‘Your camera takes great photos.’

Posted on April 28th, by Danny Santos II in Articles, Tips. 51 comments

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people tell me “You’re camera takes great photos!” It really irks me every time I hear that. It’s like cooking a delicious gourmet meal and your guests complement the stove, or completing a 42k marathon and your friends think it’s because you wore great shoes, or writing a bestseller and your peers think your macbook pro had something to do with it. The fact is, it takes so much more than just a ‘great tool’ to produce great outcome.

I was once guilty of the same thought back when I was just starting out in photography 2 years ago. Whenever I see a great photo, the first thing that comes to mind was “I wonder what camera he’s using.” And I would naively deduce “no wonder… he’s using a D3 (which happens to be the most expensive Nikon camera that time).” But slowly but surely, I realized how ignorant I was. Slowly but surely, I learned that it takes more than just a good camera to take great photographs.

So what makes a good photograph? Subjectively, it’s when the captured moment or subject invokes an emotional response from you… when the concept behind the photo engages you in a personal way.

Now on the technical side, the key to getting a good shot is determining the right quality & direction of light, the geometric composition, the correct exposure settings, the tedious post processing, determining the right lens for the situation, and finally using the right camera. It’s funny coz if you look at each of these elements I just mentioned, the camera is actually the least important. Why? If I replaced my Nikon D300 with a lower model D80 or even a entry-level D40 that’s 60% cheaper, but still retain all other elements like the light, the lens, and the composition, you can still get the exact same image quality. Conversely, if upgrade your camera to a Nikon D3x that’s 500% more expensive, but mess up with all the other elements, your image quality will still be crap.

I know a photographer who still uses a humble Nikon D80 and still produces AMAZING images, even better than the ones I’ve taken with my ‘more advanced’ D300. On the other hand, I’ve seen guys sport full-frame DSLRs like a Canon 5D MarkII or a Nikon D700 but once you see their photos, it becomes apparent that you need to learn more than just pointing and shooting with a great camera to fully maximize your expensive investment.

I’ve read a story of Jascha Heifetz, known as one of the greatest violinist of all time. After one of his concerts, an elderly lady approached him and said “Mr. Heifetz, I just love the sound your violin makes.” He picked up his violin, held it up to his ear and said “Funny, I don’t hear a thing.”

When the time comes where you give a monkey a camera, and that monkey starts to produce great photos simply by having opposable thumbs to hold that camera and click on the shutter button, that’s when I’ll believe that “your camera takes great photos.”

51 thoughts on “‘Your camera takes great photos.’

  1. Good read and well said. I started out wanting to have the most expensive camera Nikon has to offer because I wanted to learn and experience photography fully. But when I got my D90, woah, it produces amazing photos similar to other high end Nikons. What you said is true and it is a common misconception of relating good photography with the camera unit.



  2. This is just what i needed to read. I know it is true, but as a beginner I often fell (cause its true) myself that my pictures are awful. Thank you for reminding me that not the camera makes the photographer but the hard work. Your pictures really are imazing. Have a great day.

  3. great post danny!

    i couldn’t agree with you more :)

    all you need is love… like the song… and love to look… love the world…. love people…. love light….

    and it’s a very good “punch line”…

    great writing!



  4. yes. and i would think like that too…gulty.
    plus theres one more thing too….sometimes u take a good pic, and post process it (coz u have 2) and make it better…and overhear someone telling the other “oh!…thats coz of the photoshop!”

    :) but a nice read.very well written.


  5. I get that also and I can not agree with you more I feel gutted whenever I hear that You expressed it so clearly wonderful piece

  6. Well said! I also agree what the other commenter says about Photoshop. Being complimented on either one of those elements is just somewhat bland. Well, at least for me.

  7. Great points you have. For me, it depends on the comment itself. I agree that something generic like “dude, your camera takes great photos!” is ridiculous. On the other hand, I think it’s fine to comment on the quality of a camera or lens itself. it’s just when the implication is that the photographer had no part in harnessing the potential that it grates on my nerves.

  8. Totally know what you’re talking about. I knew someone who always bought the latest lens and managed to accumulate as many as four DSLR camera bodies. And he never really took any photos but played around with them like toys. Even the shots he took weren’t impressive at all… and yet felt himself a professional, once seeing as I was using a D90, commented “so when are you getting a REAL camera?” Followed by “I’ve been having my camera longer than you so let me share my principles with you” I laughed and till today I still laugh about it. Tsk tsk.

    Rant over… LOVE YOUR WORK. You make a rainy day in Singapore seem far more interesting than anyone ever could. :D

  9. as they say… it is not the camera, it is the photographer… =) i want to believe this because i don’t own an array of photo gadgets and the most expensive canon.

    love your work.. makes me want to go out there in the streets. inspiring.

  10. you‘re right and wrong at the same time.

    a good photographer can definitely make better pictures with a small crappy point and shoot then a bad photographer will get with a $20k-equipment. BUT your shots would never be the same without the 85/1.8, that‘s for sure ;)

  11. @simon: The argument can also apply to lenses. I use an 85/1.4, but in most cases you can also get almost exactly the same image with an 85/1.8 which is a third of the price of my lens, or a 50mm/1.4 which is a quarter of the price. This 50mm/1.4 was used by the awesome photographer I referred to in the article that uses a humble D80.

    Heck, if used correctly, you can still get a pretty good job with the dirt cheap 50/1.8 which is like a tenth of the price.

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  14. There’s this article on gizmodo about this pro fashion photog Morris who used an iPhone and did a professional fashion shoot just to prove a point that its nit the camera that matters, rather the photog. Results were great!

  15. You make a valid point, however if someone’s asking you what kind of camera you’re using they may not be trying to say “It’s the camera that took the good picture…” more so that a better camera will inevitably get better results. You can pull an expensive Nikon or Canon right out of the box, turn all the auto settings on and take a great picture without having to know ISO or F-stop.

    I’m sorry, but you put a Nikon D3 in someone’s hand and Vivitar point & shoot in someone else’s, tell them both take a picture of the same flower the results will be vastly in favor of the Nikon D3…the reason for that is the “tool” not the photographer’s ability.

    It’s the difference between giving someone Microsoft paint vs Photoshop to “enhance” a picture with….

  16. @John: Pitting a full-frame D3 over a point&shoot is obviously a no contest… especially if the users of both cameras are of equal skill. Although the D3 definitely gives better image quality, the point is, there are other factors to consider outside of the camera’s abilities to truly make a good photograph. If you give the D3 to a newbie, and a point&shoot to a veteran, the D3 user may still be in for a challenge.

  17. That’s the only point I was trying to make when someone asks what kind of camera you use. If someone ever asks me that question I gladly tell them! Of course it takes more than a good camera to take a good photograph, that goes with saying!

  18. You know what? I share the same sentiments about this blog since I get the same comments from my friends all the time. I tried not to react much on the idea that my camera [Sony HD10 Point and Shoot] produces nice photos. And more often than not, it gives me a reason to upgrade and buy a DSLR. I cannot deny that sometimes I think that it’s in the camera, but no matter how upgraded the camera is, the photos still rely on the hands that captured it. I’m glad I have read this blog. It felt so relieving knowing that capturing great photos does not have to come from a “high-end camera”. Just like what the famous cliche says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    Great website Sir Danny. :) I would want to visit here as much as I can. :)

  19. I totally agree with you. Thats why I go out with a simple disposable camera from time to time, just to remember myself that it is all about I can do with the camera, not what the camera is able to do. But, lets be true, there are some situations where a more expensive camera just gets better pictures. So, no matter what the photographer is able to do with it – the better the camera, the better the results.

  20. @Martin: You’re correct, the better the camera, the better the results BUT the results will be much much better if it’s with able hands who knows how to use the camera and carefully thought about all the other elements that make a better photograph… that’s the point I was making.

  21. I just love photography, but I can’t afford a 1000-2000$ camera, I only have a 200$ Sony DSC-W350, but I like it, and I know that it is not the camera that makes you take good shots, well maybe a bit, but the rest is on you, the photographer. It takes patience and a lot of focus to catch the beauty of a one or two seconds shot.

    I hope someday I’ll upgrade my camera, and I’m willing to gain more experince in this lovely field. I’ll be delighted if you take a look on the photos I took so far:

    I really like your work, and keep on ;)


  22. @ dannyst: Yeah, you’re totally right. I was just thinking about some situations like nightshots, the possibilities of tele lenses or a good autofocus which definetely helps the people to take better pictures. But in the end of course its all about your hands and what you can compose with them.
    Or, another point, did you ever had a situation like people dont take you serious if you just came up with a pocket sized camera, even when when you’re able to take exactly the same picture as with a big dslr? With a big one you’re the professional photographer, with a small one youre just another stranger to them I think.
    p.s.: Good article… it definitely keeps me thinking;)

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  24. yes danny

    i prefer to listen word like “your lens is great” or “you have a good potrait what lens did you use? “that make more sense to me :)

    what annoying is when people see your good potrait,then people tell you

    “you have a great pro camera”
    “your camera take a good potrait” :hammer:

    sometimes i just want to slam the face of that people with my camera and shout
    “here go ahead! take a good potrait!” :mad:

    and when the photo is bad people will say “how can you make a bad photo with that pro-camera,..and you labeled as stupid rich photographer”

    when the photo is great people will say “you have a nice camera”
    you labeled “you have nice picture because you got nice camere there buddy”

    hey that so unfair isn`t?

    do you think when i give my D700 too monkey they can make a good potrait?

    i`ve been learn potrait seriously i analyze every aspect before i took my stranger photo,..the light,the sky,the skin tone,the bokeh background,the framing,the exposure,even the post-processing always tedious…often i hold my breath behind the viewfinder just for waiting one fucking great expression from my stranger

    even just too aproach the stranger it take more than braveheart

    and strong heart to accept the rejection of the stranger

    until now i still nervous and anxious too enganged the stranger,is never easy seriously

    and after all that what i got to hear is “YOUR CAMERA TAKE A GOOD PICTURE”

    i hate that kind of word,they make me feel discourage…it make me lost my spirit and eagerness to continue this 100stranger project

    seriously that sucks

  25. Great site and great pictures (I love your portraits) but the 85 1.4 and 50 1.4 (the croatin photographer aren’t cheap lens. For portraits and bokeh you need it. And yes, the light is almost all, with good light sometimes you can take great pictures with a cell phone … :)

  26. hayaan na lang natin nilang isipin ganun na nga hehe. tutal hindi natin kelangan ng opinyon ng mga ganung klaseng tao. ang talagang kelangan nating madinig e yung sasabihin ng mga master. para sa akin, isang paraan ito upang hindi lumaki ang ulo ko, para mas makafocus ako sa objective na syang pagkukuha ng retrato. . at hindi magpasikat ;)

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  28. Great post. It reminds of a friend’s favorite line: “it’s not the pana (arrow), it’s the indian.”

    By the way, your photos have inspired me to get started with photography again. Thanks man!

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  30. Danny your true to your story, this is what open i hear from people, i am new to my camera and just like with the other….. i believe in the way of the photographers brilliant mind not to the camera they use… two thumbs up sir…….

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  32. Hmmmm I mostly agree but it depends on the situation really. A good compact can compete with a Pro DSLR in close up well lit circumstances and the winner would be whoever has the best skills/artistry. Put those two photographers 50 rows back in the audience of an indoor rock concert and the passable amateur with the entry level DSLR with spot metering and wide aperture tele-lens is going to get better pictures of the band than the pro with the compact. Sure the pro will come up with lovely atmospheric shots of the audience and maybe even some nice shots of ‘a band’ in the distance but even he will have to admit he is just making the best of his limited equipment. Put them in the photographers pit and the Pro will get better pictures with his compact. The same applies to all photo equipment, you pay the extra for those extreme cases. You pay treble for that extra stop on the lens or that faster shutter speed or burst rate and rarely need them but one day they can make all the difference between a good pic and a great pic no matter how skilled you are.

  33. @Rob: I’m not contesting the fact that a better camera can produce a better photograph… of course, better features allow the photographer more flexibility to take a better photo. My point is: having a better camera is NOT enough. Creativity and technical knowledge will always come into play.

    I’ve seen it so many times, guys sporting full-frame DSLRs and f1.2 lenses… and they come up with photos that could have been done with an entry level DSLR and a 50mm f1.8 lens.

  34. Exactly, kabayan. I get offended when the same remark is said to me. So I took a trip and captured photos taken with my obsolete but remarkable Nokia N8 cellphone. It was published full spread in a national paper. Either way, it will shut the know-it-alls up, or give some newbies hope and realization. :-)

  35. Nice article Danny, as photographers it’s so easy to become trapped in the loop of constantly upgrading gear. But I’ve noticed more and more are starting to see the light and realise its about the artist and the image. The camera is just a tool. Kevin Russ is a great example of this. He sells prints of his wildlife photos taken with his iphone http://kevinruss.tumblr.com/

  36. Couldn’t agree more!
    I’ve seen folks buying the most expensive DSLR in the market only to use the Automatic setting to click pictures. and the pictures they click are nothing short of mediocre. While there are folks who have produced some truly stealer images with their humble handphones.
    On a side note, completely LOVE your images and personal projects. Truly inspiring.

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