When it comes to choosing your photography gear for landscapes, many photographers are presented with a huge question: does it really matter what kind of equipment I use, or can a true photographer create beautiful landscapes without much of an investment?
The answer is simple. But first, I’d like to talk about a few well-known facts and why they aren’t necessarily true.
Let’s do a quick scenario to help illustrate how this can be an issue. You’re a new photographer who has just upgraded to a digital SLR. You ask a few pro landscape photographers and read through some forums and notice that most are using a full frame sensor, $200 filters, and carbon fiber tripods. Immediately you begin to realize how ill-equipped you are when you initially thought that the jump to an SLR would put you up there with the professionals.
So here’s the conundrum: Some photographers think that you need high-end gear to be an outstanding landscape photographer. Others think the opposite: that gear doesn’t matter, and only raw talent will give you those highly coveted photos…and with that, more attention directed to your work.
…and the rest know that there’s a balance between the two. That is what I want to focus on because this is the right mindset to have.
Finding the balance between your creative talent and the reliance on your gear can be difficult to gauge at first. As I mentioned above, the problem many photographers face is whether or not they need certain gear to improve their landscapes. Will the ends justify the means, or are you just wasting your money?
There’s an important link between the cost of your gear and the images you produce that many miss. If you take an award-winning photo with $8,000 worth of gear…many will just give the expensive gear all of the credit and dismiss the talent that you, the photographer, invested. In actuality, the high-end camera didn’t capture your photo, you did. The overlooked link between your gear and your photo is your creativity and your ideas. Without that, Fact 1 becomes more of a myth.
It’s a simple concept – acknowledging that the photographer is responsible for the photo he creates – but so many ignore it and begin to over-analyze their own work. Photographers sometimes don’t give themselves enough credit where credit is due; that they are the talent and creative force behind each photo.
Yes, you do need to have specific gear to take a certain type of landscape, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will be an outstanding photo. There needs to be talent and also the technical knowledge to get the most out of your gear. You can’t get skip this step and buy a truckload of equipment and expect outstanding images without even knowing how to use it….and then get frustrated when your photos look no different than the ones you took with your iPhone.
The missing piece – an important connecting piece – is your talent. Without that, your camera is absolutely useless, no matter what the price tag is.
This statement is probably a bit harder to accept as not being true than Fact 1. Why? Because most photographers want to believe that the talent and workflow that they’ve spent years developing is enough to get the photos they want. It’s a romantic concept and I agree with it – but only to a certain point.
The key point that this fact hinges on is actually quite simple: the photographers who create outstanding landscapes with a small amount of gear – they know exactly what they need to get the photos they want, and they choose to only use what they absolutely need.
In other words, they don’t need the expensive equipment because they figured out a process – or workflow rather – that doesn’t require a lot of monetary investment.
However, don’t interpret this the wrong way: that those photographers who have all the new toys are in any way less talented or innovative than those who don’t. Simplifying your bag of gear and relying on your eye alone doesn’t work for everyone because we all don’t have the same workflow, and we definitely all don’t have the same goals or end result with our landscapes.
So let’s get back to the main issue here: will your gear give you better photos? I asked this many times myself during the first year of my photography – I would see a landscape photo and instantly look to see what kind of camera they used. And now, many will ask me what kind of camera I’m using to obtain the look to my images, as if my talent depends on the equipment I use…and maybe it does.
This is equivalent to telling a professional chef what an incredible meal she cooked, and then asking what kind of oven she used. Sounds ridiculous, right? Not so much, actually. I’m sure if you walked into her kitchen you wouldn’t find her using an electric griddle and plastic utensils. So there is definitely a correlation between exceptional work and using exceptional tools to get it, but not always. The “not always” part is what many overlook.
The important thing to get from this article is to know that both Fact 1 and Fact 2 are not catch-all concepts; that they are not conclusive and do not apply to every photographer. We all have different workflows – some are minimalists and others are gear collectors – and the process we go through to get our photos do not make them any less valuable or impressive.
If you think that it sounds ridiculous to capture HDR panoramics with your iPhone, then you’re probably right – at least for you. And if you think that it’s an incredible and innovative way to do photography, then that’s okay too.
And if you want to take HD landscape videos with an f1.4 lens, you’re not going to get far with your cell phone. It’s just ridiculous to limit what you want to do with the perception that you can get there with little to no investment, and it’s even more ridiculous to think that your work is devalued if you spent a lot of money for it.
There are a lot of different angles here that can easily debunk both Facts. My point is that they are not true for everyone. There are valid points on both ends of the spectrum, but they are not uniform for every landscape photographer out there. These facts are meant to be bent, broken, and disproved.
Photography equipment and gear is just that: they are tools to get you the results you want. There still needs to be a creative force (you) behind them, and the creative force needs tools to execute their vision. It’s the most important symbiotic relationship in landscape photography: the tools and the photographer.