When you begin your journey into photography, you feel gated by how small your arsenal of equipment is, despite the elders of the craft telling you it doesn't matter. But, is there a negative correlation between creativity and the amount of gear owned? For me, I suspect there might be.
The gear envy I had when I first started photography was astronomical. I was both fortunate and unfortunate in that I was part of a community that had veteran photographers in it, some of which had been shooting for twice as long as I had been alive. When you start anything new, you have to pick apart the disparity between your results and the results of those you admire, and it's a daunting job. My photography was basic, dull, and inconsistent, whereas the photography of those I was talking with was beautiful, complex, and they had very few "misses."
So, why is that? Well, I knew skill played a role, but I also knew that they all had $10,000 or more worth of camera equipment in their arsenal and I had $400 worth. I couldn't possibly compete! Now, you know where that story ends up, and it is a path so well traveled it has eroded itself into a ravine; this isn't another article about how gear doesn't matter, or does matter, or how great photographers can create great images with basic cameras, or how the best camera is the one you have with you. This is an article about the changes in my photography I have noticed upon reflection.
There was a one-off show I loved and rewatch at least once per year. It is called Talking Funny, where Ricky Gervais, Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock all sit around discussing stand-up comedy and their careers. At some point in this conversation, they discuss starting out as a comic and Louis CK remarks how becoming anything is simply "wanting to be one of those guys." This is really how I became a photographer. I was on the fringes of a group, looking in at some great photographers, and I wanted to be one of those people.
Although this was the prompt for my entry into the craft, it was also from where the chip on my shoulder derived. I was desperate to get to their level and win their approval, but I couldn't afford the camera equipment or the trips to far-flung locations, so I was at a disadvantage, regardless of how dysmorphic my view of the size of it was. I was at university and I didn't have much time to bring in far more money, so I had to rely on creativity. If I couldn't sport a Hasselblad in Iceland quite yet, I was going to have to find ways to make my dull surroundings interesting and bleed every last pixel out of my 10-year-old, entry-level Canon.
So, I began looking up interesting techniques with long exposures, focus stacking, and anything else that had a tutorial online or in print. I scoured forums for singular locations within driving distance and then dreamed up elaborate things to shoot in them. I climbed dilapidated towers in abandoned military bases (with permission), I waded into frozen marshlands at dawn in mid-winter, and I accidentally set fire to multiple antiques. I took risk after risk and pushed myself in all directions.
Over the next decade, I accrued better equipment, secured paid work, and improved exponentially as a photographer. There was definitely a period where the chip on my shoulder was present while I had a good spread of equipment, but eventually, I worked out how to achieve strong results that clients wanted, and I could fulfill that demand consistently. My cameras, lenses, lighting, and peripherals were all of the caliber that, in all honestly, meant I didn't have to try that hard to get what I wanted. In short, I was coasting.
I recently had to discuss my accolades as a photographer, which I'm not overly keen on doing, but I have a small roster of things I'm proud of that I rolled out. I can rattle off impressive clients, editorials, and celebrities I've had in front of my camera (though not nearly as many as some), but my work being displayed in impressive places — which really is a benchmark of a special shot — were all at or near the start of my career, I noticed.
When I was alone, I thought about this for some time. The shots that made it into galleries or magazines were usually unpaid private projects where I had complete creative control and I had put together a concept. Arguably, my most successful image in terms of where it has been featured and in which galleries it was displayed is the image above, taken over 10 years ago and on an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens; this was fully in the chip-on-shoulder era.
Back then, I didn't know how to create strong images consistently — my shoots were comprised of almost entirely misses — but boy did I try hard to get a unicorn. Despite my lack of equipment, I didn't strive for the middle. I aimed for the very top, almost to prove a point. As I got the equipment and skill necessary to consistently recreate good work, my drive to create my next unicorn shot fell away. In fact, there was a clear correlation between how much equipment I had at my disposal and how aggressively creative I was with my shot concepts.
This isn't to say I haven't created many editorials I'm proud of or adverts for brands that I have gladly added to my portfolio, but rather, without the chip on my shoulder, I haven't had the drive to create something unique and outstanding.
Have you found yourself less creative as you acquire more photography equipment? Am I misdiagnosing myself and drawing a correlation in the wrong place? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Going out with a lens of one focal length is challenging and requires discipline and this might be the source of creativity. Things will be revealed. You can also discover your process, be conscious and purposeful. A photo is a thoughtful thing. Also the unique focal length might get rid of your fear of missing out. Cheers everyone.
I'm just an amateur, but my photo equipment is a Galaxy S10, a decent tripod from a second-hand store, an LED light panel mounted on a Joby Gorillapod, and a DJI Mini 2 drone with three batteries. I shoot exclusively in the Sonoran Desert USA, currently documenting the Desert Rat lifestyle. Two lessons I have learned: Shoot with intent and always have a subject.
Robert K Baggs asked,
"Have you found yourself less creative as you acquire more photography equipment?"
For me and the way I see the world and the way I shoot, the opposite is true.
When I have a subject before me, in my mind's eye I see all kinds of different ways that it could be photographed, and what the resultant images would look like. But the lenses I have with me will only allow me to capture a fraction of those images. I am left with all of these great photos in my mind that I was unable to make because I did not have the lenses that would allow me to capture them.
Sure, I get a bunch of good photos, many of which are somewhat unique or "outside the box" of normal composition ... a.k.a. "creative" images. But because of limited gear I do not capture ALL of the creative visions that I see in my mind's eye, and that often leaves me feeling depressed and unfulfilled.
I really should add a 24mm Macro Probe lens to my bag to help me capture a bit more of what I see in my mind's eye. And a macro lens capable of at least 4x magnification without tubes would also help, especially so if it also features near-infinity focus capability. I want to use a camera and lens to capture what I see in my mind's eye, not computer software.
On one hand, using three bodies with primes does open up possibilities for me in my event work that might not be available with two bodies and zooms. Also, shooting with primes encourages more previsualization. On the other hand, I was often at my most creative doing walkabout landscape work when I brought my fixed-zoom compact instead of my big rig, simply because it was so much more FUN.
"Have you found yourself less creative as you acquire more photography equipment?"
Well, similar to what Tom Reichner wrote... When I had one body and one lens, I had to be creative. I was also frustrated by not being able to capture an image that was more compelling for me.
When I had one body and two lenses, I still had to be creative because neither lens was perfect for every image and sometimes you don't have the luxury of time to change lenses for a shot. Adding a third lens restricted me. It ensured that I took fewer photos, with a lower keeper rate. The surplus of gear was holding me back. And then...
Now I use two bodies and two lenses and leave a third at home gathering dust because it's so seldom that I'd use it. Now I find myself being *more* creative. Now I can go from relatively short to pretty long just be clipping a camera or moving a sling.
On a related note, when I moved to Sony in 2019 I had one lens and was going to use a Panasonic with a ?-400mm equiv for an overseas shoot in 2020. When I researched the photo further, I discovered that I needed closer to 600mm to get the image I'd envisioned - So several thousand dollars later, I had a 200-600mm lens and too little time to get used to it before the trip. Then covid came and the trip will occur in March.
The point? Gear can hold your creativity back or enable it. It's not an either/or situation.
I appreciate that the article was about gear envy and the thought that the gear creates the talent, though.
Nope. If you shoot wildlife, landscapes, portraits, macro, street, you get creative with the lens/camera combination that best suits the particular genre.
And as wildlife photographers, some of us have learned that no one lens simply fits the wildlife genre.
When photographing waterfowl on snow and ice an 800mm lens is often most optimal, When shooting the same ducks in flight, a 500mm or 600mm prime is often better. But if shooting those ducks in flight during specialized courtship displays, a 100-500mm zoom would be the better choice.
When shooting geckos and spadefoots and salamanders, a dedicated macro lens capable of 2x magnification is often the best lens, but when shooting small-medium sized snakes, a 60mm macro often hits the sweet spot best, and only 1:1 magnification is necessary. When shooting large frogs and turtles and larger snakes, a 100-400mm zoom with close focus capabilities is often optimal.
When shooting megafauna like Bighorn Sheep, Whitetail Deer, and Elk, the best lens in many situations may be a 600mm prime, but in other situations a mid-long range zoom like a 100-400mm will be better. Or if the subjects are skittish we may need our 800mm supertelephotos, such as I often use for Deer. But then there are times when we want to take photos of the Deer that showcase the habitat that the Deer are living in, so we also need to make sure that we have something to cover the 50-100mm range. But if we are shooting in the forest, under the canopy where light is scarce, then it behooves us to have f2.8 options with us.
So, even if you only shoot one genre, such as wildlife, we see that one may need a wide array of many very different lenses, depending on which kind of critter one heads out to shoot on any given day.
As Tom put, far more eloquently than I could, sometimes creativity doesn't cover gear shortcomings.
I mentioned buying a 200-600 because the ?-400 wasn't long enough (and it was on a Panasonic G9). Perhaps I should explain why it was 100% justified.
The specific photograph that the lens was for: Fly for 14.5 hours to Borneo, then travel inside Sarawak to take a photo of an ape.
400mm on an 18mpix body (with poor DR) is a recipe for a very small print of a very soft image (the x-400 is a consumer lens). 600mm on a 42mpix body with outstanding DR and frame rate is a recipe for good framing without cropping being necessary. And that's without mentioning the better performance in low light or much better AF on animals eyes.
Due diligence planning showed the result of 400mm - It's usually too short for proper framing of this ape. Even 600mm showed that some cropping may be needed.
This is an example of where gear facilitates creativity and lack of gear results in sub-par performance. On the same trip I'll be shooting snakes and other species of apes, as well as lizards and any other animals I can find. The 24-105 will be good for most snakes, but some would be better suited to the 200-600. Having 2 bodies and 2 lenses is highly advisable not just for reasons of speed, but also the fact that the humidity is always close to 100% and it'll rain every day.
Better to spend a few thousand on items that will be used extensively for many years, than to miss a shot or have one that's unusable from a trip costing thousands.
I recently bought a Sigma 60-600mm f6.3, and it has quickly become my most used lens for mammals and birds. I use all parts of the focal length range for my wildlife photography.
Perhaps this lens would be a good fit for some of the wildlife work you do.