All the expensive gear in the world won’t make you a better photographer. It just means you’ve spent a lot more to create the same mediocre photos.

camera gear

I read a great article/rant recently over on The Phoblographer, that discussed how all the fancy camera gear in the world is useless unless you know how to use it. The whole point of the article is that bad photographers do exist and no amount of hi tech stuff is going to make them better on its own. And we need to shift our priorities as photographers to what really matters.

There is a great reliance in today’s industry on technology. An assumption that going out and getting a better camera will mean that your pictures are better. What they will give you is a better digital file, but we’re not in the business of making digital files. We tend to lean on technology to patch over our own technical deficiencies or laziness. If an image has a lot of noise or isn’t quite sharp enough, we can remove that with software. Its so easy to shoot with an “I’ll just fix that later” frame of mind.

While some would argue that the end result is all that matters, part of a photographer’s skill is in dealing with conditions such as low light and understanding how to work with them and make them work for you. When we neglect to develop these skills, we also neglect to develop our own vision. We become formula photographers. Very good at doing one thing but not very good at anything else. And so we are limited.

The Phoblographer article talks about how technology advances have come so far that it is impossible to buy a “bad” camera, and so we need to focus our attention in other areas that will help us create better photos. If you have a tendency to fall into the gear lust trap, have a read of this if for no other reason than to reaffirm what it means to be a “good” photographer. You can read the article HERE.




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Dust spot
This image alone took the best part of an hour to spot out all the sensor dust. Time that could have been much better spent.

Despite my own self rightous preaching on being organised and managing time effectively, I sometimes fail to take my own advice. One of my worst habits when out shooting is not keeping camera sensors and lenses free of dust. It’s all too easy to think I’ll just do it later, or worse: I’ll just edit that spot out.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on post production recently, and while its something I actually enjoy doing, it is good management to complete tasks as effectively as possible and move on to the next income generating activity. I think close to half of that time may have been spent removing dust and artifacts and could have been mostly avoided had I been a little less lazy when on the road and a little more vigilant in cleaning gear regularly.

As this is the first post for 2014, I’m going to make this a new year’s resolution. I will be stricter on myself and make clean my camera gear regularly when on a shoot. I’m going to print a copy of the above RAW file including dust spots and keep it in my camera bag as a reminder of what happens when I don’t.

Hopefully, if you have the same habit you can learn from my mistakes and not your own. Happy New Year everyone.

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None or all of these photos could be considered travel images

In general, us humans like to catagorise everything. It makes us feel comfortable when we know what to call something. When we can fit it into a neat little box. In the photography world we are especially good at it. People call themselves a portrait photographer, an advertising photographer or an architectural photographer. Its an easy way to tell potential clients what you are good at within a few words. But telling people you are a travel photographer is telling them what? Does it mean that you need to get on a plane and go 1000’s of kilometres from home to make images of “foreign things”? Not necessarily. Any image you make in your home town could be considered a “travel photo” by someone else. There are around 190 countries in the world, everything is “foreign” to someone.

Rather than being its own category, travel photography is a combination of almost every other genre you can name. One moment you are making a portrait, the next a landscape, and the next a food image. Often within seconds of each other, which is what makes it so exciting.

By calling yourself a travel photographer, you are basically saying “I am a photography tart and I will photograph anything and everything”. But you can’t put that on a business card.

Many say that travel photography is dead. Advances in technology that enable faster, cheaper travel mean that more people than ever are able to travel. The world is a fast shrinking place and where images of faraway places may once have been catalysts for daydreams, these places are now accessable. However travel photography is not dead. It just never existed in the first place.

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Chimping: “What one does after taking a picture with a digital camera and looking at the result. Derived from the words they speak when chimping: “Ooo-oo-oo!”” Definition from

While taking a break from editing, I recently came across a discussion on a photography forum about chimping and how only “cheat” photographers do it. This made me curious and on doing some more clicking I discovered that this is actually quite a hot topic that many feel strongly about. Who knew?

Now that I’ve been dragged out from under my rock, and made aware of this pressing issue, let me just say it’s a ridiculous argument.

While I agree with the point that if you are checking your LCD after each shot you will miss important moments and hence other shots, why would you not use every bit of technology available to you to make the best possible images? Next we’ll be hearing that using auto-focus is also cheating.

There is nothing wrong or amateur about reeling off a few frames then doing a quick review to check that you have what you wanted. If not, you can then try again, make corrections and ensure you get the shot before leaving. Especially if you are shooting far from home where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to return. It is too late to fix mistakes once you are back home reviewing images on a computer. So, I ask, is it better to come home with a bunch of blurry or overexposed images but be satisfied that you didn’t “cheat”, or come home with images you are proud of and possibly having improved as a photographer through being able to learn immediately what didn’t work and being able to adjust?

Do you think that a professional photographer completes an entire shoot without checking that they have what they need? The most talented photographers constantly review and adjust. When you are being paid a substantial sum of money to produce the images that you’re client needs, you’d better make sure you produce the images. Try explaining to a client that “yes the photo is a bit blurry and underexposed, and the expression on the person’s face isn’t quite what you were looking for, but I couldn’t look at the images before the shoot was done. That would have been cheating”. They don’t care. All they care about is that you got the shot. And that is all you should care about as well.

Finally to those who like to spend their time telling others how they should or shouldn’t make photographs, you may be better served getting away from the keyboard and working at improving your own photography.

Ok, rant over. I’ll get down from my soap box now. Normal Service to resume shortly.



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photography career

I made some photographs for the first time in weeks recently, and they weren’t very good. To me they seemed unimaginative and uninspired. They were difficult to make. Why, I wondered. Conditions were good, I had all the gear I needed. I had a beautiful location to shoot. The trouble was, I had forgotten what I needed to do. Ideas came slowly, and when they did, it took some time to remember how to adjust the gear to achieve this, and by the time I did, the moment was gone. This frustration was a good reminder of the importance of staying in practice.

If you’re a working photographer, its easy to get caught up in, well, making a living. But it is also important to remember what products you produce that earn that living: photos. Businesses large or small all need to spend time on revising and improving their products. For photographers this means striving to improve the images we produce, and we can only do this by making more images. By practice and experimentation. By remaining familiar with our gear so that we don’t need to think about what settings we need to use to bring a particular idea into reality.

The best way to do this is with personal projects. By taking time to also shoot for yourself, apart from the feeling of fulfilment you achieve, you keep evolving creatively and honing the skills needed for when client’s are relying on you to produce quality images.

So even if it is shooting what interests you with your mobile phone, or carrying around a compact camera if you can’t have an SLR with you, making an effort to just shoot more often keeps the eye in so to speak, so when the moment comes when you are under pressure to create, its not a matter of thinking, just a matter of doing and following the instincts you’ve been honing.

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Wheat stalk
 Wheat stalks, 2004. The blacks in this image allow the other colours to stand out and give a sense of the hot summer evening that it was that day.

I get the attraction of High Dynamic Range photography. I really do. It’s useful to be able to blend exposures and bring out detail otherwise lost. HDR helps make the otherwise impossible image possible. Such as a contrasty scene where some element important to the story is hidden in shadow. But HDR has created something of a monster.

It seems that some photographers have forgotten that it is ok for an image to have some amount of black in it. In fact, black can actually enhance an image.

Every so often a new photography technique comes along, and the nerdy side of us screams “Do it! It looks awesome!”, so we do. We get so caught up in the novelty of mastering a new process that we forget to consider whether it adds anything to the story of our image. We forget that the point of a photograph in the first place, its reason for being, is the story.

I think HDR is beyond being a fad, but I do think there is a tendancy to go a little overboard with it in the attempt to create something spectacular. When used subtly, HDR is a powerful tool to help the camera replicate what the eye can see. When the restraints are taken off, the results can be a cartoonish whir of supersaturated colour that confuses the eye and is more about the technique than the story.

St Pauls Beach Mornington Peninsula
St Pauls Beach, Mornington Peninsula, 2012. Not revealing all detail in the rock formations gives them a stronger presence.

Sometimes black adds to the story, or the mood of an image. It can add depth to other colours and it can draw the eye to other elements. Black adds simplicity, and simplicity often makes an image all the more powerful.

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Dromana Mornington Peninsula
Morning Peninsula, June 2012. This image was made by me, not my camera. Read on, it will make sense soon.

“Hey, great photo. You must have a really good camera!” How many times have you cringed at this? Wanted to cry out “I took the damn photo, not the camera! It didn’t choose what to point itself at, select apature and shutter speed and focus itself. The button didn’t press itself! I did it!” Well, that’s maybe overstating things but it can certainly be frustrating. The trouble is, that line of thinking, that gear is the key to a good photo, is perpetuated by photographers as well as photo viewers. So how did this come to be, and what’s wrong with it?

Photographers, by and large, are nerds. As well as creating images, we like gadgets and techy stuff. Otherwise we’d probably paint. There is an internal struggle that goes on between our creativity. Lets call it, say, Jeckyll, and our nerd: Hide. Both have important roles to play, but it’s a matter of getting the balance right. If Mr Hide takes over it becomes all about how you create an image rather than why. It is easy to get caught up in the “correct” exposure and forget about your subject and your story.

It is not the “how” that makes a truly great image, but the “why”. Why did you choose this subject? Why did you shoot from this angle? What did you want to say? The how should be slave to the why. It should simply be a means of communicating your story. A writer’s how is a pen and paper. Ok, a laptop, but still nothing more than a tool for producing what the writer has in their mind, their vision. And so it should be for a photographer. Cameras, lenses and all the bits and pieces that go with them should simply be a tool for communicating a vision.

Good gear can make a great image a little easier to create, but it can’t make it for you. That’s where you need Jeckyl. Otherwise you end up with what Ansel Adams called “a sharp image of a fuzzy concept”.

Here endeth the rant.


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social media for photographers
Social media can either be a Bermuda Triangle when it comes to your time, or a wonderfully efficient way to gain website traffic.

We’re told that it is the way of the future. That to gain the greatest audience we need to be active in social media. So we spend hours each week blogging, tweeting our blogs, tweeting other subjects, posting to Google+ then announcing all this on Facebook. By the time where finished our social media commitments, there is no time left for actually making any photos.

So is this all worth the effort? How do we measure? Getting lots of Likes and Retweets is great, but do they translate into website visitors or enquiries from potential clients? If not, what is the point, other than a nice boost for the ego?

Social media can either be a fast, convenient way to make your voice heard by thousands or even millions of interested people worldwide, or it can be a whole lot of work for no return. So how do we put together a targeted plan for making the most of social media without it becoming a full time obsession?

Firstly, understand where your traffic is coming from. If you are putting the same amount of time into say Twitter, Facebook and Google+ but finding most of your traffic is coming from Facebook, then why not centre your time around Facebook and spend less on other outlets that are not offering as much gain?

Secondly, understand where your audience is. Facebook has a huge presence within the photography industry, and most find that this creates the bulk of their social medica traffic. This is definately the case for me. When I began using social media as a means of connecting with colleagues and potential clients, I did it pretty blindly. Basically I just picked a few of the better known media and started posting and tweeting blog posts and other news and links that I thought interesting so hoped others would too. It kind of worked too.  There was a notable jump in traffic, but not much else. It wasn’t until I began looking at how those visitors engaged with the website that I was able to see which media could be really powerful in driving potential clients and concentrate my time towards that.

The short answer to the question above is yes, in my humble opinion, provided you work to a plan and maximise your time spent on social media. Tools such as Google Analytics can help you track where your website traffic comes from and how it moves around the site to help you tailor a plan. There are many resources out there on how to do this, including Photoshelter which offers guides for both social media and Analytics amongst their many free guides.

By all means jump into social media. Do it to be heard by clients. Do it to connect with like minded photographers. Just don’t do it for the sake of boosting your ego. That doesn’t produce any income.

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Think Tank Retrospective 30 inside
 Is all this stuff really necessary?

 I don’t write much about gear. I’m just not that into it. I know some people love their gear just as much, or in some cases more, than the act of making images, but to me camera equipment is simply a tool that lets me do what I love to do. Its maybe for that reason that I don’t tend to carry a lot of gear with me. In fact I carry as little as possible. There are a few reasons for this.

It’s an obvious statement, but the more gear you carry, the heavier it gets. The heavier it gets, the more tired you become. The more tired you become, the less effort and enthusiasm you are likely to put into making photos. Making photos is easy, but making great photography takes time, energy and dedication. If you are tired and sore from walking and carrying around a heavy pack for hours on end, chances are that you are just not going to be as mentally prepared to find the decisive moment.

Apart from the literal weight off your shoulders, carrying less gear is very freeing. Trying to choose the right lens for a particular shot, then get set up often leads to missing the moment entirely. If you have less options, you have less decisions to make about equipment which leaves you to concentrate on composing an image. You need to improvise more, which means thinking more constructively about how to read the scene in front of you. How you can manipulate the light, and your subjects to achieve the image you want.

Sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble here, but more gear does not make you a better photographer. In fact, there is every chance it may make you a worse, more lazy photographer. Hey, I might have just saved you a few thousand dollars! It is easy to hide behind your camera equipment and all it’s fancy features. It is much more difficult to say “I am making this picture, not my camera” and put the additional work into becoming a better photographer.



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Andreas Gursky Rheinn II

The photograph in question. Incidentally Gursky will not receive a penny from the sale of his image as it was sold from one collector to another.

I’ve written before about the value of photography, but finding out that Andreas Gursky’s photograph, “Rhein II” (above) has just been sold for $4.3 million at Christies has caused me to consider this again as it relates to photography as an artform.

This is the most expensive photograph ever sold, but why is it worth $4.3 million? What is a fair price for a technically proficient rendering of a moment. Is this photo actually worth this much?  Well, yes it is. Because that is what someone has paid for it. 

In real estate circles they say a house is worth whatever someone will pay for it. I think this applies to photography as well, or more broadly to art. A piece of artwork, be it a photograph or a painting or a sculpture, is such a personal and varied thing that it is almost impossible to give a value to. There is no formula like for example a car, where the maker might calculate the cost of parts and overheads to build the car and also add in marketing and shipping costs and then a margin to come up with a price per vehicle. But while you could take these things into account when pricing art, a piece of art is a one off. Although it may be copied, it is the only one of it’s kind that will ever exist. It may be a social commentary or an expression of some inner conflict, but either way it is something that only that artist could have produced and has much more emotional value than a car ever will.

Most of us can tell if a car is well made, but because art is so subjective, there is no way to tell if a painting is well made (is that line supposed to be there?). We can only tell if it speaks to us or not. And that I believe is the only measure by which we can give art a value. There has been a bit of outrage over the price paid for Gursky’s photograph. A lot of “I could have done that with my Iphone” type sentiment. But one person was so moved by the image that they forked out a $4.3 million for it, therefore it is worth $4.3 million dollars.

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