Warning: Owning the Canon R5 Won’t Make You a Successful Photographer

Warning: Owning the Canon R5 Won’t Make You a Successful Photographer

Do you consider yourself a successful photographer? Is that something you want to be? How do you even measure that? There are certain things that all top photographers have, whether as amateurs or professionals. The Canon R5 isn’t one of them.

Although it is something I am backing away from, I do shoot occasional weddings. That's because most of my work is training other photographers, which I enjoy more. Several years ago, I had a stranger contact me, telling me that I should let them be my second shooter for weddings. They said I had to teach them how to be a wedding photographer. It wasn’t a request but a demand. I very politely refused. Subsequently, they started making snide comments about wedding photographers not helping them to start up their own photography business. I’m not sure if they understood the irony in their approach, their expectation that I would teach them for free to compete with me. It probably comes as no surprise that they didn’t ever become a wedding photographer.

Around the same time, I had a young person on a photography course I was running who told their ambition was to start working in the photographic industry. They worked hard throughout the workshops. Afterward, I got a wonderful email from them saying how much they had appreciated everything they had learned. Consequently, I went out of my way to help them achieve their dream, which they did, and became very successful at that. Now they send work my way, and I theirs.

Sadly, some photographers think that success should be handed to them on a plate, that they somehow deserve it. They could not be more wrong.

Success in photography can mean many things to many people. For some, it might be winning prizes or awards. For others, it could be a simple pat on the back. It could also be about earning a living from their images. Or perhaps it is having something that motivates them to get out of bed and not descend into despair. Maybe photographic success for some is nothing more than creating something beautiful or captivating.

Something that has become a cliché in the world of small businesses is the phrase “I am passionate about…” It’s so overused that when I read it, it puts me off the business. They rarely back it up with evidence that illustrates that passion. That suggests they lack authenticity, that they are not doing what they were put on this planet to do. Yet, true passion is something that all successful photographers have. They believe in what they do, set themselves goals, and then work hard, going the extra mile to achieve them.

That passion is reflected in optimism that withstands failure. All successful people have that in common, in any field and not just photography. It is their ability to bounce back from failures and at the same time learn from their mistakes that make them successful. They don’t give up but persevere, no matter the obstacles that stand in their way. That persistence is important because we all fail time and time again.

When Henri Cartier-Bresson said that your first ten thousand photos are your worst, although implying that when we start our photos won’t be that great, he also showed optimism that your images will progress and become something better. Nevertheless, it takes commitment – 10,000 photos – to improve. Remember, he was talking about the days of film where images were carefully created one at a time, when significant work went into creating each one. Today, in the rapid-fire digital world, he would probably increase that figure by an order of magnitude. Continuous improvement is something that all successful photographers have in common. They don’t rest on their laurels and stagnate. Their methods, style, and subject diversity constantly evolve and grow.

If you read the comment sections here on Fstoppers or photographic Facebook groups, you will find a small minority who invariably post negative comments that try to undermine the writers and other photographers. Some are quite prolific and even frequent groups for camera systems they don’t own. They will gather behind them a few equally pessimistic trolls that feed on that negativity. I have the good fortune of knowing a lot of successful photographers, and they never make these kinds of negative statements, either online or in person. Instead, they treat other photographers and photographic businesses with respect. They give nothing but encouragement, helping others improve in their creativity. One can only conclude that the trolls are failures.

For many, creativity seems to be a big hurdle, and there is plenty of information in books, videos, and here on Fstoppers that teaches you how to overcome those. Most importantly, it’s the ability to overcome our shortcomings is a skill that can be learned.  One thing you will discover is that the more you learn, the more you will realize how much there is that you don’t know.

Learning comes from tapping into the right sources. Identifying the knowledge work accessing is key. I never cease to be amazed that interview articles with successful photographers get fewer readers than information about the latest camera releases. We all have a hankering for a shiny new kit, but as I suggested in the title, that new Canon is not going to magically transform you into a top photographer. Learning what new knobs there are to twiddle if you spend the best part of $4,000 isn’t going to make you the next Rankin. However, reading how Rankin's success is more likely to get you there.

It's never too late to learn. I know many accomplished photographers who have only discovered and become successful at photography after retirement.

Successful photographers are good at adapting to changing situations. Any wedding photographer worth their salt can adapt the shoot for when it's pouring with rain. Wildlife photographers on safari that set out to photograph elusive leopards will find the artistic stripes of zebra just as compelling. Heading out to photograph the sunrise when there is none, the landscape photographer will make the most of the moody skies.

In the modern psyche, there seems to be the opinion that success is measured in fame – mainly in the form of Instagram likes – and fortune. Are they both imposters?

I’ll let you draw your conclusions about Instagram. Do thousands of followers and likes equate to success? I have my views on that, but I’ll let you comment with what you think.

However, if someone’s idea of success is making money, and that is their main motivation, then they are barking up the wrong tree. Getting an income from what we love doing is nice. After all, it’s how I make my living. But money is nothing more than a pleasant by-product of running a successful business. It comes from all the time and hard work that goes into that. A measure of success it can be, but pursuing money doesn’t work.

If buying that top-end camera won’t make you a success, why does it is that successful photographers seem to have them? This is because they are successful, like the money that bought them, those cameras are a by-product of that success.

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do - Pele

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Hey Ivar thanks for taking the time in writing this article. It was very timely for me as I recently decided to be intentional in my growth by reading a few articles every morning and yours was one of the first ones I read this morning, so this was encouraging.

‘One thing you will discover is that the more you learn, the more you will realize how much there is that you don’t know’.

^ This one liner hit home for me and I realised I was in a trap of feeling like I know enough, so again, thanks for the reminder to continue to grow.

Thank you Charlie! That's a fabulous comment.

A few comments.

No, an R5, just as much as any camera out there alone will not make you a better photographer (though it will make life easier). Ambition and motivation surely helps, but ultimately it's the drive to succeed, learning from your mistakes, or better yet, learn where you're already good work can be great, will lead you down the path of success.

Personally, I haven't read any books about photographers talking about their path to success in their careers. I am not saying I am the pinnacle of greatness in my field (interior design and architecture), but to go along with my statement above about making good photos great, theres just that inate feeling I wake up with every day where I want to be better. Maybe it's seeing my competition and what they produce, who they work with, how they achieve lighting, or better yet, maybe its the mastermind groups I am apart of where we talk about how we created images, how we work through challenges and how we navigate our industry that has set me up for success.

In terms of Instagram, that's where I started back in 2016. I have no formal training in photography (though I was an uninspired graphic designer prior), but logging onto Instagram and seeing what sells (aka gets likes) ultimately was the foundation for where I am today. I started with astrophotography and eventually found my way from landscape into interior spaces. I didn't love the transition, but I am in love with the challenge to produce better quality work that stands up against others in the industry. Ultimately, I love story-telling. I love personal connection my viewers can have to my work. I like to challenge what they see and the stories they make of it.

This is what I wake up every day thinking about, and strive for as a small business photographer. How do I keep my audience connected, how do I keep them coming back for more and how do I establish a look that when people view it they say "That's a Steven Magner photo"?

Good article. Screw the trolls.

Thank you for taking the time to make such an interesting addition to the conversation, Steven. That photo is fabulous, by the way. I see a lot of great images and that is amongst them.

Ivor, I love this article and the title! As usual you are right on. As an R5 owner I can also confirm it didn’t make me any better at photography. 😆

That's very kind, thank you Pete.

May I also add to exercise caution as to who on You Tube one submits his/her work for appraisal? A very popular gadget and gear personality once reviewed the efforts of his subscribers and when he posted one of a landscape he derisively commented, "What is this crap, anyway?", laughed, and switched to the next image. If I felt crushed and bitterly disappointed in the way he dismissed the photo I can only imagine how the photographer felt.

That’s why very few of them are worth watching

Comments like that always say much more about the critic than the photograph or the photographer. I honestly believe that photographers should always encourage others in this art.
Thanks for sharing that.

Everybody is award-winning photographer or fine art photographer these days, so I'm thinking that marketing is one of the very big and unfortunate lies... I know that these days people are just not having the same patience we used to have back in the days. And I mean when it comes to writing then people doing just the same in writing as others doing in photography. There is so many click baits on the internet every day... Research and building of meaningful goals in every day living is on another level... And i am getting old I think 😂

But still... Thanks god I got R6... It helps a lot to enjoy photography.. In every possible way

Good comment and that's a fabulous picture of a robin, Zdenek.

Carry on enjoying your R6 and shooting super images like that. Your gallery is superb, by the way. (Anyone reading these comments, take a look.)

This is part of the problem Ivor. It’s not a fabulous picture of a robin it’s a reasonable one and that’s about as much as one could say about it. it’s a 5.5 out of 10. I think we have to be careful about heaping praise on images that don’t really merit it. I’m not knocking the photographer I’m just saying. Show that image to any bird photographer and they will shrug and say it’s ok. Here is my just ok 5.5/10 photo of a robin.
To become a fabulous photo to take a fabulous photo requires so much more effort and hard work than simply pointing the camera at the bird as we both did in the two robin pics on display. Being well exposed and sharp is just the starting point and base level skills. In assessing our own work and that of others we need to be both honest and measured. Giving people the wrong idea of the standard of images they are producing is really not helpful.
Owning a high spec camera means nothing R5 or whatever. Somehow believing whatever you take is fabulous just feeds the mythical photographic delusional beast.

Hi Eric, thanks for that. But I guess it is where we will have to agree to disagree. Firstly, my thought that the image is fantastic is subjective, just as you believe it is 5/10 is subjective too. I think the image is fabulous because it doesn't cohere with the strict expectations of other bird photographers.

Because of scoring by the establishment, most photographers work to meet a specific set of criteria to make an image "good." The problem with that is that if everyone tries to meet the same criteria, then there is less scope for diversity and creative inventiveness. Encouraging people to explore and discover their own style, especially if it doesn't cohere with the paradigm, has to be a good thing.

Perhaps if van Gogh had more encouragement in his lifetime, instead of rejection by the establishment, he might have lived a happier life and taken his inventiveness to new levels.

Is it really subjective? Or can some analytics be employed? There was a prof who visited our society a year or so back with a method for rating photographs. I’ll try and dig his name out. You might find it interesting. Anyhow the robin.
I guess it depends how many images of birds or images in general you have seen to be able to rank that robin. In my experience as a wildlife photographer f sorts it wouldn’t get a mention, cute possibly fab, sorry no. For a bird on a stick or a bush in this case to be a fabulous images it really has to be saying something about the behaviour of the bird rather than just a record shot. It’s a wider issue as I eluded to with many photographers imagining the images they take are fabulous due to those who know little about photographs or photography giving them big likes. They then go away with a false impression of their own skills. As it quite an important subject, what constitutes a fabulous image, maybe this could be the subject for your next piece. What it takes to make a fabulous image in a particular genre. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

I think that first Robin photo you posted is truly fabulous. The pose of the bird, it's angle relative to the camera, the natural perch it's on, and the way the perch/vegetation is rendered all combine to make it super extra great! A classic portrait like that, where everything is visually pleasing, and nothing is distracting or incongruous, is not at all easy to accomplish.

Hi Tom
I’m not sure your background but in the world of wildlife photography my robin wouldn’t merit a mention. As a photo I do like it, I love birds in general and spend a deal of time photographing them and looking at the work of photographers much much better than I. Of course I would like to think that all my photos tick the basics, well composed, sharp and with some interest. But that’s just the starting point. To get that fabulous image there has to be more than just the basics being right. I’m under no illusion that the robin pic is a fabulous image. In my book it’s not. At the time I took it I was sat on a bench just relaxing and the robin hopped into view! Compose, click. All muscle memory. As I said to Ivor it’s an interesting question, what makes a fabulous image and one that is worthy of a full discussion. I have taken one or two fabulous images in my time that have won awards but these are few and far far between. I’m alway trying to improve and make better images. If you as a photographer and merit that robin as setting the fabulous standard then possibly you need a rethink….. but that’s just my opinion for what it is worth.

Hi again, Eric, Tom's a successful professional wildlife photographer in the US.

I truly do believe it is subjective. When I look at photos from the opening decades of the last century, they are very different from the photos shot today, in all genres. Tastes change and one can only analyze art using the criteria of today, and it is the job of artists (including photographers) to challenge those, so we don't stagnate.

I used to tell photographers to avoid pictures of birds on a twig, but I have changed my mind. Zdenek's photograph breaks several of the established 'rules' of wildlife photography. Most would judge the image as having too little in focus, but here he has used the shallow depth of field to great effect and made the conscious choice of not having the whole bird in focus. He has also shunned the western preference for the direction of travel. Having the robin sitting in a spruce tree also evokes an emotional response because of the greater association with Christmas. Artistically, it is a fabulous shot. Your photo served a different purpose as it works well as a catalogue image of the bird.

But, again, that is also my subjective opinion based upon my own imposed criteria. Someone with a different learning or cultural background may view them both very differently.

The composition of his image is way better than yours though, he has chosen to shoot the bird in an environment different to the norm (on a twig) and the out of focus areas have some interest that makes it different to all the other bird shots usually seen.

They are essentially both just 'shots of a robin' but out of the two it looks like more attention was paid to capturing the first one.

Nice photo, and a nice counterpoint to the headline. I think most people know that equipment can't make you successful (which isn't the same as good, BTW), but good tools make any job easier. I'm guessing that referencing the R5 instead of a nifty fifty, sturdy tripod, or whatever else is because it's currently a very popular camera (and maybe because that makes it pretty good clickbait, IMHO) and I'm pretty sure that's because it's widely perceived as being a really good tool, particularly in regard to the AF system.

Good focus is usually mandatory, but it won't make you successful (or good), either. Like other tools, what it will do is help with one aspect of producing a good image. Conversely, an old manual focus camera/lens won't prevent you from producing a truly excellent image, but it won't be as easy. Regardless of what tools you're using you still need to pull together all of the other elements. But again, I think most people know that even if they hope the newest thing is something a of a magic bullet.

there are dozens of cameras on the market whose capabilities far exceed the ability of their owners to use them at their appropriate level.

The portraiture of the 1950s and 1960s was done without any interaction between light metering and camera settings. The sports shots of slides into third or slam dunks were made in the 1970s and 1980s without auto-focus.

And weddings were photographed quite effectively when kodacolor and ektacolor had to be processed by the machine that nobody understood

And yet, there is a way to get a great photo like the predecessors did with equipment that nay

But what about a Leica?

Oh, they make all the difference to your photography because you can no longer balance the weight of the camera with the weight of your wallet.

This could not be more correct. I taught in class room photography for 8 years until 2020 when COVID hit and the program i worked in ultimately disolved in late 2021. I had students come to me all the time claiming to be 'professionals' after owning their cameras 3 months. One student inparticular went as far purchasing equipmemt and lenses, during class mind you, and they didnt even fit their system, simply because I said it was a "professional lens". So many times the status of becoming a pro out weighed the passion for the art. Almost as it they were entitled to be called a professional because they owned expensive equipment. There were quite a few students who wemt on to do very well. And i like to think I helped push them in the right direction. In my owm photograohy its funny even today I have to take a step back and say, hmmm wait this isnt right and get back to why I take photographs in the first place. I don't have to keep up with the Jones to make a good image. I just need to channel what I see into the image. Sometimes the best camera is not enough.

Absolutely, Mick. Thanks for that great comment.

Nice article Ivor Rackham, do you mention the R5 perhaps because it is the most desired? Because I know people who, with other famous and recent mirrorless brands, still take shitty photos at weddings but also in advertising and studio photography. Absolutely true that if you don't know how to frame and get in tune with the scene and the various guests, a lousy job will always come out. However, the problem does not exist, because if you produce lousy jobs, you burn instantly, customers are not waiting for you and word of mouth is very fast.

I chose the R5 because there was so much hype about it before it was released. I could equally have chosen a top-end camera from any brand. You are right, word of mouth is very important. But, sadly with photography, clients are not necessarily very discerning. Many years ago, I went to a wedding as a guest but took my camera along. The bride and groom had paid through the nose for a supposedly top-notch photographer. His photos were dreadful, and my photographer friends there were all shocked at how bad they were. But the bride and groom were happy with them. However, it is one of my photos that adorns their wall.

Funny, I hadn't heard any hype about the R5 on the Nikon Rumors site ......

Hi Robert, that gave me a chuckle. I don't visit Nikon rumors, or any of the others come to that. I prefer taking photos to reading about gear.

Ivor you are absolutely right. In Italy but I also believe in the rest of the world, weddings are made by photographers who are cheap for the simple fact that they are the same brides who want to spend little, giving priority to trivial things like centerpieces. But it is also true that many of these brilliant females, after a lousy photographic job, turn to good retouchers to save what can be saved, and are punished with medium-high prices. After all, God exists.


I'll do my penance later on, after I have bought my new camera.

Indeed, an R5 will not make you a great photographer but what it will do is not put any roadblocks in your way. Like an auto mechanic who uses SnapOn tools, their wrench works like a Craftsman, so why do they spend twice as much for the same tool? A good camera allows you the freedom and capability to maximize your skillset in taking better pictures.

Hi Lyle, All the manufacturers make great cameras. I agree that choosing quality makes a difference, and I've written before about why beginners should avoid the cheap, mass-produced models at the bottom end for the very reason you state. Thanks for the great comment.

Yes but it doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest/most expensive model on the market… ANY enthusiast camera from the last 5/6 years will get you outstanding images with relative ease, providing you put the work in to maximise its features.

I notice on your earlier comments you claim an APS-C camera isn’t for professional use… I must rush off and tell all those pros who use APS-C that some guy on fstoppers said it’s a waste of time.

I personally wouldn't own an R5 regardless how successful I am. Perhaps, just perhaps, you had made the camera a bit more generic you would have better proved your point.

Haha, I don't think I would either. I chose the R5 because it is a popular top-of-the-range camera, and I hear a lot of people gushing over it. I could have picked on any top model to make my point, but the R5 seemed as good as any, but the same applies to the Z7, the A1 or the OM-1. Thanks for adding to the discussion, Robert.

True, I did fall for it when I was learning photography because of some YouTube channels. After spending nearly $20k on canon gears (changed camera twice), I learned I have to learn basics of photography first.

However, these days, after understanding photography a bit (still a lot to learn), I do enjoy a good gear that helps me enjoy photography (hence my recent macro lens purchase for the xt3).

There is a buzz to be had from acquiring a shiny new piece of kit, isn't there? The XT3 is a great camera, and I look forward to seeing some of your macro shots with that lens in your gallery. Thank you, Rhonald, for adding to the conversation. Hopefully, your comment will help by warning novice photographers.

Yep, my last GAS couple of years ago lead to the GFX-50s. I already had the xt3 for fast paced photography, and enjoy both the cameras.

One of the bigger help in learning photography for me are the books. Bryan Peterson's books helped understand the basics and a few other books added the necessary tools to recognize potential for a good photography during my walks.

Once I understood the basics, I am able to continue watch photography channels and yet stay away from unnecessary gear acquisition.

Went GFX route for the joy of slowing down, plus studio, plus massive prints (160 inches wallpapers, etc).

Structured learning still has its place in photography.

Equipment only matters in that you find a camera and lens that you are comfortable using. There's so much obsession on social media over sharpness, bokeh rendering and dynamic range (and b****y brand bashing) that you wonder how much time these people actually spend on taking photographs and learning. Learning to see the world in a way that will translate to unique and interesting photographs is a skill that cannot be improved upon by owning top of the range cameras.

I thought that the equipment reviewers were their own market segment, far far removed from consumers of imagery. :-)

Okay, I'll start with the negativity.

I found the title to fall thoroughly in the "click bait" category. Perhaps less problematic would be "Warning: Owning the Canon R5--or Any Other Top-Tier Camera--Won’t Make You a Successful Photographer".

But you accomplished your objective. You got me to read your article (of course, I would have read the article with the other title as well).

Now, with that out of the way, I very much agree with the content of your article. I believe my posts here have run the range. I only come off as negative--no, not negative, but critical--when there is a reason to criticize. Hopefully, most of my criticism on this site has been constructive.

I, for one, am not one to give advice on being a successful photographer. I am primarily an enthusiastic (I'll avoid the word passionate) amateur who has only had a handful of paying gigs, and only 3-4 images printed in magazines. But as you opine, I hope that my last 10,000 images are better than my first 10,000, and that my next 10,000 images are better yet. Interestingly, it took me 30 years to get to 10,000 images, and now I can produce 10,000 images in a couple of days.

I do strive to give positive advice, and avoid criticizing others' images at all. Photography is a community and not a competition (except for who gets the next job), so helping each other get better is truly what makes one a successful photographer, not just receiving accolades and awards.

Thank you for your insights.

Being successful, doesn't equate to making a living at photography. You can be successful shooting for yourself. Yeah, that sounds a bit narcissistic, but really, many of us do photography as a way of making sense out of life.

Please reread my comment. I did not define success in photography as making a living at it. To the contrary, I provided one example of what could be defined as success and it clearly wasn't making a living in the discipline. Rather, I thought that the OP's article did an adequate job of covering many different ways of defining success in photography. Obviously, there are many different ways to define the category.

Just a general comment. Not saying that you did.

No, it won’t, and in five years’ time it will be an embarrassment to have. 😁

Maybe, but only in front of those photographers who worry more about gear than photography. The general public won't notice and real photographers won't care!

There are a lot of photographers who fall into the category you mentioned. Me, being facetious aside, in five year's time I will be able to afford one. What do you think of the RP?

I am probably not the best person to ask. I'll ask the other writers what they think.

Susheel Chandradhas who's an ace photographer has used one. He very kindly says this:

Dad has one. I've used it a few times with the RF 24-105 L (kit lens). Good quality output. Slow focus in 4K video, but great in 1080p. I've only used it for a few shots in studio though, so can't really tell you much beyond that. Then again, I've shot for clients with APS-C cameras, never had a complaint.

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