My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

You must have a really good camera!

“You must have a really good camera!”

Just as people almost invariably ask me “You getting any good pictures?” when they see me carrying my camera, when people see the photos I have taken, at some point they almost always make that comment about my camera. As if the camera was the only thing responsible for the photos!

I’m sure that many of you, who take better photos than I, hear that even more often!

I should say that this subject is a bit of a double-edged sword right for me right now, as I am blaming my camera and lens for not producing the quality of photos that I think I am capable of, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic, one which I have been beating to death, so I’ll try to avoid that in this post.

It sort of irks me, the idea that the quality of one’s camera is the only thing responsible for the quality of the photos a person produces.

That’s right, the person behind the camera actually produces the photo, the camera only records what the photographer tells it to record.

I wasn’t around back then, but I seriously doubt that any one said to Rembrandt “Wow, you must have a really good paintbrush!”. I can’t quite picture some one seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture Statue of David and saying to him, “Wow, you must have a really good hammer and chisel!”.

So, what is it about photography that most people equate the quality of a photo with the equipment used to take it, rather than the skill of the person operating the camera?

Most of that is due to the fact that nearly every one has a camera, and this is especially true now that just about every cell phone comes with a camera built-in. Everybody can, and most people do, take photographs. But, most people don’t invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into camera gear, so when they look at the photos they take compared to others, it’s easy for them to chalk up the difference in the quality of the photos to the differences in equipment.

We can all draw, every one has access to a pencil and paper, and many people doodle and sketch. In our early years of school, most of us used crayons and/or paint to try our hand at those arts. Most of us played with clay to try our hand at sculpting.

Therein lies much of the reason people view photography in the way that they do. Pencils, crayons, paints, clay, for the most part, they’re all equal, so when we see that our work isn’t as good as that done by others, we know that our talent (or lack of it) is the only difference, there’s no blaming the equipment.

But with photography, it’s easy for people to think to themselves, “If only I had the very best of equipment, I could take photos as good as anyone”.

One of the things that led me to post this was a recent post from Kerry at the Lightscapes Photography Blog. Another is the huge number of really bad photos being passed off as great examples of the art of photography in the blogosphere.

(Note! This does not apply to naturalists who post photos to illustrate their posts, I am talking about people who call themselves photographers)

There are probably few people who call themselves photographers who post as many really bad photos as I do, but I know that they are bad, I am under no illusions to the contrary. I post some of them because they are humorous in some way, or because they are captures of something that one does not see everyday, or to show budding photographers what not to do.

However, as bad as my bad photos are, I see a lot of just outright crap being posted in blogs by people who call themselves photographers. They may be a poor snapshot type photo of a landscape, and the “photographer” uses photo editing software to “juice up” the coloration to the point where the photo looks like nothing that you would see in the real world. Or, an everyday shot converted to black and white, and held up as a great example of the “photographer’s” artistic skills just because it’s a black and white photo.

I know that since photography began that photographers have edited photos in the darkroom, often to make up for the limitations of the cameras and lenses ability to capture what our eyes see. They have also tinted, toned, and done other tricks in the darkroom to make a more pleasing photograph, but they usually began with an excellent photo to begin with.

In a way, I see photography as a dying art, and that photo editing is replacing it. It’s as if this new crop of photographers could care less what they see in the viewfinder when they hit the shutter release, they want to get something, anything, to play with in Photoshop.

Well, to me, photography is an art, in a way, it is two different forms of art at the same time. One is the art of photojournalism, telling a story if you will. The other form is more along the lines of more “traditional” art, much like painting.

But, photography can also be a scientific tool, one example of that is freezing the motion of things in order for us to study that which happens too quickly for our eyes to follow.

And, to make things even more complicated, photography is a science at its root, the science of capturing light on media of some type for future reproduction or transmission. While modern cameras make conquering the technical aspects of photography much easier these days, it does require that the photographer have at least a working knowledge of the science of photography.

This spring, I noticed that almost all the photos of flowers I was taking at the time all looked very similar as far as the way I was composing the shots. It isn’t that the shots I was getting were bad shots, it was that they all looked the same, other than the species of flower. I even stopped taking photos of flowers for a while, to make myself start looking at them in a different way. It worked, or at least I think that it did. (You can click on any photo for a larger version)

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose

Morning glory

Morning glory

Daylily

Day lily

Morning glory

Morning glory

Thistle

Thistle

Thistle

Thistle

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose

Wild rose

Wild rose

OK, so most of those shots are still clichéd, but there are only so many ways to photograph a flower.

When I show them to friends, what I hear is “Wow, you must have a really good camera!”. I want to slap them up side of the head and say “No, photography is an art! It takes skills to get photos like that!”, but I don’t.

But it does!

I worked for every one of those photos, getting the light just the way I wanted for the way I wanted to compose the shot. I had to set my camera to record the shot the way I saw it in my mind’s eye. Those shots didn’t just happen! Not only did I work for each of those shots, I put a lot of thought into each one as well. I tried to match the quality of the lighting to the “personality” of the flower. From soft, subtle lighting for the morning glories, to somewhat harsh lighting for the prickly thistles. I paid attention to the backgrounds, and how they would affect the overall picture.

Take this shot for example.

Snow blasted teasel

Snow blasted teasel

I have been trying for two months to get the shot of a teasel seed head the way I want it to look in a photo, and that’s the best that I have done, so far. That’s still not exactly the shot I am looking for, but it’s as close as I have come of all the photos of them I have taken. I can’t even explain to you why that isn’t the shot I want, I just know that it’s not, and I’ll keep trying until I do get the shot I want.

Not only does artistic photography require skills, it requires a determination to produce art. That may require you to shoot so many photos of a subject that you get bored with it for a while, and have to take a break, then try again. Or, get down on your hands and knees and crawl through a wild rose-bush, getting stuck with thorns, to get into the exact spot you want to be in to be able to capture the shot that you want. Then, you try to hold still as you have the thorns of the rose sticking into you as you work the camera.

Of course art is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that, so I am not saying that those photos are great works of art, but they are works of art, even if only somewhat humble works of art. I’ll admit it, I am far from being a great artistic photographer, although I do enjoy dabbling in more artistic photography from time to time.

I have never taken any classes, but I have read books and attended exhibitions of fine photography, so I have some basis for my opinions.

It’s funny, several decades ago, two of my friends took photography courses in college, thinking that the photography class would be an easy way to fulfill the art requirements towards their degrees. Both of them talked me into shooting many of their homework assignments, yeah, we cheated. I don’t remember exactly how we did in those assignments, but I do believe it was quite well.

My last long-term girlfriend also took a photography class, and she would come home and say “Now I know what you’ve been trying to tell me, but you don’t explain it very well”. (Photography wasn’t the only thing we had difficulty in communicating on, which is why we’re no longer together.)

Over the years, I have gravitated towards nature photography almost exclusively. I believe that nature is beautiful enough just the way that it is, that it doesn’t need our “help” in any way. I also believe that the person taking any photograph should do everything possible at the moment that a photo is taken to get the very best photo that they can without resorting to editing to make up for a lack of skill on the part of the photographer.

Here’s a few of my attempts at artistic nature photography from this last summer.

Blue moon

Blue moon

Silhoutte

silhouette

Bee in a bonnet

Bee in a bonnet

Headlights

Headlights

Berry still life

Berry still life

Floating

Floating

Autumn

Autumn

Dried still life

Dried still life

Gull

Gull

Berry still life

Berry still life

Berry still life

Berry still life

Berry still life

Berry still life

Wispy

Wispy

Swallows

Swallows

drops

drops

Reflections

Reflections

So, how did I do?

I know that there are no award winners in the bunch, if for no other reason than that the subjects are too common for any judges, and that I have done no editing other than cropping a couple of them. No “straight up” photo will ever win a competition these days.

( I noticed that the photos I selected were all shot on bright sunny days, that may be because I have been socked in with fog the last three days?)

Anyway, I think that you can see that I like to play with light, shadow, color, color contrasts, textures, and composition when I attempt to get artsy, and isn’t that what photography is really all about? And, if that is what photography is all about, then, the quality of your equipment becomes less of an issue.

One of my basic goals when it comes to nature photography is to capture the beauty in nature that most people miss. Most people would walk right past any of the things that I captured in those photos without even pausing, but when they see the photos I take, I hear “You must have a really good camera”. No, I pay attention to what there is to be seen. You have to stop to not only smell the roses, but to really see the roses as well, something that I think more people should do.

I also wish that more people who like to think of themselves as photographers would pay more attention to the basics, and even if they are going to go crazy editing their work, at least start with a good photo in the first place.

I’ve been working on this post on and off for a while now, it really isn’t quite how I want it yet, but something happened last night to push me to publish it now. I picked out 40 of what I think are my best photos, and had them printed 8 X 10 to see  how they would come out. Last night I went to pick the prints up. As I was standing there inspecting the prints, I hear from behind me, “Wow, you must have a really good camera!”

ARGH!

That’s my rant for this week, thanks for stopping by!

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37 responses

  1. Northern Narratives

    I like the blue moon. I give you an award for that one 🙂

    February 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    • I love Blue Moon, especially with an orange slice, they go down so good after a day of kayaking. Oh wait, you meant the photo not the beer, thank you!

      February 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm

  2. Very well written post. I am at the very beginner stage learning to use my camera and trying to capture what I see. I enjoy the creative process and there is so much to learn. I really enjoy seeing your photos for inspiration.

    February 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    • Thank you very much Mary. I’m hoping that I didn’t offend any beginners, it does take time to learn photography. In fact, one of the things I like about it is that there is always more to learn.

      February 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

  3. plantsamazeme

    I laughed when I got to the end of the post when you were picking up the prints. People really say that to you? I guess I’m not around people that much to get those comments – or my photos are not that great.
    Actually I do have some good shots, here I’ll pat myself on the back. All along I just thought it was my camera getting the great shots! Ha ha!
    🙂

    February 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    • Yes, people say that to me quite often, but I show more people my photos than you probably do, like posting them on Facebook. If I had a dollar for every time that I had some one make a remark about my camera, I’d be well on my way to having a much better one than I currently have. 😉

      I think that you do take very good photos. And, you’re not calling yourself a photographer. On WordPress, I get many visits from people, and when I check out their blogs, I see that they are calling themselves photographers, and even trying to sell their work online. I wouldn’t give a plugged nickle for most of what I see.

      February 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm

  4. In spite of what you say about composition and light and in spite of the fact that you can take very good pictures these days with a mobile phone, I have found that having a good camera helps me a lot. In fact I often say the opposite to your remarks and when someone says, “That was a good shot,” I say, “it’s thanks to having a foolproof camera.

    Having said all that, even having a good camera doesn’t stop me taking bad pictures and I thought that your pictures today were very good. Congratulations.

    I wouldn’t get offended by people asking if you have a good camera, it only means that they think that you have produced good pictures.

    February 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    • I have to thank you for such a well thought out reply, there’s a lot of food for thought there. Also, thanks for the kind words about my photos.

      A good camera does make photography easier, and well I know that it doesn’t prevent some one from taking some really bad photos, you’ve seen some of mine. 😉

      What I was really talking about in the post were the people who call themselves photographers and are attempting to sell their work online through their blogs. I wouldn’t give a plugged nickle for many of the photos I see offered for sale, but maybe that’s just me. On the other hand, I would consider purchasing a print or two of yours of the Scottish countryside, if I could afford them.

      February 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      • They are very cheap if you really want one. (0p)

        February 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      • I may just take you up on that!

        February 3, 2013 at 11:49 pm

  5. Blue moon, whispy and drops… WOW ! I do agree, it is how we as photographer artists view the world and share our view with others that create our art. The camera equipment is a tool that we use like paints and canvas. It’s what we do with that canvas that counts.
    Indeed, if a desire for “tack” sharp (which I understand is a technical photog term) then quality of equipment does matter. It’s really all about the quality of light. I too tend to shoot in the middle of the day because of my life schedule. Not the most ideal. Many photogs here love dawn and dusk and make their lives around that time. Perhaps one day. 🙂
    BTW, even with the 500mm L and a 7D I get maybe 5 in focus shots per session. The rest is usually crap!

    February 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    • Thank you! Dawn and dusk are great for landscapes, but I prefer mid morning for critter shots

      February 4, 2013 at 12:33 am

  6. I really like Wispy. Blue Moon is an awesome photo too.

    I think that people who attribute the greatness of your photos to the equipment are simply a manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    They don’t mean harm. They just don’t know better.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    • Thank you, I know that they mean no harm, but it has bugged me lately.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:35 am

  7. I could go on and on about this post but I won’t. I will say that when you buy a camera there is one thing you’ll never get-the eye. The eye you’re either born with-or not-and no amount of money will ever change that. I’ve seen cell phone photos that just blew me away and pictures taken with $10,000 worth of equipment that didn’t. There is a big difference between a camera owner and a photographer.I love that moon shot!

    February 4, 2013 at 6:45 am

    • Thank you! I disagree somewhat, I do believe that a person can develop their eye for photography over time, if they are willing to take a critical look at the photos that they take. That takes work, and few people really put much effort into their photography or associated skills. But, you are correct that no amount of money will buy some one an eye.

      February 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

  8. Ah yes, the “you must have a great camera” fallacy; it’s both commonplace and annoying (even if it’s normally a function of ignorance rather than intentionally belittling).

    In fact, this theme ties in with a post I’m working on that I should have up in the next day or two. I’ll link back to this entry when I get it published.

    February 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

    • Thank you! For both the comment and the link.

      February 5, 2013 at 1:57 am

  9. I do enjoy your photos very much. I am not a photographer, and I do not have an expensive camera (the one I use cost me $69 US), but I love color, shape, contrasts, and I do post my photos on the web. I am sure this was not your intent, but your post has made me self-conscious about posting my photos. I enjoy not only taking the photos, but also playing with them with my photo editor. I think it’s all part of the creative process. If that process, or the results of that process, makes me (or anyone that happens to read my blog) smile, them I believe that I have had a successful day. I love your blog, and I absolutely love your photos, but, mannnn, life is a bit short to get so worked up about what was intended to be a complement. When someone says that “you must have a good camera“, they are saying that they like what they are looking at — so, well done! Now it’s time for me to get off my high-horse…sorry about MY rantings…

    February 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I knew that I should have started that post with a big disclaimer that only people who consider themselves to be professional or semi-pro photographers should read it. It was also intended mostly towards nature photographers.

      I’ve seen a few of the photos that you have posted and found them to be well done, and not over the top. I wish I could say the same thing about some of the other photos I’ve seen on other blogs.

      When people alter the colors of a bird, for example, until the bird is no longer recognizable, then I don’t consider that to be a nature photo. The same holds true for some of the landscape photos I’ve seen.

      I know that there are many schools of photography, and “mine” isn’t the only one, or even the best, that they all have their place. You may want to read this post from another blogger that I follow, http://galenleeds.com/2013/02/04/why-i-dont-use-photoshop-2/

      I know what people mean when they say that I must have a really good camera, but when they say it that way, it does bother me, no matter how long life is. It removes all the thought and work that I put into taking the photos that I do out of the equation, even though the person saying it doesn’t mean it that way.

      So I’m sorry if I offended you in any way, that was not my intent.

      February 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

      • No worries, I wasn’t offended…I was just worried that what I was doing on my blog was offending you ( and after I had typed my comment, that my comment may have offended you). I did not intend either….I enjoy your blog too much for that.

        February 5, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      • No problems, and thank you!

        February 6, 2013 at 1:39 am

  10. Pingback: All Art Forms Are Created Equal, But Some Are More Equal than Others « Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog

  11. Kerry’s link brought me here and I found your thoughtful post highly intriguing. I recently posted a series about a workshop I took. I was a bit puzzled over some reactions in comments. I muttered a bunch at my own lack of ability (not being familiar enough with all the bells and whistles of the modern DSLRs), but it seems some of my faithful readers somehow saw that as a reason to blame the instructor. I suppose I should be grateful to them for jumping to my defense, but that was clearly not my purpose.

    I do agree with the comments here about not taking it too hard when folks do the “you must have a great camera” bit. Think of it this way… it might inspire them to go out and try to shoot on their own. Whether they grasp the difference between good photography or “crap” is an open question. Some folks just don’t get it. But I’d say that’s their problem. Images, after all, like any art, are pretty subjective.

    Having said that, I think you’re spot on about photography taking a bum wrap in the sense that the camera is seen as the major factor in great images rather than the eye behind the camera. But I see that as a challenge. Mostly I hope to come up with results that please ME and in the process, it’s nice when I get a bit of recognition from others…. those folks who credit the camera are just …. dummies.

    February 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    • Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I typically don’t get upset when some one sees my photos and then comments on my camera, what got to me was the number of times that I have heard it recently. It also had to do with an earlier post that Kerry did about putting some effort into getting good photos. I should have put a huge disclaimer up in the beginning of that post about the photos I was talking about as being crappy. I did not mean the typical amateur photographer, but a certain class of so called professional photographers who put almost no effort into getting a good photo, and instead, trying to create good photos by editing.

      February 9, 2013 at 7:07 pm

  12. I don’t think that my pictures would be any better than the ones I take with my little sony camera. Why? I don’t have a feeling for composition.
    But I do know that quality equipment is important.
    For instance, my baked goods taste so much better since I use a quality mixer than they did when I used a hand mixer. My cooking tastes better since I have [finally] invested in the best cooking equipment and utensils that money can buy…

    February 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    • Thanks for the feedback! In a way, I agree that better equipment will produce better results, in the hands of the same person. However, the best camera in the world will not make a beginner a good photographer, just as the best kitchen aids will not turn some one who can’t boil water into a master chef.

      February 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

      • of course, that’s true.

        February 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

  13. You should have your own photo printer!

    February 20, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    • Thank you!

      February 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  14. I think your photos are great. I just want to have fun with mine. If people like my stuff that’s great, if not, oh well, maybe next time.

    February 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    • Thank you! I checked out your blog, and you do more than just have fun, you’re very good!

      February 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      • Thank You

        February 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm

  15. Hear, hear….not much more I can say. You have lain your argument well & I agree. Your cogent thoughts mirror mine. Don’t know as I could have said it any better. Except, I have more crap pictures.

    March 1, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    • Thanks! I have a question about your handle, does it pertain to a mudshark by any chance?

      March 2, 2013 at 1:52 am

  16. It’s amazing how many people call themselves photographers on blogs and post bad images; I agree. I just go on past them. Other blogs hold me for various reasons – sometimes it’s more about the artistic merit of the photos and sometimes it’s more about the content and the place. I can see how irritating it would be though if I heard that remark, because it’s essentially demeaning. I bet this post got a bit of that out of your system though! Take care and keep taking photographs!

    March 5, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    • Thank you! That post did allow me to blow off some steam, even though I don’t consider myself to be a great photographer, it still irks me when people say that, even though they really don’t take the time to think what it really means to the person who took the photos.

      March 6, 2013 at 2:38 am