It's Not About the Gear

I know, funny title for a guy that changes gear as often as his underwear. Although I do adore so many cameras, I have realized over the years that my favorite images have almost nothing to do with the gear choice and have more to do with capturing the story in the right light. I’ve shot with $5 cameras, $15,000 cameras, and everything in-between and they have all produced images I am proud of.

Warning: This will be a bit of an unconstructed babble to get my thoughts out.

Don’t get me wrong, proper glass can really make or break the color, depth, and clarity of an image. But my argument is the story is infinitely more important than any of that for me as a photography enthusiast. I’d even argue it’s the same for a pro. I’ll use the above image as an example. It’s not a fantastic photo and far from technically great (nor is it even framed great), but I love it for the visual story presented as well as the “behind the story” imagery this evokes. This shot was taken early in the morning while in Salem, MA with my Fuji X-Pro2 and 35mm lens. With a crop sensor and average megapixels by today’s standards, the X-Pro 2 is a pretty middle of the road setup. But this gear captured the light I wanted with the warm morning glow on the buildings and plenty of shadow detail. A quick 5-second edit in Lightroom and I was very pleased with what I got. Like Marie Kondo would say, it sparks joy.

The most important aspect of this photo is the story of my morning in Salem. The quiet winter street, just starting to wake up with folks emerging from their homes to start their day (the old woman on the sidewalk was pulling a squeaky little red wagon). In the far distance, a carpenter pulling his pickup truck to today’s job site. What you can’t see (or more appropriately, hear) was the engine and back-up beep of a garbage truck just about to emerge from the side street by the tavern or the conversation that was about to ensue about photography with someone. No amount of megapixels will help capture this back story, but it’s an important piece of this shot for me - and only me.

Fuji X-Pro2 + 35mm f/1.4

What I’m trying to say…

Any camera could have captured this scene. The Fuji just happened to be the one in my bag that day. Would a $5,300 Summilux strapped to an $8,000 M10-P have looked more sharp and have better depth? Probably. Just as a high-end sensor or medium format film body would probably have less noise (grain). But this sub $2,000 setup did just fine by my standards and use.

The old adage of “the best camera is the one on you” is a common saying for a reason. If the camera encourages you to go out and shoot more, it’s the right camera. A camera on a shelf is a paperweight, but the one by your side is an active tool for your art.

Seek light, not gear

The photos that tend to speak to me are doing great things with light, shadow, and story. I used to be a pixel-peeper - chasing the perfect 100% crop (and um… why? I’ll never know). For years, chasing that so-called perfect crop caused me to chase gear. A lot of gear. If the sensor had any kind of noise or the lens wasn’t tack sharp and distortion-free, I didn’t want to use it - I wanted to find better, even if just marginally so. I fooled myself into thinking that the only good photos are technically perfect in every way (snobbery) - and only perfect expensive gear could make that happen. But how important is a great looking 100% crop? I’d never post one. I enjoy the photo as a whole.

I have to be honest with myself. I’m not a pro-shooter and I’d say that 99% of my photos end up either on this blog for a review or on Instagram where (to a point) iPhone photos can look as great as medium format digital photos. I’ve reevaluated who I am and where I show my work. That was one of the reasons for stepping away from a full-frame sensor to a crop. I do realize for pro photographers this is a different story, but as I’m not shooting to put food on the table I have the luxury of not needing client approval, large files, and whatnot.

No, what I shoot for now is a good story told in good light with the appropriate gear. I know I will continue to switch gear all the time. One week I’ll say I am shooting only film, the next I’ll pick up a cool new camera and say I’m only shooting digital from now on. I don’t know why I keep saying these things - it’s never true. All I really want to do is have fun while capturing a story. And that’s it.

If you made it all the way down here with all my blabbering, I am impressed. Sorry it was somewhat scatter-brained today. I knew what I wanted to say, but the eloquence of it just didn’t bubble up. What are your thoughts on the chasing of better gear? Have you been caught up in this as well?

Would love to hear your thoughts.