Often photographers complain about not having ‘the right gear’ for a particular shot and use that as an explanation for depthless uninspired photography. But is that really a valid excuse? If it is, how does one explain the powerful photography of Jack Dykinga, winner of the Pulitzer Award in 1971? To really drive the point home, let’s talk about Ansel Adam, who created some of the most striking photographs in the 1940s without any fancy equipment, lens or software. While many have followed the GPS to the exact coordinates from where he got his shot, used the most expensive and technologically advanced gear to imitate some of his photographs, none has been able to reproduce those, let alone capture one better. The duplicates always lack the intensity and power of original.
The key that most amateur photographers miss is that all you need to be a good photographer is imagination, knowledge and an objective you want to meet with your photography. One can acquire these skills only through experience. Not gear.
As Ansel Adam once said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” and this is quite obvious once you look at the work of Ansel Adam and Jack Dykinga. It’s not the gear that makes a heart wrenching picture but the eye of an experienced photographer.
The word ‘image’ comes from imagination. Like any other form of art, a good photograph is solely the result of the photographer’s skill. When people say if they had a Nikon they could get better photographs and compare with top photographers, it’s like an artist saying if I had more expensive brushes they could paint like Da Vinci. The advantage of fancier gear is convenience. The core of the art however, is not a better lens but the skill a photographer possesses to get the right image with the right imagination. Walker Evans said in an interview once “People always ask me what camera I use. It’s not really the camera, it’s…” and he pointed at his temple.
The quality of a lens or camera doesn’t put a constraint on the quality of images it can be used to produce. The right equipment only makes it easier and quicker to get the desired results. An important asset of a good photographer is the knowledge he gains over the years. Ansel Adam did intensive research before taking pictures. He developed the Zone System, which was a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the photograph. The clarity and depth that came out of this process is the reason for his fame today.
Jack Dykinga won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for his photography on the state mental hospital conditions. From there on he always worked on projects with an objective, be it photojournalism or landscape photography, he had the aim of spreading a message through his photographs. This has been a definig characteristic of his photography, which he developed only through experience. It’s important to appreciate the beauty or tragedy of a photograph yourself before others can appreciate it. Mere duplication using better gear or strife to be famous doesn’t make a phenomenal photograph.
To sum up, keep the three golden guidelines in mind: imagination, knowledge and an objective you want to meet with your photography and you won’t have to empty your pockets on expensive gear to climb up the ladder in the world of photography!