I used to be a Rebel (A Confession)
Pretty catchy title, huh? But here is my confession, that mainly goes out to the photographers. This post comes to you in 2 parts. The first is a little history on how I became a photographer, and the second is more about philosophy, discussing the belief, “he with the most gear wins.”
Part 1: I used to be a Rebel
What the heck am I talking about? What I mean is that all of my work up to this point, was shot on the same camera I learned with back in school, a Canon Rebel Xsi.
I began college studying architecture. After that abusive relationship ended, a friend convinced me to do graphic design. I signed up for the intro course, and they told us we needed access to a DSLR camera. They weren’t going to give us one, and the department didn’t have any to use. If I wanted to do any of the assignments, I would have had to share the schools 4 cameras or whatever pitiful amount they had with the other 40,000 students on campus. (Thanks a lot, UW.) It just so happened that I didn’t have any textbook requirements that quarter, so that meant I had a $500 budget for a camera. I set out to find the best “textbook” I could buy with $500. Turns out, you don’t have any choices at that price point. Who knew?
So I went to Costco with a $100 off coupon (whoo! $600 now) and told them to sell me on a camera. I didn’t know anything about cameras, much less how to use one. I’d never owned a camera besides my parents point and shoot that I took whenever I traveled out of country in High School. So the absolute “best” I could get was a bottom of the line (now discontinued) Canon Rebel.
But let me tell you. It didn’t feel bottom of the line. I remember my mom (Thanks Mom!) dropping me off from Costco on the second day of class with a huge Costco box that had all my cool stuff in it. When I showed up to class, all of my disgruntled classmates asked what the box was for, and I told them it was my new camera, beaming from ear to ear. I felt like a king with the latest and greatest. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I dove head first into learning everything I could about every menu item and function on this thing, so I could really ‘wow’ my professors. Well, I did. And that’s when I thought, “hey, maybe there’s something to this photography thing.”
I got this little Rebel, 2 kits lenses to cover my zoom range, and a carrying bag all for 600 bucks. What a deal! As I learned, as I grew, I added things to my bag of tricks. I didn’t understand Depth of Field or aperture control all that well, but the internet said I needed a 50mm 1.8, and wow did I learn fast. I never took that lens off. It was my favorite for everything. I bought those large clunky work lights from the hardware store to work my subjects. I controlled my flash with a pop-up diffuser. I got white balance cards to control my color. I had everything in the world. But that was only because my ability exceeded my vision.
As I learned what you could really do with off camera flash (which is so vital to any shooter) I knew I needed one, so I got a cheap (although it didn’t feel cheap paying for it) speedlite and a TTL cable. Once I learned what I could do with light, my vision exploded.
I was shooting all the time. I was staying out until 1am to shoot, and I was getting up at 4am to shoot sunrises. I was shooting friends and stumps and junk all day, and I went to construction sights, and I was shooting everything because the possibilities were endless. Fast forward a year later, I knew everything about every piece of gear I owned. I knew every button, menu setting, and how to create the visions in my head. But my visions had just kept growing. I saw things professionals were doing and saw what was possible, and researched everything to get the looks I liked. But I just couldn’t do it with what I had.
Part 2: Let your vision exceed your ability.
My point is, the gear I had was great to learn on, and it was the greatest textbook ever. But I don’t believe in buying things you don’t need. You can do so many things with a basic camera. You see it all the time in the “Uncle Bob’s”, the friend with the nice camera. Just because you have a nice camera doesn’t mean you have vision. (I used to get that all the time, and still do. “You have such a nice camera.” No, it really isn’t. It’s just a camera, not a nice one. Please stop telling me that.) The camera doesn’t have vision, the photographer does.
Most interestingly enough, I notice who it is that preaches this. Usually, the people who are carving it in a stone tablet (this would be #11, for those of you counting) really don’t have an issue with getting the gear for themselves or they already own it.
I will agree with one unequivocal and indisputable truth: no amount of gear can be a substitute for raw talent and vision. Just because you have the newest camera with the sharpest lens will not give you a guarantee that all of your shots will be memorable or provocative or even marginally good. But, I can guarantee that it will help.
Let’s look say you’re looking at a beautiful sunset. The grass and the clouds line up perfectly and you see a dreamy scene that is almost surreal. You want to share it with your friends, but don’t have a camera. Telling them about it just isn’t good enough so you get a point and shoot. You hold it awkwardly at arms length and ‘click’. That’s how you make a picture right?
Not what you envisioned? Probably not.
So you buy a DSLR with a kit lens. Because of the crop sensor and lens restrictions, you can’t get as wide as you wanted. You get low and from a certain vantage point can hide the city behind it. (That’s how photographers do it right? Every photo has to be from them sitting on the ground!) What you end up with is a noisy picture that still isn’t what you want.
Fine. You bust out the wallet, get a full frame camera, super expensive 1.4 super wide lens, and ‘bam’. Picture.
But notice the constant theme throughout this example. The PERSON had a vision of how the image should be crafted. Technically, you could have achieved a photo of the scene with any functional camera. No argument here. But, to be fair, having the optimal gear will contribute to you realizing your particular vision much easier. That’s the reason that Canon has three different types of 50mm prime lenses ranging from $100 to $1500. It’s why there is ‘L’ series and Tilt Shift glass. It’s also why there are $30,000 medium format digital-back cameras. Sometimes, you simply cannot achieve your vision in a shot with ‘just anything’.
And it’s not a criticism of the photographer at all. A lot of this gear is very, very expensive and can be difficult to justify as an expense. What I take offense with is when photographers who have all the gear in the world tell you that it really isn’t necessary. Hypocritical much? There is really only one truth about photography.
To be a great photographer, you must have vision. To realize that vision, you must have gear.
As you learn your gear, you eventually start to exceed its capabilities, and butt heads with its limitations. You will hit a point where your vision can no longer be realized with the gear that you have. This is when you decide whether it is worthwhile to invest in better gear. And the point of all this? Oh yeah. I got a new camera. To be more specific. It’s the 5D Mark iii. And that makes me one happy photographer.
You may now resume telling me “what a nice camera I have”, only this time it’s true. =)
P.S. Wondering what the featured image has to do with this? Star Wars Rebel propaganda poster! Designed and screen-printed by yours truly, and I have a limited edition run of prints for sale for anyone who’s interested.