It is not all about gear

January 12, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

It is not all about gear

     In the film days a cheap camera and a very expensive camera produced the same quality image because the image quality was determined by the film in use and not the camera.  This is no longer true in the digital world because the camera's sensor is the "film" and it does contribute to image quality.  So many mistakenly think that if only they get a better camera they will automatically also be a better photographer.  Although your photographic gear is important it will not make you a better photographer.

     I was shooting in Yosemite once when two photographers approached me with very expensive gear (gear that I only wished for) to ask me about what my graduated neutral density filter was.  They had fancy gear but they had no idea of even the basics of photography. When they compared their shots to mine on the back screen they could not believe that their "cameras" did not produce such nice images.

     Actually there are only two pieces of gear guaranteed to make you a better landscape photographer (or to get you better shots); and I stand by that.  Firstly, buy yourself the best tripod and tripod head you can afford.  Tripods are a hassle to carry and use, but if you want better images a good tripod is your friend.  When we shoot just before and just after sunset and sunrise we are shooting in low light. You are also going to want to use a small F.Stop to get everything in focus.  When you combine low light with a small F.Stop you are left with long shutter speeds.  These shots can only be shot sharply using a tripod.  Furthermore, a tripod slows you down. It helps you to consider your composition.  It helps you to scan the edges around your photograph for bright objects, cut off objects, and so forth; something that does not work very well when the camera is handheld.

     I started with a little piece of an excuse for a tripod.  Before long I realized I needed a sturdier one, so I bought another one; still not the one I should have bought because that was all I could afford.  Before long I realized that the head sagged after I tightened it as tight as it would go.  So this would not work for me and I had to buy a better one.  My next tripod was wonderful; or so I thought.  I was shooting with long time friend and veteran pro-photographer Don Smith (donsmithphotography.com) in Colob Canyon in Zion National Park when the wind swept my tripod over.  As the tripod leg flew buy my head I grabbed it in desperation in an attempt to prevent my camera and lens from falling.  The next thing I knew I was standing with just a piece of the tripod leg in my hand which had snapped right in two. Needless to say over $4,000.00 worth of camera and lens smashed to the ground.  So now I had to buy yet another tripod. If only I had saved up and put all the money I had spend on tripods together and bought the one I should have bought to begin with I could have saved all the money I wasted on the junk tripods; while still paying for the right one in the end.

     The second piece of gear guaranteed to get you better landscape shots is an alarm clock, yes, no kidding.  You cannot get great shots if you are dreaming about them in bed.  You have to be out there at the right time and for landscape shooters that means before sunrise. Many people think that landscape pro-photographers get magical shots every time they touch their cameras.  This is not true, they get great shots because they plan well AND because they are out there all the time.  I have been to certain places ten to twenty times before the magic (great light, colored clouds, etc.) showed up.  You have to be there to shoot it when the magic is there and it does not happen every time you are out there.  Use the clock and get up early, be out there regularly.

     This shot was obviously taken at night. The scene was exposed for 17 minutes while I "painted" the arched rock with a flashlight to get the warm light.  Getting this shot without a tripod is nearly impossible.  In conclusion, good gear is important but gear by itself is not going to transform you into a pro-photographer.  Rather focus on getting a good tripod and using your alarm clock to get you up and out there and then shoot, shoot, shoot.


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