“Guitar gurus say, “Tone is in your fingers.” You can buy the same guitar, effects pedals, and amplifier that Eddie Van Halen uses. But when you play that rig, it’s still going to sound like you. Likewise, Eddie could plug into a crappy Strat/Pignose setup at a pawn shop, and you’d still be able to recognize that it’s Eddie Van Halen playing. Fancy gear can help, but the truth is your tone comes from you.”
-Rework, by Jason Fried and David Hansson, p. 87
This excerpt from 2010’s excellent “Rework” can be applied to many different types of businesses and industries. However, the fact that the image above was used to illustrate the chapter made me realize I needed to give my two cents on the concepts from a photographer’s point of view.
Photography is a craft where gear matters, period. I’m not even going to pretend to deny that. To shoot in any form of professional capacity requires specialized equipment. But it’s temping to obsess over buying MORE equipment, and the NEWEST pieces of equipment, as a quick answer to the difficult process of becoming a more creative and talented photographer.
The reason for this? Human beings naturally do what they can to avoid difficult work. In this sense, difficult doesn’t mean “lift this 100 lb. weight” but means doing what’s necessary to grow and get better at your craft – which is usually time consuming and uncomfortable because it is boundary-pushing.
Buying new equipment seems like an easy answer to this difficult task – which is why many photographers embark on a never-ended quest to get the best, the most, the newest gear. As the book excerpt illustrates, it’s not the gear, but the person using it, that is really making the art.
What are you missing out on when you’re racing to trade in the camera that you recently bought for the even newer model that was just released? The time and energy (and money) you’re spending could be better used, in many cases, on actual creative and technical development using the equipment you already possess, spending time learning some skills that could make you a better businessperson, or just SHOOTING more- getting in the trenches and being hands-on with your camera, every day.
Any of these choices will be more difficult, of course, but that is exactly why it is so important that you do it!
I’m not saying don’t buy that new camera, lens, or lighting piece. As I mentioned, this is a field where gear is absolutely essential, and many specialized areas of photography require equally specialized pieces of equipment. It’s fun to get new gear and begin experimenting with it, especially when it takes your photos to a new place. When I realize I need something new, I love reading reviews, shopping around, and waiting anxiously for it in the mail, so I can begin playing with it. But if you’re looking to become a better photographer, (as opposed to someone just using a more expensive camera or lighting, etc) you will not be able to do this through buying more stuff.
The photographer learns and develops his skill, and channels it through whatever equipment he decides to use.
The equipment does not channel skill to the photographer.