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This article is copied from my other blog (with edits). As a student in a photography program, I find it to be relevant to what we are involved in.
Purchasing a Digital SLR camera is an epic milestone for many people. Quickly after purchasing a Digital SLR there is the sudden realization that potentially more equipment purchases loom further on the horizon if the photographer wants to achieve more stylized results. It’s a dreadful pitfall that makes one ask if he or she needs that much more equipment to be a better photographer.
Despite the cliche saying of “It’s not the camera (gear) that matters, it’s the photographer (brains/creativity)” to me the the reality is “Its the photographer, but the camera sure does help“.
A camera like any other tool is driven by the capable hands that hold and use it. There is absolutely no doubt how much the photographer’s inner creativity and technique drives the final outcome of their camera. Yet when any skilled craftsman/artist picks up a tool, they can visualize their results with that tool. An artist does not pick up a paintbrush and immediately see a marble sculpture, nor does a construction worker pick up a hammer and see plywood cut into perfect pieces. There is a tool specifically for the job its designed.
In photography those “Tools” show up immediately in three things; Camera Bodies, strobes and lighting, and lens selection.
Camera bodies are always updating, but in reality they tend to be just one flat surface that gathers a bunch of light, with a bunch of doohickey buttons on it that creates some magical electricity whirlpool that captures your photos. Some cameras are faster, some cameras have bigger surfaces…but all cameras do the exact same thing, Capture light. So the saying “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” is pretty much a dead ringer when it comes to Cameras.
Than there are lights in the form of studio strobes, speedlights, or just bulbs in general. They all simply just put out light. Some put out more light, some put out less light. The whole concept of lighting devices is to put out light…so not much variable there.
So really the real variable is lenses. This is why most people buy an SLR camera anyways, for the ability to change lenses when they need too.
Lenses have so many different purposes. They offer otherworldly point of views, and also the ability to focus to the most minute of levels. They allow the camera to pretty much see in the dark. They can alter the perspective by changing the wavelength of light so that it hits the sensor of the camera differently at the flick of the wrist. There is plenty of variable in lenses, so much that a photographer should be aware of how a lens can influence their end photographic results for the better. Do you know why a prime is touted?, what a 1:1 macro means, and why a 200mm is better at portraits than a 18mm traditionally? Those are but a few questions that are related to lenses and why they are so important to what we do.
So to go back to the topic question. “How much photography equipment do you need to be a great photographer?”. The answer is a simple “As much as you believe you need”. Of course with the addition of “As much as you believe you need, because you know what the hell it does”
One doesn’t have to own the lens, but just be aware of what the lens does. Renting lenses online now is highly popular, and I highly suggest it to anyone who is interested in trying something new. I’ve met many talented photographers, but the most talented photographers I have met knew exactly what a lens did. They didn’t need it all the time, and many times they have given up on certain lenses for their cliche or boring results, but they knew from first hand experience what a lens did. Some photographers popularly attribute a camera system to a certain look, but in reality the lens was what dictated that result. The “Leica look” is something that many photographers aim for, and sometimes they attribute it to the camera rather than the lens system. Many experience photographers know that the look is really from the optics itself.
Light is a major factor in how a photography looks, and the above short piece about lighting equipment isn’t to downplay the importance of light, it’s actually extremely important and the main factor of photography. This post concentrates on the lens though, one day I’ll talk about lighting.
In conclusion, personally I have had the pleasure of meeting amazing photographers who own only 2 lenses, and I have also met outstanding photographers who own 10. In all circumstances those photographers who were consistently good knew technically how their lenses worked for them.