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Every day I get emails from photographers asking which camera to buy so they might become better photographers. STOP! Use what you have, get out there and shoot! As Darren Rowse wrote in a recent article about camera lust “Sometimes I think our lust for cameras and gear could be getting in the way of actually becoming better photographers.” I have to agree with that statement.
I love using a good camera and an L lens as much as the next photographer. That new camera and expensive lens does not create a good picture. You do! And processing software? Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture will not turn a bad picture into a good one, but they will certainly help make a good image even better.
A new camera will not make you a better photographer. Period. It will only make you a new camera owner. To become a better photographer, learn to see. Learn to see the new and see the familiar as new. Get out there every day on photo walks. Work on a daily or weekly project. Give yourself assignments or goals. Most importantly – get outside your comfort zone! Shoot, shoot and shoot some more.
If your work is not improving and you have the money, then buy more gear and help the economy. If your work is improving, and you feel limited by the equipment you have and you have the funds, then maybe it’s time to invest in a better camera body or a new lens.
I used the most basic gear for years. Even as I turned pro, I kept using the same equipment for quite a while. Sometimes my clients had better cameras than I had! I upgraded my gear gradually only as my client base grew and I could afford it. I did not go into debt and honed my skills as a result. I am very grateful for that.
It’s true that a more advanced – and expensive – camera system can improve your work, but only if you already know how to make a good picture with your current equipment. Everyday I see dozens of amazing images shot with basic cameras or iPhones. I also see plenty of bad pictures shot with fancy, expensive equipment. When someone sees a truly great image, they don’t ask which camera was used. They say, “Wow, who took that amazing photograph?” After a piano performance, no one ever asks the concert pianist whether she was playing on a Yamaha or a Steinway. The audience is moved by the performance, not by the piano. Let’s face it, the most iconic photographs of the last century were all made with far less sophisticated equipment than the most basic point and shoot we have today, but they all had something in common: They were made by people with passion and vision.
Inspiration is everywhere – online, in photography books and in the work of others. Get inspired, but don’t try to copy them! The idea is for you to develop your own style, not imitate others. Style comes with vision, technical expertise, and experimenting – it takes time to develop. A better camera may make you look cool, but it will not provide you with photographic style.
Limitations are challenges that can serve you well. For example, even if you own ten different lenses, carry just one on your photo walks. That one lens will help you see your familiar world in new ways – and your back will thank you later! Maybe you can only afford a used DSLR and a 50mm f/1.8 – then take some awesome pictures with that. Either way, in the long run you will improve your craft and shoot some killer images along the way.
We all have to start somewhere. Our camera is just a tool. It’s okay to lust after the latest gear, we all do to some extent, but stop whining and wishing you had the latest Canon or Nikon. Get out there and use what you have. That is what will make you a better photographer.