It’s Not About the Camera, It’s About Who’s Pressing the Shutter

I can think of so many times throughout my career that I drooled over the latest camera version or that newer lens that my brain convinced me I simply ought to have. But realistically, what photographer hasn’t done this at least once in his career?

We all seem to, inadvertently, have that point where we feel like we’re simply dying because we don’t have a piece of gear outside of our budget. I’ve been wondering, however, is this so important? If the gear on hand gets the job done, who cares if there’s a camera with 10 times the megapixels? Sure, the extra quality would be great, and the improved dynamic range would come in handy, but if the camera you own is paying you, why spend the money?

I was thinking about how many photos I took last year just for work and how many different cameras I used for different types of jobs. My favorite camera choice is the Sony a7R IV, which I use for most of my work. However, I realized that I used a very wide range of cameras for a wide variety of shooting styles, photo styles, and compositional variations all for the same job. Sometimes, my favorite camera just isn’t right for the job. What got me thinking about this whole thread was the shot you see below, which was taken with an old DJI Phantom.

The photo here wasn’t even planned in that particular shot. It was completely serendipitous, and we ended up creating what you see. The drone was in the air, and I drew my next shot with the RZR on the left, when the drone on the right broke through the sand at the top of the dunes. When I saw it in the tire, I reported it to my drivers and had them turn it on a few times to mimic the same timing they had finished by accident the first time. This photo was created with a DJI Phantom 4, which means the image quality was an amazing 12MP instead of the typical 60MP I normally use. We weren’t even outside to take pictures; Our priority was the video, but that shot was so good that it became the most successful part of that whole shot.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty many times over for being a camera snob. Bigger is always better, right? Well, no, it’s not true. Not even a little. Now, I wouldn’t say that camera choice per se is so irrelevant that we have to sell all our equipment and just stick to using our cell phones for customer work, but cell phone cameras these days are kind of insanely good when you actually consider that they live in our pockets. I carry an iPhone with me, but I’ve seen some great work come from all kinds of cell phones out there. I wouldn’t recommend going into a client job without anything but your phone, but that doesn’t mean you can still use your phone for professional work. The photo you see here was taken with the iPhone 12 Pro.

A cell phone camera, combined with a real photographer doing some editing in Adobe Lightroom or even in Lightroom Mobile, can produce some powerful results. This is exactly what you see in the image above: an iPhone photo captured, edited, and exported all from Adobe Lightroom Mobile. It all comes down to how the actual image is used and what the customer may or may not want going forward. For example, if the only reason to hire you is because the company needs a bunch of new photos for Instagram posts, you might be able to get rid of anything but your phone.

If your client needs more than a simple social campaign, or if there is a potential need to use those images in a bulletin board or any medium of large format printing, your cell phone probably won’t be enough to scale that particular profession. With the growing popularity of cameras in DJI and GoPro gear, it seems that the number of megapixels and overall resolution are not the deciding factors anymore. I firmly believe that if you are a great photographer, you will take a great photo, no matter what camera you have. I see all the new technical features as a huge advantage in the world of commercial photography. This means that I don’t have to carry my heavy camera bag everywhere I go unless I have a job that specifically requires this gear. Having more camera options and more ways to capture what I’m set to do and being able to fit some of those options in my pocket is a huge plus in my mind.

For me, last year was a powerful lesson in humility when I shipped an a7R IV home after I got some work done on it, and it was stolen from my balcony. Long story: UPS faked my signature when I wasn’t home, but thank heavens for insuring the freight. This meant that I had to spend about two months shooting with several other cameras that weren’t my favorite camera body, and simply had to do what I had in hand. I was able to complete several customer jobs with what could easily be considered less cameras, and my customers were completely happy with the results. Yes, I absolutely would have preferred to have the flexibility of larger compositions and wider cropping options, but I didn’t. This was not an option so I had the opportunity to retrain my mind and get back to the basics of photography.

It may seem silly to some, but it’s all too easy to plunge into everyday work life with your typical set of gear and just expect things to go. Digital cameras make it easy to cut corners, and I was guilty of doing some of that, like shooting in burst modes, shooting in brackets, and using other camera tricks to get it close enough in the camera because I had a limited amount of shooting time and I already knew what I could get done in what after. I’m oddly grateful for the lessons I learned last year from missing out on that camera. When the alternative camera came out, I had already been working differently for several months, so my photos with the new camera were a lot better than I might have been practicing better shooting techniques with fewer cameras before.

I think the most striking thing is that I’m still a good photographer, even if I’m not using a very good camera. I’m still very proud of my work, and the actual camera choice ended up having nothing to do with that. I would be surprised if most of you didn’t relate to that. I would like to say that I am proud of the quality of your work. Who really cares which camera you use to create this work? If you do this job, you do it, whether with Hasselblad or iPhone.

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