The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Is it the camera?

"That guy must have a really great camera." How many times have you looked at a photo and thought that? Or if you are at a show have you overheard someone say that? Is it the camera or the photographer?

Well…which is it?

I believe you can give a great photographer a throwaway film camera and the results will be wonderful. If a person has some knowledge of how to use the light that is available – or if they know that the lighting at the time will not produce a decent photo – then the camera makes no difference. The person operating the camera is in charge. If the person taking the photo has the skill to compose the photo it will be a pleasing composition. The camera does not compose – it merely records what ever is in the direction it is pointed. The camera is a tool used by a person. People use tools for many purposes. A driver uses a car in a race. If the driver is a winner usually it is the skill of the driver that is praised – not the excellence of the car, the tool. But like a photographer, the driver's skill is enhanced by having a certain kind of car for a certain type of race. You would not see a stock car in an Indy-type race.

I have different cameras that I like to use for different results. The type of camera I use allows me to get a certain result. In part, I give credit to my camera for the settings that give me the choice I want for my macro shot. My, ancient by digital standards, Fuji S7000 and Canon S2 IS cameras both have a "super macro" setting. This setting allows me to place the lens so close to a subject – it could be touching. In fact, I have taken many shots with the filter touching the subject. I use an adapter tube with these fixed lens cameras. The adapter tube enables me to use filters – if for no other reason than to protect the lens from damage. The camera has the setting – but I compose the shot and use the available light. The camera is my tool. When I want a super macro shot – I use these cameras. Otherwise I am using my digital Rebel. The Canon S2 also has a cool feature called "color accent." This feature gives the photographer the choice of one color in the shot that shows up and the rest of the shot is black and white. Choosing which camera to use for which shot is like choosing a shovel over a rake for which garden job you plan to take on.

Last Saturday I took a workshop. The instructor made a great point about 'is it the camera or the photographer'; he said that when a great writer is asked about his work – does anyone ever ask what kind of pen he used.

OK – after you discuss how the camera is a tool and it is being used, guided, directed by the photographer – someone will say, "yeah, but the photo was really fixed with Photoshop." For that I have one reply – garbage in, garbage out. You can enhance a photo in Photoshop (or any other photo-editing software) but if it is junk – it will always be junk. When film is developed that person tweaks things to get the best photo (sometimes they would tweak things and you would not get a great print!). Adjusting contrast and exposure in Photoshop is no different. Everyone knows that those great photos taken by Ansel Adams were manipulated in the dark room. Does that make him less of a photographer? I don't think so. Again, he was using tools and the equipment available to him to produce the photo he had envisioned and composed when he looked through the viewfinder. His knowledge and skill made him a great photographer – not the camera or the dark room.

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