And What If The Gear Was Also What Makes… You a Better Photographer?

Of course, it’s the photographer who takes/makes the photograph. I’ve always said that but in the end, isn’t it a little demagogic. I know I’m not going to make a lot of friends saying this but, I do not completely agree when I hear that the equipment is not the photographer. Of course it is the photographer … at least partially! There are too many ingredients that makes that a photo will touch other people for us to exclude THIS reason. An 85mm f/1.4 is quite superior to a 28-70mm f3.5/5.6. And what if behind this “truth”, were hiding other feelings…

Photography is intimately linked to camera equipment. For a singer for instance, there is really no artifice. But a picture, it is different …

Talent is obviously above the material contingencies but with very good material it is better expressed if not simply expressed themselves. Cartier-Bresson worked with Leica, Vincent Munier, with the latest Nikkor telephoto lenses and Ussain Bolt does not beat his records with my sneakers! (Read our article about the favorite lenses of famous photographers)

Talent is obviously above the material contingencies but with very good material it is even better expressed!

So we all agree that these talented characters would still be very talented with low-end gear. But why be masochistic and work with cheap equipment just because we have talent? And why, if you have no talent – in one’s opinion – shouldn’t we use a wonderful lens? There, I think we will all agree.

What can this old saying be hiding in the back of our heads?


I am aware that I therefore address a very tricky topic because often visceral. There are so many different ways to take photographs! With very simple equipment or very complex, very expensive or just very affordable, like your smartphone. Very pragmatic or artful, with or without talent …

So what about those who want this specific lens and, conversely, those who say that the material does not make you a better photographer. Here is what I think and here is my feeling about this:

We all dream of leaving a footprint in the history of photography, or get more modestly emotions to some people with whom we share our photos. We are social beings and the need for recognition is part of our Maslow pyramid.
Unless this is just to spend quality time in nature looking for a plant, an atmosphere, an animal, with material that we like or that makes us dream. We shouldn’t be judgmental, I think. I think there are way too many different reasons to buy specific equipment.

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Photo Credit: Alex Pixelle

As photographers, we almost all dream, sometimes secretly, of a specific lens, a very particular gear because sometimes it is not fashionable to suggest that we would do great pictures just with this or that equipment.
Why don’t we talk about “better pictures”, referring to ourselves?

For any photographer, making a portrait with a 85mm F5.6 or a 85mm F1.2 is not the same, is it? I even believe that with no particular talent, it significantly improves the images!
Certainly the best photographers take great images with modest equipment BUT they very often use the best equipment available. All the photographers we look up to work with fantastic gear.
Why would they do differently? I cannot imagine for a second that Michelangelo worked with some rotten marbles, Leonardo da Vinci with the most washy colors. Why would they? Because they have talent? Really ?! Vincent Munier, a wildlife photographer that I admire, would not have taken such wonderful pictures without his fantastic Nikkor lenses. He did not work with a 80-400 F5.6!

Nowadays it seems almost shameful to say that the gear could allow us to make better pictures, whether with or without talent. If you do not have talent, that can be even worse, trust me!

But why?

Trey Ratcliff portfolio - sony A7rII - iLHP
Death Valley – Mysterious Rocks / Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff

What if this was just a concealed frustration – ours – behind this saying? (read about how to deal with GAS)

I should say first, that I happened to talk with some amateur photographers (because this discussion is very rare among professionals for a simple reason: they buy what they need and they do not hesitate to spend if needed), and feel that behind the desire for a specific lens or camera, is hidden an idea of a wonderful photo, which would be accessible only thanks to this specific lens. But then I think this photographer is telling me something else. He’s simply telling me about his dreams. I obviously know it is not everything but it also contributes to a more bearable life, just knowing that he could make fantastic pictures just with the gear he can afford.

But, in my opinion, this is too often:  “The gear will not make you a better photographer.” Maybe deep down, this is not what he thinks. Maybe he firmly believes that he has no talent and that he wants to use that saying and hide behind it? Who knows?

But maybe buying such gear would in fact alleviate a feeling of inferiority for this photographer? The equipment might not have the sole function to make us talented artist.

It is true that if one is a bad photographer, and doesn’t have much to say, the equipment used will help you very partially to accomplish a miracle. Because we have to admit it, if our bad photographer photographs his partner with a 135mm F2.0 instead of a 15-85mm F5.6 zoom, it will still be a prettier picture, all things being equal .

So we have the right to dream… of camera equipment.

Green Seed Plant-7
Revelation / Photo Credit Idealuz Photography

What it is that bothers me in the end?

Maybe, behind this old saying finally hides another and even stronger feeling that brings us back to ourselves …. What does it REALLY mean? Is it about our inner demons?

I truly believe that there’s a universally shared feeling that says: when you cannot buy something, one does not care, one does not need it; One does not care the rich are happier; Why care? Talented people can make beautiful things with nothing, why not me?

It feels less painful. And meanwhile we do not think of how it REALLY makes us feel. The others make us realize of our own weaknesses and it’s not pleasant. So we’re turning that down and this way of thinking.

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La conciergerie, Paris, France / Photo Credit Serge Ramelli

The true feeling hidden behind it might be: “I am sickened because I cannot buy it, and I really don’t see how I could even buy it myself” so it becomes “I don’t need it, I don’t really want it either, I will not make better photos with it. ” What a pity, what a mess in the end.

Finally, I wanted to end that debate with an anecdote that happened to me 5 years ago and helped me understand this. I owned at the time a diesel vehicle from a so-called premium brand. One day, the seller offers me to try the sporty version of this model. I said yes, of course. Important fact: when I was little, I never really looked at sports cars and I can assure you it was not part of my short list in case of winning the lottery.

We went for a ride and instantly I started to have a big smile on my face. That was ridiculous!

At the end of the test, I turned to the seller and told him two things: “How amazing it is to drive a car made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. Everything is nicer, finer, well beyond the simple engine power “and” Why did I tell my girlfriend that I would never buy a sports car?!”

Michael Shainblum - iLHP
Milkyway Panorama / Photo Credit Michael Shainblum

Why that example? Because that day it became very clear. I preferred to tell myself that I did not care, that in any case one cannot drive faster than 80 mph (or whatever is your speed limit where you live) rather than thinking that I would never be able to afford it and just keep dreaming. It was less painful!

Today, I’d much rather dream and wonder how I would use a specific gear but that I would love owning it… and since that, I discovered that we can “use” without necessarily owning the gear. If you’re lucky, your friends could lend it to you or you could just rent it.

So in the end, I prefer to think of the glass being half full than empty and look at the bright side of this saying. Thanks to it, more fun and creativity are being made everyday. It allows more freedom of speech, even from the most talent-less photographers. I like to think of it like that.

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