It's not the camera

What happened to me recently is - apparently - a common problem amongst male photographers in their thirties. It was embarrassing and awkward. And it had never happened to me before, honestly.

It occurred that a few weeks ago, the first time in my life: someone said to me, "Wow, nice pictures - you must have a nice camera!"

It's difficult to write my feelings about this without sounding arrogant and snotty. Especially since I do have a nice* camera, and a bit of a cold.

This article is only for those people who see nothing wrong with the compliment, and for photographers who've had their egos bruised by it. 

I take the picture. If it's good, I take the credit. If it's bad, it's someone's fault. Not mine, of course. But certainly not the camera's. The camera is a tool. Simple as that.

I wouldn't compliment a chef on the sharpness of her knives. I wouldn't bet on the outcome of a race based on the shoes worn by the athletes. Nor do shelves I put up have anything to do with the type of the hammer I use. So what does it matter if I use a Canon, a Nikon, or a camera phone?

And who cares, anyway?

A "good camera" often makes the job easier, sure. Yet let's make the distinction between photography as a job and as a hobby. So although I occasionally need something a bit more from the camera on a difficult job, the main thing is still knowing how to use the thing. Or even recognising what it is I need to do.

But it doesn't follow that a non-photographer (if such a person exists) would win awards but for lack of access to expensive gear.

It's more than this, though. The primary functions on a camera - shutter speed, aperture and ISO are all any of us use, 98% of the time. And every camera has these - even yours. Unless you really do have a rubbish camera (also known as an "Auto-Everything") which won't let you control exposure because it's dangerous.

What else? Think about all those amazing pictures by the greatest photographers that you see in galleries, on posters, in books. Especially the ones taken many years ago, which played a part (to a greater or lesser degree) in making a difference, perhaps making some change in law, informing or upsetting society, even helping to start a war, or bring it to an end. The grainy, black and white images which form part of our collective consciousness.

I'd bet any money that even my camera phone is better than what they used. Yet they produced great things with so little, because it's the photographer who takes (makes) the picture, not the camera. On the other hand, I have lots of pictures of my cats on my phone.

*Anyway, for anyone who's interested in my own camera, I use a Nokia (circa 2002 model). And I allow myself only one frame per shoot. A bit like Scaramanga.