You must have a good camera

Often said in jest, I sometimes hear the phrase, “You must have a good camera!” when someone views the image on the back of my camera. It implies that the quality of the images is solely due to the camera itself, without taking the photographer’s skill into account.

It reminds me of the story about when Henry Ford had a problem with a generator that nobody could fix. Ford called upon electrical engineer Charles Steinmetz, who after two days marked the area needing repair with chalk, and told Ford’s engineers to replace windings from the field coil. When Ford queried his bill for $10,000 asking for an itemised invoice, Steinmetz replied:

  • Making chalk mark on generator $1.
  • Knowing where to make mark $9,999.
Charles Steinmetz article in Life magazine
1965 Life Magazine Letters to the Editor

Creative professions are an imprecise practice that goes beyond technical specifications and equipment. The true essence of professional creatives is the ability to see the world through a unique perspective, draw on decades of similar situations, know the medium’s history, and successfully convey a client’s story or message. It is their vision, creativity, and technical knowledge that breathe life into a work.

Photographers spend years refining their craft, mastering techniques, becoming fluent in the visual language, and developing problem-solving skills. They acquire an instinctive understanding of timing, anticipating when to capture the decisive moment. This expertise allows them to make critical decisions about exposure, framing, and post-processing, all of which significantly impact the final outcome.

Sydney industrial photography
Professional cameras need to withstand harsh environments.

Having a good camera does play a role in professional photography. As a professional I invest in Nikon equipment, renowned for their reliability, durability, optics and colour science, accumulated over a century of manufacturing experience. It’s also their commitment to working with professionals through service, research and advice that keeps NASA, and me, a loyal customer.

Nasa Astronaut And Flight Engineer Donald Pettit Poses With Ten Nikon Dslrs On The International Space Station
NASA astronaut and flight engineer Donald Pettit poses with Nikon DSLRs on the International Space Station.

While my professional work often demands top-tier equipment, personal photography provides an opportunity for exploration and experimentation. For decades I’ve enjoyed using smaller, rangefinder-style cameras for personal projects. Always set to B&W, friends refer to them as my “black and white camera”. These simple cameras encourage me to think differently, enjoy the process of creating images, and further develop my skills and passion for the photography.

Fujifilm X100v

While having quality equipment is undoubtedly beneficial, it is the creative’s skill, experience, and vision that truly makes their work stand out. Like Charles Steinmetz’s chalk mark on the generator, it is the years of knowledge, expertise, and understanding that produces the final result.