I’ve made a fundamental mistake. I knew there was a risk of it happening but it crept up slowly and without notice. Slowly I’ve traded studying the craft of photography with studying the equipment and technology.

One classic example is the Canon 50mm lens that use for videography work. I started with the f/1.8 lens that did everything I needed. I started reading how great the f/1.4 version of the lens is and the desire to upgrade was drawing me like a magnet.

A bit. A year with the f/1.4 and, yes you guessed it I was spending too much time on the Canon 50mm f/1.2 group reading just how much better the f/1.2 is compared to the 1.4.

I saved, and saved a little more, I sold my f/1.4, I sold a spare flash and eventually I had gathered up enough to invest in Canon’s flagship f/1.2 50mm lens. I expected the ultimate fulfilment and of much more concern I expected my photos and video to be transformed into unbelievable works of art.

Don’t get me wrong the 50mm f/1.2 is a stunning lens but I really struggled to save up the funds to pay for it and the reality is the f/1.4 is a great lens as is the f/1.8. I had fallen into the trap of unconsciously thinking ………

“My photography would be so much better if I just had…”

It is a terrible place to be and remarkably hollow. I read about photography every day from magazines to literally dozens of RSS subscriptions to the various websites and blogs so much so I decided to take a look at the list with some interesting findings.

I started off subscribing to the feeds of photographers I have always admired, Zack Arias, Jeremy Cowart and many others who shared the same interest.

A year ago my RSS reader was predominantly the feeds of photographers studying their craft and mastering the art of photography yet in just over twelve months these websites had been overcome by blogs and feeds focused on reviews and the technical aspects of photography.

I have slowly become more interested in gear that wasn’t even released over the fantastic camera in my bag that I literally wasn’t using to maximum potential.

The result was repeatedly and consistently dissatisfaction. Photographers do this all the time, on photo walks, meet ups the conversation is always equipment focused. I wonder how many writers get together to compare the pencils they use and actually, if pencil envy exists?

X100

Interestingly, I keep being asked when I expect the X200 to be released. Fujifilm have demonstrated they expect to see the X100 around for some time to come with the release of the WCL-X100 adaptor. It is photographers who are creating the demand and expecting a refresh after 12 month.

The turning point

I am making changes, the review websites are gone and I am left with 30-40 feeds from great photographers who regularly share their experience and their learning.

As for kit, I am remarkably lucky to have the gear I have, a fact I truly appreciate. The time has come to streamline and set limits. To this end I have reduced my EF lens collection to just two lenses as, if the 50mm f/1.2 is so good I convinced myself I needed it then I shouldn’t really need an array of addition lenses covering every focal length especially as this kit is used primarily for video work.

I realise I cannot ‘bang on’ how great the Fujifilm X-Pro1 or Canon 5D are while keeping my eye on the magazines for the latest incarnation of either camera. Both the Canon and the Fuji systems are stunning and they are built to last. For me personally, last they will! I have decided to put in place a ‘strict upgrade when wrecked policy‘.

As photographers we should be consuming our craft not our technology. The “my photography would be so much better if I just had….” thought process is simply the road to misery, it will have very little impact on the quality of our images and it offers little satisfaction.

Photographers take photos not cameras. It is more important to improve the photographer than improve the camera.

Links

The Long Exposure eBook

About The Author

David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is also an official Fujifilm X Photographer.

  • Quan

    Can you share the feeds from great photographers mentioned in the post please?

  • http://www.flixelpix.com David

    Quan, yes, I will put a list together and post it in here in a few days.

  • Yilkee

    I think alot of shooters fall into this trap. I had it and I still do, but not as much as it used to. It all changed for me when I started my daily picture project. After a few days/weeks I started thinking about the picture i wanted to take with the equipment I had. I didn’t think about the pictures that I couldn’t take because it was pointless unless it wasn’t that expensive to get the gear. I’m talking about things like a ND filter or a remote trigger not $1000 lenses.

    I’ve recently started shooting with film and i’m using a Canonet QL17. It’s a limiting camera and a limiting medium but that’s a good thing. Makes you think more about the picture and not so much about the equipment.

  • http://rickhein.org Rick Hein

    “Photographers take photos not cameras. It is more important to improve the photographer rather than the camera.”

    Well said!

    I took some of my best pictures on a Kodak disposable camera – concentrated on natural light, the direction of light and shade and composition.

  • Isa Backintown

    Great article. This is why I have never been a fan of digital. To me, real photography is dead. Too many people today call themselves photographers and just rely on equipment. Whatever happened to the art?

  • http://vannuil.com Edwin

    Great read, and I couldn’t agree more. I recently sold most of my gear and decided to keep my Fuji FinePix X100 and focus (pun intended) on my photography instead of on the newest gear. Still some withdrawal symptoms but reading blogs by great photographers and stories like yours keep me straight ;-)

  • http://www.pixelbloggen.se Frida

    I’m with you all the way. I would like to see your RSS list it is always nice to find new favorites :-) Happy shooting!

  • Mats

    Oh so very true words!

  • http://ricknunn.com Rick Nunn

    Well said. It is way too easy to fall into this trap, especially while trying to learn about the technical aspects of photography.

  • http://DrDougGreen.Com Douglas W. Green, EdD

    Great post. I have also seen schools that focus on hardware, software, and geeky details rather than the art itself. We need to remember that its all about the art and let the others stuff take care of itself. Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.alexisjaworski.com Alexis Jaworski

    So true and so well written. Fallen in that trap too although now trying to reduce the lenses I have and selling some off! Thanks for your honest blog here!

  • Victor

    Great article! I think that mentality spreads pretty far into other creative fields. Throughout high-school I played in and with many bands who had the same idea with their instruments and equipment, with every other band saying “Oh, well we simply can’t sound better till so-and-so gets this 3000$ guitar. Blah, blah blah.” Meanwhile other people where playing 100x better tunes with the worst equipment possible but they made it count 100%(Your idea of getting more effectiveness out of seemingly less.) Same goes for designers. Bigger screens, faster hardware or whatever, it all can be used effectively but most people aren’t utilizing the tools they already have. I’m going to have to analyze this again now that I know photographers get “such-and-such envy” that bad too.
    Again, great post!

  • http://www.laroquephoto.com Patrick

    It’s so easy to fall into that trap isn’t it? Searching for the ultimate lens, the ultimate body… At some point it just becomes crippling. Usually when you start convincing yourself that you can’t achieve your vision with the equipment you currently own. We can’t delude ourselves into believing gear doesn’t matter at all: there ARE technical requirements to certain types of photography or looks. But doing the very best with what we already have can be such a catalyst for creativity…

    These past two years I’ve been guilty of this as well. But strangely, I think it’s been in the interest of simplification. I swallowed review sites over the X100 until I finally purchased one. Then I did the same thing over the X-Pro1. But now… I feel I’ve gone though a sea change. This switch is more than just about gear. I don’t want 20 lenses. The X100 changed this for me. I want a few primes, the classic focal lengths. I want to shoot with this system using my eye in the most deliberate manner possible. I don’t need an X200 and frankly, I hope it’s not around the corner. I hope Fuji’s “zen” will translate to product releases as well… Less frenzy, more intent.

    This is a great post David. Agreed wholeheartedly.

  • Mike

    100% agree!

    This is exactly the reason why I sold all my other camera gear and just using my X100 now. This camera is – from a technical point of view – far better than the gear photographers in the last decades had. It should deliver everything which is needed to capture great images.

    Love your analogy of writers and pens, hit the nail on the head!

  • Paul

    Can someone describe what should be a good minimal kit for an amateur to have? What are the only 2 lens OP now carries?

  • http://www.flixelpix.com David

    @Paul it depends on what you shoot most. If you are landscape and reportage then a 50mm and a wide (17-40mm) work well. If it is music then a 50mm and 70-200mm. Some photographers prefer 35mm to 50mm but it is personal choice.

  • http://jusido.com Steve

    For the past year, I have assumed that my infrared photos would be much better with a modified, mid-level DSLR. Of course that led to pondering which camera, which lenses, especially which filter, which conversion service, and on and on. Thank you so much for reminding me that my Olympus C-2100UZ with its 1999-vintage Sony 2.11 MP CCD — the “legendary” one with fantastic, if inadvertent, IR sensitivity — is just perfect. Yes, a lot more pixels would be great, but the quasi-B&W of IR really holds up pretty well at that low resolution. As everyone else has said above, it’s much more about who is pointing the camera and how, and much less about which camera is being pointed.

  • http://brandonremler.blogspot.com/ Tenisd

    Heii.
    Like, if I have the better equipment I feel more confident about myself..
    Now as I have the X100, it is the cooler equipment so I still feel more confident than not.
    As one great photographer said:
    “There is a power and confidence you get from your gear and it should reward you for that. It’s not talked up much, so I thought cameras you own are more than just tools we use. They are emotionally connected to us and we are expressing ourselves with that choice.”

  • http://www.graemesdesigns.com Graeme Pettit

    Sadly, we all spend to much money to learn this simple truth. It dawned on me, that my old Canon G2, with its 4.1mp, took perfectly good photos – after I’d upgraded my DSLR three times.
    There will be a fourth (and maybe a 5th if I live long enough), as the photography I do, and the creativity change – It is a tool – tools break, get worn, but I’m not precious about them, even though I hate to part with old favourites……
    The awareness of having to spend more time taking photos than reading reviews, really hit hard when I realised just how much time I have to spend on marketing and running the photo business in the background to afford the kit after the taxman has had his share….
    What do I carry around most? 12MP Sony 700 with a secondhand 18-200 Sigma on it – a workhorse – and for now, it carries a heavy load. It gets used at every opportunity, as every image I miss, could have been my best seller………Damn the reviews…Stay inspired, keep clicking.

  • Stephen McCullough

    Hi David
    I suspect that the sense of being in a gear trap is familiar to many of us.

    Two years ago I sold my favourite camera (5D) and lenses and simplified to a GF1 and and 3 primes; the idea was to simply dive into my photography. The light, small kit and 3 primes was limiting and liberating. After more than 30 years of photography I am enjoying it more than ever.

    I have kept my eye on the gear world, but free of pressure. Now I know what I truly love to shoot and print I am ready to shop. But I’m in no rush, although I’ve pretty much settled on the X-Pro 1.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Spot on.

  • http://viktoriamichaelis.com Viktoria Michaelis

    Funnily enough, writers do compare, but not exactly pencils! I tend to get asked about where I work a great deal, how my room / office is set up, what sort of chair I sit on …

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/jensaddis jensaddis

    I agree and I don’t. I think photography is kind of schizophrenic, I like my equipment whens I am outside of town I use mostly my Nikon 24-70, 2.8 and the 70-200, 2.8 with the 2xExtender sometimes.
    If I do a lot of landscape or inside a forest I prefer the 50, 1.4Nikkor and the 16-28, 2.8 Tokina.
    But, in the city, on the street sometimes the 24-70,2.8 is even to much, intrusive, so I use the 50, 1.4, which is actually my favorite lens.
    I would like to work lighter but also want to use the capabilities of these different lenses. And, what I carry around sometimes upsets me, but gives me a kind of technical satisfaction as well, I just love to hold and see these wonderfully made lenses and camera. What great pieces of craftsmanship. What haptic experience!
    And, of course there are writers who can’t stand to write on a Computer, who still use a typewriter or sit in the cafe and use a pencil, others don’t give there montblanc fountain-pen out of hand.
    Yes, but I agree that for most purposes and most creative moments a proper camera and a 35, 2.0 or a 50, 1.4/1.8/2.0 … we behind the camera still make the photos … that’s why some of us are sometimes so disappointed with the result and think .. if I just had …;-)

  • http://www.hemsleyphotography.co.uk Martin Hemsley

    Great article. I good friend of mine said recently, whilst we had a break shooting a wedding; After eating a great meal at a Michelin resto, would you ask the chef what oven he uses?

    However, so easy though looking at other kit.

  • Simon

    Great blog post & so true. It’s far too easy to think that better kit is what we need in order to get better shots.

    The only thing that is missing from the article is any discussion about the post process that is undertaken. Whether its Aperture, Photoshop, Lightroom or another software it would be nice to see less post processed work.

    It’s so hard and very rare these days to take a digital image and just use it without any post work. A camera’s deficiencies can sometimes be overcome in post production. Maybe once a month we should all post a pure image, one taken in the camera & made public without any post processing. I imagine it might be an unnerving experience for many.

    It is true that the photographer takes the photo, but quite often it’s the software that makes the picture!

  • http://www.flixelpix.com David

    @simon to be honest if you are spending too much time in post production the photo wasn’t good enough in the first place. The best photos need little work, that said mine often need plenty :)

  • http://www.gipstein.com Todd Gipstein

    Well put. I have been in photography for 40+ years. When I used to teach media, back in the multi-image (slide-show) days, I would tell folks not to fall in love with technology but with ideas. Everybody can buy the same gear, the same boxes, the same software. Fall in love with your ideas, because they will be the only truly original thing you can offer. Ideas meaning scripts, concepts for shows, how your photos interpret and reveal the world. As I posted on one Fuji forum, we spend so much time fussing over chromatic aberration and edge sharpness and low light noise…. but people who see our pictures only care about whether the picture works for them. Do they respond in some way to it? If they are tuned in to resolution or noise or CA, then you can probably assume that the picture hasn’t worked on an artistic or conceptual level and they are left studying technical details. It would be like going to a symphony that was bad and all you do is study the clarinetist’s fingers moving or the necklace on the violinist. Good pictures are made in the mind and the heart, not on the sensor.

  • http://Www.paulcostellophotography.com Paul C

    We all suffer from equipment longing now and again, I had the exact same longing for the 50mm f1.2 as you, thinking once I have that lens my photography will reach a new level. The truth was that using it at f1.2 and getting the focus spot on was very tricky, and when you did get it right it could look like a heavy handed Photoshop blur filter. I sold it 3 months later and bought a set of studio lights instead, vowing never to fall into that trap again. I do however long for a small, light, reliable camera of my film days that will give me similar results as my 5Dmk2. Lugging it around on a day out isn’t an option I’m prepared to take, it’s simply going to get in the way all of the time, and I’ll be paranoid about leaving it out of my sight for even 10 seconds. The Fujifilm X100 looks like something I can stick in my pocket and not worry about, quite liberating. I wouldn’t use it for client work, but for those moments when you are out and about and wish you had a camera it could prove useful. I admit I don’t need one, but I want one all the same.

    Sometimes that camera longing / upgrade can prove worthwhile though. Moving from the Canon 5D to the MK2 was a huge leap in quality, and it’s high ISO performance alone was worth the price. (Shooting weddings in church’s dark as coal mines without using flash is an option I like having.) I wouldn’t however bother upgrading to the MK3, the difference in performance doesn’t justify the price tag. Instead I’m going to focus on improving my skills using the kit I have, and getting the maximum quality I can out of it. There is a reassuring feeling knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the kit you use, and becoming fluid in using it. I no longer feel that using prime lenses are going to improve my photography, having owned one of the best out there f1.2 becomes tiring after a while, almost like that fisheye lens effect, it sound nice in theory, but when you see lots of photos with the same effect you soon change your mind.

    On a different note, I’m always amazed when I hear about people who believe that using film is the only true path to pure photography, or that using software to enhance digital photographs is next to selling your soul to the devil! Why on earth would you decide to shoot in the most limited form you can possibly use? Do you think that if you went back in time and offered the greats of photography the camera technology we have now that they would say no? They would take your arm off for it!

    Having come from a film background I can assure you there are many enhancement techniques used in processing that give you the results you strive for. Where do you think terms like dodgeing and burning came from? Why on earth would I want to go back to using 20 sheets of fibre based paper to get the print I want? And when the temperature in the room either raised or dipped slightly you have to start all over again. Digital photography is the most liberating thing to ever happen to photography. We can now finally capture the images we have in our minds. Anything that makes it easier to do that should be applauded, lest we go back to painting sheets of glass with silver hailide, and taking 30 second exposures for portraits!

  • Jase Bell

    Great post. I went on a gear cold turkey about three years ago and stuck with my old Fuji S5 Pro body and a Nikor 50mm 1.8 lens. It’s all I need the rest is really up to me.

    The study of light is much more fun that the study of photographic equipment.

    :)

    J

  • http://www.magla.gr Antonis

    I’m not sure if you are 1000% or 2000% correct :)

    It’s easy to find out the truth, when you look at your (old?) photos, with not-so-great equipment but -hey- they are better than the state-of-the-art-lens-and-dslr-you-just-bought!

    Nice and truly post!

  • http://wilzworkz.wordpress.com Wilson Wong

    Hi, thanks for the frank opinion on this issue. Too many people, including those I have taught in classes kept thinking they will take the best photos if they have the DSLR, that MFT or the next best thing in photography.

    Peace!

    Wilson

  • http://cyndygreen.wordpress.com cyndy green

    Your craft should consume you.

  • http://felix-sanchez.dk Felix Sanchez

    I too keep falling into that pit!
    Thanks for reminding me to cherish what I have got :)

  • Karen C

    EXCELLENT post!! Thanks for the reminder. Plus, limiting yourself to what you have just means that you’ll get to know your gear in such a way that no matter what lens you have on what camera, you’re going to take some amazing photographs.

  • http://www.dogpatchpix.com Susan Gertz

    I agree and disagree… at some points in what you envision and are trying to execute, equipment is a limitation. But certainly, the equipment is not a true limitation nearly as often as we tend to think!

  • http://khurt.com/blogs/ Khürt L. Williams

    This is a timely post. I’ve been feeling some angst recently over what my six year old Nikon D40 lacks – auto-bracketing, higher ISO, more pixels – and wishing I had a Nikon flash or the 85mm lens ( I already have the 35mm and 50 mm).

    The don’t replace it until it breaks will ensure I’ll have my D40 for a long time. I take very good care of my stuff.

  • http://londoneer.org Peter Stean

    I’m not sure I entirely agree with you – I had a very low-level SLR and two kit lenses when I started, and I was always bumping against their limitations. For example, not being able to separate the subject from the background, not really being able to get decent photos of gigs (the ISO noise above about 400 on this camera was shocking). I’ve now got semi-pro gear and am happy – they’re much more flexible and allow me to shoot in a lot more scenarios.

    However, I am free of the constant urge to upgrade that you have David!It will be a few years before I consider a further upgrade…

  • http://www.shinyphoto.co.uk/ Tim

    A useful trick is to be able to quantify and maybe even express *what* a given lens does for you, in craft terms.

    I have two nice old manual Pentacon lenses and a leaning toward landscape and “hedgerow” photography.
    One is a 50mm f/1.8 and the important thing is that I use it for the field of view (on m4/3rds) and close-focussing – results tend to be just one subject positioned somewhere in the frame and I can arrange DoF to cover the subject but give uniform blurred backgrounds. For closeups I find f/5 gives that balance, which coincides with the optimum sharpness; when the FoV fits a landscape situation, I use f/8 which is still quite sharp but coincides with reducing corner drop-off relative to the centre. If I really want it then f/1.8 to f/2 give quite pleasant milky bokeh between jumbled tree branches.

    The 30mm is my “small groups of things” oddball lens – a handful of flower-heads within half a square metre, for example – it doesn’t focus as close and it’s not fast at f/3.5 but it has a funny aperture-locking ring that I can use to aid aperture-selection (smooth, no detents) without taking the camera away from my eye to check the numbers.

    Note the priority – the majority of words above are focussed on use-cases not the mere numbers themselves.

    I’m still working on it for other lenses, but the principle holds – buy what you want not what you’ve been sold.

  • http://www.procterphotography.co.uk/ diana

    Spot on! Nowadays, anybody with the right equipment can be called a photographer! But not all have the eye and craft of a real photographer. Today, they just point and shoot then edit the photos through photoshop or lightroom and they give you artistic looking photos. Gone are the days when you just really on pure art through photography. There are only really few good ones left in the industry to be honest. I myself, believe I still have to be a better photographer and mastering my craft is an unending process. There is a lot more to learn in our world.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lionoche/ Lionel

    Amazing picture to illustrate this interesting article !
    Which camrea and lense did you use. I need the same !

    I feel I need to read the article again because I might be affected by G.A.S
    :-)))

  • Neil Chalk

    Great post David!

    I went on a bit of spending spree a couple of years ago, until I started to put a bit more effort into the editing/processing workflow and noticed how much better that made my photos. Then I took a step back and limited myself on equipment I take out.

    My last purchase was the X100 about two years ago and aside from a filter set (prompted by one of your blog posts ;) I’ve managed to try and concentrate on the craft aspect and feel much better for it!

    Neil.

  • http://www.shawnhoke.com Shawn Hoke

    Really happy to read this from you, David. It is easy to get obsessed with gear. I’ve been eyeing a Fuji X100 or X-Pro in my weaker moments, but always ask myself, “how will it make my photos better?” And I realize it won’t.

    I’m still clicking away with my Nikon D700 for work stuff and a combination of my Hasselblad 501cm and my 1935 Eastman 8×10 View Camera for everything else. The more I get to know them, the better things get. And no new camera will take a better pic than my 80 year old 8×10. ;)

    Have fun and keep shooting!
    Shawn

  • http://www.beyondtheice.no Eivind Rohne

    Well said sir! I guess part of the explanation for many if us suffering the same kind of “If I only had…” syndrome, is that advanced equipment have become so much more available, and in many ways you get pro quality for amateur money. And availability combined with relatively low prices make for some serious “wanting”. We live in times when lots of people can afford things, even if it takes some saving up. I remember in the old film days, when a fully manual Hasselblad was the ultimate wet dream. And it was way out of reach unless you a) had too much money, or b) was a working pro and really needed one to get the job done, or c) a+b. In those days many settled for 2 good lenses and didn’t even want a third, and produced magic with that very limited piece of kit!

    Cheers,
    Eivind