How To Master The Art of Photography. Hint: Not With Your Camera

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Photography is expensive.

Whether you realized it or not, you’ve probably spent a fortune to own what you have in your inventory at the moment.

I was out with my wife on a beautiful Saturday a few years ago. We went hiking and naturally I took my gear with me in my Lowepro camera bag. While she was enjoying the gorgeous view and I was snapping photos away, she asked me this:

“How much have you spent in everything that is in your bag?”

Honestly, I didn’t know the answer. But I was just as curious as she was. So I did some quick math.

...and the figure took me by surprise.

Little did I know, everything in my bag and including the bag added up to about ten grand.

“That’s crazy!” - I thought to myself.

But after I’ve calmed down a bit, the truth was really not that unbelievable. Camera gears are expensive, even second hand ones.

Then it got me thinking…

Have I made any significant improvement in the craft and art of photography? Have all these gear that I acquired over the years made be a better photographer?

For a while, I was struggling to explain the difference between craft and art. Then I found this article which sums up the difference between the two very well. Essentially, craft is the "how to - the act of creating" and art is the "vision behind creating".

Stop Being A Gear Collector

the collector

I have a Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 sitting on my shelf. I bought it several years ago because I had read reviews that it was a great lens.

I got it on eBay as a second hand lens. I can’t remember how much I paid but I thought it was a reasonable price.

Apart from doing a few test shots after unboxing it, it’s been sitting on the same shelf collecting dust ever since. I thought of selling it but never had the will to take photos, list it and all that.

That was just one of many examples.

Back in the time before this lens, I had even more lenses that have come and gone. Thinking retrospectively, I was merely chasing shiny objects and collecting gears. I also have a bunch of M42 lenses stored in another camera bag which I don’t know if I’ll ever use them.

Sure, these would certainly look impressive on the shelf or become a topic of conversation for my visitors. But none of these shiny objects have ever made me becoming a better photographer.

When I show my images to my “non-photography” friends, the first question they often ask is “wow, what camera did you use?”.

Every. Single. Time.

I thought that was both an irrelevant and pointless question. But still, I told them what they wanted to hear.

As I gain more confidence and experience in the art of photography, I became more consistent. It is then that I learned I don’t need fancy gear to create images.

I’ve been shooting with Canon 5DMkII, mounted with either a 16-35mm f/2.8 or 70-200 f/4 for the last 5 years (I think? Maybe be more). I know these three pieces of gear in and out and they have also shaped my photography style.

It doesn’t matter what camera and lenses you have. Stick to it, learn it, let it be your best friends. Don’t succumb to the temptation of getting the latest whatever that is on the market. These are merely shiny objects.

my precious

At the end of the day, you’re the one who operates the camera, not the other way round.

Software Don’t Make You Better In Post-Processing Either

Software are like camera and lenses, new ones surface the market from time to time. People get very excited about new software because there’s a constant search for the “perfect” image editing software.

People are always looking for one that's user friendly and has every basic to advance tools they need.

I hate to break it to you, but you’ll never find such perfect software.

If there’s even such thing exist, it would have monopolized the market and make others ceased to exist.

Once when I was just browsing in a photography forum, I came across forum users who have listed every image editing software they owned in their signature. The most I've seen was seven!

The irony is, no matter how many software they own, their images look all the same - mediocre.

They wonder why they haven’t had any breakthrough, why they haven’t developed their own style.

It's simple.

They're obsessed with buying the technology rather than using it to improve their craft and art.

How do I know?

Because I was once that guy.

I thought having the latest image editing software would make me better in post-processing. Not sure how much I’ve spent on these intangible shiny objects, but I couldn’t be more wrong.

If you ask any accomplished photographers what software they use, you’ll certainly find they (collectively as photographers) only use a number of image editing software.

Just like knowing how your camera operates like the back of your hand, you should pick a software and stick to it. Learn everything and make the best out of what you can do with it.

You can almost learn the basics of any software on the internet these days. The information is abundant, if not overwhelming.

Persistence and Perseverance

This feels more like ranting than an article and you might be wondering:

What's my point here?

I’ve wasted money, time and resources chasing shiny objects. The habit is addictive, particularly with how easy it is to buy things from the internet these days. With just a few clicks and you’ll get it the next day on your doorstep!

Spending money is not going to help you improve the craft, it certain won’t make you any better in the art either. There’s a line between having better gears to create better images and having better gears to make you feel like you’re creating better images.

To me, there are two kinds of photographer. One that likes to snap everyday life pictures with expensive gear and one that likes to create images.

If you’re the latter, then you have to cut time off buying stuff and spend more time in learning the craft.

Consider the time you have in photography is 100%, if you want to learn the art, you need to give “learning” more than 50% of your time. You can’t give both equally because you’ll just become Jack of all trades and masters of none.

Personally, I’m sticking to what I have for now until I find my gear limiting what I need to achieve.

What have you decided?

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    • Thanks, Leonid 🙂 Indeed, staying positive, determined and being consistent are the ways forward to become better…not just in photography but most things in life! =)

  • I don’t think it’s 10 grand yet, maybe about half of that considering all of my cameras! It does add up fast though when you consider antique cameras and photographic accessories. Finally, but I love photography…Julian Gang

    • It does add up pretty fast indeed. I have stopped spending on gear unless it’s absolutely necessary 😉

  • I know that I might catch it for this comment, but shooting in RAW does not make you a better photographer. Learning the art of photography makes you the photographer you are going to be…Julian Gang

    • Hey Julian, I agree with you. I don’t think I said that in the article (please correct me if I’m wrong). Perhaps we could agree that shooting RAW may be the first step to start improving one’s photography because it would give you more room to manipulate the image in post-processing.

      • I’m sorry you did not say that, I was just venting at all the other so-called experts out there. I agree that if your metering is on tract, there is not much reason to shoot RAW! Once again let me express that my comment was not directed at you. If you can tell I shoot JPEG and am happy with that format! I like this site and enjoy talking to you…Julian

        • Yes, you’re right. If you can get it right the first time in camera and not needing heavy editing in post…shooting jpeg is perfectly fine 🙂 Thanks again for the support!

    • I have never used a light-balancing filter before. You can correct that in-camera and it does a pretty good job to be honest. Also, if your file is Raw, you can correct that in post-processing.

  • Have you ever used Lightroom, not the subscription LR but one of the other versions. I find using that with the ability to jump over to Photoshop CS3 to be all I need!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…Julian

    • I’ve been using Lightroom ever since its inception. I used to edit with Aperture but I find Lightroom so much better, partly because Apple decided to stop developing the former. I think as long as you can achieve the result you want, just stick with what you’ve got 🙂 Having said that, the newer versions of LR and PS do have better processing engine. For example, the Contrast adjustment in the newer version of PS creates a more subtle and smoother effect (I think it was improved after CS5, I might be wrong).

    • Hi Julian, it depends on how you are planning to use it? It looks pretty cool for general use. 200mm focal length is amazing for a compact camera. Not sure if it has AEB (can’t find it in the specs) but that may not be essential if you don’t bracket for HDR. If you need it for a specific use, i.e. landscape, sports, etc. then maybe not because you can’t change lenses.

      • With the aid of an adapter ring I did add an 1.7 telephoto adapter to it and I have used Cokin close-up adaptation with this camera, thank you for your opinion. I value it!…Julian

      • Hey Yaopey,
        My hard drive bought the farm, I am using a HP Envy x 360 i5 with wi-fi and love the computer so my plan is to purchase a refurbished model of this computer. Is an i5 processor powerful enough…Julian

        • Hey Julian, it’s powerful enough in general. But it also depends on RAM and what software(s) you’re going to use. If you have multiple software/app working at the same time, e.g. photoshop, lightroom, internet browser, spotify, etc, then you probably need at least 16GB RAM or a better processor so you can work smoothly without any of the software dragging the system down.

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