Who Makes the Photograph?

January 21, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

I’ve got good news for everyone whose bag doesn’t contain the latest flagship pro body and hottest new accessories. Your gear is important – but your gear doesn’t make the photograph. You do.

Your eyes, your ideas, your perspective, your creativity and your experience are more important than model numbers and price tags. So don’t get hung up about the fact that you haven’t yet upgraded to….whatever. That zippy new camera body getting all the press might make it possible - or easier - to do certain things, but in and of itself it does not have the power to make you a better photographer

Not every shiny new thing that hits the market is a "must have." Busting the budget is not a prerequisite when it comes to making good images.

That said, gear can augment your artistic abilities. Some items are essential and definitely worth the investment. Once purchased - if properly cared for - they'll remain in service for a long, long time. 

Glass
Lenses are more important than the camera body. Good quality glass produces good quality images: sharp and distortion free. It always makes sense to buy the best you can afford. In addition, lenses hold their value. Some of the first Nikon lenses I purchased nearly 30 years ago remain useful. (Most Nikon lenses can be used with most Nikon bodies dating back 50 years; the mount is consistent and backward compatible.) I’ve sold other lenses along the way for nearly what I paid for them. Contrast that to the number of camera bodies that have come and gone over the years, particularly since the advent of digital photography. They depreciate rapidly.

Tripod
If you’re shooting landscapes, a tripod is part of the equation. That's a given. Panoramics and long exposures require one. Importantly, the tripod enables you to slow down and carefully consider your composition. It allows you to select the ideal ISO and f-stop for any situation. But not all tripods are created equally. Investing in quality will pay dividends.

Unfortunately, tripods (along with camera bags) are among the most difficult items to purchase since there are very few physical camera stores remaining with substantial product inventory on site - which means unless you're lucky enough to live in close proximity to a place like B&H in New York, you can't pick these up and get a feel for them. Whatever you ultimately choose is, in a way, a blind purchase. 

I’ve owned both Manfrotto and Gitzo tripods but for me there’s no comparison to Really Right Stuff. I have two: the full-size Versa carbon fiber and the more compact Ultralight (a good travel solution when space is a consideration). I use the RRS BH-55 ball head and L-plate quick release system. RRS products are expensive but they're superior and will last. I’d never go back. 

Filters
Good filters are like good lenses: the better the quality, the better the output. Especially when you've invested in superior-quality lenses, don't stick LushLushHall of Mosses - Hoh Rainforest (Olympic National Park, Washington) cheap filters on them! Fortunately, digital photography and processing have eliminated the need for many of the filters that were once essential. But because not everything can be addressed in post processing, two filters remain indispensable: the polarizer and the neutral density. For example, if you're photographing wet foliage you'll need a polarizer to knock back all the glare. 

The image posted here was made in the Hoh Rainforest at Olympic National Park. On that day, it was raining at a pretty good clip. Everything was soaked but the bark and ferns were especially shiny. You can't remove glare after the fact when sitting at the computer. It would have been impossible to create usable photographs at Hoh without a polarizer. 

Quality filters are expensive, though. Those two filters, the ND and polarizer, can set you back hundreds of dollars. If you need to prioritize, opt for a good polarizer first. 

But wait: what if you have a variety of lens sizes? Save some cash by using a step-up adapter ring. My Nikon wide-angle zoom and mid-range zoom both accept 77mm filters, while my 70-200mm’s filter size is 67mm – so I use a 67/77 adapter on the latter lens. (Mine came from B+W, a German optical manufacturer.)

Bottom line: equipment can impact your work in a positive way, but there's much more to photography than whatever it is you're carrying with you from one location to the next. Regardless of what's in your bag at the moment, remember who's making the photo. You. Not your gear.

"Gear is good. Vision is better."
-David duChemin


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