I was photographing another University Graduation Ball the other night and managed to get some portraits done as the sun was setting. I was set up with my battery powered studio lights, large softbox key light, gridded strip softbox and High Speed Sync radio triggers. Working away as fast as I could, constantly altering shutter speed and ISO as the light was continually changing to try and coax the most out of the little bit of light and colour that was in the sky. Seeing that I was pretty busy (got over 70 portraits done before we lost the sky light) and the reactions of delight I was getting from the clients, a young graduate came up to me and said that he had brought a ‘Professional DSLR’ with him to the ball.
Him: “What mode are you using to shoot decent portraits in the sunset?”
Me: “You should look deep in the camera’s menu system to see if there’s a Sunset Mode.”
He didn’t come back to me but I did see him wandering around for a while staring at the back of his camera, furiously pressing buttons.
His ‘Professional DSLR’ was a reasonable low to mid range camera. That doesn’t particularly matter, before we get into the realms of Gear Snobbery (but it ended with ON… and started with C).
I was booked to do a fashion shoot and decided to give a photography student from a local college the opportunity to come along for some experience. When she was helping me unpack all my equipment at the location, she opened up my camera bag with a gasp of delight at the pro bodies and lenses. She said how much she would love this camera and that lens and that her photography would improve so much if she didn’t have her cheap DSLR.
As the shoot came to an end, she had been enjoying the results I had been producing, so I asked her to go fetch her own camera and lens. I showed her the settings to use, how to position the model in relation to the lighting. CLICK. She could not believe that she had produced an image almost identical to mine. A lesson in equipment envy.
We live in a world where instant gratification is king. If we buy the latest and greatest new gadget then all our problems will be solved. Press one button and, like magic, the most amazing results happen. We keep hearing phrases like ‘There’s more computing power in your phone than NASA had when they sent a man to the moon’. That may be true but even now you wouldn’t want to pilot the next generation of spacecraft with your iPhone. It takes skill, training and knowledge. Maybe I was a bit short or ungracious with the young man at the ball, I was exceptionally busy at the time; but I have spent years learning my skill and a considerable amount of money on the equipment to get to the point where I know how to create my own ‘Sunset Mode’ with the camera and the lighting. If I’m shooting outdoors in the sunset, for example, I want to be sure that I go to a job with the best chance of not just getting a lucky once in a lifetime shot, where I just happened to have my camera at the right settings and there happened to be just enough light in the right position. I want to be as sure as I can that I will get repeatable and indeed, sellable results that will gain me income, repeat bookings and a sustainable business. Having a better camera will allow you to become more creative as a photographer, but it won’t magically turn you into a Yervant (weddings), Rankin (street), Colin Prior (landscapes) or whoever.
How do I find ‘Sunset Mode’, ‘Portrait Mode’, ‘Landscape Mode’, ‘Street Mode’ in my own camera? OK, here’s my secret recipe (but don’t tell anyone): Understand why one photograph is better than another. Learn how it was done. Re-create, repeat, innovate as required.
This makes the difference between being a photographer and owning an expensive camera.