Why Good Photography Isn’t About the Gear

By Phil Hill / March 26, 2017

This is a guest post by Phil Hill, a travel photographer from the UK based in Australia. You can see more of Phil’s great work at his travel photography blog or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

With the release of the Nikon d800 and the Canon 5d mk3 many people will have no doubt begun checking their bank statements a bit more carefully and thinking about increasing that credit limit by a measly few thousand.

This got me thinking, how many bells and whistles do you actually need to take a great photograph anyway? Too many cameras are now available with enough fancy settings to give the geekiest of technology nerd’s nightmares.

Lets face it, these days 99% of photographs will never see printed paper, ending up on an innumerable amount of social networking sites, converting a large file from a full frame ultra mega pixel machine into web ready kilobytes and a pixelated 72dpi. Shooting poor images wont change from mobile to DSLR, your rubbish (and mine) will just be higher definition.

With this in mind I decided I would go out and shoot some landscapes with my girlfriend’s entry level and well-used Canon 1000d and its bog standard 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. I figure as long as any camera can go fully manual in ‘M’ mode, I should be able to capture good images without having to resort to using the bell setting or even it’s whistle feature.

Canon 1000d

Canon EOS 1000D

100th/sec @ f5.6 is always going to be the same regardless of what camera you are using (providing they are both pointing in the same direction), fully master exposure first.

I headed down to Perth’s City Beach to shoot a couple low light images and the lifeguard tower there. The only real extra piece of equipment you are going to need for this scenario is a tripod, essential when dealing with little light, slowing down shutter speeds. The great thing about using the 1000d was how light it was compared to mine; fitting into the palm of my hand. I did miss the LCD display on the top and the wheel on the back, though I think you could get used to that.

City Beach, Perth, Australia

City Beach, Perth. f5.6 @ 1/30th sec ISO 400

When starting out, I photographed my way through college and a good part of University with a Minolta X-700 that was older than me, before the days it was cool to walk around with a vintage film camera! Limited to a maximum of 36 shots with no preview screen to look at the histogram making you choose more carefully what to photograph instead of the digital scatter-gun approach, shoot first ask questions later.

My point is that with the ability to review instantly you should really be paying attention to that graph, the image is telling you what it needs. The aim of course is for a well-proportioned curve, rising in the middle and not too clipped in the highlights or shadows.

City Beach, Perth

City Beach seascape. f5.6 @ 1/30th sec ISO 400

One thing worth pointing out though is that your camera loves grey, more than any other tone I am afraid. It is inherent to all camera meters, averaging out exposures based on its love for the mid-tone, pictures end up looking flat and dull. This is where manual mode comes into its own, overriding the camera’s decisions putting you back in full control. Tweaking the exposure perhaps 1/3 – 1 stop over or under (depending on what you are photographing) to add depth and contrast, getting this stuff right in the camera before you push around pixels in PhotoShop.

My shots from City Beach were a simple set up with the camera mounted on the tripod and exposure metered from the sky near the setting sun though not from the sun itself. From there I took a few test shots, made a few adjustments and settled with a little push to get that detail in the foreground. You can play around with shutter speeds too for varying degrees of water movement.

City Beach, Perth.

City Beach Lifeguard tower. f22 @ 3.2 sec ISO 400

The bottom line of course is that to become technically proficient at taking photographs all you really need is the ability to control aperture and shutter speed and you can do that for far less money than many of the cameras on the market will openly admit too. Think of it as if learning to play football brilliantly barefoot, then going out to get a gleaming pair of boots – bells and whistles will only complement a solid set of skills.


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About the author

    Phil Hill

    Freelance travel and editorial photographer originally from the UK but find myself in Western Australia, Based in the amazing Scarborough, Perth, WA.

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