Gear Head vs. Photographer

By Gary Gray

Autumn is in full swing in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

This isn’t the greatest photograph I’ve ever taken, but it illustrates a point I’d like to make with this blog entry.

Here’s a challenge for you.

What camera and/or lens was this image taken with?

Don’t let the small internet size fool you, this prints nicely in large format. I’d bet you can’t tell me what camera I used because it doesn’t matter. I saw the scene, used the camera I had with me and made the photo. The camera I used didn’t matter.

I’ve had hundreds of clients, students and working partners over the years. I’ve used about 10 different camera bodies over the years. I can’t count the number of lenses I’ve owned.

One thing that keeps coming back to me is that there are two basic types of photographer out there. Those who think that photography is all about the gear they have and those who think about the aesthetics of their next photograph.

I refer to them as “gear heads” and/or “photographers”

On a recent trip, I was setting up a sunset shot and another photographer came along, positioning himself about 20 feet from me to get the same shot.

I said hello and he immediately replied “hello, I’m a professional photographer.”  We shook hands and exchanged names. I’d never heard of him. He then went on to explain that he had a brand new Nikon D850 and an expensive tripod and a wireless remote and an app for his mobile phone and he seemed quite full of himself for having all of these gizmos to get this shot both of us were trying to get. If I were insecure I would have been jealous of all his expensive stuff but honestly, I was more interested in the scene that was developing before us and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to be that great a shot and was losing interest with each bloviation coming from his mouth. I remained polite and after he had explained how great he was, I told him that I was a “professional grandpa” and was using an obsolete camera, neither of which seemed to impress him.


After a short while, I gave up on the scene. The clouds weren’t right, the light wasn’t right and any photograph taken that evening wasn’t going to be a great photograph. I stopped and put my gear away. The guy with the D850 kept shooting. I asked him to see one of his shots. After looking at it, I said “Meh”, not all that impressed with the image. He was irritated. I pointed out that one part of the sky was totally cloudy, the other part of the sky was totally clear and that the light was obscured by the clouds. “Maybe you can photoshop that to get something usable. I’d personally come back another time and get it when the conditions were better.” This seemed to irritate him. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass, but I call it as I see it. That wasn’t going to be “the shot” no matter what camera was used.

“Meh”, explained it all. No camera gear can compensate for a bad scene to photograph.

A not uncommon experience in the field. Some guy with a camera thinking he’s important by virtue of his existence and the equipment he owned. I’ve also experienced the opposite. Someone feeling inadequate or insecure because they had an older camera with a cheaper lens attached. They are more worried about their equipment than the images they are trying to capture. This phenomena manifests itself in many different forms, over and over again.

Gear Head syndrome.

Oh, I’m guilty too. Being an engineer by training, I like to delve into the technical minutia and ogle over the latest/greatest specifications as if it were the end all, be all of good photography. It took me about 2-3 years of running a photography business to learn that people didn’t care what camera I was using, they cared what my photographs looked like. I quickly lost interest in buying the next state-of-the-art gear and simply learned how to use the gear I did have and how to compose and expose a compelling image.  The result to date is that I’ve made the most money and got some of my best photos with gear that you could barely give away today because it isn’t technically up to current specs.

Good photography isn’t about your camera equipment. It’s about the person using it.

If you want to be a better photographer and capture better images, lose the camera envy, lose the gear worship, learn to see. To create a compelling photograph, you must learn to see and learn how to capture it. Your gear is peripheral to that fact. Your composition skills will be 95% responsible for what your image looks like. For some folks, it’s hard to learn when not to take a photo. That expensive or cheap gear is clouding their thinking, making them believe it’s either doing something superior or inferior, when what is really important is what you are looking at and understanding what to do with it.

So, back to my original challenge.  What camera was this image taken with?

I’m not going to tell you.

It doesn’t matter.