Sunday, February 13, 2011

Equipment isn't everything... right?

I met another "equipment-uber-alles" photographer this weekend. You know, the type of person who feigns interest in what you're shooting with, but once he sees that you've got an older entry-level DSLR and a lens that cost less than $1000, a haughty smirk appears on his face and he tries to talk you into submission about all the bells and whistles he's got in his camera bag.

I'll come right out and say it - I feel that I am a decent photographer. For the most part, I like my work. But people who try to make others feel small because of what they're shooting with takes all the fun out of this hobby.

My equipment list is small and relatively unimpressive. I have a Canon Digital Rebel XT that I bought in college, an EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 USM lens I bought for about $800 and an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens that I bought for just over $500. I also have a $30 Lightscoop and Photoshop CS5. That is the extent of my equipment.

I should also disclose that I do have formal training - I have a minor in Photography from Iowa State University, and I grew up in a home where photography was part of everyday life. My mother is a brilliant photographer and even taught photography classes for several years. But Mom is in the same boat as me - she's a teacher in a public school, where she earns a meager wage teaching children to expand their creativity and gain a sense of appreciation for art.

Unfortunately, people like my mother and me don't have enough "fun money" to drop on high-end photography equipment - we must make do with what we can afford. I personally refuse to go into debt for the sake of a better lens. I refuse to skimp on my dogs' food, training and care for the sake of a more powerful camera body. And I sure as hell can't run to Mommy and Daddy for great gear, because no matter how much they may want to, they simply cannot afford it.

I had the misfortune of meeting one of the ugliest souls in photography last year at an Agility trial. I'd spent the previous day volunteering at the trial - running leashes, changing jump heights, straightening the chute, etc. I'd driven back to the trial site the next day - 40 miles in the cold rain - to cheer on my fellow club members and to capture a few snapshots of the dogs I knew. I was approached by a young man who was interested in what kind of "gear" I had brought with me. I reluctantly opened my camera bag so he could see the contents - I knew what was coming. He scoffed, and loftily said that there was no way I'd get any photograph worth saving in the dimly-lit horse barn where the trial was being held. I told him it didn't matter - I wasn't selling the photos and I was mostly just there to cheer on my friends.

I tried to refocus my attention to the course, but the young man wouldn't let up - he talked my ear off about the large collection of equipment he had back home, how his employer (apparently he works under a pro dog photographer in Minnesota) was sending him to California to shoot agility trials, and how important it is to have the best equipment if you "ever plan on producing anything more than mediocre crap" - his words, not mine. He then started trash-talking another photographer in Minnesota, boasting that she'd bought all of his employer's old equipment and how pathetic she was in thinking she was a "real" photographer. At this point I'd had enough of this kid's boasting and walked away. If I hadn't, I'd probably have taken my "pathetic" Canon Rebel XT and beamed him upside the head!

Here are a few photos that "weren't worth saving" from that day.

Are they fantastic? No.

Are they acceptable, given the poor lighting conditions? Sure.

Were the dogs' owners extremely happy to see the photos? Absolutely.

I could have been genuinely happy with these photos, but instead I felt somewhat ashamed of them. Instead of focusing the joy they brought the dogs' owners, I fixated on what that rude young man at the trial had said, and how he'd classified me as a pathetic photographer wannabe with sad equipment. To this day I find myself hesitant to market my services, on the off-chance I won't get the photographs that people are expecting. Not because I lack talent, but because I lack $20k worth of lenses and lights.

I leave you with this:
The best camera in the world will not make you a better photographer.
If you shoot with an entry-level DSLR, you are not pathetic.
Photography is an art, not a contest of who can afford the "best" gear.
Old cameras are not necessarily bad cameras, and this especially applies to film!
Don't go into debt to keep up with the Photography Joneses.
If you are a true artist, your camera will rarely hold you back.

Vito doesn't care that his portrait was taken with a $650 Rebel XT instead of a $5000 Mark IV.

Allicyn doesn't care that her sweet face was captured with a $500 prime lens instead of a $16,000 FJs35.


  1. Great Post! I run into this all the time... photography snobs who think they're better because of the cost of the equipment. I learned a long time ago that being a great photographer is about your creativity and your eye! Anyone can run around with a fancy camera and take good pics... a true artist can take a "crummy" camera and capture a masterpiece!

  2. So very true! I've had a few people rag on me because of my equipment and the fact that I don't bother to learn a huge amount of tricks in Photoshop.

    You can "buy" sharpness and color correction, but you can't buy composition, angles and expression. That's where real photography comes into play.

  3. Excellent post! One of my favorite shots I've ever captured was done with a point and shoot - the B/W of Karma with her head between her paws - and you reminded me that it's not the equipment, it's the shot.

  4. Well, I just found your blog and I love your photography! I don't like when people forget that everyone has to start somewhere and that not everyone is trying to get to the same place as you. I'm still using my point and shoot until I can save for an entry level SLR!


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