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It’s a common question without an easy answer. It’s one that pretty much every photographer has asked themselves at one time or another.
In this article, I’m going to start by identifying the ways in which the equipment matters. And then I’m going to cover the ways in which the photographer matters.
Finally, I’ll address the main question:
Which is more important?
So let’s dive right in.
Here’s the thing:
As much as photographers hate to admit it, equipment does matter.
If it didn’t, why would professional photographers spend $5000+ on a camera setup?
It’s not a question of whether equipment matters, it’s a question of how much it affects your photography.
So here’s a list of the key reasons equipment matters:
Cameras with high continuous shooting rates make it possible to capture amazing action photos without leaving much to chance. A camera that can shoot 12 frames-per-second is going to maximize your chances of getting a gorgeous image in the thick of the action.
Cameras with more autofocus points, greater autofocus coverage, better tracking, and better autofocus points (e.g., cross-type points) will make it easier to quickly lock focus on your subject and track them as they move. This is useful for any genre of photography that is fast-paced.
Metal cameras with weather-sealing can handle much more difficult conditions than cameras made of non-weather sealed plastic. You can shoot for longer in the rain, snow, and freezing temperatures without your camera failing, which increases your chance of capturing a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Cameras with the most advanced sensors are able to capture noise-free images when shooting at high ISOs. This makes shooting at night without a tripod a much more feasible option.
The greater your camera’s megapixel count, the more you can crop your photos. This gives you additional flexibility in post-processing and helps you compensate for a shorter lens.
Cameras with a high dynamic range maximize the amount of detail you capture in a scene. This gives you more latitude when selecting an exposure. It also allows you to photography high dynamic range scenes without resorting to HDR techniques.
Mirrorless cameras with high-quality electronic viewfinders (EVFs) give you fairly accurate previews of your images before you press the shutter button. This allows you to get your exposure and depth of field correct, right from the beginning.
Smaller and lighter cameras are easier to carry on long treks and on travel expeditions. And the easier your camera is to carry, the more likely you are to have it with you when a once-in-a-lifetime scene happens right before your eyes.
Cameras and lenses with some form of image stabilization make it possible to handhold at low shutter speeds. This increases your shooting opportunities in low light and allows you to increase your depth of field during the day.
Higher-quality lenses are sharper and have fewer problems (such as color fringing and distortion). This makes it possible to get tack-sharp shots that look great straight out of the camera.
Lenses with different focal lengths allow you to capture different types of shots. If you want to capture sweeping landscape images, you’ll want an ultra-wide lens on hand. If you want to capture a detail shot of a perching eagle, you’ll want a 500mm or 600mm lens. Therefore, different lenses give you different photo opportunities.
Now that we’ve covered the ways in which equipment affects your photography, it’s time to talk about you, the photographer.
What impact do you have in the photo-making process? How do you make a difference in your photography?
Even if you have the best autofocus system in the world, it won’t matter if you don’t have the capabilities to use it. It takes serious skill to track fast-moving subjects, and it’s something that takes lots of practice to master. If you want to capture gorgeous action shots, you can’t just press the shutter and hope for the best. The autofocus system is part of the equation, but so are you.
Your ability to handhold is often the difference between a sharp photo and a blurry photo. You’ve often got to keep your hands steady while in the thick of the action, never an easy task. Image stabilization helps, but if your technique isn’t sound, you’ll end up with blurry photos anyway.
Cameras are pretty good at identifying the right exposure for the scene. But there are plenty of times when the camera’s choice just doesn’t look good. That’s when you have to step in, as the photographer, and take control of your camera’s exposure.
As great as modern cameras are, they still can’t tell you how to find good light, and they definitely can’t tell you how to use the light for great shots. That’s all up to you, and it’s something that photographers spend their whole lives studying. Expertly used light can be the sole difference between an amazing photo and a mediocre photo.
I’m putting this under a single header, but it’s a big one. Composition isn’t something that’s innate, and it’s definitely not something that your camera can control. It’s something that you learn through practice and hard work. And if you don’t bring composition skills to your photography, it’s going to look plain bad. There’s no way around it.
Choosing a composition is a skill. It’s also a skill to be able to pull off that composition – to be able to use camera settings to your advantage. That’s where you have to leverage your knowledge to choose the aperture and shutter speed you need to capture the perfect shot.
This is another huge factor as post-processing skills allow you to take a shot and really turn it into something incredible. Post-processing is how you put the finishing touches on your photos, and it’s how you give your photos that professional flair.
Now that you’ve read this far, you and I can surely agree that both the equipment and the photographer matters.
However, if you look over the two lists, you’ll notice that there are certain aspects of photography that the gear can barely contribute to such as working with light, choosing a composition, putting the final touches on a photo in post-processing, and more.
These are huge aspects of being a photographer. If you can’t do these things, your images will be consistently poor. There’s no other way to say it.
But if you can do these things well, you’ll get amazing photos. Yes, high-quality gear will help. It will increase your chances of getting beautiful shots – if you’re already very skilled. However, while the equipment is important, gear will never get you an amazing photo. At best, gear will get you ultra-sharp, well-exposed, in-focus snapshots – and that’s all. At worst, gear will get you blurry, poorly-exposed images.
In other words, you don’t need incredible gear to get incredible photos. But you do need to be an incredible photographer to get incredible photos.
Which is more important, the equipment or the photographer?
No doubt about it.
What are your thoughts on equipment versus photographer? Do you agree that the photographer matters more than the equipment? Share your thoughts in the comments!