• Joe Stone

The Gear Doesn't Make the Photographer. Here's When it Matters.

Sunrise photo captured with cell phone.
Taken with a Samsung Galaxy S6 near Sultan, WA (2015)

If you are thinking about getting into photography or are new at it, here are some things to consider before dumping buckets of cash.

As someone who is fairly new to this field, I've often thought my camera or gear was holding me back. I'm always on B&H Photo or Amazon looking all starry-eyed at new gear and watching comparison reviews on YouTube.

Having professional equipment will make good photos better BUT, you can create a decent images with a cell phone too (see photo above for luckily well-composed cell phone shot from 4 years ago). In (most) cases you may not be able to blow them up to four foot by eight foot canvas, nor should you.

The point of all of this is, it's not the gear. It's the person holding the camera. It's not the equipment that makes the photographer. It's the skills and abilities to create a compelling, well composed, and well thought out image that make a photographer a great photographer.

Let's talk about some steps to improve your work and when the equipment matters.


What to invest in first.

1. Skills, skills, skills. First and foremost - SKILLS. Take classes, attend workshops, or go be a second shooter for another photographer. These are great because they allow you to learn techniques from more experienced people and work with equipment outside of your current skillset or budget. Plus you get to network with other photographers, models, or Hair/Makeup Artists and more. Either way, The camera means little when you don't know how to use it; anyone can press a shutter switch.

But what about YouTube you say? Well, YouTube is a great option for some things like tips and inspiration, but working with someone is infinitely better. I can't stress that enough. You don't get critiqued by YouTube videos.

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

On top of learning basic skills - KnOw YoUr OwN EqUiPmEnt. I can't begin to say how important this is. While I'm feeling pretty comfortable with the basics, I'm still learning functions on the entry level DSLR Canon T6i I bought just over a year ago. Don't judge me. I'm also still trying to get comfortable with using a Speedlight. These are all reasons why I ultimately decided not to upgrade my camera, and work on my knowledge first.

Before I forget - PRACTICE. Not just smashing the shutter button but doing some self critique. Make a plan, shoot it, and then critique your own work. Look at your photos with a critical eye. What was good? What could have been better and how would you make it better in the future? I'd even recommend sharing you work with more experienced photographers and ask for their feedback.

Remember, a skilled photographer can capture good, compelling images on any device. It's their vast knowledge and experience that makes them good.

2. Equipment. Lights, Lenses, Filters, Reflectors, etc. There is so much out there that can make it easier to create or capture the images that you want. Not only is there a lot out there, but once you get it, circle back around to number one on this list. Know your equipment and how/when to use it.

Close up of camera lens
Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

3. Camera. This is last. Are your photos suffering because you aren't using that Sony a7RIII or Canon EOS 5D Mark IV? Could you benefit from a larger sensor for low-light photography or do you need to be able to create larger prints for clients or shows? When you rely on your images for income, this becomes pretty important at point. As much as I would love to get my hands on either one of those cameras, I have some work to do before I get there. But, if I ever find myself getting a gig where I might need something like that, places like LensRentals.com are great for loaners.

Person holding a camera
Photo by William Bayreuther on Unsplash


Seriously though, think long and hard about what is holding you back from growing in photography. What is it that is keeping your art from getting better? Is it knowledge of basics? Knowing and understanding your equipment? The equipment itself?

It's always easiest to point the finger at the equipment and not ourselves. I know I've been plenty guilty of that. In fact, I've failed at a few things and would blame the equipment or limitations of "post processing" when in fact, a better photo to start would make things easier.

When you feel like you have the basics well in hand and are comfortable with the equipment, then it's time to start upgrading. This hobby (or profession) can be a big money pit so take your time.

Quick Tip: Use the 'view histogram' function on your camera to make sure your images are exposed properly. That way you can tell if if it's blown out (over-exposed) or clipped (blacks are underexposed).

Got any other tips, suggestions, or thoughts about this article? Tell it like it is in the comments below!