I was looking at the picture from the cover of my previous article How to Step Up Your CrossFit Photography Game and I realized something really cool. This was actually one of my debut portraits in sports photography. It has been taken with my first camera: an old Nikon D5000. Even if I’ve taken thousands of cool pictures with better gear since then, I still really like this image two years later. That leads to something really important we should remember starting out photography: the gear doesn’t make the photographer.

For the purpose of this article, I’ve shared 5 images that were only taken with my very first camera kit: an old Nikon D5000 and a 50mm f/1.8. This picture was taken @ f/1.8 1/160sec ISO 800. 1/160sec was really slow for weightlifting but it was probably the fastest I could go at the time without busting ISO 800 (and making the athlete look like he was split jerking in the middle of a snowstorm).

Buy what you can afford

I started with no money, no knowledge of photography and no plan. I just had time and very strong interest in learning. I bought a used Nikon D5000 from Kijiji (a Canadian equivalent of Craiglist I guess). This camera was already 7 years old by the time I got it – (to say something about the technology of the body.) It came with a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. I paid something like 400$CAD for the kit. I invested all my savings. It was a BIG expense for me. I took beginner classes to learn the basics especially to learn how to use Manual Mode. I practiced. A. LOT. A few months later I decided to buy two more lenses: a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and a Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6. I researched based on my needs, budget and I knew I would actually use them. I needed a telephoto lens. Let’s get real, it’s somewhat limiting shooting sports with a 17-55mm! I also needed an affordable fast lens. I learned real quick that in gyms: the wider the aperture, the better off I was making pictures.

I went crazy for this one and cranked my ISO up to 1000. The noise issue was real but I knew how to it to my advantage.

High-end gear does not equal high-end skills

We’ve all known people just starting in photography who bought the latest camera body on the market but wouldn’t take it out of Automatic Mode. Yes! Owning high-quality gear is one part of the equation. But if you don’t know how to use it, what’s the point? Having $10,000 worth gear doesn’t make anyone a magically better photographer. You have already the ability to achieve great images regardless of what’s in your camera bag. I used to be embarrassed when I was shooting at an event next to someone who had much better gear than me. I thought I looked like an amateur with my cropped sensor camera and my plastic 55-200mm f/4-5.6 while they had a brand new 70-200mm f/2.8 in their hands. But when I got to see their images, I often thought “Hey, mine are not so bad after all”. As my Photofocus friend Levi Sim already told me: “The best gear for you is the gear you own”.

A little goes a long way

I bought that 50mm f/1.8 a couple years ago. I took all my pictures with it. Because I liked it, yes. But also because I had no choice. It was the only lens I owned that was fast enough so I could shoot what I wanted to shoot. Of course, sometimes I wished I had a 20mm or a 200mm. I didn’t complain simply because I couldn’t afford those lenses yet. I learned how to make the most out of my dependable little 50mm. You know the most interesting part? Two years later and two new lenses later, this 50mm is still my favorite lens. I use it for 85% of my shots. Why fix something if it isn’t broken? This lens has made hundreds of great images and will give me hundreds more! Don’t get caught it the madness of over-consumption! Buy good quality gear that you really need and use it to the max! This lens is the best investment I’ve made in my career. It cost me $200. I’ve made thousands of dollars using it. I’m not really good at maths but I think it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty good return on investment.

 

This was at an outdoor competition, exceptionally taken with my 55-200mm lens at 62mm f/4 1/640sec ISO 200. I didn’t have much occasion to have low ISO and high shutter speed. Because of its f/4 aperture and the challenging ISO of my D5000, I’ve never been able to use this lens indoors to get a satisfying result.

Click the shutter

Stop thinking you’ll get better pictures when you’ll buy this new piece of equipment. Gear is not the key: practice is. Think of all those great photographers who inspire you: how many pictures have they taken in their lives? Hundreds of thousands? MILLIONS?! This is why they are better than everybody else! Give them a toy camera and they will still come up with amazing images–regardless of what’s in their hands.

As the athlete was almost passing out, I used this still moment to increase my shutter speed to 1/250sec and lower the ISO to 500 for a better quality.

The single most important element is not the camera

True. It would be hard to take pictures without a camera. But it would be harder to get anything at all without the most important element of all: your head! Your imagination, your eyes, your emotions, THIS is what makes great pictures! Have you heard the story about the cook? A man comes to his friend’s home and eats a delicious cake. He then tells him “This cake is amazing! You should have a great baking oven!”. Doesn’t this sound silly? Of course, we all know the baking oven has nothing to do with the taste of the cake! Why would it be different for photographers?

There is no way around learning to make great pictures. Practice, practice, practice. Just like the chef, keep on baking your cake over and over again until you know by heart all its ingredients. When you don’t have to think about what you are doing is when the magic happens!