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Why Photo and Video Gear Doesn't Matter Much and Story Is Everything

Why Photo and Video Gear Doesn't Matter Much and Story Is Everything

What makes a photograph or movie memorable? With cinema as widespread as it is, a film needs to stand out in a big way, not only to succeed at the box office, but to be remembered in any capacity. As for photographs, it's the same challenge. We remember the Tiananmen Square protest photo because it captured the issues sweeping the globe in a single frame. Films like "The Shining" and "There Will Be Blood" are relatively simple in terms of visuals, but have stories that will forever make them classics. And that's exactly what makes a film or a photograph great: story.

I have no idea what that photograph or any of the films were created with. My hope for this article is to break down parts of the gear acquisition syndrome mentality. I don't mean to condemn those that enjoy buying and looking at new gear often (I do it far too often), I just want to shed light on the impact it can have on creativity. That being said, many of the great films of the past forty years were shot on some of the best equipment available (like "The Revenant" on the Alexa 65), but that doesn't distract from the fact that the story is great. "The Transformers" movies are shot on some of the most expensive equipment in the world, but the story is so-so. They're shooting on this gear purely because they have the budget to do so. Films like "The Avengers" or "Captain America: Civil War" have huge budgets because they make a great deal of money and they need to be the best they can possibly be in order to live up to box office expectations. They can afford to shoot on the most expensive and difficult to obtain cameras, so they do. If you can't afford to shoot on the C300 Mark II, but you own a C100, I don't think your film is going to be hurt in any way. To help put this into perspective, take the time to watch this video by Casey Neistat that illustrates this very idea.  

Whether you're shooting on a 5D Mark III, an FS7, or a small point and shoot, there is an opportunity to tell a great story. The secret is to remember that no one watching your movies or looking at your photographs is going to care about the gear you used (unless they're like you and me and need an article to tell them not to worry about it). Work with that in mind and create things. Don't worry about technical limitations like resolution, ISO performance, focus speed, or sensor size. I am certainly guilty of wanting to work with the best gear I can get my hands on, but I've come to realize in the last year that you just don't need it. In fact, it can be detrimental to work with high-end gear depending on your mindset and vision.

In the world of still photography, it's a similar story. While storytelling is a little harder within a single frame, that single frame still needs quality content filling it. Creating that quality content is up to the photographer, not the camera. As a tool, cameras can't think for themselves in order to decide on an aperture to use for just the right depth of field, or a certain shutter speed in order to achieve motion blur. As photographers and cinematographers, it is our job to use cameras to tell a story. Yes, the a7S II will let you shoot in near darkness, opening up opportunities, but a camera can never make a bad story good or a good story bad. It might just give you another way to tell a bad story. 

Creativity is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. Do a 48-hour film competition or one of Film Riot's Monday Challenges that have returned; it helps to have some guidelines as you begin your creative process. Once you really get the hang of creating a film based on some rough requirements, it gets easier to take off the training wheels and start from scratch. In the world of photo and video, the camera serves to tell the story. There's an entire psychology of camera angles, lighting, focal lengths, etc., that contribute to the emotion of the film. Take time to experiment with your gear, learn what it does, and what kind of image you can get from it before you begin to hunt for the next big thing to throw in your bag. 

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Spencer Lookabaugh is a lifestyle and portrait photographer located in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an employee of Midwest Photo Exchange. He is a firm believer in printing, shooting film and digital, and the power of photography. He also shoots landscape work in his spare time.

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I have a 4 yr-old Fuji superzoom point&shoot with a 1990's home video tripod as my only gear. I have found that to make photos that people will look at for more than one second you need, in no particular order, 1) a compelling subject, 2) good composition & 3) good quality/direction of light. Any two of the above will make an acceptable photo. One thing I discovered about point&shoots(the only cameras I've ever owned) is that other photographers don't take you seriously, which I consider the best reason to own one!