Yes, gear does matter

It might feel unusual to start this series of articles on photography, talking about gear. However, I feel that we should exhaust this topic early on, so that the reader can understand better what is important and what is just noise. Cameras, lenses, flash systems, tripods and even bags are all part of the photographic setup that all of us depend on, in order to capture our desired images. Today’s technology, especially in the field of digital sensors, allows a photographer to have at his fingertips, features and functionality that one could only dream of, just a few years ago.

Robert Frank - The Americans

© Robert Frank – The Americans

Personally, I strongly believe that the equipment that a photographer uses plays a significant role and should be chosen very very carefully. That choice of course is a very personal matter but in any case, the combination of camera-lens for example should be made in such a way that facilitates the creation of the desired image. I do not belong to any super techie or purist groups that shoot for example only film, or only with Leica gear or only manual focus cameras, etc. You are free to choose your tools, as long as you take into consideration some vital parameters that initially will seem to be limiting, but in fact they give you a very solid starting point and at the same time enhance your creativity.

So, how someone can choose the right setup to start this journey? First of all, you do not need to spend a fortune. Almost, any camera, film or digital, with a fixed lens will do just fine. For digital, anything over 12Mpx is enough. Nowadays, one can find tons of perfectly capable cameras, even second-hand, that produce excellent results. You really do not need the greatest camera in order to get started. What you must do though, is spend time with your camera & lens combination. And when I say time, I mean a lot of time. Make it become the extension of your arm and eye. Try it in several conditions. Indoors, outdoors, with moving subjects, in the dark, etc. Anything you can imagine. That is the only way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of it (did I tell you that there is no perfect camera?) and use it creatively. Push yourself and start with a single prime lens. In most cases, people start with a normal lens (about 50mm focal length in 135 film). I find this to be a very good choice to start with because it is easier to master. Close your eyes and ears to the sirens (photo review sites, tech bloggers, friends, etc) and focus on your photography, not your gear. The good thing with digital over film is that you can learn much faster but it is also considerably cheaper. The quality of digital cameras today has a level of maturity and quality that surpasses at least 135 film emulsions. Of course, you will find some die-hards that will tell you that film is superior in b&w and achieves better tonality and the process is more satisfying, etc, etc. Try not to listen; at least for now. Stick to your photography and to your betterment.

brandt29

© Bill Brandt

Finally, if you find yourself with some extra cash, spend it on getting some books, rather than buying a better camera. They are far more valuable and will help you enhance your photographic horizons by studying the work of great photographers. I will return to this subject in future articles, and with some recommendations to get you started. For now, let me spend a few lines of text emphasizing the importance of starting with a single prime lens instead of a zoom one. The most often asked question that I get to deal with is, “Why should I limit myself with one focal length when I can have a whole range that can go from super-wide to super-zoom?” Well, it might not be readily apparent but learning to see the world through one focal length helps you pre-visualize your captured scene, before even lifting the camera to your eye. After practicing for a few weeks, everything feels so much more natural and effortless. You get to understand a lot about framing your subject and instinctively pay more attention to things that you can capture rather than things that you can see. Although, the whole world constantly moves around you when you go out to take some photos, having one lens that you have mastered allows you to isolate the subject(s) that interest you in your head and reject everything else that is happening around you. Of course, this can be a whole subject of its own, and I will probably get back to it in a later article, but for now put some extra effort into mastering your gear, go out, take pictures and enjoy it. Pick any subject that you find interesting and explore it. Try to see it from various angles, at different times of the day, play with shadows, skies, depth of field, try different exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO), pay attention to the light, challenge yourself to meter the light without the assistance of your camera’s light meter; anything that will help you get familiar with your camera. As you get more and more familiar with your gear, you will be amazed by how your senses wake up and work together every time you raise your camera to your eye.

I would love to hear from you about your experiences with photography and would be more than willing to assist you in your quest. I am leaving you for now with a nice song by the amazing Nina Simone and remember: After all, photography is all about Feeling Good.

 

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