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.”