The worst compliment ever

Sunset Over Chef Menteur Pass

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The 'compliment' that drives photographers crazy

Let's be honest: Everyone loves to be complimented. And I absolutely enjoy reading and receiving positive input on the fine-art photography prints in my online gallery.

Most of these compliments are just that: Very positive reviews that make me smile.

There's one "compliment," however, that makes me grimace — and I'm not alone. Every woking photographer I know dislikes the following statement.

"Wow, you have a great camera! No wonder your photos are so beautiful."


OK, so to some degree I understand the thought behind this statement. Yes, I use a professional-level camera body that has all kinds of buttons and switches. I'm sure that looks awfully impressive compared to the entry level bodies a lot of hobbyists use.

But let's be clear: My camera body is NOT the reason I create beautiful pieces of art.

View from Crested Butte

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My camera body is just a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it's an important tool, but just like a hammer it's useless unless you know how to use it properly.

In fact, I can create the exact same level of work with any camera body. That's right: If you own an entry level body you can create gorgeous photos just like me.

You simply have to know how to use it.

“The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it.” – Ansel Adams

Let that Ansel Adams quote sink in. This master of photography knew the key to wonderful photography was the photographer - not the equipment.

In fact, it was 20 years before I owned my first professional-level camera body. Sure, I had stepped up from the entry level cameras, but for a number of years I sold prints created with a series of intermediate-level cameras.

The fact is that today's camera sensors are all very good. Yes, my Nikon D850 has a full-frame sensor that produces much larger files than my old Nikon D300s. But the resulting images are no better or worse because I have that larger sensor.

Milky Way Over Boxley Valley

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Ingredients of great images

I can have the best camera money can buy, but it won't produce quality images if I don't know the basics of a great photograph.

The first key is to turn off Program (also known as Auto) Mode and learn how to use the camera settings for proper exposures. Nothing matters if you let your camera make all the decisions - or don't understand the fundamentals of how to properly expose a scene. 

Click here to learn about instructional opportunities.

Once you understand proper exposure, I believe composition is the single most important element of a great photograph. It's what separates snap shots from fine-art prints.

What should you include in the foreground? What's in the middle region of the frame? What is in the background? Where should the eye be drawn using focus or leading lines. These are all key considerations whenever pointing the camera at a scene.

Even as a working photographer who travels the country creating fine-art photography, I continue studying other photographers' work. People like Rick Berk, Tim Stanley, Lars Leber and Klaus Priebe create wonderful compositions. I learn something new each time I take the time to scroll through their galleries and study how they composed their images.

And then I put what I learn into practice, spending inordinate amounts of time behind the camera. there is simply no substitute for experience.

Once the image is created with the camera, the next critical component is editing the file. That's a subject for another day, but this can make or break an image.

Dawn in Henderson Swamp

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So why a professional camera?

That's a great question. And it really comes down to functionality and efficiency.

You see, all those buttons and switches on my Nikon D850 allow me to make all the adjustments I need without going into the menu system. That's it! There's nothing more mysterious happening.

So if I need to change the shutter speed, aperture or ISO on the fly, I simply turn a knob or use a button-switch combination. I'm often making those changes without pulling the camera from my eye.

That's not possible in many entry level camera bodies, which have a minimal number of buttons and force the user to go into the menu to make some of these changes.

And that's fine, if you are just beginning or can't afford to spend thousands on a camera body.

The trick is learning how to use the camera you have instead of making falling into the trap of thinking the equipment is responsible for quality images.

Need help learning how to se your camera? Email me and we can schedule some lessons that will move you down the path to creating the images you want!

Sunset Over Badlands Valley

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