I was in San Francisco last week for 5 days of photography, where I had an interesting conversation with another photographer I encountered in Chinatown. He had initially stopped me to talk because he saw me shooting with the Fuji X-Pro2 and the 35mm f/2 lens (currently my favourite set up, pictured above), and he had some questions about the Fuji X system. He then went on an unsolicited rant about how photographers are too obsessed with gear these days, and how there are people making great work with their iPhone. Ok, fair opinion. Interestingly though, when he was done ranting he pulled out a Leica (that is probably worth more than the current value of my car) and made his way down the street to continue shooting.
This conversation was not a one off. It is fairly common to hear someone say the phrase:
“It’s not about the gear”
I have heard these comments from minimalists who truly follow the one camera, one lens philosophy, and from people who use the minimum they need to make the photographs they want to make. For many of these people it is all about “the vision, the art, the creative process” and that is awesome… for them. I truly believe their comments are altruistic, and that they want people to be focused on their art and not on their tools.
Where I struggle a little is when I hear these comments coming from people who always own the latest camera bodies, who own multiple $1,000 to $2,000 lenses, and who own a bag full of accessories. Often the bag is worth a few hundred dollars too… and all they shoot are ducks. In the local pond. At noon. You have to admit there is a bit of hypocrisy there. At the end of the day, shouldn’t it really just come down to this:
“Are you happy, AND are you enjoying producing the work that you and/or your clients love?”
To me that is really all that matters.
Now, I produce a lot of work in multiple genres. I travel often, I shoot street, I shoot portraiture, I shoot weddings. Sometimes I get an image that I’m absolutely in love with, and much more often I feel like I can do better (and I hope that never changes because that is how we grow). I can say with absolute certainty though that I love the process of photography as much as I love the product of it. I love standing in front of a magnificent vista, my camera mounted on a tripod, waiting for the light to change. I love the feel of an X100t or an X-Pro2 in my hand, standing on a street corner in perfect afternoon light, waiting for the right subject to enter my frame. I like the way these cameras fit my creative process. Truth be told, I just love the way they look. I am often inspired to go out and shoot because of these cameras.
… is that a bad thing? Am I “too focused on gear?”
I don’t think so. I own the gear that I need to make the images I see in my head. I own gear that makes me happy, which in turn motivates me to practice my craft more. It’s all good.
Focusing a lot on gear only becomes a problem if you constantly feel that the solution to making better photographs is to buy a new camera or lens, because 99% of the time it isn’t. If you find yourself saying things like: “If only I could upgrade to that latest camera body… THEN I would be a rock star photographer”, or “I’m going to buy the same cameras as Kevin Mullins and then I will be an amazing wedding photographer” then there is a problem for sure. The truth is that most of the photos we take could probably be made with gear we already have, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy unboxing that new lens we have been so excited to get.
When it comes right down to it I think David duChemin said it best:
“Gear is good, but vision is better”
Get the gear you need to do the job, without going into debt. Heck, get the gear you want if you can afford it…. just get it for the right reasons (i.e. a specific job calls for a specific piece of gear, or you have saved for a new lens and are really looking forward to using it) and not because you think it is the way to become an amazing photographer. The next time somebody with a $5,000 – $10,000 rig tells you that gear doesn’t matter just smile and keep shooting with the gear you love. Let it inspire you to go out and take pictures. Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself this question:
“Am i happy?”
If you are, be it from the gear, from the process of photography, from the photographs themselves, or from all three things I just mentioned, that is all that really matters. Honestly, life is too short for it to be any other way.