Photographer vs Camera

We all know the answer to this. It’s the photographer that takes the photograph and not the camera. I could end the blog post here but let’s explore some of the twists and turns that happen in a heated argument before all parties arrive at this universal conclusion.

First, the stupid analogies. Like equating the camera to a typewriter. Duh?! The typewriter has got NOTHING, absolutely nothing, to do with the output of the author. A broken typewriter can still “write” intelligible text. The author can even choose not to write but record it as an audio and that would not change the message. However, without a camera, there is no photograph. Be it film, digital or pinhole photography, you need a camera that works and a recording medium to deliver the message you intended.

It doesn’t end there. People often forget the most important ingredient of a good photograph which is the SUBJECT. Henri Cartier-Bresson is undoubtly a master photographer with a crappy Leica camera but he would be nothing if there were no decisive moments that presented to him. Of course he had to make preparations in case the opportunity presents itself, and that is the “photographer” part of the argument. With regard to his camera, I bet he wanted something better but he could not afford it at that time. Same goes with Eddie Van Halen’s frankenstrat or Brian May’s home made Red Special that he used to record all of Queen’s albums. It was a matter of preference and/or circumstance.

Subject is everything. That’s what earns the Pulitzer. Not the camera, maybe not even the photographer. Luck plays a huge role, sometimes even more than the photographer’s skill. Luck though favors those who are more prepared and that’s the photographer’s role. A good example is HCB’s photo of the man leaping over a puddle near the train station. He could not even see the man properly when he tripped the shutter although he anticipated what was about to happen. Click! and he captured the decisive moment. Pure luck.

Anyone can capture a Pulitzer photo but you have to be there.

Let me expound on that last bit because this is something that n00bs need to understand and internalize. Don’t be disheartened when your photos look ordinary. A keeper requires the proper ingredients and the right mix. In landscape photography it means a good location, weather, light and a clincher. The clincher is what makes your photo unique from the millions of cliche shots.

The major advantage of paid photographers over amateurs isn’t the gear. It’s time. They have all the time to wait for the proper ingredients to come together at the right moment. They can stay in one spot for months just to capture that perfect photo. They have time (and money) to travel to interesting locations. If you have all the time in your life just taking photos, the right attitude will make you an expert. For amateurs, this will take a bit longer depending on how much time you can allocate for the craft.

Gear of course matters only if you know how to use it. I will end the argument on gear with that statement.

So is it the photographer or the camera? Sometimes, neither. Give the best camera to Bresson but house arrest him and he won’t have anything. Subject is everything. Which means, stop measurebating, go out and shoot.


One thought on “Photographer vs Camera”

  1. This is just an eye-opener for me. I always kept on thinking that I suck on composition but forgot that I didn’t choose a good subject after all.

    I get a lot of keepers when I plan/prepare for particular subjects and lighting conditions. And lastly you are very right about the time we consume on shooting, amatuers just dont have the luxury of time.

    Thanks for sharing!

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