bokeh first time out.

For years, I admired a favorite photographer's indoor photos of her family, especially the ones taken in very dim lighting.  Then I bought my DSLR camera and repeatedly failed to take similar photos.  I had no idea why I couldn't make my images look like hers did.  Then I bought my 50 mm f/1.2, attached it to my camera, opened it to f/1.2, pointed it at my dogs with nothing lighting the room but a single lamp, and BAM! great images.

Today I understand that the optical quality of the glass in that stock lens is not equal to the optical quality of the glass in my high end lenses, so the clarity of the images isn't going to be the same.  Today I understand that the blurred background behind my subjects is created by the depth of field which is controlled by my aperture setting, so a lens with a widest aperture of f/5.6 is never going to create the same image as one with a widest aperture of f/1.2.  Today I know that in a dimly lit environment my camera is going to produce very noisy images at ISO settings of 800 and above, so the only hope I have of shooting in dim light is with a very wide aperture or on a tripod with a slow shutter speed.  Back then I didn't know any of those things.  All I knew was that since equipment doesn't matter I must just suck.

And that didn't feel very good.  Not good at all.

These days I am a bit smarter.  Recently, I've been struggling to master a technique that I have been practicing over and over with zero success.  So finally, I asked another photographer about it who does have it mastered.  I showed him what I was trying to do, and simply asked, "Why can't I do this?  Is it me or my lens?"  His answer, "Your lens."

Awesome.  Maybe I don't suck after all.

And neither do you!  If you're new to photography and struggling to create an image, it is possible that your equipment is limiting your ability to capture the photos you are after.  So before you get completely frustrated or even worse, give up, seek out a friendly, more advanced, photographer and ask for help.  Because that "equipment doesn't matter" thing really needs to be taken with a grain of salt (and maybe a shot of tequila and a lime, too).

And just so we are clear...

I am absolutely not suggesting that an individual must run out and spend thousands on equipment to be an awesome photographer.  Instead what I am saying is that you need to become the master of everything in your bag.  You need to know what each and every piece of equipment you own can do. And what it can't.  So that when you do purchase new equipment, you understand the limitations of what you already own and what you need the new equipment to do for you.

If you made it the end and are still with me, thanks for sticking around and reading my long winded post.

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area.
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© 2013 Michele Whitacre Photography LLC

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