“Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel.”
—Peter Adams, Sydney, 1978
When we make the decision to take our passion for photography to the next level, our first instinct is to upgrade our gear. However, while we can improve the quality of our output images by shooting with higher-end equipment, in order to improve our skills and create images with depth and meaning, we first need to examine who we are as individuals and photographers.
It’s easy to get caught up in technology advancements and what’s possible to achieve with the top-of-the-line gear that’s widely accessible these days. But we must remember that to shoot images with a strong point of view, we need to choose gear that’s an extension of our eyes and soul. Our cameras, lenses and accessories need to match our individual sense of aesthetics, and they need to allow us to shoot consistently, intuitively and with confidence.
For this exercise, I invite you to explore who you are as an individual and as a photographer.
Aesthetics. Start a pinboard, gathering images that have some of the qualities you aspire to achieve in your own work. Ask yourself what sort of images you’re most drawn to and what gear was used to obtain those results.
Functionality. Make a list of the features or tools you’re missing in your current toolkit, and another, with equipment and features you use the most. Look for ways to simplify your process. What type of functions could make your photography work or practice more enjoyable, efficient and intuitive?
Portability. Consider your shooting style and lifestyle, and choose equipment that’s compatible with that. What size and weight of camera bag are you willing to lug around? Will you use your gear daily or occasionally?
Personal Rhythm. Investigate the unique way you see, feel and move in the world. What’s your speed, motivation and style?
Confidence. Notice how you feel when you hold a certain camera in your hands. You need to feel confident that your gear will allow you to fully express your point of view. Which gear makes you feel most empowered?
Maximizing your gear. Don’t upgrade for the sake of upgrading. Are you familiar with all the features and settings of your current camera and accessories? Sometimes the good ol’ manual can be very helpful to clear up some basic functionality questions. You also can seek troubleshooting videos and articles online, or you could take a class that’s focused on understanding your equipment.
Repairing your gear. Take your gear to the repair shop. Just like anything, sometimes your gear needs some love, and with minor tuning or repairs, you might feel excited about your equipment’s performance once again. Sometimes cleaning the sensor or the lens professionally can do wonders!
Testing new gear. Renting equipment is just about the best thing ever! Why take the plunge on expensive new gear before testing it out? The best way to find out if certain equipment is right for you is to try it. Not sure if you like one brand over another? Try them both. Ask about equipment rental rates at your local camera shop and start exploring!
Upgrading your gear. Once you’ve gone through all the steps above, ask yourself once again: What’s missing in my current kit? What’s it for? Why do I need it? And, finally, ask yourself how much you’re willing to spend to achieve your goals. Make sure that what you’re willing to spend is on par with what you need versus what you want.
Alessandra Cave is a commercial and editorial photographer living in San Francisco. She’s also a writer, a teacher and the author of "Shooting with Soul" (Quarry Books, 2013, quarrybooks.com), an inspiration and technique book with 44 photography exercises exploring life, beauty and self-expression, and upon which this column is inspired. Learn more about Alessandra and follow her work at alessandracave.com.