Mind Over Matter

My name is Rob, and I matter. I'm gonna tell you a true story about a famous photographer from New York City. But, I can't tell you his name, because he doesn't have one. Because this is a fictitious tale.

This famous photographer was invited to a dinner party. When he arrived the hostess offered to take his coat, and in recognizing him, paid him a compliment.

I just love your pictures, she said. You must have a wonderful camera!

He took his compliment graciously, handed over his coat, and made his way to the bar.

After a delightful dinner, the famous photographer piped up to pay gratitude to the hostess.

What a delectable dinner! You must have an amazing stove!

If this joke makes any sense to you, then you already know what I'm going to tell you. But, keep reading. It's the polite thing to do, ya know.

It's a popular theme amongst new photographers and people who don't know shit about shit - that it's the camera that makes the picture.

It's true. The camera does make the picture, but it doesn't make the picture. The photographer does.

The camera you use doesn't matter.

Sort of.

You can hand a $7,000 rig to any putz that isn't a photographer and he'll be able to take a picture, but it probably won't be a good one. Sure, the colors will be accurate, and it might even be in focus, but it won't be anything to write home about.

On the other side, you can hand a Fisher-Price camera to Henri Cartier-Bresson, and he'll end up with something stellar because he knows what he's doing.

The father of street photography shot with a Leica range finder and a 50mm lens almost exclusively. It's all he needed to capture the images he desired.

So, why, then, do all the folks with multi-thousand dollar outfits say the camera doesn't matter? And why do the folks to just bought a DSLR with a kit lens say if only I had such-and-such, then I'd be able to take amazing pictures!

The answer is simple. We get paid to be fast.

We could get the same results with a super-zoom point and shoot, but fiddling with it takes away from time we could spend shooting. If you have to dig your way through 150,000 layers of menus just to change the ISO you're gonna miss your shot.

My big fancy camera looks daunting and complicated with it's gazillion buttons because every one of them does something quickly. I change virtually any setting on the thing with a press of a single button and the flick of a dial. More importantly, all this can be done on the fly with the camera held up to my face.

The other thing, where the "Sort of" up there comes into play, is fast glass. You can't really take pictures like this with a standard 18-55mm kit lens.


There's an incredibly shallow depth of field here at f/1.4, but does this sort of thing come into play often?

Not at all.

Shots generally don't happen with a wide-open aperture. When they do, the bride's eye will be in focus, but her nose won't be. Super shallow depth of field is for specialty shots.

Even at f/4.0, you can throw the background out of focus enough to make your subject pop.


See? Even if the background isn't fuzzy enough for you, you can usually move your subject further away from it to accomplish the same thing.

You don't need a fast lens, but it sure does come in handy from time to time.

That brings us to the gist of the whole thing.  Pro photographers don't spend thousands on bodies and lenses to make them better photographers, they spend money on efficiency.

Our time isn't best spent farting around with menus, or moving subjects around. Our best time is spent just farting.