Great picture you have there – you must have a nice camera

When was the last time you've been to a restaurant and after a great meal you felt compelled to find the chef in the kitchen and compliment him on his pots and pans? Did that actually ever happen? I would be surprised if it did.

For photographers it really does happen – for some more than others but eventually everyone will hear these words. And the truth also is – for a good part it is our own fault.

Every art or trade has its portion of gear talk and everyone wants the best tool of his trade he can afford. But for some reason photography has taken things one step further and made a direct connection between the quality of the tool and the quality of the output. So the more expensive the camera is the better each picture made with it must be. The arrival of cameras in phones didn't help either and the manufacturers endlessly talking about gazillion megapixel and quintuple lenses (not a thing yet but I'm sure it will be soon) as if that has anything to do with getting good pictures. It doesn't.

What we really need to talk about instead of the technological side of things seems a lot more difficult to find words for, but is it really true? If you hear a great song will you talk about the type of piano it is played on? Is the plate a great meal is served on all that important? I think not, in both cases most people will be able to say how the song made them feel or how the food tasted. The same thing really should happen with a photograph. It can tell a story, evoke an emotion, maybe a memory or at least stimulate a thought. Let's talk about those and not about why camera model A is better than model B. It won't make you a better photographer if you buy the one that is labeled “better”.

What will make you a better photographer is when you start to think about your story, wonder how a picture will make you feel or how it will make someone else feel. This is what matters.


PS: If you must think about what is better, here is the story of how I chose my very first camera. After I have decided on a budget and what features I thought I needed I researched online what this money will buy me. I ended up with a short list of a few makes and models and I took it to a local camera store. There I checked out how each model felt like in my hand, where are the buttons, how easy are they to operate and so on. Based on this I made a decision. And then please don't do what I did, please buy it in the store. It's not cool to save fifty bucks on a $1000 purchase when the store did the actual job of selling.

The bottom line is that the cameras today have reached a level where even simpler models can deliver professional grade pictures. But it is your job as a photographer to learn how to make those – first with the camera in your hands, then with cameras in general. Once you understood this the tool itself won't matter anymore, you will be able to make great pictures with an old smartphone or with a new Hasselblad.