I teach a lot of photo workshops around the world, and I love to see how learning more about photography inspires people. But recently I’ve had students challenge me about my photos, saying things like: “Well, you have all those big fancy cameras and giant lenses, that’s why your pictures are so good.”
Yes, I’ve been a professional photographer for 30 years, so I’ve told a lot of stories and I have a lot of gear. My camera takes very high-quality images. But I always prefer capturing a great memory to a technically good photograph.
I don’t need a 40mb image file shot in RAW to tell a story.
I don’t need the $4000 f /2 lens to tell a story.
I don’t need 12 frames per second to tell a story.
I just need a good subject to shoot (content) and some kind of image capturing device. I love my iPhone. I love my Samsung NX30 mirrorless camera. It’s pounds lighter than a traditional DSLR and the image quality is great.
As my friend Chase Jarvis says: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
With that in mind, I took up a challenge a few years back while teaching a photography course on a Caribbean cruise. On the first day, I showed the class my work as a photojournalist and heard lots of “oooohhhs” and “ahhhs.” My photos from my years shooting The White House, reality TV shows and professional sports often get those kinds of reactions. But then I showed shots of my kids, travel photos, sunsets and other typical shots – the kind of pictures most people shoot. The students said: “Your camera is bigger and better, that’s why your shots look so good.”
So on a dare, I took a student’s Canon point-and-shoot camera and said I would shoot ONLY with that camera all week on our four-island cruise. No DSLRs, no big lenses. It was just me and my trusty Canon. (I’m a Nikon guy, so the ante went up as I tried to figure out the controls on the Canon).
One advantage of using a point and shoot: I was able to go shoot on the different islands without being immediately pegged a “pro” photographer. Locals in foreign countries, especially at cruise ship stops, often hit up serious photographers for money to take their photo. I always ask permission to take a photo first, and I never give money. I found that a small camera clears hurdles quickly and makes basic storytelling much easier.
A few days later I showed my pictures to the class, laid down in a video produced in Final Cut Pro. I took about 500 photos over the course of the week and many turned out really well: the colors are bright and inviting.
The result? I converted half the class right away to the “it’s not about the camera” way of thinking. The other half still believed you need the biggest and the best equipment to capture a great shot.
So I say use your camera phone. Use your mirrorless camera with the kit lens. Use what you have and capture the memories – they’re what’s really important.