Equipment Does Matter; Equipment Doesn’t Matter

 In Newsletter, Picture

There’s a pseudo-debate in photography that has been going on for awhile, but it flares up now and then and it has recently. The debate goes like this: equipment doesn’t matter, because you can make good photos with whatever camera equipment that you have with you. The other side of the debate says, equipment does matter, because without the right equipment, you might not be able to accomplish your vision. I agree with both sides of the debate, and I don’t think this is an actual debate. One side is talking about oranges and the other about apples and when they debate each other, they’re failing to see that they’re talking about different types of photography. The equipment-doesn’t-matter side is talking about journalistic photography (or opportunistic photography) and the equipment-does-matter side is talking about visionary photography.

Understanding the difference puts the debate at rest.

Journalistic Photography

Lake Explorer II

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research ship Lake Explorer II docked in Grand Marais, MN. I wasn’t expecting it, but I took a picture anyway. I happened to have my DSLR with me, but if I hadn’t I would have used whatever I had.

Journalistic photography or opportunistic photography is a form of photography where the photographer goes out into the field just to get a picture. The picture may relate to a specific story or it may not. When a good opportunity presents itself for a photo, the photographer takes the picture. The photographer may use the ideal lens or if action is happening fast, he or she may have to use whatever lens is on the camera. For the casual photographer, this type of photography may encompass the thought, “I need a carry around camera, because you never know what you’re going to see.” For the journalistic photographer, equipment doesn’t matter, because capturing the shot is the priority and if you have to modify how you’d really like it to look for lack of the right equipment, you still get the shot. And, you make it the best shot you can make with the equipment at hand.

Visionary Photography

northern lights over northern lights lake

Northern lights fill the sky over Northern Lights Lake just outside of Grand Marais, MN. I used a fisheye lense because I wanted a subtle curve and because the northern lights were everywhere my vision wanted to include as much as I could. Had I not had the full frame diagonal fisheye lens, I might not gotten my first publication credit from National Geographic.

Visionary photography involves a photographer knowing his or her vision and going into to the field to realize it. In this specific instant, the photographer may have a certain style that he or she shoots, or he or she may have a visual idea resting in his or her imagination. For this type of photography, equipment does matter, because you need the right equipment to translate a vision into reality. It doesn’t need to be an expensive piece of equipment, but it might be. It could be just owning the right filter. For example, if the photographer’s vision involves soft, quirky black & white photography with a camera that has light leaks, he or she may choose to photograph with a $30 Holga and a $8 roll of film. If the photographer’s vision involves taking shots of the Milky Way, he or she may need a $3000 low noise camera and a $2000 fast wide-angle lens. Within this type of photography for photographers that can’t afford the ideal equipment, they make do with the best that they can afford that gets them close to their vision. But if they absolutely lack the equipment that would work for their vision, then they can’t accomplish their vision.

Journalistic Photography vs. Visionary Photography

You don’t have to be one or the other. Photographers can practice both journalistic photography and visionary photography — even on the same outing. For example, I was hired by Minnesota Public Radio to shoot a story about 6 Things to Do in Grand Marais. They sent me a shot list which included taking a picture of Fish Chowder at the Angry Trout. I knew how I wanted to photograph it, so I brought the right lens and a reflector. But while I was walking from place to place to get the shots they wanted, I ran into a bear cub, so I snagged the shot with the lens I had instead of the lens that would have been ideal which I left at home.

Equipment Does Matter; Equipment Doesn’t Matter

So, in my opinion, equipment does matter, except when it doesn’t.


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  • […] on on my lens and used ISO 3,200 and a shutter speed of 0.4 seconds. There’s saying that equipment doesn’t matter, but I say it does matter sometimes. In this case, it […]

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