I’ve finally had time to look through the 1000s of images I shot in Alaska on this year’s eagle trip. I think I did better than last year, which is surprising since two of the three cameras I was using were literally right out of the box. Normally, I count my knowledge of my camera as part of the reason for my success. I think it’s better to understand everything you possibly can about the camera you have, rather than worrying about buying the next best thing. But since I like to test cameras in real world situations, I took a chance. Luckily my existing familiarity with the Canon 1D MK IV and 5D MK II made using the MK III easier than it would have been if I’d gone in cold. Likewise, I have lots of experience with the D3 and D3s but the D4 moved the menus and buttons so it was a little harder for me. In the end, I got great shots from all three cameras. But that brings up an interesting point. The 1D MK IV – which has been out for a while now, offered me the highest percentage of keepers. So it’s not always the new thing that brings you success.
And speaking of cameras, I got my 103,279,271th reminder that too many of you think the camera is the secret behind success. I got lots of email about the Alaska trip that went something like this:
“I love the picture of the eagle doing _________ and I just HAVE to know, which camera did you use on that one.”
As if THAT camera would make THAT person a master wildlife photographer. Believe me folks if there were such a thing as a magic camera – I would own it. And I’d even tell you where to buy it. But there isn’t.
You can have the best camera in the world, but if you don’t have the passion, the eye, the experience, the hunger and the subject knowledge – you won’t get the shot.
I’ll wrap up by talking about subject knowledge. There is no substitute for knowing your subject. I’ve photographed birds for a long time, and lots of raptors and lots and lots and lots of eagles. I’ve learned a great deal about them. I study them at an ornithological level. The more I know about them, the better my pictures turn out. That holds true whether you’re photographing birds, brides, food, architecture, or any other subject.
Here’s another way to look at it. Say you were standing in China Poot Bay photographing eagles with gear that was inferior to that of the man shooting next to you. Say that he had 10 years of photo experience more than you – but you had 10 years more study of the subject – I’m willing to bet you’d get the better shots more often than not.
So don’t worry what camera I used – worry about learning how to get the most out of the one you have. Photograph things you know and care about. Develop your eye. Practice. Apply yourself. Develop a thirst for great light. Get to know everything you possibly can about your subject(s). Like David DuChemin says, “Gear is good, vision is better.”
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