On Why You Need to Rewire Your Thinking If You Obsess Over Photography Gear

Be honest: when was the last time you drooled over the latest piece of gear? If you're like most of us, it was probably more recently than you'd care to admit. And while there has been a lot said on the subject, I think this rant really cuts to the heart of the matter.

Coming to you from Karl Taylor, this great video rant makes his view on how much gear matters abundantly clear, but it also offers quite a few bits of wisdom along the way, all of which I agree with. While we've all heard it before and all know that yes, there are certain situation where only certain gear can get the shot, by and large, the truth is that we spend way too much time worrying about minutiae of equipment that already provides capabilities so far above and beyond what we need to make the images in our heads that it's borderline ridiculous to discuss it at the lengths we often do. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with being geeky and having fun talking about gear, but when it starts to detract from cognitive effort that could be spent on making better, more compelling images, then there's a problem. As Taylor says, we need to "start thinking about the way [we] think about photography."

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41 Comments

Richard Keeling's picture

Fun. This popped up while I was in the middle of scanning yesterday's roll of 35mm film, photographed with the very nice but obsolete Nikon F4. Some frames looked good, others less so - but there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera. Now, I'm an amateur - and always will be - so I have that time and no need for the business efficiency that Karl referred to and what I currently do is what provides me with the greatest pleasure. That said, I still drool over lovely cameras and lenses. The difference being that I know if I follow through with a purchase, that, in itself, isn't going to improve my photography one bit.

Alex Cooke's picture

Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. That's pretty much how I feel too; I don't mind drooling over gear because I'm a geek and genuinely enjoy the wow factor of these amazing machines and pieces of glass, and I think that's fine as long as I remember that it isn't going to improve my imagery (as opposed to photography).

Anonymous's picture

Your opinion is bad and you are wrong. There is no pleasure in photography other than maximizing image quality.

Stop enjoying yourself!

:)

Richard Keeling's picture

LOL!

Anonymous's picture

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” -Ansel Adams

You do you, Richard. Enjoy your journey making something memorable and worthwhile.

g coll's picture

Ah no he's not. That quote illustrates the point completely. Perhaps you've misunderstood the quote itself.

Anonymous's picture

Nope. Adams understood that, while technical quality is important, it is one of numerous components that make a good photograph, and a good photographer. Sharp images are nothing without vision; that’s what is meant by his quote. He preferred large format, but also shot 6x6, including Half Dome in 1960.

Anonymous's picture

Read what I wrote more carefully, and try not to let your own bias blind you to it. The technical is important in photography, but as a means to an artistic vision.

Anonymous's picture

Seriously, Bob, enough with the trolling accusations. What did I say that was mimicking you?

And of course I don’t get to say how much one values the technical over the artistic components of photography. It’s a spectrum and an interplay whose levels are determined by the photographer. You're responding to a thread where I commented to Richard to “enjoy his journey making something memorable and worthwhile”, silly goose!

You seem from previous posts to value the technical more so than some other people may. Good for you! I mean that sincerely. I don’t knock you or others for that, try doing the same for others with slightly different priorities.

And also, I hope you find the absursity in calling me childish in a post that you begin with the equivalent of “No I’m not, you are!”

So silly!

Richard Keeling's picture

I guess it depends on what you mean by 'quality'. If you obsess about 'maximizing image quality' - and it seems that is the be all and end all of your photographic viewpoint - then you are right. I, on the other hand, look for artistry.

Richard Keeling's picture

I'm not going to argue with you over the technicalities. I have both digital and film cameras - I am well aware of the differences. What you have failed to understand when I wrote "there was nothing in the good shots that I felt was lacking simply because I didn't take them with the latest digital camera" is that the best objective quality is simply irrelevant to me. I could have photographed the scene digitally - I made the artistic choice to shoot film. What is relevant is the artistic worth of the result, and, of course, each of us tends to interpret that differently.

Richard Keeling's picture

Sorry - you're wrong, Mr. Brady. You have an axe to grind, and good luck with it, but please don't apply your misconceptions to my intentions. Let's leave it at that.

Richard Keeling's picture

As I said, let's leave it at that.

Richard Keeling's picture

By the way, Bob, I'd be really interested to see some of your photographs - I notice you don't seem to have any here. Do you have another display site?

Richard Keeling's picture

Nothing much - or maybe a lot. I won't know until I see them. You do have some?

Richard Keeling's picture

I don't know! I'm interested but if you don't
want to share that's OK.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I'm an amateur also. What's interesting is that I have two of the three cameras that Karl featured in his video; no, I don't own a Hasselblad. I've been shooting film since 1980 with my Canon A-1. I added a used Canon New F-1 so I could use my Canon FD lenses. What I didn't know was that my wife bought me a Canon 5D III for Christmas 2013. I enjoy photography whether it's film or digital. With the price of the 5D, I'll use that until it breaks.

Anonymous's picture

I'm not a gear geek and don't really care about such things but it does get a bit old hearing this stuff over and over again. Rather than telling people what not to do, I much prefer practical articles on how to improve photography. If there were more of those, I wouldn't be reading articles I don't really care about. Maybe I should get a hobby. I hear photography is therapeutic and not too expensive. ;-)

Alex Cooke's picture

This is an article on how to improve photography; it talks about the right mindset one should have when learning how to be better. You can't learn if you don't know what to learn about.

Anonymous's picture

But I won't watch the video on how to improve photography if you don't mention that and only describe it as a rant against GAS. ;-)

Alex Cooke's picture

“this great video rant makes his view on how much gear matters abundantly clear, *but it also offers quite a few bits of wisdom along the way, all of which I agree with.*”

Anonymous's picture

"Well I wasn't listening then, I was thinking of something else..." Drax the Destroyer

;-)

Anonymous's picture

I always appreciate your references, Sam.

Anonymous's picture

Lacking wit of my own, I have to borrow it from better men than myself.

Anonymous's picture

Don’t short change yourself!

Paul Lindqvist's picture

If he actually wanted to teach people something why would he spend the majority of the video ranting about something that can be summarized in a sentence? He could just have moved on telling people his "bits of wisdom"

Alex Cooke's picture

He’s using the anger to emphasize to his followers (particularly those who ask him about gear, which must be exceedingly annoying to a guy who teaches) how much it doesn’t matter to him. It drives home the point.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I have a hard time taking someone seriously when they go on like he does, if he get's angry so easily maybe he should step away from teaching if gear talk is beneath him. Yet he sits in a pile of it....

"you are no way near as good as you think you are..."

Nice philosophy...

Tony Clark's picture

I understand gear envy, desire or GAS as it’s called, I have DSLR’s that are one and two generations behind but deliver nice images. I think I bought two of my six lenses new but they all deliver the desired results. The two lighting kits I own were purchased used and have operated as needed, no failures to date. It’s nice to have everything paid for and paying my bills. Now go out and shoot a personal project, treat it like you’re getting paid and learn something new. I’ve been doing this for twenty three years and I still love doing this exercise.

Sergio Tello's picture

Some of blame goes to the YouTube gear peddlers disguised as "instructors".

Joe Bodego's picture

I still have my Nikon d800 and Canon 5D mark III, so glad i waited 4 years before even considering an update until now when the respective updates now support 4K. I find if you put yourself on a 4 year update timetable you can avoid most of the reviews that does nothing to improve your techniques and overall knowledge and focus more on getting your money. How can they write that glowing review of the Nikon 800 then a few years later insinuate its no longer worth its value because there is an update? Heck i still use my Nikon D90 and kit lens from 8 years ago when i travel and shoot good photos. Lets face it, photography by the Elite is dead, you would never convince the next generation that their iPhone photos ain't good. The current generation cares less about rule of thirds, chromatic aberration, DOF and all that crap, a photo of grandma or a night out is all that matters.

Anonymous's picture

I think your strategy would work well for most professionals and semi-pros: it strikes a good balance between improved gear capabilities and personal improvement.

Although I have to disagree slightly with you comment on the “current generation”. Pictures of grandmas and nights out have been the focus of most people’s interest in personal photography for decades. They’ll still be some people interested in going beyond these images, and they’ll gravitate to improving their craft.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Nothing new at all in this video, the tools doesn't make the photographer. Just as the pan doesn't make the chef. The rant is as useful as the "what camera should i get.."

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Very true, a fact that is diminshed in such pointless rant.

Giovanni Aprea's picture

Back in the film times the options were as many as we have today and as such one tries to make the best out of gear, I still have my dad's Nikon F with a (non working) Photomic and an F3 we bought used when I was a teen, I did inherit those along with 28/50/85/200 lenses and back then I guess they did it all with gear like that, a camera had a manual winder so speed wasn't an issue, instead of sensors you pick the right (you wish) ISO film and there you go, not much to pick from.

Nowadays I can agree on the marketing bit, I can still use and actually still learning to take out the potential of my two gen old Nikon D800 but I'd not dream to take out the Fuji S5 for indoor shooting, sure I did back when I bought it but there weren't better options, sure it still takes amazing pictures but it would be stupid to deny that there are huge advantages in recent sensor tech and would be just anachronistic to be stuck back in time even for a newbie who can buy much better gear on the new market low end than on the past years used high end with the same money. I handled a Nikon D5000 which feels like a toy compared to my Fuji S5 but much cleaner ISO even at base sensitivity, much quicker in each and every aspect operating speed wise... sure, they all have their niche, I don't need the D850 but either would go back to the Fuji S5 or the other amazing toy I bought used it being a D2Xs, they can still play their role under "normal" conditions as well as an old Ferrari Testarossa would but a modern japanese car would smoke it after two corners on non-ideal condition so, to summarize my point of view, I don't need the latest hardware but can't deny that a generation or two back is way better than 5 or 6...

Lens wise I took some great pictures (great being compared to my ability) with 40+ old year lenses, it's not all about aspherical, low dispersion, coatings bla bla bla, a good image gotta say something then it would eventually be about peeping.

Reginald Walton's picture

Funny how these videos and articles about "obsessing" over gear is from people with tons of high-end gear. :)

Nick Kelly's picture

Notice how the people that say equipment doesn't matter are typically the ones that own the most expensive equipment, Karl Taylor as a prime example of this hypocrisy. His studio equipment unquestionably does make a difference.

Would magazines and clients pay for Karl's work if he used a starter camera and no studio equipment? Gear DOES matter, you're not going to capture clear milky way/star shots with a slow kit lens, you can't capture a distant bird full frame with an iPhone or 18mm lens, you're not going to get a sharp bird in flight shot with a slow point and shoot, etc, etc.

You're not going to reproduce a Michelangelo if your only tool is a hammer. You need to start with the right tools for the job. I've seen people attend photography days and come away disappointed because they believed that equipment doesn't matter.

Paulo Macedo's picture

SPOT ON! Needless i say more. You can't see it, you can't shoot it.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Photographers are not alone in obsessing over technical achievements of their equipment. Car guys, who have never seen a race course, obsess over their Porsches. Gun guys, who seldom go hunting, obsess over their guns and attachments. It's the same for fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, and any other hobby/endeavor where where the user can appreciate the technical achievement of their equipment. My observation is that it is mostly males that do this but I could get in trouble with the PC police.

Anonymous's picture

There is a certain irony to doing this rant on camera with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment sitting around all over his studio. Efficiency or whatever, but don't give me some BS that he absolutely needs every bit of camera equipment that he owns.

People get their joy from all different aspects of photography so I think it a bit asinine and arrogant for this man to dictate what other people should or shouldn't care about in regard to their gear. While I agree with the overall sentiment that people should ultimately shoot more than they do and focus their efforts on developing their skill, it's simply stupid to completely dismiss the role of the equipment you use not only in the final results, but in the enjoyment of the process itself.

As far as all of his talk about film, yes, we had equipment that was good enough decades ago and things have only improved since then. The caveat, however, is that it was good enough in its time and as technology has progressed, the goal posts for what is considered to be good technical quality have also moved. Images that were considered sharp decades ago would not be today. Editing that was considered good decades ago would be amateurish by today's standards. And quite frankly, with very few exceptions, photographs that were considered great decades ago would generally not stand out in a line-up against even cookie-cutter Instagram or 500PX efforts today, much less what today's professionals are producing both in content and quality. The technology has improved and so have our expectations.

As far as how many megapixels a person actually needs, I guess it depends. With the ubiquity of 4K screens today and the advent of 8K screens, I wonder how even photographers that only ever plan to view their images on their screens or upload to the web will feel in several years' time (when 8K screens come down in price and become more common) when the images coming out of their 20-ish megapixel cameras will not even fill up their computer or TV screen at full size.

Dillan K's picture

My lack of spare cash has made me much less gear obsessed. It works wonders! I embrace the obsolete gear that I own!