When Materials Count

The most frequent refrain you hear when you're an aspiring photographer is "it's not the camera, it's the photographer."

It is perhaps the best piece of advice that anyone can give you, because as much as professional outfits harp on the fact that you need to have "professional gear" you can't really take a good picture unless you're a fair photographer (or just very lucky). This is evidenced by all those fancy cameras that go up for auction or for sale on Craigslist, bought originally by some hapless twit who felt that if they could just get the right camera then they could quit their job as a dentist and become the next Ansel Adams (or just take dirty picture of models).

This is my camera, there are many like it, but this one is mine.

My first camera, not the camera I borrowed from my parents when I was a little kid, but my first camera was some Canon Powershot. The model doesn't quite matter, it was long ago buried under the great heap of numbers and SKUs that Canon puts out every year in an attempt to cover the map with cameras for every need and every price point.

It was just something casual, we were visiting a lot of old houses for a history course and I felt that it might be nice to have. For a couple of years it served me well enough, through college parties and a few landscapes here and there around campus. It even lived a few months into my career as a journalist, where I hit the wall where your gear can start to make a difference.

The problem with that point and shoot wasn't megapixels (the photos were small and in a newspaper), it was the shutter delay. Taking up photography as a reporter thrust me into a lot of situations where it became frustrating to have to ask people to hold still for a little too long as the camera tried to figure out what it was supposed to do in a given situation. What was probably a little less than a second seemed like forever when you were pulling people aside at a meeting of the Wareham Historical Society or in a parade.

For me it felt like something out of the 1860s, where you'd have to hold a pose for the longest time while the exposure set. It was then that I decided to upgrade to a DSLR, one I could afford because that shutter-delay seemed unteneable.

Having the right piece of equipment isn't imperative, but it can make those dificult shots a lot easier and it can open up your options for photography. Moving from a point and shoot to a DSLR also meant that I could change out my lenses and get either really wide or pull in things from much further away than I could before. Each time I've bought a new piece of equipment, it's generally been spurred on first by the fact that while shooting I was able to visualize something that I couldn't quite achieve (and second by my gadget geek side).

So while it might not be the gear that makes beautiful photos, but sometimes the gear makes new photos possible (and gives you an excuse to revisit some old favorites). Still, with patience and understanding you can take brilliant photos with even the cheapest of cameras just understand where the limits are and know your camera.