The Camera is not the Photographer

iPhone or Nikon, Samsung or Canon, pinhole or Olympus, it is not about the gear; it is about the eye.

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A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (photo ©courtesy Mike Amedeo)

The unintended backhanded compliment

The above question was posted on Facebook under the excellent photograph of a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk perched on a deck rail. The picture was taken by Dr. Mike Amedeo, a friend of mine here in Northern Virginia. Mike, a fine internist, is not a professional photographer, though he shoots with the precision and eye of one.

What is the “best” camera?

It is axiomatic in photojournalism that the best camera is the one you have with you at the moment

In a world bloated with phone camera pictures, many of which are, admittedly, outstanding, there are serious amateurs and professional photographers who are also equipped with big glass — high-end cameras with lenses costing well above $2,000 — and they produce beautiful, important, thought-provoking images not because they employ expensive cameras, but because they know what to do with the cameras they employ.

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Winter Companions© (photo courtesy Becky Gibson Portwood)
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Awakening Allium© (photo courtesy Meggan Healy Florell)

Pinhole lesson in humility

Many summers ago — decades before digital photography would become a thing — I attended a photography workshop in Aspen, Colorado, taught by one of the great names in the field of photographic arts. On the first day of his lecture, he made all of us build pinhole cameras. He made one too.

Hone your skills before opening your wallet

When I returned to my job as a newspaper photographer, I returned with a different eye, a more inquiring sensitivity to the subjects of my pictures. The cameras in my bag, once taken for granted, became tools of expression. I don’t think I upgraded my cameras for years after that workshop.

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One World Observatory, NYC (camera: Samsung Galaxy photo by author)
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Get Off my Feeder (camera Nikon D700 70~200 zoom photo by author)

The best brush won’t paint the picture

But the best brush in the hands of an artist, can be an exquisite tool

That they use a Nikon or Canon or Olympus, or shoot in large formats with traditional film-loaded studio cameras (yes, they still exist), simply speaks to the quality and flexibility of the imaging tools in their respective bags.

“It’s like praising a great chef’s stove for the meal.”

Michael S. Williamson, a Washington Post photographer, a recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes, responds to queries about his camera choice with, “Whenever someone asks me what kind of camera I use I pause and answer, “I’m not sure, let me check.” — “Oh, it’s a black one.”

“I’m not sure, let me check” — “Oh, it’s a black one.”

My friend and colleague Steve Northup, a news and feature photographer whose outstanding work for UPI, The Washington Post, and Time magazine helped shape my own photojournalism career, puts the comparison between the camera and the photographer in simple terms when he quips, “It’s like praising a great chef’s stove for the meal.”

Kudos to the photographer

It is a gift not made of metal, glass, sensors, circuits and algorithms, but of vision and experience, of heart and mind working in concert to bring to the world that “magnificent photo.”

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Sunrise, Ocean City MD ( photo by the author)

Journalist, former Capitol Hill staff (House and Senate), former Cabinet speechwriter, editor, photojournalist and bird photographer. Top Writer Quora 2016–2017

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