“But I’m nothing without this suit!”
“If you’re nothing without that suit, then you shouldn’t have it.
– Peter Parker and Tony Stark, Spider-Man: Homecoming
We can all learn a lot from Spider-Man.
Peter Parker is a great role model for photographers, and not just because he’s arguably the most famous one in fiction. I’m sure there are a lot of potential blogs wrapped up in the “With great power comes great responsibility” line alone. We can also question just how he’s able to get such perfect composition from a remote shutter and a camera that’s resting on a perilously thin strand of webbing… be more careful Peter! It’s not like Aunt May can afford to buy you new gear.
But this week I’m going to focus on the lines above, and how they sprang to mind after an impressive train of negative thoughts this morning.
I’d originally planned to write about some tips and tricks I’ve picked up from various trips to the Oklahoma City Zoo, stemming from last weekend’s trip. However, as I tried to process a few more photos I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the images. There was too much noise in this one, the focus was a little too soft in that one, the composition didn’t look quite right in another. A negative create move grows exponentially, and this one was no exception.
Perhaps part of the problem is my increasing interest in Instagram, and finding so many wonderfully talented photographers to follow. It’s hard not to look at the work of many of the people I’ve added and not feel one or two or three thousand pangs of frustration when you compare images. That sort of comparison never ends well, since at the end of day we’re all our own artist behind the lens.
And at some point, like I’m sure it does for any photographer on a budget, my thoughts eventually turned to the Magic Gear. You know the stuff I’m talking about if you have even a little interest in photography. If you only had this lens or that body or that accessory, everything would be better. I’m sure it’s not exclusive to photography either, but it feels a little more pronounced in this hobby. With the right gear, all of our problems will go away.
I’ll admit, I’ve made a few upgrades to my gear with the thought that having a better body or a different lens might make all the difference. Sometimes it’s been to great effect, like when I picked up my Tokina 11-16mm wide angle lens. Other times, the upgrades haven’t offered noticeable improvement, like when I went from my Fuji megazoom to a Sony. It’s pretty easy to diagnose… the Tokina lens actually increased the capabilities of my camera, while the differences between the two megazooms was negligible.
Still, it’s hard to deny that stepping up from a 5.6 300mm lens to a 2.8 or a lens that could reach to 600mm would offer some noticeable improvement. Given that those upgrades are cost prohibitive, it can be easy to blame them for the issues in my photography.
“Oh, this must be the limits of my current gear,” I might tell myself. “I won’t be able to go any further until I get the upgrades.”
I’ve done that song and dance before, and it eventually becomes an excuse to put the camera away and leave it dormant for a few months.
But just like there’s more to Spider-Man than a fancy suit, there’s more to a photographer than what’s packed into the gear bag, and there are ways to grow that don’t involve dropping a few hundred dollars or more on a new piece of tech. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that gear doesn’t matter, our ability means more.
That tiger image was taken on my Nikon D5000 with a Sigma discount lens. There are some undeniable image quality issues. Yet that picture has been one of my most successful to date, both winning an award and selling several prints. Clearly, the content of the image meant more than any technical deficiencies from “inferior” gear. And while I could probably pick apart a few of the issues, I’m still proud of the shot as a whole.
Gear isn’t the end all be all. I’ve met a few photographers at different shoots who have a full frame camera body and a three thousand dollar lens but who shoot in auto and don’t produce the greatest images. On the other hand, I’ve marveled at the work some people have produced with cell phones and simple point and shoot cameras. Even the most rudimentary equipment can’t technical skill and artistic vision.
Those are also, thankfully, skills we can improve no matter the limitations of our gear. While I think I have a decent photographic eye, I don’t think I’m as strong a technical photographer as I could be. One of the reasons for my decision to try a Photo a Day project once again is to try and improve my weaknesses in that area. I’m hopeful I’ll also get to try a few styles of photography I don’t normally work in, to further expand my skills.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plans to upgrade my gear at some point. I think a macro lens would be beneficial, and for true wildlife photography a longer telephoto will be important. But not having them isn’t the impediment those negative thoughts insist it is. And if I continue to practice and improve, when I do pick up those new lenses or a new body, I’ll be better equipped to use them.
Spidey’s suit doesn’t make him a hero, but rather the person inside. As photographers, we’re not going to run off to fight super villains(unless someone reading this is hiding something). But we can learn from Spider-Man all the same. If we’re nothing without the gear, maybe we shouldn’t buy it. But if you love getting behind the lens, the gear doesn’t matter. You’re a photographer all the same.
And hopefully that made sense… it’s been a long week and my brain is pretty well fried.
This week’s Photo a Day gallery