People think that being a pro photographer is all about buying the right equipment. They couldn’t be more wrong
People think that being a photographer is all about buying the right equipment, says Lottie... and explains why they couldn’t be more wrong.
You must have a great camera,” people say. Or, “I’d love to be a photographer but I don’t have a good enough camera.” My internal response is normally: “Yeah. sure, I could be a musician if I had a guitar like Jimi Hendrix. And, come to think of it, Shakespeare must have had a really good pen.” The perception that photography is simply pressing a button has always been there, and the challenge to prove itself as more than a technical skill began with Daguerre. But now, the technical skills aren’t required either. Thanks to digital technology, it is definitely, 100 per cent true that anyone, including my three-year-old nephew, can make a photographic image with a decent exposure and enough detail to be used, at the very least, on a website, and probably also in a half-decent magazine. So where does that leave us, the working professionals? In the early 1950s, Bert Hardy considered the question of equipment and went out with a Box Brownie (arguably the equivalent of an iPhone then, the amateur’s accessible camera of choice) to demonstrate that an expensive camera was not necessary for taking great shots. Remember that one of the two girls on the railing in Blackpool? That was a Box Brownie shot. It’s pretty good, right? Being able to use equipment has only ever been a very small part of being a photographer. The camera, however basic or fancy it is, is just a tool. Put very simply, a camera can’t do anything by itself. I’ve been considering what it is that we actually do, we professional photographers, now that we’re not required to have much technical knowledge any more. (Most of us still do know a lot of the tricky stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there are plenty of working photographers out there who genuinely don’t know, and don’t care, about stops or how focal length works; they just take pictures.) We’re generally agreed that much of being a professional is about running a business successfully; that’s a clear differentiating factor from an amateur. That’s reasonable, and true, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. Aside from the making money side of it (given that someone taking bad pictures can make a good living, viz that godawful Australian guy, and vice-versa), do our picture- making skills still have a role? Do we actually make better photographs than non-professionals? I was discussing this with a friend recently, and he observed that “every profession naturally tends toward an elevation of the value of their craft”. And of course, he’s absolutely right. When challenged, we naturally tend to justify the quality of our output by saying how difficult it was to do, how much it cost to make, the technical challenges, but that doesn’t explain why it’s a better picture. It simply speaks to how difficult it was to make. Technical ability, time, money, effort and expensive cameras do not necessarily make great photography, and conversely, great photography does not need any of those things either. What it does need is the photographer. Going back to Bert Hardy, he probably enjoyed using a nice fat 10 x 8 as much as the Brownie, but it was his ability to take a photograph that made his work stand out, which was of course the point of the exercise. I suspect that the common confusion of ‘expensive camera = better photographs’ is mixed up for the general public, who often don’t, or can’t, see a difference between an average image and a great one. But a useful shorthand for them is ‘more pixels per inch = higher quality of image’. It seems that the use of better kit is a shortcut to saying with some confidence, ‘That’s a good shot’. And so it logically follows that, ‘If I want to be a good photographer, I must buy a good camera’. Any pro would say that that’s just not true. Most of us don’t really care about what our cameras are, simply that they are appropriate for the image we wish to make. We just choose the right tool for the job. Digital technology has definitely affected our industry, but it hasn’t made us redundant. To quote an old friend, ‘Not everyone with a spanner is a mechanic.’
Technical ability and pricey cameras alone do not make great photography.