What holds most people back from getting better photographs are two things. Reliance on “convenient” camera gear and a lack of effort in getting yourself into the right place for great light. At it’s worst you could think of these both as two kinds of laziness, but at the very least they are traps that you want to be mindful of and try to push back on.
You can’t expect to take great photos if you never leave your lounge room. It makes perfect sense that if you intend to shoot great landscape shots then you have to get in your car and hit some pretty locations very early in the morning. Most photographers are chasing something other than landscapes, and yet the same basic rule applies. You need to create the opportunity to be creative, by putting yourself in interesting locations and making sure you work with interesting light.
Emma Crameri loves cows and takes great photos. She doesn’t regard herself as a photographer and shoots all her snaps on her iPhone, but she is talented and creative. Emma never likes to miss an opportunity to be out riding her horse and often finds herself in a pretty part of the farm as the sun goes down. She is gifted with inspiration and a lifestyle that puts her somewhere special when the light is good. Her Instagram feed is jam packed with rolling hills, gum trees, horses and cattle.
The camera used by Emma provides absolutely no technical advantage, but it certainly is convenient. She goes to great lengths to enjoy quality time with her horse and the landscape she has called home all her life, but very little effort to carry a big camera. Emma is not a photographer, for that reason alone.
In contrast to Emma most amateur photographers invest too much of their time on the gear and not enough on the “time and place”.
Shellie Froidevaux is a food blogger who spent years cultivating her website in the pursuit of culinary creations. She didn’t have the means to travel in search of pretty subjects to photograph, so she stayed at home and baked them herself. Over time she got better at working out what light makes her baking look best, and made sure she had good light to match her fabulous cooking. Moving her passion from a hobby to a career, she went to extraordinary lengths to turn her kitchen into a studio where Shellie has all the space, lighting and food styling props that any sane person could ever need. And maybe a bit more.
Emma and Shellie have much in common, but the difference was that Shellie stepped far away from world of iPhone photography. She owned a small but capable DSLR but she soon realised that the budget lenses that it came with were not producing the best image quality. Upgrading a single lens on her Nikon D7100 saw her work take a quantum leap forward, giving her images a technical quality she had never accessed before and giving her creativity a new realm in which to run wild.
As Shellie grew better and better at her craft it became obvious that her camera gear was holding her back. A bigger camera and better lenses were essential for her to take another step forward. This is the nature of creativity after all, mastering enough of the technical to allow expression. Shellie is not a full on geek, she doesn’t claim to know everything there is to know about cameras, but she can connect the dots between lenses and how they impart a look to the final image.
The bigger camera and heavy lenses are inconvenient. The smaller DSLR and it’s more modest lenses were easier to carry at social events, and less intrusive when sitting down for a fine dining experience that might later appear on her blog. But she can’t go back because she sees the difference that quality gear makes to her images. Convenience isn’t always better.
Meanwhile Emma is still taking amazing photos with her iPhone and enjoying the simplicity that comes with having your favourite camera with you at all times. When Emma wants a professional photograph to promote the beauty of regional Victoria she calls a professional photographer to bring the heavy gear instead, but she fully knows what a great shot looks like because she does it every week herself.
One thing that Emma and Shellie have in common is making a little effort to process their photos. Emma is thoughtful and artful with her use of filters, she adds to the moment so that her Instagram followers get a rich impression of life in her world. Shellie spends more time processing her RAW files and optimising every image. It’s a similar process, it just takes longer and a few more years of skill to achieve the refined control that Shellie has gained.
Processing your photos, much like carrying heavy camera gear or getting up early for sunrise, can be very inconvenient. But it’s another way you can take better control of the creative process. Photography shouldn’t be convenient. We have better cameras, better lenses and better ways to process an image than ever before - the idea isn’t to do less work but achieve more with the effort we commit.
Yes the fancy gear and processing RAW files can make a difference to your photography, but only if you have already done the hard work to create an opportunity to be creative. Planning a trip into the countryside to chase autumn leaves, coastal sunsets or a High Country Harvest Festival is a big step towards connecting with your creative self.
Emma takes a better shot with her iPhone than 9 out of 10 Hasselblad owners. You can too.