The Grand Illusion

I recently read an article somewhere that danced around the idea that prospective photographers should spend more time, money, and energy on lessons and books rather than on camera gear. It was something that hit home for me instantly.

 Ever since I can remember I’ve been good at teaching myself and discovering things that I want to know more about. All through school I often thought, “All you have to do is attend and listen.” But there’s more to it than that. You also must have the ability to sift through material and weed out what’s important and what’s just noise.

 The fact is, some people are better learners than others. They not only have an easier time going through subject matter, but they also seem to comprehend it better. But why?

 With a background in education and career in a field that is very technical, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about different teaching methods and ways that people learn. I’ve really enjoyed being able to apply some of my ideas to my photography lessons and workshops. And it gives me a great deal of satisfaction seeing people put newly learned skills to use and get more out of their photography.

 But every time I open up a photography magazine I can’t help be amazed at the barrage of advertisements for cameras, lenses, and gadgets of all kinds. A new photographer must certainly think that buying any of these things will without a doubt make them a better photographer. “If only I could afford a 5dmiii, my photos would be a whole lot better. It’s my t2i that’s holding me back.”

 There is an illusion out there brought on by manufacturers that it’s gear that makes you a better photographer! And as a result, many blame their poor photos on the camera, or the fact that they need a bigger zoom lens etc. etc. I can guarantee you that if your photos are not great with your compact camera, then they won’t be great with a new DSLR either. There is no magic piece of equipment that will make your photos the envy of national geographic if you don’t have a good understanding of general principles of photography and how to apply them.

 It’s almost Christmas, and thousands of people worldwide will be receiving new cameras. That’s wonderful. It’s always nice that someone has something that can give them enjoyment. But I hope they don’t fall prey to the misconception that the new camera is magic, and that it’s going to transform your photos to the extent that they’ll soon be on major magazine covers across the nation. 

 I know many many people who have spent hundreds of dollars on new cameras only to discover that their pictures look the same. Not only that, but now they need to spend even more money to make their new camera as versatile as their old one was! They need a couple more lenses, a few filters, a tripod, a photo backpack, and an assortment of software programs now.

 I know this all sounds rather negative, but my point is that for most people, your hard-earned money is probably better spent on lessons, and a few really good books. Just think how many books you could buy for the cost of a new camera body. Just think of how many lessons you could attend for the cost of one new lens. Just think of how many webinars you could take or excursions you could go on for the cost of all that new gear.

Upgrade your camera body only for a good reason. Perhaps you’re an established photographer and you’d like to sell large prints. A camera with higher resolution and lower noise levels might be worthwhile for you. Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at wildlife photography. That camera with a faster burst shooting rate may just help you out. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a few better quality lenses. But if you’re relatively new to photography and have never learned to take your camera off “auto”, then a new camera and better lenses isn’t going to help you.

 What is going to help you?

 1.) Learn to take better photos with whatever camera equipment you have now by taking a few lessons from a good teacher. Learn the principles of photography and how to apply them.

 2.) Add to your skill set by taking lessons or webinars in portrait photography, landscape photography, post-processing etc.

 3.) Spend a year taking photos with the camera you have now and one lens. You’ll have a better understanding of your camera and the way that lens “sees the world”.

 4.) Buy a few really good photography books. Learn from people who know what they’re talking about. Study really good images.

 5.) Don’t be tempted to buy new gear only for the purpose of having it. You should have a really good practical reason why that piece of equipment is going to help you with your photography.

 6.) Don’t seek inspiration in new gear. Seek inspiration in great images, and old masters.

 7.) Slow down. Force yourself to try different techniques. 

 8.)Learn the camera you have now – it’s strengths and weaknesses. 

 9.) Don’t be lazy. Move around. Shoot from different perspectives. Use your feet for your zoom.

 10.) Be there! The hardest part of photography is making the effort.


The ultimate goal is for you to improve your photography skills and enjoy yourself doing so.

 Above all, if you have no plans to learn how to take photos by using a shooting mode other than full auto, consider sticking with your compact camera system. Save yourself some money and a great deal of frustration. It’s probably better suited for you and your style of photography.


Happy Shooting,




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