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Home > Photography is not about Gear and Gadgets, it’s about Art

“The best camera is the one you have with you” – Chase Jarvis

Photography is not about Gear and Gadgets, it’s about Art

Award winning photographer Chase Jarvis coined the above expression and used it for the title of his book, which was published in 2009. It consists of images taken solely with a cell phone camera, and was meant to show that the artistry of photography is not based on what type of camera you have, but on how you see the world. This is the case for most art forms; Michelangelo was not a spectacular painter because he had a £2000 paintbrush, it was because he could successfully express his thoughts and feeling on a canvas (or ceiling!). While having the right tools for the job will make your project easier, without mastering the more essential aspects of your chosen art form, achieving your ambitions simply won’t be possible.


Without light there is no photography. The capture and manipulation of light is at the essence of what a photographer does, and to be successful you need to have a highly developed understanding of how light works in relation to everything that you see. Is there enough light? How will the shade affect contrast? How different will the photo be if you wait 10 minutes? – questions that can be answered if you know the intricate, and sometimes fickle, properties of light.

All the settings and parts on your camera are made for the purpose of manipulating light: the trick is to let enough light in without allowing it to ruin your picture. Lenses and their settings control when and how much of the surrounding light hits the sensor; ISO, how much of that light gets used to create a photo; while flash creates a burst of more light when needed. Everything we see in our environment is made possible by light bouncing and reflecting back at us; even colour is a measure of how much, and at what wavelengths, that light is reflected.


For a photographic masterpiece there has to be something arranged in a way that is pleasing to the eye (or the opposite, if you want to picture chaos) – this is referred to as composition. A photographer composes the photo in much the same way as a talented composer creates a piece of music, combining various elements to generate a reaction of some kind in the audience, be it an emotional response or the triggering of a memory. Compare to a painting in an art gallery – the same rules apply, but instead of using a camera you use a paintbrush. Angles, colours, contrast, lines, objects: all of these elements may contribute to making an image more stimulating for the audience.

The Photographer

The lighting is perfect and components of the photo line up in the exact the way you want. There is only one thing missing: you. Within the arts, there is no escaping the artist; without him or her there would be no photo. How you see the world, and how you want to present it to your viewer – is how a photo gets made. Your unique style, what you find exciting, your mood and state of mind, and your physical location in relation to everything else in the world is what makes up the largest part of a great photo.

If you quickly snap a photo rather than stopping for a minute to carefully interpret what you find interesting, you will surely see a great difference in the quality of the picture.


You are what makes a truly great photo, not your camera. So fine-tune your most important piece of photography equipment: study, attend a carefully constructed photography course and spend as much time as you can practising – it’s the only way to reach your potential.

Photo: Edward Burtynsky

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