I think Casey Neistat says it best, “The gear never matters. Tell a great story really well, and people will forgive whatever gear you shoot it on."
It’s not fairly uncommon to hear the comment, “Wow, you’re camera is so great!” while on a photo shoot somewhere. Sure, they don’t truly understand what they mean by that, but deep down it makes almost every photographer like myself cringe a little. I’d love to respond with, “It’s not about the gear, its about the story!” but I often respond with a simple ‘thanks’ as I understand most are simply trying to give a compliment.
Gear at its simplest is a tool. A doctor has its stethoscope, a teacher has their teaching lessons, and a photographer has their camera gear. As a professional photographer that has gone through the years updating my gear piece by piece, I understand the importance of this tool, by all means, but sometimes we can lose sight of what really matters: the story.
Think back. The story is what captivated us when we first picked up a camera. We saw a precious moment of family and friends, grabbed whatever we had, and went for it! I’d love to tell my story as a photographer, and explain just how gear doesn’t matter.
I purchased my first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel XS, at the end of my senior year of high school. After years of buying point and shoot cameras, I finally saved up enough to get “the large camera that could change lenses.” Frankly, I didn’t know much about it, just that it was better than my point and shoot. After some experimenting and using it for the same things as before: friends, family, traveling, and events, I planned out my first intentional photo shoot with a location and style in mind. I convinced a couple of friends to explore downtown, and sure enough that was my first portrait experience as a story teller. (I'm going to be super vulnerable here for a moment—introducing my first ever photo session!)
Was the technical quality there? Definitely not. Was the story of that photo session incredible? Probably not. But would a brand new camera with the latest lens have changed that? By no means! Capturing a story well, is more than the technical. Its entirely about the mood you present and how you communicate that. It’s something you learn as you go: part skill, but more so part of being and experiencing the moment at hand. The technical simply highlights it.
So how does one learn to experience the moment?
Well, for me, it started with adventure.
With my first DSLR in hand, I went off to college in a city seven hours away from home to study design. Everything was new, exciting, and waiting to be explored. I met, lived, and learned with an entirely new group of people. My life changed and I was given an entirely new atmosphere, and while challenging at first, it taught me over and over, how to see in the moment. And by ‘see the moment’ I really mean, seeing the potential of each experience. “How can I remember this best?” And so it began, the learning of how to tell a story.
While my gear was still just a crop-sensor camera with a horrible kit lens, I was understanding how to tell a story, and once I learned how to do that, my photos came alive. I learned the beauty of different light qualities, how a location can transform the mood of an image, and began to truly see how certain angles can transform the human body. I found myself taking photos of people everywhere: my roommates, classmates, friends, family.
That’s when I got the big question, “Can you take my senior photos?”
Hmm, what a question. Suddenly things got real. Can I? Yes. Do I feel qualified to? No. Would I enjoy doing it? That was a definite yes. I found myself in this awkward predicament knowing that my gear couldn’t compare, yet knowing I’d love every second of it. So I went on a limb and said yes, and haven’t looked back.
Meet Danielle: The first senior portraits I have ever taken.
If I'm being completely honest, I can’t help but look back at these images and see the technical faults of the gear I was using, but what’s more important is that I still feel the emotions of that moment, and I think she would say the same. I remember the perfect summer June night, the tucked away field that we used, and the softness in who she was. The entire scene reflected exactly who she was and the story she wanted to tell, and for that I am incredibly proud.
“Its what you do with the tools, not what the tools are themselves.”
—Casey, Podcast on the School of Greatness
Today, I continue to tell stories; stories of couples head over heels in love, families with little energetic kids, seniors anxiously graduating high school, and precious little newborn babies. Sure, I have continually advanced my gear as I see fit, but today its more critical than ever to capture the heart of the story and to remind myself that it's always about the story. Without heart, gear is useless. It's you and the subject, who makes the photo: Who you are and what you’re about.
Professional or not, don’t let yourself stray away from picking up a camera because you don’t have the latest and greatest. Use what you have, capture the moment, and love what you do! Better yet, try something new: film, video, whatever it is just create. We’re incredibly blessed with readily accessible tools like Snapchat, Instagram, and Beme, so take advantage and tell your story.
Have I convinced you yet? The gear doesn’t matter, tell a great story.