This is dedicated to all the folks that have a hard time getting their minds around the role of the photographer vs. that of the camera in capturing great images. To some people, it seems like all you need for a good picture is a good camera – it is the main tool and the photographer is the aid. The reality, at least to me, is the reverse. The camera is the aid or the medium through which a photographer translates his vision, and the resulting picture is purely the creative work of the photographer.
Versions of the same off-putting comments I get as a photographer include: “what camera do you use to make such good photos?”, or, “this is awesome work. You must have a great camera!” A colleague once answered to a similar comment with witty humor saying , “Oh yes! Even when I leave my awesome camera sitting on the shelf, it takes great pictures by itself!” As I personally can’t pull off these off-the-cuff responses, I decided to take the longer route and write about it with the hope of getting the point across.
A well respected photographer has recently said that the best camera is the one you have on you. I couldn’t agree more. Although there’s a wealth of astounding cameras out there with state-of-the art technology that seems to be evolving dramatically every day , it's not the camera that makes a good photographer or a winning picture. And no it's not that you have to have the best and the latest to make good images. Throughout my career I have personally owned the whole gamut - the SLRs, Medium Formats, point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs. Although I concede with the notion that each camera has a unique feel or character to its images – I myself have my very personal camera preferences, so everyone who knows me closely, knows its Leica – I often find myself falling in love with pictures I shoot with my $700 point-and-shoot Ricoh more than those I capture with a much more expensive one. No! I’m not implying that the Ricoh is a superior camera. What this means is that I – the guy behind the camera – in those particular moments, happen to have made a better choice of framing, composing, lighting and clicking with whichever camera I happen to have on me.
Of course I can’t expect a comparable worthwhile image from my iPhone camera, because at the lower end of the spectrum it’s true that the quality of your photo is, in a way, proportionate to the quality of your camera. But in my opinion, this correlation starts to disappear at the higher end of the spectrum and the defining elements of a winning picture fall on the photographer. It’s the artist’s vision, the ability to see behind the obvious, and to visualize what the average eye cannot discern that create the winning image. A camera, any camera, that lets you act quickly and translate your vision into a picture, is a great camera at that moment.
All this is to say, that just like the Leica didn’t make Cartier-Bresson and the Rolleiflex didn’t make Avedon, your choice camera doesn’t mold you into an outstanding photographer, nor does it create timeless images. A timeless image is much more than the mega pixels, the sensor or ISO, it’s a small window to a photographer’s innermost self. It’s you. So trust your vision, and see your camera for the tool it is… and most importantly, try not to be caught without one when that prefect moment arises.