Does Your Camera Define Who You Are as a Photographer?


Gear is something we hold close to our hearts as photographers. There's that one favorite camera sitting on our desks or shelves that has seen action and countless rolls of films. Sure, it may have dings and scratches but that's the beauty of a well-used camera—patina that comes with serious use. You just can't get those marks by buying new gear every chance you get.

Credits: ryuuuzzz

In this day and age when we get more highly advanced photo gear, we can just easily buy things that we think can “help” us with our photography. Is that really the case? Ted Forbes of The Art of Photography touches this topic with a video and we can't help but think that maybe, it's not all about the gear we have. Sure, there are advantages to using specially made cameras and lenses for specific tasks but do we always have to rely on our equipment in order to make “great images?”

The Question

Ted makes it clear in his video that it's just a discussion and is in no way meant to bash anyone who prefers to use the best or latest gear they can afford. It's actually more of a reflection on who we are as photographers and how gear plays its part in our own personal creative processes. He starts with an interesting quote he heard that goes “Every famous photograph ever made was done with equipment that wasn't as good as what you have right now.” Makes you think, right? Well, you're not the only one with questions and thoughts running in your head.

Credits: kwiat7, oigrgio, mloscik & shinsyunkenbutoku

Let that sit for a minute, let it brew in your mind, and then ask yourself this — Does my photographic gear define me or my photographs? Well, it shouldn't because you are what makes the photo at the end of the day, and not just your camera or lens by itself. It's you who takes visual cues from your subject, decides when to hit the shutter, and adjusts for lighting conditions and everything else in between. You are the photographer who makes the images.

It's nice to have great gear that gets the job done but relying on it too much may harm your creative process and the way you make images. Ted makes his point by naming various photography masters like Ansel Adams, and Henri Cartier-Bresson in his video. They shot with less techy equipment than what we have now and still managed to get great results. Of course, they were real masters of what they did back in the day but they preferred to use gear that they trained with. They knew that it wasn't all about the camera but rather was more about the photographer who uses it.

"Image quality alone does not make a great image."

Credits: tanyaclarke, urbantristesse, lorrainehealy & kleeblatt

Take film cameras, for instance, maybe they're a little dinged up. Maybe they're a little worn out but we still love shooting with them. Why? Some would say nostalgia, some would say they like the feel of it, some just prefer using film cameras. We just can't shake the fact that a lot of us love the idea of making images with tools that we can learn with. You can shoot with a simple pinhole camera and still love the images it produces. Those soft lines, moody atmospheres, blurry coincidences — all of its imperfections.

Credits: waggrad00, chiruphotography, mlester & achilles1979

Cameras are tools to get the job done. The less you have to work with, the more you engage in the process of creating the image itself. Ted mentions the Holga in his video and how he loves the way it challenges you as a photographer — it makes you think about your vision, what you want to communicate with your images, and what you have to say. When you think of it, that actually makes a lot of sense. Our images aren't judged by the camera or lens we used but rather the results we got with them.

So how about you — what do you have to say with your images? Does your gear define who you are as a photographer? Make yourself be heard in the comment section below.

written by cheeo on 2018-05-21 #culture #gear #editorial #film-photography


  1. mrgamera
    mrgamera ·

    I agree at all. And i add that using an old camera also make a connection with past, and that makes us more attuned with the process of taking pictures. I remember when my oldest lens literally crumbled years ago, i took these pieces of metal and glass and asked to the technician to put them together again. He had that inquisitive look, in the end it wasn't a good lens, so i told him: "please do it, cause i love this lens".

  2. trad69
    trad69 ·

    I agree cameras are just tools and a good image can be taken with just about any camera. I use everything from subminiature to 5x4, but prefer old film cameras as they don't run out of battery all the time and have more intuitive controls. I've had things exhibited taken with medium format, 35mm, compacts, home made pinholes (and even digital - don't worry, not here..). Knowing I have a certain camera, lens or film combination in my bag probably makes me visualise things differently I suppose, but if I had to choose one camera it would probably be my Minolta Autocord TLR. I find using film makes me think more about each image, especially if I only have 12 shots on a roll of 120. It also makes me do more with the images as well, instead of them sitting unseen on the hard drive.

  3. cheeo
    cheeo ·

    Thanks for sharing @mrgamera and @trad69!!! :)

  4. sampsom1
    sampsom1 ·

    I think in an odd way I've defined the gear and in return, it defines my photos. It starts with how you come to form a relationship with that camera or lens. Every photo I have taken is unique to the camera, because of how I feel with the camera. I could take a photo of the same thing with two different cameras, and come away with different images. My OM-1 will always be defined by strength, perseverance and recovery, and I see that in the photos I take. Whereas my OM-10 would be more about peacefulness and solitude I have grown to enjoy. Depending on the day and my mood I'll pick up a certain camera and lens, and go take photos which will reflect those feelings. So it's how I've defined my gear, and that defines the photos I take.

  5. mlester
    mlester ·

    I don't think that the camera that the photographer uses defines who she or he IS as a photographer. Cameras are mere black boxes with a lens (or a pinhole) and a sensor (film or CCD). All the rest is secondary; whether it can properly meter light, show the exact scene through the viewfinder or if it has a range of exposures and apertures, are just details. As mentioned earlier, the great 'masters' had no fancy equipment. Actually, it is not a surprise that limiting the capabilities of an instrument helps in participating the liberation of creativity: if you were asked to write a short story, a white page would always be scarier than one containing an short initial sentence.
    However, I believe that the camera can define the relationship with the depicted subject. Can the picture be taken quickly, recording the emotion of a smile that won't ever be repeated? Or, did the photographer have to set up the gear for minutes before selecting the correct composition and exposure? Is the sensor size/focal length large enough that details can be seen on the photograph, and not by naked eye on the scene? Is the camera small enough to be as unnoticed as a spy, or is it massive and every passersby looks and frowns upon the photographer? Is the film/sensor used a rather faithful reproduction of the color tones of the scene, or does it emphasize on textures (black and white) or even on an invisible portion of the spectrum (Kodak Aerochrome for example)?
    As a user, the film format does change the frequency of shots, since film is costly. While a digital camera will shoot hundreds of pictures a day, a large-format photographer will only have a few shots available, which is likely to have an impact on the selectiveness of the operator. Having said that, photographers as far as I can tell (please prove me wrong), seem to focus on one type of gear throughout their career. Small rangefinders for Henri Cartier-Bresson, 8"10" large format for Christopher Burkett, Polaroids for Warhol and Hockney... They probably could have done it with any gear, but only the one camera they have initially chosen transcends their work.

  6. mlester
    mlester ·

    Oh, and thanks for the feature @cheeo !!

  7. chiruphotography
    chiruphotography ·

    nice article. i specially like the line " Those soft lines, moody atmospheres, blurry coincidences — all of its imperfections.". that is the reason i am alive.... :)
    thanks a lot for the feature.. :)

  8. kii_87
    kii_87 ·

    Beautiful article!

  9. cheeo
    cheeo ·

    @mlester thank you for the beautiful photo as well! Sorry for the super late response! I just crawled out from under a rock :D

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