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Have you ever heard someone say something that was so wrong on so many levels that you scarcely knew where to begin your rebuttal?  This happened to me recently.

An acquaintance of mine said to me—and I quote, because I can’t get it out of my head:  “I can’t take pictures like yours; I don’t have expensive equipment like you do.”

As I said, where do I start?

I’m going to bloop over the notion of why this person wants to take pictures like mine in the first place and focus my attention on the part about the presumed inhibiting factor of “expensive equipment.”  The most bothersome aspect about this is the erroneous—and irksome—presumption that the source of “good” photographs is expensive equipment.

While the equipment I use is fairly high end, it’s not nearly the “most expensive” available and—here’s a dirty little secret—if I used more expensive equipment it wouldn’t make me a better photographer.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand—I’m not saying that the gear you choose is irrelevant.  It matters.  It may change your workflow, both in the field and in terms of post-processing.  It may encourage you to carry it around to more places (depending on size and weight).  It may allow you to more easily obtain autfocus (if you use that feature); it may provide extra dynamic range.  It may allow you to capture different fields of view.  And so on.

Yes, gear matters…but only to a degree.  For the most part, it doesn’t make you “see” in the field better.  It doesn’t help you compose better.  It doesn’t help you better infuse emotion into your imagery.  In other words, gear choices have only a limited impact on the aesthetic side of photography; gear choices primarily—not entirely, but largely—impact the technical part of the endeavor.  The artistic side of photography is largely a function of the photographer and what he/she brings to the table—from one’s head and one’s heart—not the equipment that he/she uses.

Perhaps most bothersome, at least to me:  ascribing out-sized importance to gear as an antecedent to making “good” photographs is, inherently, denying that photography is an art form.  It perpetuates the notion the notion that photography is the red-headed stepchild of the world of visual art.  It’s also a weak crutch; people dissatisfied with their photos can tell themselves that “if only” they had a $40,000 camera (or whatever) they could “take great pictures.”  Of course that concept is effectively drummed into our heads by camera manufacturers, but it’s rather curious to me that it has any impact.  After all, I don’t think that many people believe that if they just had the right type of brush, they could paint like Renoir or Monet.

Perhaps some day we’ll reach a point where it’s broadly recognized that the photographer is the artist and the camera (and lens) is merely the tool by which art is created.  Until then, be prepared to receive the following backhanded compliment:

“Wow, that’s quite a photo.  You must have a great camera.”

Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday.  To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog:  Lightscapes Nature Photography.