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It’s not the camera you have – it’s what you do with it

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One day, as I was looking up to the stars, a revelation came upon me. It got imprinted into me that my career should be in photography. That’s the story I’d like to tell myself about how I entered photography. The reality is that I stumbled unto photography quite by accident. I saw a friend of mine who had this very nice professional looking camera. Big, black, sexy, it was a Nikon D80.

One faithful day I did the math while counting my money, and did a quick Craigslist search. My goodness! Looks like I could buy one! And that I did. But that was just the beginning. After being a Nikon shooter for a while, I started buying lenses, more and more.

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I brought and sold cameras like crazy, my wife’s family had to ask if I was rich because it seemed like every month or so I would have a new camera. Thing was, I wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, all I had was ebay: I sold some stuff, then bought some stuff, again and again.

It got so bad that I bought a large format camera, two graflex backs, about a hundred pieces of film, then only shot about three frames before selling it. I even had a medium format camera at some point too, with a box full of medium format film of which I only shot like two rolls, and they are still undeveloped to this day.

I’m not here to chronicle my old gear addiction, but to hopefully drive a simple point home that I’ve learned the hard way:

It’s not what camera you have, it’s what you do with it.

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Your camera matters

But before going in, let’s get something out of the way. You’ve probably heard that your camera doesn’t matter, but let me share with you that I believe that yes, it does. I mean, of course your camera matters, how can it not? If you want to make images of birds and your camera doesn’t have a zoom, good luck trying to get close. It’s just a basic fact, all cameras are limited somehow, and because of these limits there are shots that you simply can’t get with certain cameras. Try low light with no flash on a smartphone and see what I mean.

But who cares?

But the thing is, it really doesn’t matter that your camera matters. It’s a tongue twister, I know. Not only are modern cameras good enough for pretty much any occasion, but mainly because you can either focus on what you can, or what you can’t, do with your camera. Focus on what you can’t do and you are signing yourself up for gear addiction, as there is ALWAYS something you can’t do with any camera.

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That’s what got me to shell thousands of dollars in gear I never needed in the first place. My camera’s too big, my camera doesn’t look cool enough, or it doesn’t have a viewfinder, etc. I could find all the issues in the world when I needed to rationalize my next purchase. But, after spending thousands buying and selling hear, having used pretty much all of the formats and systems out there, I only have one thing to say – it’s not what camera you use, it’s what you do with it.

I remember a friend’s wedding. My jaw dropped when I saw the images that their paid photographer produced. The shooter had a serious Canon kit, I think the 70-200mm f/2.8, the whole shabang, a really nice kit if you ask me.

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But goodness gracious I can’t even describe the images. The images looked like a random person with their pre-smartphone phone shot them. They were the blandest of bland – then I realized that they were made on probably $3000 worth of gear, but the results were $3000 point and shoot images. I had my humble Ricoh GXR back then and got a few shots for myself. The couple thanked me and said, “If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have any nice pictures.”

I’ve seen point and shoot result from cameras worth thousands, and inversely, I’ve seen beautiful results from the humblest of cameras. I think it’s all about using your camera to its maximum potential, whatever that may be. What I realized too late (and it could have saved me lots of money) was that I could have made some nice images with whatever camera I had. From the most expensive one to the cheapest one. Between you and I, all of the images in this article were made with a discontinued, small sensor, pocket camera.

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It’s something I’ve seen over and over again, not only in photography but in life in general. Like the people who only had $100 to their names and somehow ended up millionaires. It’s not the cards we have in life, it’s what we do with them. We all could be taller, prettier, whatever. But it’s about making the most of what you’ve got.

I think the more you understand this principle, the more confidence you will get. I think many of us get confidence from owning a camera, like I did. But I think that confidence is better handled if it’s in your own abilities as a photographer. Something that you can prove to yourself by making the most of your current camera.

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In short, your camera matters – but who cares? Great images are possible with any camera, because it’s not what camera you have, it’s what you do with it. I’ve proven it to myself, have you? Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.

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Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong

is a Haitian-French-Vietnamese graphic designer turned photographer, he is the co-creator of Inspired Eye Photography Magazine. This ex-gear head now teaches photographers how to develop their eye, heart and mind. Join his photography newsletter to keep in touch. You’ll receive weekly inspiration, a free beginner’s course, tutorials and more.

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