Why I Hate Pretentious Gearheads

Why I Hate Pretentious Gearheads

Every so often, among the broad and amorphous photographic community, you will find a rather puzzling paradox: Gear doesn’t matter, and yet if you don’t have expensive gear, you’re not a proper photographer. How ridiculous.

A photographer will lie on their deathbed muttering “it’s not about the gear, it’s not about the gear” and yet will have just spent a life viciously judging their peers for cheap glass, second-hand tripods, and brassed bodies. Despite this noble belief that equipment does not determine ability, there’s still this pervasive, unavoidable, sneering attitude that says that if you’re not sporting a lens that weighs more than an overweight baboon, with an aperture so wide that it threatens to disrupt the moon’s orbit, you’re not a “real” photographer. Somehow, there is only one type of professional and he shoots with the fastest, heaviest primes for the biggest, sweat-shoppiest multinationals, creating images so sharp that your irises will be scarred for life, delivering photos of depressingly beautiful people who stare pretentiously down at you from billboards and buses around the world. And everyone else? Everyone else is an amateur.

“Photographers complaining about weight are not photographers but just tourists,” went the comment on one of my recent articles, as though everyone who’s not shooting for Prada or Nike is some sort of two-bit hobbyist with a penchant for waterfalls and kids’ soccer games. It seems that there is only one type of client, and that client pays huge fees to all of the “real photographers” who qualify for the jobs by having sold various body parts and investing accordingly. All of those lesser clients with their small budgets, modest requirements and eyes that don’t zoom to 300 per cent? They are mere figments of your imagination. If you work for one, you’re making it up. Apparently, you need to go back to shooting portraits of your dog and maybe your wife leaning awkwardly on someone else’s expensive car until you’ve faced reality, remortgaged your grandmother, and put your spleen on eBay so that you can finally buy some proper glass and join the big boys in their big boys' club. (But don’t switch to medium format, however. That’s excessive.) Until then can you cannot call yourself a photographer. Until then you’re just an Instagrammer. 

Here’s some truth: If you can’t afford expensive glass, buy the glass that you can. Cheap lenses will be soft, and that’s fine as long as you manage your expectations and that of your clients. If anyone tells you otherwise, ask them why they aren’t shooting in large format and then tell them to shove their opinion where even the highest ISO is woefully inadequate.

Lead image is a composite using a photograph by KR Romm.

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Michael Holst's picture

"Gear doesn’t matter, and yet if you don’t have expensive gear, you’re not a proper photographer. How ridiculous."

I think this can be attributed to the fact that within the community, there exists opposing perspectives and from an external perspective it seems like people are talking out both sides of their mouths but when we examine at a more focused level we see that this is because some people say one thing and other people say another.

Didn’t this guy just post last week an article on here about how the “best” photographers still shoot DSLRs? I mean it’s not the same thing exactly... but still

Michael Holst's picture

He posted about a report that shows what professionals ARE shooting. If you read it it speaks to how it's difficult for firms to reinvest into new tech after having so much already invested into a brand/medium. It was not talking about what you SHOULD shoot with.

I'm at the point where I actually don't like buying new gear, simply because it interrupts my workflow. Once I get in the groove of working with a particular light, lens, or camera, changing it up with something new means having to spend at least part of the time learning the idiosyncrasies of that piece of equipment. I see a lot of professionals working with good quality cameras, but I also find they are rarely the latest and greatest piece of gear. I suspect that's because with working professionals, for whom time is money, what you know you can work with is always a better option than the newest piece of gear promising to take your photography to the next level.

I am not a gearhead. You won't find me talking about much about cameras, lenses or lights. But, if I am honest, I own a nice collection of pretty top shelve stuff. Why? First of all, for me, photography is all about the pictures. It is about creating images that stir the eyes and the soul though often it is about creating images that my client's need.

It is this second category of image making that both funds and requires top shelve stuff. Why? When the pressure is on, when you have a lot of money riding on the results of a shoot, when you have talent in front of you and both ad agency and client people behind you, you don't need to worry about if your gear is going to work and deliver what they are paying for.

That said, endless talk about what is better, Sony, Nikon, Canon or poop, just does not interest me that much. Pictures do.

But, some of my best images were​ shot on some very third rate gear or even my phone. It's about the results, not the method.

Zave Smith

Ben Ihloff's picture

With all due respect, do you know what else is a figment of your imagination? Other people's opinions and viewpoints. While it is fun and interesting to read about them, listen to them, and learn from them, it is impossible for you to truly know anyone's perspective, much less an analysis of the illusory collective perspective of two or more individuals. Society and hate are both illusions and do not exist beyond the realm of thought.

With that said, and to your point, don't worry about it. Just have fun and that enjoyment will almost always lead to inspired and creative works of art that your clients will love.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I don't know why for so many people "gear" means lens or cameras. I don't have a large selection, my lenses and cameras are not that new, especially the lenses. But now lights, modifiers, to me are critical to be able to do about anything when the situation comes. My gear is definitely lights.

When approached at weddings I'm shooting about what camera I have or lens, I take real delight in mispronouncing the manufacturer and just mention the colour of the camera body. It's s a FUDGIE and it's a black one :-)

Joel Manes's picture

That's just rude. You could say that you can't talk equipment right now because you are working.

After 15 years and over 1,000 weddings civility has left the building :-)

Joel Manes's picture

Well, that's when I would think that professionalism kicks in.

I am trying to figure if this is satire or for real...satire is often funny but this just seems angry for no good reason.

michaeljin's picture

Wow.. this post is a freaking salt mine. Get a therapist.

JetCity Ninja's picture

you DO realize that everyone on the internet lies, right?

Jorge Cevallos's picture

Good article, but Mr. Bean doesn't agree with your arguments.

David Pavlich's picture

Don't feel bad, I hate pretentious photographers, pretentious musicians, pretentious lawn care people, pretentious parents, pretentious kids, pretentious.....you get the picture. Using 'pretentious' as a modifier usually means an off putting person.

I'm a real gear head with a non-gear head bank account. If I had a long lost uncle drop off a butt load of money, I'd be heading to the local camera store to prove my gear headedness. But it doesn't matter a whit to me what other people shoot with.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Life could be a bit controversial. Limited gear could be a solace, the unlimited choice could be a corse... Pretentious gear heads do not bother me. Maybe because I am the one... But I do not own MF still :-)

Scott Mason's picture

Every time I feel myself coming down with "lens envy" (or sometimes studio envy) I have to remind myself what amazing work can be made from humble gear. It's so much more about your ability and creativity to work around the limitations of your gear than the gear itself.

The only time I've really felt that my gear held me back was using a cheap, slow zoom lens in a dark auditorium with zero flash. The photos didn't come out as sharp as I wanted, and as soon as I upgraded that zoom to a high-end one, I never had the issue again.

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

My dad once said that the best plumber is the one that can stop your toilet flooding the house, so who cares if his spanner is a rusty piece of crap or a titanium-boron super duper extra special cannot afford it. It's still a spanner and it ain't crap if it works. Same with photography. Sure, good equipment helps, but it's the idiot behind the camera that makes or breaks it. Put another way, if you need the latest whizz band tech to do your job, then you're not very good at your job to begin with.

Kendrick Howard's picture

I agree with this article for the most part. I think the photography community in general puts too much emphasis on things like how razor sharp an image is and how many stops of dynamic range a certain camera has. I mean I get it, it's fun to compare but when you look ant many of the worlds most famous photographs. they are often grainy and soft but the subject matter and feel are strong! You want a-lot of dynamic range and sharpness - get a Pentax 6x7 for around $300-$500. It's better than about 90% of the gear used by fans of this blog I bet - oh but it doesn't have eye focus tracking so yea probably you can't get a epic shot with it.....

Very true, I use to run behind that crazy bokeh and sharpness because of some youtube reviews I follow (hence many glasses and camera changes) until I start spending time with old treasures. It took a while to accept the fact that what we convey matters more than certain technical aspects of the photography.

These days, I just focus on shooting good pictures.

Justin Punio's picture

The fact is for most of our jobs you need to have a certain level of investment to deliver professionally results. The key is balancing how much you spend with how much gear you actually need.

Perhaps "Gear is as important as your skill, but as necessary as your wallet would allow" is the right way of putting it?

It's like software programming. You could keep learning about programming languages, algorithms and data structures (gears and accessories), but unless you find a way to translate that you have in your head to a working code (vision, skills), it's all useless. Both have to co-exist. As you hone your skills in translating that thinking to a working code, you realize that the tool you use may not fit certain need and then you learn a different one.

Geek analogy, but a right one I believe. When people ask my advise on buying a camera, I tell them to think a bit more than their current requirements (not too crazy as well) unless it can't be achieved with their smartphone (most of them ask a advise for "occasional" photography with a possibility of pursuing photography if time permits).

David Pavlich's picture

When I get asked about gear, I recommend that if a person is serious, get the best gear that he/she can afford along with doing a little research before hand to avoid, as much as possible, getting stuff that doesn't fit with photographic intentions.

Jon Premosch's picture

if you shoot for Prada in 2019 you are probably using a point and shoot film camera and some 30$ hot lights. If you shoot with a 7000$ Sony set up you are probably shooting your cat or some anime convention.

Over a year of pain and physical therapy taught me that yes, weight matters.

Milenko Đilas's picture

From my personal experience, I achieved a shift by purchasing new equipment this was reflected in the quality of my photos. When I experienced the maximum with the equipment that I had then, I realized that better than that I could not achieve with that "old" equipment (lot of people are still working with such equipment today) so I decided to buy a new body first, and then new lenses. Did I do the right thing, I think I am. My photo quality is now better and I'm making more money with new equipment. Am I now a better photographer than before this new equipment? ... I do not think I am.
So, if some new equipment comes out and I think that with the existing knowledge I will be able to improve my photos quality with new equipment, Yes, I will buy it if the price is reasonable.
Also, I am someone who constantly improves my knowledge, but at one point the process of learning slowing down.

Gil Aegerter's picture

"Cheap lenses will be soft."
No, soft lenses will be soft, whether they cost $50 or $1,500. And a $1,500 lens without good technique will be soft.

Shannon Wimberly's picture

It's a blooming civil war I tell ya! Posting anymore is like sticking a bloody flag in the air only to be barraged by semi-automatic rifled opinions and searing disagreements!