Why I’ll Keep Asking What Gear You Used to Take That Photograph

You take a picture, and even before the post-processing it’s one of your favorites. Your knowledge in the manual settings, your skills–and maybe even a bit of luck–made this work of art. You did this. You’re a badass.

But then you share it with the world, and one of the first questions asked is: “what kind of lens did you use?”

Are you kidding??? You are the one who took this picture, not the lens. The camera isn’t who placed the model–wearing the Snow White dress you sewed yourself–beneath the tree with the white flowers. You try to think of some kind of witty comeback regarding how it isn’t the camera that makes the photographer. And you’re (mostly) right. We have only the photographer to blame for bad crops and limb chops.

But you know what’s funny? The person asking is probably me.

*Gasp*

Why would I, a fellow photographer, ask such a thing?

Because I’m curious. I’m amazed. I’m excited. Because…wow I love photography.

I love cameras. I love all cameras, all lenses, all types of gear. I think it’s fascinating how one setting can have so many different results. And I want to know. I want to know what lens you used and what camera you used and what settings you used. I not only want to know the artist, I want to see his withered brushes and messy workspace. I want to see the way the photographer’s mouth twitches as she presses her finger to the shutter release.

Is it rude to ask an artist whether he used oil or acrylic? What size brush he used for the trees? Non?

The photography world is vast. I’ve seen cameras made from eggs, cameras made from two or three cameras put together. I’ve seen homemade filters–have used them myself–and have marveled over composite works by photographers like Brooke Shaden.

No photographer would ever deny that film looks different than digital. No photographer would ever agree that a fisheye lens is exactly the same as a 50mm.

So what’s the big deal?

Be proud of your work. And be proud of your know-how and your creativity. But also allow yourself to be excited to own a Mark III or a 1972 Canonet. After all, why did you pay for the gear in the first place if it makes no difference? Why are we not all out there using disposable cameras or point and shoots?

Because it does matter.

Admit it.

So go out there and give your camera a big hug. Marvel at its mirrors and the fact that you can freeze it and/or set it on fire and it will probably still work (don’t try this at home). Tinker with double-exposure and play with filters. Build a pinhole camera. Try your hand at freelensing. Spend some time in a darkroom. Learn to process with caffenol.

And the next time someone asks what gear you used, get all excited and tell them the story of how you and your camera met, and why it was one of the best additions to your gear bag.

Special shoutout to my baby Canonet (RIP). I didn’t get to use it longer than a few rolls of film before it broke, but it helped shape me into the photographer I am today!

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