Last week’s post was fun to write. Thinking back on how I got my start really got me thinking about how far I’ve come in just a few short years. It also rekindled the sense of wonder and curiosity that kept me picking up the camera in my early days of shooting. Though my skills have grown and developed slowly over the past 10 years, I have learned some photography lessons very quickly thanks to great tricks and tips from other photographers. In today’s post I want to highlight two lessons that I have learned along the way that I wish I had nailed down early in the process.
Equipment is overrated
I am a recovering gear head. I thought I needed the newest, coolest, shiniest equipment. I would get lost in online articles and blog posts about photography knick-knacks. I honestly used to spend more time reading reviews on photography equipment than I did actually taking pictures in the field. It’s embarrassing to admit but it’s true. I have watched many growing photographers get caught up in this game. I’m going to save you a ton of time and money…get ready. Stop the nonsense. Is a Nikon D4s or a Canon 1DX going to help you take “better” pictures more consistently and with less effort? I’m not going to over sensationalize this…yes they will. But they cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. If you aren’t full time and clearing at least $50,000 per year, I can’t see a way to justify that kind of equipment…but many do.
I would advise you to find the least expensive, most beat up, used stuff you can find. Okay, I did over sensationalize that part. The point is that you shouldn’t be afraid of buying well used equipment. The only thing that matters is if you can deliver a product to a satisfied customer. In my entire career I have only ever had 2 brides ask about my gear; and one of them was a photographer. You know why? They don’t give a rip. Show me the finished product; it’s all that matters. If you ever do get asked, simply respond with, “We use professional grade equipment and we have reliable backups if anything fails.”
Honestly, the digital camera era has become an assault on the consumer minded 21st century buyer. They’ve got us by our wallets and they are relentless…don’t fall for it. The majority of Pros in the film era used the Nikon f4 or equivalent Canon for decades before changing camera bodies. You heard me correctly, I said decades. The rest is smoke and mirrors; keep shooting with what you’ve got…it’s more than adequate…trust me.
Light is Everything
I feel really stupid writing this one because it seems so obvious. The problem is that I didn’t grasp the full importance of this for a long time. I’ve also painfully watched fellow photographers fail time and time again with this basic concept. You can literally make any picture better with better lighting. A lot better. If you absolutely need to spend money on equipment, do yourself a favor and go buy some lights. Lights you can take outside and shoot in the middle of the day, lights you can put on top of your camera, lights you can take in the rain, lights you can use inside the studio, lights you can put all over the place. Spend a ton of time and energy learning how to use them perfectly. The last thing you need is to be at a wedding and miss the entire first dance sequence because you couldn’t figure out how to use your light properly.
Learn about the sun; know when it sets and when it rises. Know to the minute where it will be in the sky. Practice shooting in the setting and rising sun. Light is everything. If you don’t understand natural and artificial light to the best of your ability, you will fail to be the best photographer you can be. I would go even further and say that you will fail as a photographer, period. When broken down, the Photo – Ography means “The study of light.” So if you are claiming to be a photographer (the studier of light) you better be studying. I wasted so much time not learning about light and fiddling with settings instead.
Both of these points are so epically important that I am sure they will come back up in other posts. The key photography lessons to be pulled from this whole post are to get your head out of the gear and into the light. The sooner you can stop being a studier of gear and begin being a studier of light, the sooner you will be tack sharp and leave everyone else in the bokeh. Yea, that was a photography joke…it will likely happen again.