“What kind of camera do you use?”

This question is asked all too frequently of photographers, yet to a photographer, it is a somewhat strange or awkward question, and you may get an odd look and a pause while he or she decides how to answer it this time. There are several interpretations that the photographer may be considering.

Unfortunately, many times this question is asked because the person asking may know little about photography, and they may believe that if they run right out and buy the same camera, they will miraculously start making photographs just like those the photographer has shown to them. They may be unwilling to listen to the explanation that the camera is of less importance than the years of study and experience the photographer has gained in the skills and arts of exposure, identifying kinds of light and the use of light, composition techniques, post processing, etc., as well as the thought processes of the photographer to apply this before pressing the shutter button. If a camera could make a photograph by itself, we could save a lot of travel expense by just shipping it off to location!

The camera is, in fact, merely a tool to the photographer just as a hammer is a tool to a carpenter. Both the carpenter and the photographer seek tools that make their job simpler and more enjoyable in the way that they personally prefer to work. There is also the issue that no one camera is likely capable of doing everything well that a photographer may need to accomplish. In fact most photographers have several different kinds of camera, perhaps one small and light that can be easily carried anywhere at the cost of some quality, another that although not very portable has the best possible resolution for studio work, one that is ideal for high dynamic range light conditions, another that is best at super long exposures for capturing the night sky, etc. Just as a carpenter’s tools will differ for framing and finish work, so will a photographer’s tools differ for portraits and landscapes.

But cameras are only one of the tools a photographer needs to make photographs, and not necessarily the most important ones. The proper choice of lens is arguably more important to the quality of the photograph than is the camera. And the photographer needs ways to modify or create light (filters, reflectors, lamps, strobes, flashes) ways to stabilize cameras (grips, tripods, vibration dampers) special viewers for framing, perhaps a light meter, even custom rain covers. And specialized carrying cases and packs for every occasion – every photographer accumulates too many of those.

A more straightforward question to ask of a photographer may be: “What gear do you prefer for making photographs like these?” So that is the question I generally try to answer.

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