One of the most frequent questions we get asked as photographic guides and wildlife photographers is the following:
“What camera and lens do you shoot with”?, or, “your images are fantastic, what lens are you using”?
We are also used to seeing comments like “I’m not taking great images, do you think I should upgrade my gear”?
The following quote by Sam Haskins puts the concept of photographic gear into perspective.
“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.”
Before you read any further, I’d like to put your mind at ease and tell you that its not all about the gear!
However, make no mistake, having a fixed 400mm f2.8 lens is going to result in stunningly sharp images with beautiful blurred backgrounds, and a full-frame camera body with 11 frames per second and lightning fast autofocus is going to ensure that you don’t miss ‘that’ moment, but is it necessary to have the latest and greatest gear in order to capture great images? The answer is undoubtedly NO!
Ever heard of the term ‘all the gear but no idea’? Unfortunately its a common mistake that many people make when entering into the wildlife photography space. The misperception out there is that you are only ever going to improve as a photographer, and take better images, if you buy the latest, most expensive gear. The question I would like to ask, is whats the point in having all that gear if you don’t know how to use it? Or if you don’t appreciate the key fundamentals of photography and truly understand the workings of a DSLR camera?
My advise? Start with the basics, learn how to use your camera, understand the fundamentals of digital photography, and work your way up when (and only when) you are ready to do so. There will come a time in your photographic journey when you have maximized on the capabilities of your current gear, and that is the time to upgrade, but, that time is different for everybody, and its certainly not a process that can be rushed.
Lets look at the basics of wildlife photography:
- Rule of Thirds
- Placement in the Frame
- Leading lines to the Eye
- Colours and Textures
- The Concept of Visual Mass
- Creating Emotion
- Examples of Good & Bad Composition
- Distractions vs Simplifications
- Define the Concept of Exposure
- The Triangle of Light
- Aperture & Depth of Field
- Shutter Speed & Blurred Motion Photography
- ISO & Digital Noise
- White Balance
- Metering Modes
- Exposure Compensation
The list continues…
When considering each of the above elements, does it make you feel uncomfortable, like you haven’t fully grasped the fundamentals of digital photography? Or are you confident that you know what each of these concepts mean, the relationships between these elements, and how they can be used simultaneously to ensure that you maximize on your own photography?
If you’re fully comfortable, thats great, and well done! You’ve taken the time to understand the fundamentals of digital photography, applied these principles to wildlife, and you have progressed on your individual photographic journey. Upgrading gear at this stage would most certainly be a worthwhile investment, and you will more than likely be very pleased with the ongoing improvement in your skills and capabilities as a wildlife photographer – and, most importantly, you will have the images to show for it.
If you’re feeling somewhat uncomfortable, or even overwhelmed, the latest and greatest gear is unfortunately not going to help you. But, don’t be despondent, there is a solution.
Be comfortable with the current camera and lens combination that you have, forget about chasing the gear, and return to the basics of photography. Dedicate your efforts to the improvement of your knowledge and skills as a wildlife photographer, and remember… practice, practice practice. Whether its your pets at home, birdlife in the garden or the ongoing activities in the nearest park, take your gear along with you and shoot away!
Change apertures, play around with shutter speed and ISO levels, mix up the placement of your subject(s) in the frame, be on the lookout for good light, and manage your exposure accordingly. Why do I say this? Because putting the theory of photography into practice, and having the ability to study immediate results, is the best way to learn, and arguably the only way you’re going to improve as a photographer.
Nobody, irrespective of how well you know your camera, can claim to know absolutely everything there is to know about photography, theres simply too much to be able to call yourself a master. But, its all a journey, and only you will know (if you’re being totally honest with yourself), whether or not you’re fully comfortable with all the above elements of wildlife photography.
But, when that time comes, and you are ready, you’ll appreciate that upgrade so much more compared to the short-lived satisfaction of going out and spending an absurd amount of money on the best lens on the market, in the hopes that it is going to make you a great photographer.
Save yourself the disappointment and return to the basics, you will be grateful for it in the long run!
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