Go right ahead and love your gear

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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.

Cheers,

Ian

17 thoughts on “Go right ahead and love your gear

  1. Suzanne says:

    Wonderfully said! I recently picked up a X100t after not picking up any of my Nikon equipment for some time, and that X100t has brought all the fun I use to have with photography back. I am inspired and in love once again.

  2. Mike Prince says:

    Yup, the camera is just a tool. Nobody enjoys using a poorly made hammer, saw, screwdriver, plane etc etc. The relationship between a crafstman and his tool is important. No camera will are you a better photographer of course but there is no shame in enjoying the camera you choose to use.

  3. adambonn says:

    I think that gear IS important… Obvious silly things… craters on the moon, lions on safari, insect macros, underwater…

    So I personally dislike that “old” (sic) internet adage of “it’s the photographer not the camera”

    I mean it’s largely true, but not always. I mean it’s unlikely to be JUST the camera, but to do the correct job, requires the correct tool

    The problem with gear comes with the speed at which manufacturers seem to want to release and market it, especially if one is not brand loyal – we might have had to wait 4 years for a X-Pro2 or 2 years for a XT2, but if we chopped in our camera to get whoever DPR were giving a gold star too each month, then we’d all be constantly at the camera shop (and possibly some sort of bankruptcy court hearing 🙂 )

    I personally think that the most important aspect of our gear (other than it’s basically capable of delivering the functionality we require from it) is that we bond with it.

    We need to want to use it.

    This is different that simply loving it – I still have my first SLR, given to me by my Dad, 26 years ago yada-yada (that’s true BTW) but do I use it a lot? No.

    So we need to bond with a camera in a way that makes us want to shoot with it, makes us want to not leave the house without it… (Another misconception – “the best camera is the one you have with you” Hmm yeah maybe.. But how about the best camera is the one you refuse to leave at home?)

    So we need a camera that we like, does it’s job, and one which despite the inevitable idiosyncrasies and foibles, we can appreciate and trust.

    But, we can’t love them all like the SLR our Dad gave us… because one day a manufacturer will make a camera that we like more, that we’ll bond with more and when that day comes, it’s time to move on…

    …The trick is not being seduced by merely new and better but to understand what’s actually better for the work we do.

    The Leica (Ian mentions Leica in the post) community are actually a good representation of this. The older M cameras still have a colossal following, some users refusing to be seduced by the better tech of the newer model, because their M9 has all that they actually need and images that they love.

    Where as other Leica folk (I’m not a Leica shooter BTW) needed and wanted and bought the higher spec’d M240

    This is basically what we need to ask ourselves when ‘insert-camera-brand’rumours.com announces something new.

    At the end of the day – be a photographer, not a magpie interested in shiny new things 🙂

  4. Rick Ruppenthal says:

    All good comments. Adam’s quote, “At the end of the day – be a photographer”

    In a Have, Do, Be World – some people just need to have the latest before they ‘think’ they can be a photographer.

    In my humble opinion your vision comes from being…be the photographer you want to be and act accordingly. The doing and having come secondary.

    • Ian says:

      Truth!

      I think my thing simply boils down to this: Be happy. I honestly don’t care if that happiness comes from a certain tool you love to hold in your hands, or the work that comes from using it. The process wherein we create our art should bring us joy.

  5. Stacy P. Fischer says:

    A great post, Ian. My X100T is the camera that truly allows me to enjoy the process of photography! And it is the “process” that I enjoy the most. I shoot mostly street and I get no greater joy than seeing and capturing that fleeting moment, or as you mention, finding that awesome spot and waiting for the right person. It’s a giant treasure hunt made all the more fun by my Fuji.

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