The holiday season has just passed by. This means that a lot of you photographers out there, hobbyists and professionals alike, have received new gear: from spouses and loved ones, from Santa, or as a gift to yourself.
Many of you may have upgraded to full frame cameras, and maybe some of you upgraded your lenses, too. It's possible that you've seen photos you love all over the internet. Facebook, Flickr, 500px, websites. You look at those photos, you find out what gear they were taken with, and start dreaming about how you need a new camera. A new lens. A camera strap that costs $400. All to make your photos better. So you get this gear, and you start taking photos, and you're disappointed, because they look the same. Or maybe a little different, but not how you want them to look. Not those photos of your dreams. Why?!
I'm going to tell you something. I'm going to be honest. A full frame camera (or a new lens, or any other new gear) is not going to make your photos better. Not if that is what you think you need to make your photos better.
But do you know what will make your photos better?
TIME. Time and practice and more practice.
Bottom line, new (often expensive) new gear is not a magic bullet for better photos. There are areas that it can help for sure, but you have to know what those areas even are before you upgrade. So if you're not getting better photos, know that time and practice WILL make you a better photographer. And if you didn't get that new gear you were hoping for, know that you can still make awesome photos with your current gear. You will upgrade at some point, but you can still rock what you have.
I know some people are visual learners. I also know that some of you are shaking your heads at me. So I did a few tests. Experiments. Examples. To demonstrate that it's not just all about the gear. There are a few areas where it can help, but the time you put in and your drive and what's in your mind's eye are most important.
First, my furry assistant Lionel helped me with two photos. One of these photos is taken with gear that is a lot more expensive (and newer) than the other. They were taken with the same exact settings. Can you tell which is which? If you're a professional, could your client tell which is which?
I won't leave anyone hanging...the left was taken with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a 200mm f2. The right is taken with a Canon Rebel XT (that would be a 12-year-old, 8-megapixel crop sensor camera) and a 135 f2. The 135 isn't a kit lens, but it's also 1/6 the cost of the 200. There are some slight differences in the photos: Lionel looks closer on the right hand photo because the "crop factor" on the XT makes the 135 have an effective focal length of 216mm, which is just a bit longer than the 200. And settings, white balance, and edits were exactly the same, but you can see slight color differences across the photos. But that's the thing: SLIGHT. Nearly imperceptible to most. You can make a great photo with expensive gear. And you can also make a great photo with lower end, much less expensive gear. You just have to know what you want to make.
Second, my trusty onion (I love photographing vegetables, don't judge) helped me for a few quick shots in my kitchen. Both of these photos were taken with the Rebel XT, and are straight out of the camera. Settings on both are f1.8, ISO 200, 1/640. One was taken with a $100 50mm 1.8 lens. The other was taken with a $1300 50mm 1.2 lens. The slight framing differences are just because I moved a touch! Can you tell which is which? I can't even tell which is which without looking. The $1300 lens does have some advantages, but the $100 lens is pretty great too. It can take THE SAME PHOTO as its much more expensive sibling. If you have that $100 lens, rock it. If you want to upgrade your $100 lens to a $1300 lens, make sure that you're getting the photos you want with that $100 lens before you upgrade; they're still going to look the same (but your pockets will be a lot lighter).
Finally, lest you think I'm making up this "it takes time" and "new gear is not a magic bullet" thing, I offer up to you just a few examples of my work from a number of years back. If you follow me at all, you can see that this looks a tad different than my current work. (If you want to read a little more, I did a blog post about comparing your work to others' almost a year ago). What got me from where I was to where I am is time. There was some new gear, but mostly, there was time. If you had handed me $6000 worth of gear when I took the photos above, they'd still look very similar.
The moral is this: stay the course. Take the time. Don't get frustrated. The photos you want will come. They may not come tomorrow, but they will come. Trust me. You can do this.