Taking great photos isn’t about having a good camera
It’s a running joke among professional photographers. “That’s a great photo, you must have a good camera.”
No, actually that’s a great photo because I’m a good photographer. The camera has (next to) nothing to do with it. If I had a pound for the number of times I’ve heard people say “when I get a new camera (or these days, a new phone), I’ll start taking better photos” …… well, I’d have a big pile of pounds! Seriously, it’s not about the camera. I really can’t stress that enough.
The single most important element in making a great photo is you. You decide where to stand, what angle to use, what to include in the photo and what to leave out. The camera does none of that. You do. All the camera does is record light on a sensor. It only does that when you tell it to by pressing the button. Nothing else. It can’t think. It doesn’t make decisions. How the photo looks is 100% down to you and the decisions you make.
Back in the day, when you had to do everything – load the film correctly, get the camera settings right, focus manually – there were plenty of reasons for the photos turning out a bit rubbish. Everything looked a bit washed out because you’d messed up the metering. Things were blurry because the subject moved and you didn’t change the focus setting. Those shots you took indoors at night looked bright orange because you had the wrong kind of film in the camera. But the Tech these days is fantastic. Your camera (by which, for 99% of you, I mean your phone) can do amazing things. It can do things that my Pro quality camera couldn’t do ten years ago. Which means that all you really have to do is point the thing and press the button. Great.
Great photos and good technical photos are two very different things though. Many great photos would have been rejected on technical grounds. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Robert Capa’ and look at his photos of the Normandy landings. Not a single one of them is in focus. Hardly surprising bearing in mind what was going on around him, but my God when you see them you won’t forget them. They totally depict what it must have been like to have been in that hell on the landing crafts under enemy fire. Without doubt, they’re some of the best photos EVER. Because they have soul. Because they say something to the viewer.
That’s what makes a photo great. Having a clear message. Telling a compelling story.
That’s what you have to bring to making a photo (and please note the verb I’m using. You’re ‘making’ a photo. It’s a creative act. You make creative choices).
The three examples below were all shot on an iPhone – and an old iPhone 7, not a new all-singing all-dancing model. If I’d taken them on a camera they’d be technically superior – but all I had with me was my phone. But that was fine, because as I said above it’s about what you bring to the photo, not the number of pixels the camera has. By good framing, using the light well, and catching a great moment, I’ve made photos that are pleasing to the eye, that ‘work’.
So, the first step towards taking better photos is to take responsibility. Realise that good photos don’t just happen. They are made by the photographer. They are the result of choices and decisions. And plenty of practice!