You Must Have a Really Good Camera

camera vs. photographer


A comment I often hear from people when they look at my photography.

Wow, you must have a really good camera.

This is another one of those comments, I am not really sure how to respond to.  I might just nod my head and agree.  I might offer some camera/lens buying tips if the person I am talking to asks for some advice.  Normally the conversation ends there.  But I am going to let you in on a secret.

The camera does not make a great photograph. It’s the photographer controlling the camera makes a great photograph.

I am going to reach a little bit further and say:

That when taking good pictures, I would say 20% is the camera and 80% is the photographer’s skills taking the picture.

Meaning, you can’t expect to go out and drop several hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on camera equipment,  shoot on auto mode and expect great photos. You just can’t.

And reaching out even further…

If you are going to keep your DSLR in auto mode you might as well save your money and get a point and shoot camera.

To get better pictures you have to learn how to shoot in manual mode.  You need to understand ISO, f-stop/aperture, shutter speed, white balance, light, composition, etc.  You need to learn these things, and keep learning. You need to keep shooting and shooting, refining, and tweaking. I am still learning everyday. Every time I take a picture, I ask myself “How could I have made this a better picture”.

You can have a really expensive DSLR and take a really crappy picture if you don’t know how to use it.

You can take a really good picture with beginner model DSLR if you know how to use it.

(of course the reverse is true as well  - 20/80 remember)

Just until late November 2012, I shot with an older model Canon Rebel XS . And not meaning to toot my own horn (toot, toot), once I figured out how to shoot with that camera on full manual mode, I got some great photos out of it.

Good enough that people wanted me to pay me to take their photos. And to me that is one of the best compliments you can get.

Wow, you must have a really good camera

Hmmm, not really.  I mean, its not a point and shoot if that’s what you mean.  But in terms of DSLRs its not the most expensive camera out there, in fact I think it was the least expensive Canon out there at the time.

But I learned how to use it. I mean really learned how to use it – on full manual mode.  I ditched my kit lens and put my money into a couple of really nice lens. I studied  how to use light and about composition.  I learned how to edit my pictures in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. And that is when people started to notice my pictures.  Not when I got my DSLR but when I started to know how to use it.

So was it my camera producing really good pictures? Or was it me, the photographer?

Now I did upgrade my camera this past November ( Canon 60D) . I am still not at the top of the line, the most expensive. But my plan is to gradually upgrade.

So if my ol’ Canon Rebel XS was taking such great pictures why did I upgrade?

I outgrew my camera.  I maxed it out.  I knew I could do better and do more but my camera was limiting me.  So I upgraded.  And I will upgrade again once I am ready.

So here are some points to take away:

  1. If you know nothing about photography and want to compliment a photographer on their pictures, just keep in mind, it’s not all about the camera. And I would argue that its more about the photographer (80% more)
  1. Dropping hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a new camera (and lens) will not make you a great photographer.  Learning how to use your camera on manual mode, learning about light, and composition (and maybe a little about editing) will.
  1. For those of you with beginner model cameras don’t be intimidated by those bigger, more expensive cameras.  Learn how to use that camera, and people will be surprised to learn that you didn’t have the best, but you did awesome with what you have.  Be awesome with what you have.  Upgrade when you can. Baby steps are OK. Look into upgrading your lens before your camera body.   (I would also argue that a nice lens has a major role in getting a really good picture. Even a nice lens on a less expensive body. Remember to pick a lens that will grow with you as you upgrade the camera body).
  1. After you shoot  (either on a beginner model or advanced model DSLR), ask yourself “What could I have done to make this picture better?”  Figure it out, experiment and do it. Over and over again each time asking yourself that same question. “What could I have done to make this picture better?”  Or even better, if you surprise yourself with a really great picture ask yourself “What did I do to get that picture?” and do it again!

Below are some shots I took starting when I got my Canon Rebel XS until I upgraded to my Canon 60D . Notice how they improve over time.


Here is when I got my Canon Rebel XS – May 1, 2009

Birthday Present

Some of the first pictures I took with it:

IMG_7658IMG_7756IMG_7957IMG_8112Summer 2009IMG_8498IMG_8568IMG_9021IMG_9039 IMG_9355 IMG_1075

I hadn’t figured out how white balance works…hence the yellow picture.

UntitledIMG_2466Mr. Bostinelos

Another white balance issue…this time too blue


In the fall of 2010 I started to play with editing… and most cases over editing!

14 Weeks
16 weeksBrothers - very them laughing and messing around23 weeks25 weeks

And in early 2011 I started to get some pretty good pictures here and there…

print My Fav pic of Owen pIMG_9920IMG_0336

And I just kept on working at it. Shoot and learning how to use my camera…and the pictures got better.

35 weeks40 weeks IMG_0067 IMG_0347IMG_0710IMG_0718 IMG_3092 IMG_0027IMG_0125

And by spring of 2012 I was feeling fairly confident on manual mode.

IMG_9251 IMG_9626 IMG_9663IMG_0046IMG_0426IMG_0556 IMG_0872 IMG_3191IMG_3285IMG_6874IMG_6979 IMG_7365 IMG_0743 IMG_3978 IMG_7261 IMG_9633 IMG_5787IMG_8154

And then I upgraded to the Canon 60D (November 2012)

IMG_9067IMG_9329IMG_0331 IMG_1469 IMG_1633 IMG_0089 IMG_9308

I am excited to get my Canon 60D out this spring!  It will be fun to see how my photography keeps growing and changing as I continue to develop my skills as a photographer. Because I know that its not my camera doing all the work (not even 1/2 the work) in taking good pictures, but my skills as a photographer.  So in the mean time, I will keep shooting and practicing and loving this hobby more and more every day.

What do you think? Is it the camera or the photographer that makes it a great picture? Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

Make sure to check out my Photography page to view links to my photography tips, my photography blog, and to my current camera gear.

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12 Responses to You Must Have a Really Good Camera

  1. Amazing post! I love seeing the progression of your photos. I have had a DSLR for years and I still use it on auto. I know, I know, I have to learn. But I find it so hard to learn this kinda thing online, I just can’t take it in. I need to find a local class… Thanks for sharing your photography story! x

  2. ee k. says:

    Love this post. I am not a professional photographer by any means, but I take lots of photos and feel like I have a pretty good eye for things. These days if my friends tell me my “camera takes great photos,” I just respond that the camera doesn’t actually take the photo :)

  3. Debbie Clark says:

    Great post! I do think your “models” also have made your photo’s awesome. Such beautiful children with shiny happy eyes! Keep loving, and taking those pictures!

  4. madeline says:

    Great post. I agree less the camera than the photographer that make the photo. Although post-editing can correct a good number of mistakes!

  5. Jessica B says:

    I’ve heard that line time and time again! And hate it! lol!
    But I’m like you and never know what to say back!

  6. Sarah Webb says:

    Great post! I upgraded to the T4i in November from the XS because I found the ISO so limiting. I have been slowly but surely taking better pictures and learning more and more. I haven’t used auto in a couple of years, but am not completely into full manual mode yet… Getting there though! I want to learn more about white balance now… Definitely the photographer and not the camera.

  7. Jen Kinkade says:

    This is a very popular misconception that I have seen go ’round and ’round.
    The next time you hear that “nice camera compliment” just reply,
    “Thanks. Your mouth makes nice compliments.” :)
    great photos!!

  8. Tash says:

    Great post – I have a point and shoot, but am determined to master the manual mode this year. Loved seeing all the pictures – you’ve got a seriously photogenic bunch of kids :-)

  9. gale says:

    Love all those pics-beautiful! I have a really good camera and I still take crap pictures, so you are absolutely right. lol

  10. Leah Wright says:

    Having “known” you virtually since those days in 2009 it has been REALLY cool to see your pictures get better and better. You have really grown into your talent! My original DSLR was also the Rebel XT and I just upgraded to the t4i right after Christmas. I haven’t taken nearly as many pictures lately as in years past but I too am so looking forward to this spring and getting back into the swing of things.
    Great post!

  11. Kristen says:

    Great post! I just got a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and while its not the most expensive camera, I have taken some pretty great shots with it. Here are some things I’ve learned in the past few days of owning my camera

    -Manual mode is my best friend! Seriously if you can shoot in manual you will have some great pictures.
    -ISO is a life saver. I didn’t really know much about ISO until I read about it, now it has really helped me
    -It is the photographer and not the camera. I have an iPhone 4s and have gotten some really great pics (all of my blog posts before my camera post were with my iPhone)

    I am learning more about white balance and aperture. For some reason this is a little difficult for me. But all I can do is keep using it and practicing.

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