Tools of the Trade

Every so often the question arises on the Message Boards that asks about the necessity to invest in a high end SLR as opposed to submitting work product from one of the better point and shoot, or fixed lens cameras on the market today. Often a vocal and obviously inspired group of people make the argument that the equipment is not important and that any good photographer, worth his or her salt, can make good images with ANY equipment. Others, particularly those who have invested in cameras with sticker prices that would shock Donald Trump (well maybe not him. . but you get the idea) suggest that equipment is critical in producing good quality images suitable for stock or any other business use.

Much as I would like to, just for once, find a question that could be answered as an absolute value, yes or no, black or white, in this case the operant truth lies somewhere in between.

But if I had to pick a side (say someone threatened to torture my friends if I couldnt) then I would say that good equipment is very important. Here is why.

Take two professionals of any sort, perhaps two carpenters, or two baseball or soccer players. Given the premise that both persons are equally talented, and inspired in their given vocation, lets also assume that both of them are NOT equally endowed with similarly fashioned tools of the trade. Say for example that one of the carpenters is using an old, but adequate, hammer and bag of nails to ply his trade with, as well as a tape measure, and a chalk line and plumb bob. His counterpart on the other hand is using a pneumatic nail gun, a laser level, and digital tape. At the end of the day, both will ultimately produce a fine product. But the one with the better tools. . better being defined as those that provide the ability to move faster and more efficiently with more options, will have the edge.

Similarly a baseball player who takes the field with his fathers 1930 Rawlings four fingered glove and slick bottomed tennis shoes is certainly on the short end of the advantage stick when it comes to fielding line drives and little bloopers just out of reach of his unpadded and decidedly short-fingered glove or moving his body laterally on wet grass with shoes that have no cleats.

The above metaphors are meant to characterize quality equipment, in this case a camera, as tools of the trade. As such better tools translate, all other things being equal, to advantage in ANY business.

Can a great photographer take a great photo with a less than stellar camera. Yes. Can a crappy photographer take a really poor photo despite having professional level, and multi-featured camera equipment. Yes. Will two photographers of the same level of expertise and vision produce equally viable images on a regular basis given one is shooting a high end digital SLR and the other a small frame, point and shoot or pro-sumer level fixed lens camera. The answer to that is sometimes. but in the long run the one with the more robust options is more able to express his or her vision, overcome difficult lighting issues, avoid the plague of noise and artifacting, and provide images of a higher resolution and size than the other. . on a consistent basis.

People often talk about the time some underdog race horse beat out the thoroughbred. Its always amazing to hear those sorts of stories too. But you have to keep in mind that the reason its so amazing isn't because its an operant truth that underdogs always win, but that its so surprising when they actually do. :)

So in the end your tools of the trade define what is commonly known as the 'competitive edge'. Having that edge doesn't make you a snob, or a equipment junkie in all cases, but perhaps defines you as someone who wants to simply take his or her photography to that next level.

For those of you with little, undersized cameras. Don't fret. And don't take your angst out on those who have made that leap. Fact is, having to work as hard as you sometimes do to make your images come up to the exposure, noise and artifacting standards expected for stock imagery, does in fact make you a better photographer. By the time you finally upgrade to something more akin to a professional level camera you'll be that much better than those who never had to struggle.

Photo credits: Lightart.

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June 20, 2008


Michael Reichmann of Luminous landscape has a discussion on this topic - taking the cameras do matter line... It is important to keep in mind that saying the camera makes a difference does not imply the opposite - the photographer does too! Dreamstime is a great place to look around to prove that the camera alone doesn't make a great image!

Your Camera Does Matter

June 20, 2008


Great portfolio BTW. I have not looked at your stuff in awhile. This Napa wine cave shot is awesome. Great vision!
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June 20, 2008


Great post. I have taken some winner images with my old Olympus C5050 at 5 MP (which I still own). On the the other hand, an acquaintance of mine hired a wedding photog who had 2 of the big Canons, and got a garbage wedding album.
I don't berate anyone who has expensive equipment. I have some of my own. The trick is in knowing how to use it to its best capabilities and create a unique vision. Cranking out 1500 bad jpegs at high speed on a wedding shoot just because you can is just such a waste.
Stop worrying about the gear and create.

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