As a professional photographer, I do have quite a bit of money invested in equipment. I also invest in peripheral equipment like battery grips, flash brackets, monopods and the like because they help me to do my job better or easier. The result is an awesome looking rig to say the least! For instance, when I’m shooting a wedding, I’ll have a Canon 5DII, battery grip, Speedlite 580EXII with a LumiQuest Softbox III on a Stroboframe Quick Flip bracket running off a Quantum battery pack. It’s a great rig (and heavy too!) and leads to some interesting comments. The most common being, ‘Wow, that’s an expensive looking camera! I bet it takes great pictures!”, which leads to my slightly sarcastic reply, “Sure does. I don’t even have to be here to shoot ‘em!
While I do enjoy nice equipment and cool gadgets, it’s not the gear or the camera that “takes great pictures”, it’s the photographer. And at the risk of sounding pretentious, I don’t “take” pictures; I make them, though I prefer to call them photographs. I believe that to “take” pictures is to simply record an event or scene just for the memory, like a vacation snapshot. Making a photograph involves much more. For example, if I want to capture the sun setting over a certain location I have to research the sun’s path, time to sunset, and when it will be in the best location for my needs. Then I research the location and determine the best area to shoot from, then determine my exposure needs including ISO, shutter and aperture settings, and any supplemental lighting requirements.
I also might a model so I must determine the best one for my needs, how to light her/him, their makeup/hair and what they’ll wear. I also must consider the “mood” I want to portray in the shoot, although that usually comes early on in the process. If I want to do stark monochrome work, I do my prep work with that in mind. If I want a bright and happy look that stands on its own or if I want a dark, moody look I accomplish through sets and Photoshop manipulation and plugins, I need to keep that in mind while I plan and shoot. You can see, there’s a lot more work involved than just showing up somewhere, pointing a camera and pressing the shutter button.
All this leads me to impress what I and many believe is the most important aspect of great photography; that it’s the person behind the camera that makes great photographs, not the equipment! I have seen incredible work produced by the cheapest, simplest cameras. Even cell phone cameras have captured awesome photographs and old cameras like the Lomo series of film cameras have made a comeback. I even have Lomo-esque settings in some of my NIK and Topaz Photoshop plugins! What’s old is new again and keeps coming around after some years on hiatus.
Photography has always been a tool of exploration and photographers have explored and pushed its limits since it was invented. In doing so, they’ve proven time and again that incredible images can be captured by the simplest, cheapest devices or the most expensive cameras and equipment. The bottom line is that your photographs are what you make them, not what your equipment can do. Sure, great gear can help and make the work easier, faster and of higher quality but don’t ever let yourself believe it is not you that makes the photograph, and you can accomplish that with an old 110 camera (yes, they still make 110 film!), a Polaroid instant film camera (yep, they still make these and film too!) or an expensive DSLR with all the bells and whistles. The only advice I can offer beyond that is to shoot what makes you happy and do it often!