"Craft and passion always trumps gear" - a quote

November 12, 2014  •  1 Comment
For those who follow the Wild Eye blogs (and for those that don't you should!)....yesterday I read a fantastic guest blog "Mirrorless in the Masi Mara" from a couple, Guy and Helen from New Zealand who went on a Wild Eye Photographic Safari. The blog post explained that Guy had chosen a mirror less system which was compact and lightweight for travelling with. I was so interested in this guest blog because I have also worked with mirror less systems when travelling. Mirrorless systems are generally less performing than traditional DSLRs, but that isn't the point at all. 
What I really loved about this blog post was the fact that the images shared really told the story of this couple's adventures in Africa. They were great images. Guy had a background in landscapes and what really struck me looking at the images is how his style started to incorporate wildlife with landscapes. Images that really stood out for me were the Giraffe and the Tree, the s shape of leaping wildebeest, a stunning wide angle zebra-scape (!), and a zebra with shallow depth of field on some wildebeest (who says mirror less can't give you shallow depth of field!?!!).
After reading the blog I posted a comment: Great story and great images. Craft and passion always trump gear!
I truly believe that, otherwise I would not have written it. And if I didn't believe it, I certainly wouldn't have written it within a community of wildlife photographers.
You see the thing is I see this not just in photography, but in videography too. We live in a social media age where opinions and images are shared every minute. Camera companies want to sell more cameras and they have the advantage of having many well known advocates within different niches and genres who give credible endorsements to all the latest and greatest gear. But here's the thing:
The greatest camera you have, is the one that you have in your hands right now. 
Its not what the camera does, its how you, the photographer uses it.
Knowing the camera you have right now, inside out will make you a better photographer than spending $$$$$ on the next camera release. You do not need a 1DX, a 5Dmkiii a 7Dmkii to get great wildlife images. You don't need 300, 400 or 600mm lenses either. You just don't. On my first Safari ever I used a mirror less system, and two kit lenses a 12-35mm and a 35-100mm. What I learnt from that very first safari experience was that understanding what the animals do or are about to do, and anticipating what was going to happen was far more important than any other technical aspect of photography. So if you are planning on going on safari or photo safari, listen to your field guide. They will be the single most important source of how to get an image...not how big your lens is, not how many frames per second it shoots, and certainly not if its Nikon or Canon!
When I wrote that comment I didn't expect this response from Gerry :-)
I've never met Gerry, I hope to one day on a photo safari... I think if I did meet him we'd pretty much be on the same wavelength!
Now, its all very well me sitting here at my PC saying that you can get wildlife images from any camera...and you don't need the latest and greatest gear to start shooting great wildlife images. What qualifies me to have an opinion? Well I've been a serious photographer since around 2007....but I've only been shooting wildlife since 2013. Yes, 2013, so about 18 months. Why? Because I believed, wrongly, that to get into wildlife photography I needed expensive gear. Wrong. Wrong preconception....and I repeat: totally wrong. I fell into wildlife photography by accident, that may be a blog for another day. But I started with an inexpensive mirror less system, not a DSLR. I owned a 7D when I first went on safari, but I didn't take it with me, for many of the same reasons in Guy's guest blog (go read it!). So here are some images from that very first safari...
I didn't have a telephoto zoom....but I didn't need to in order to tell the story. You can't see the two leopard cubs playing in the long grass. But this is Mum perched on the log and looking over them. I used the negative space to accentuate her wariness.
A mother rhino and her calf. Again I didn't have a telephoto lens, so I took the image of their environment. You can see the track we are on, and these two rhino's know we are there but their sight isn't that great. So the mother turns to our directions where we are down wind and she can start to pick up our odour. Once they established our presence they moved quickly to the right side of the frame for protection. 
Could I have taken a better image with a Canon 5dmkiii or a Nikon D800? Probably not. Early morning mist and a sunrise. A herd of giraffes walk across this open areas looking for good grazing. The key to this image was balanced exposure. I didn't want full silhouettes nor perfect detail. I wanted the mist and the orange sky to convey the mood of another mother following in the wake of her young one. The key to this image was timing and framing to get both these giraffe in frame. When I had the composition I wanted I took the shot.
This was taken in the dark. It isn't the sharpest image. It isn't the cleanest image. I am sure a 5Dmkiii would bring better low light performance. But again that's not the point. I got a shot with the camera I had in hand. Owls don't move a lot. So I slowed the shutter speed to let more light in, and I used a monopod to eliminate camera shake. Mirrorless systems are not great in low light, but this is a useable image, and proof that its the craft not the equipment that got me this image. 
Brilliant field guiding for this shot. The field guide positioned for this 6 lion pride walk by as they approached a breeding herd of buffalo. They walk almost in military precision. Would this shot have worked if all 6 lions had their backs to me? No. It was all about waiting and watching for a sign that one may break away to protect the rear. Sure enough one of the young males did, and gave just enough separation to make this image work. This wasn't taken on my mirror less. I was using it to video at the time. Instead I used a small Sony compact to take this shot. A point and shoot. I love this shot. And I don't care it was taken on a point and shoot!
The final image. Shot on a mirror less as part of a time-lapse I was running. A beautiful landscape over a dam in Sabi Sands. A leadwood tree in the dam with its reflection makes this composition for me and balances the horizon with the sun setting opposite it to the left. I used aperture priority mode so the shutter speed would slow in order to keep exposure constant with fading light. Again it comes down to knowledge and craft and knowing how to use the camera you have to best effect. I know that my Canon 7D could not have taken a better shot than this. 
So to end, I come back full circle. Go and read Guy's guest blog. Don't let gear put you off telling great stories. Use what you have in hand and be creative. Don't be afraid to fail. Get your bankable proof shots and then explore your creative boundaries. And the most important point - have fun!


Awesome post Jon and thanks for the mention! Would be awesome to travel together one day! :)
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