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.