Take a look at this photograph. It was taken in the summer of 2006 using my first ever digital SLR camera, a Canon Rebel XT and a cheap consumer lens, the EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM that was originally designed for Canon’s line of EOS film cameras.
Now, I didn’t know what I was doing with a camera at that point. I shot primarily in ‘Program’ mode, although I was smart enough to collect my images as RAW files, so the aperture and speed of this image (f/5,1/100) were selected by the camera. Nor was I great at composition, but this picture happened to be adequately balanced. Interestingly, this particular viewpoint completely obscured the village of Craster, leaving only the decaying fishing jetty and the castle in the far distance in view. With the lowering light and muted colors, this gives a desolate and bleak aspect to the image that the small figures of tourists on their way to and from the castle does little to counterpoint.
So it’s an effective mood shot that I would be happy to take today. Even though I would be using ‘Manual’ and carefully selecting my aperture and shutter speed.
What is clear from this image is that nothing could have been added to it had I photographed it with the much better, from a technical point of view, equipment that I spent a great deal of money on as I collected it over the intervening years.
Perhaps it might have been a tad sharper. Or a little less distorted. Or more highly resolved on a larger sensor with more pixels.
But better? No.
At least not from an equipment aspect. Any change, a different aperture, focal point or aspect that I would make today would be based on experience and knowledge gained over the years into the workings of making a photograph.
I could still be using the same camera and lens. (I really could – I still have them). But they’ve been long supplanted with full frame 5D’s and ‘L’ lenses.
Nice things to have. But why was I caught up in the need to improve my equipment to at least the same extent – and I would say more, to be honest – than my need to improve my technique?
Because it was easier.
It’s always easier to buy your way to (apparent) success than it is to work towards it. I could have made a conscious choice to ignore the ads and to ignore the camera enthusiast web sites. Instead, I could have devoted myself to fully learning how to use the camera and lens that I actually had.
But I didn’t. I fooled myself that getting a Canon EOS 30D would give me better pictures than my XT (it didn’t). I fooled myself that an EF 24-105mm f/4L would give me better pictures than that old 28-105mm (it didn’t).
Yes, my options increased as I bought more and more sophisticated equipment. But I didn’t fully use them. Because, still, I did not know what I was doing.
Nine years later, yes, I can say I know what I’m doing and I can appreciate the small advantages that better built and featured equipment give you. But they were, in the strictest sense, completely unnecessary to my development as an artist.
I could have saved a lot of money too.