It never ceases to amaze me how, when I read through many of the articles written about photography, the emphasis is inevitably placed on gear. And being straight up, I will admit that photography is a technical endeavor as well as a study of what it is to be human, and gear is important. However, there is an overwhelming tendency for people to believe that they cannot get good pictures unless they have a particular piece of gear – a particular camera, or lens. The fact of the matter is that there are as many great photos as there are lenses for example. And there are just as many bad photos with those same lenses.
Honestly, if a new photographer were to succumb to some of the propaganda you read in blogs and reviews, you’d believe that you cannot take a good portrait unless you have an 85mm f1.2. But here’s the rub: I’ve seen some really mediocre images taken with an 85mm f1.2. So that should tell you that there is something more to producing a really good portrait other than equipment.
There is an aspect to portrait photography that is hardly ever mentioned in the blogs or magazines, yet every good portrait photographer is consumed by it. That is the psycho-social interaction between photographer and subject. It’s the ability to study someone, determine who they are, take their personality out for a spin, and find out what you can do to make a picture that speaks volumes. Do they have a best side to photograph? How can you hide their bad features and bring out their best features? How do you light them effectively to produce a good image? It’s an art form to read between the lines and capture specific moments and gestures that convey the truth that’s found inside someone’s eyes and behind the facade of superficiality.
Some people have personalities that light up a room when they walk in. An image with a smile does them justice. Still others have a deeper side, perhaps contemplative, secret, and mysterious.
But the point is that the emphasis should be placed on the moment, the interaction, and finding the expression that tells part of the story, not the gear. It’s important to make the correct lens choice for example, but too many photographers end the process there and expect good results. If you’re a portrait photographer, save your money, use what you have, and concentrate on developing the real skills. I’m being totally honest, and this is based on my own experiences. Some of the greatest portraits, the “psychological bullets” as I like to call them, were taken with technically average or poor gear.