Photography, not Cameras

Hi guys. I’m sorry that we have no Wallpaper Monday today, I shall have to post that tomorrow. In the meantime, a certain discussion came up this weekend, one that has been in my mind for long now. It’s about cameras and beginning in photography. I mean what was the most important thing while starting out in photography? I wonder. A camera? A flash? A cool lens? A cool camera bag? A creative eye? Susan Wong on twitter shared “Not being afraid to snap away”…I don’t have an answer myself. You know me, I just ramble away here and probably leave you guys with no solutions. Take my words with a pinch of salt, or if they are too bitter, bite into a slice of lemon.

Anyone in Nairobi now knows that there is a photography/photographers boom. I don’t know what that means but I know that I am excited about it, a lot. It means more people doing what I love to do(less chances of being lonely). Unfortunately, it also means more people who want to front as something they aren’t and in so doing give a wrong picture of what photography is. I mean, we still live in a society where having a really huge camera means you are a really good photographer. I was shooting a wedding using my 50mm lens which y’all know is a small lens and one of the quests had a 70-300mm and one of the ladies on the bridal party expressed concerns. She just wondered how my small camera would match the huge camera considering I was the principal photographer *face palm*, i digress.

So the main point. I don’t have too much experience but if you are starting out, get the simplest DSLR you can. With an 18-55mm stock lens. Why do I say so? I meet many people who think good cameras make good photographers. This is true as saying good cooking pans make awesome chefs. If you really wan’t to be a good photographer, never ever be restricted by your camera. Don’t do things just because the camera can. Understand photography or at least seek to understand photography, shoot until you discover what you love to shoot. Until you discover what your camera can or can’t do. Ken Rockwell always says that he regrets spending 20 years of his photography life(he has about 30-40 years experience) focusing on cameras instead of photography. Thankfully I took his advice early enough and now i’m learning to focus on photography and not tools.

If you already have your super cool expensive camera, make no mistake of thinking you have done half the work because you haven’t. I have seen people with $2000 cameras that make $2 photographs…I have also seen the opposite. When you have a simple camera, you can get your head off thinking of settings and technicalities and thinking of composition, exposure, patience, colour, tone, texture, dynamism…and so much more. All this comes with time. I hope this doesn’t sound like I have an issue with expensive cameras because I don’t, I’d like to have one too. But in the meantime, I shall use my cheap camera to learn how to make amazing photography instead. You wan’t to get respect for what you do, you need to respect what you do first.

I realized that the people with lots of experience, the older photographers are using simpler cameras with time. I guess it shows that the more experienced you get, the more you realize how to make everything simple. I look forward to being at that point where I understand the utmost basic, enough to be able to focus fully on good photography.

Feel free to leave any thoughts in a comment below. Do have a photogenic day won’t you.





37 thoughts on “Photography, not Cameras

  1. You got it bro. This is so inspiring. Good gear does inspire but your game has to be up with the simple before you get better gear. Having expensive gear doesn’t necessarily guarantee great shots. Coz it’s all about the skill, technique, the gear comes as a third party. This is very humbling comiing out from you bro.

  2. This is timely, just recently decided I want to try expand on this hobby of mine and upgrade from a simple point and shoot. My research so far indicates I should be looking for a decent bridge camera basically a “training wheels” DSLR camera. Theres only so much I can do online, is there a good camera store you can recommend in NBI where I can feel the camera size, convenience etc?

    Much appreciated.

    P.S. The ciabatta rolls were excellent once I figured the right level of toasting the sammich

  3. Wow. My sentiments exactly. Sometime last year, during my quest of this awesome photography case, i stumbled on David duChemin’s blog, pixaleted image (@pixalatedimage on twitter)
    David really focuses on vision instead of gear. What really matters most is vision.
    I remember ranting about this on my blog like 3 months back… I feel really really awesome that someone i look upto shares this opinion.
    I was going to buy my first DSLR in sept then I lost my money. (we were robbed), funny thing, is i did lose it exactly a week before purchase….so I bought a point and shoot instead, last month, actually, i was bought for.
    Whats amazing is that i’ve been focusing on pushing the limits on a photograph…both while shooting and in post process… I love the results….my goal is to start a project 365 from Jan 1st…..
    But as much as I feel like my focus is totally on vision, I really feel like guys need to go through something to realize this. Its taken me a whole year. A whole year, from Dec last year to grasp the whole concept…

    Vision is better than Gear. I’m a David duChemin student. I urge ya’ll to read his books and blog….

  4. i definitely would.considering i woke up thinking photography today.thanx 4 de advice since i am just starting out,a bit confused in this.av a photogenic day too.

  5. EXACTLY. When I’m tempted to think that I need a better lens or that I’m not taking a good enough image because of whatever technical issue, I remember Noah Grey: “my most important gear will always be the double-lens camera built into my head.”

  6. PRAISE JESUS! nice discussion and advice bro. I agree. when I did video abit, sometimes it felt good to have a big camera so that guys would shtuka (get wowed). even if it was off, and you were getting the best video on the smaller one, people would never know, LOL.

    Thanks for the advice you gave me Mutua. after reading Kenrockwell just once, it totally changed things for me in photography. and also all the tips you have given me e.g. about learning to shoot with manual focus, and just experimenting until I get the shot right.

    I like what John said, about vision. I love to use photography to tell a story. as I read off one blog for a movie stills photographer, she said movie stills photography is all about “telling the story in one frame”. I think that is just my style, but its basically what you are saying. the camera is just a tool to help me tell that story.

  7. This reminds me a lot of climbing. As a westerner and a mountaineer I will never forget my first time climbing with someone who had far inferior gear and far out-climbed me. It may even be a prerequisite for westerners. All my friends have had a similar experience where they were partnered with someone (often someone from eastern europe) who had “terribly outdated” climbing gear and who out-climbed them by miles because they were focused on the climbing, not on the climbing gear.

    Great advice for people (and not just photographers!) Keep rambling. Cheers.

    P.S.- I think climbers from eastern europe are made in factories out of stone and steel rather than birthed from flesh and blood (if anyone is curious).

  8. This post could’t have come at a better time, I’m an amatuer photographer who walks around with his point and shoot sony digicam, for the longest time I always thought I’d make better photos if I had a DSLR but my perception has changed after a year, I’m still going to get the DSLR (*ululation*) but I’m confident now that photography is the art not the machinery. Thanks Mutua.

  9. Hi
    So true having the gear only gets you half way and it weighs so much, I like nothing more than taking a walk with my 20 D body and an 18 – 55 lens and i am still looking for a way to leave that at home and just use a point and shoot.
    Although sometimes you have to use the 70 to 200 2.8 to get the shot you really need.

  10. Totally agree….I’m still trying to figure out if I was a better photographer when I had no clue about all the camera options out there, about how to shot in manual mode, how you are “supposed” to use light in photography, that there was such a thing as RAW and photoshop etc. Cause thats when my creativity was really in play…I shot what I loved instead of what makes a “good” photo. I didn’t worry about 95% of the things that I worry about now when I’m taking a photo. Sometimes i miss those days.

  11. Twisting a quote, “Don’t ask what your camera can do for you. Ask what you can do with your camera.” …….you know where I am heading with this, no?

    I just smiled when I read this.

    I was at an event last week and I took a photograph of a lady and she asked me if I was done taking the pic. I was like, yeah. Next questions was, “where is the flash?”

    The room had good lighting and I didn’t need my speedlite.

    Goes to show how ill informed people are about the boundaries of photography.

    I am so linking this post too when I get round to writing about my experiences on the ‘field’.

  12. I agree wit you its about photography. . . Just have a look at my photo . . . Took that picture with a mobile phone (chinese) . All that matters in photography is light . . . . . Once you know the best light conditions your camera is best at then you are on the upper hand. I really wanna study photography . . . I dont know which are the best colleges with affordable fees since I dont earn much . . . N if there is sponsorship I’ll welcome that with both hands and be ready to obey the terms and conditions.

  13. totally agree…. but dont you think lenses at times gives you the photos you desire… if you are into macro a simple 18-55mm lens wont give you that desired photo… we had a discussion with you sometime back and your advise was practice practice practice….. that has been my MO of late.. good article though. u should start online challenges and tips just to better our skills. i currently have a rebel T2i having upgraded from a Samsung NX10.

    • That is true Mwangi. But how shall the lens help if you don’t know what to do with it? My point is that, you do class 1 math then go do class 2 math. Without the understanding of the reason you need what you need, then you keep in the race of tech instead of photography.

      • kweli kabisa….. point noted. practice practice. have been following your blog now for sometime….. your photos are inspirational for novices like us… do u conduct classes by any chance!

  14. Dude I agree with that completely. I also have a 50mm lens and most people comment on how small it is when I exchange it for my 18-200mm not knowing that’s one of the best lenses ever. A few years back when I was but still green in photography I was trying to shoot (actually shoot is wrong word snap) a birthday with a 100-300mm lens just to show people yep thats me with big camera and lens. I’m sooooooo glad no one who knows I am a photographer right now let alone the person who taught me knew me then. I get this deep sence of embarassment at the same time laugh everytime I think about it. Point is a camera is just a tool like a hammer depends on how you use it.

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  16. Well articulated. And yes, its your brain not the camera that is instrumental in creating the image. Recall my early years in photography and shooting a magazine cover with a point and shoot…people still never believe me when they see the resulting spread.
    I upgraded to a Nikon D40x and the bulk of my professional work was with that “toy” as a once person dismissively told me. That ‘toy’ has shot magazine covers,fashion spreads, weddings,commercial billboards and is still with me to date as my trusty travel companion.
    Oh yes I do get big time gear envy! Every time i go to the mara and see a tourist with a lens the size of my thigh im like…”sweet baby! the things i could do with that lens…”
    However the reality is i got to make do with what i have and fortunately i do love small cameras…it means i can be invisible…hee hee…on that note if you see a spare Fuji X100 walking by send it my way.
    People will continually come to you based on their connection to your creative ‘voice’ that is present in your images and unique to each and every photographer, NOT the gear in your bag. Save your inner smile for when the ignorant naysayers see your work and disbelieve its yours.

  17. This is such a relevant post for any new photographer, the gear is great to have only when you know what you are doing…. and as you rightly put what you like to shoot.

  18. Pingback: Photography, not Cameras | Space in Between

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