As the year 178 AP draws to a close, I hope it was a… Wait. What? 178 AP? What and when is that? Well, by my reckoning 178 AP (After Photography) marks the 178th year since that clever French guy, Louis Daguerre, unveiled his ‘Daguerreotype’ photographic process to a world of people who had not yet realized were aching to make pictures of people, places, and things around them. (That was back in 1839, BTW, per the Gregorian Calendar.)

There were always, of course, people who could already do that – artists of various kinds – but for those without drawing, painting, and sculpting skills, photography meant a new way to record and share pictures of the world around us without possessing traditional “art” skills.

The Dawning of the Age of Photography

In my mind, the invention of Daguerre’s Daguerreotype marked the dawning of the Age of Photography and the birth of a brand-spanking-new age of art and documentation. Sure, there were a few BP (Before Photography) amusements that (sort of) paved the way for photography. The Camera Obscura comes to mind. The words, ‘camera obscura’, come from old Latin. (Sounds more Greek to me but whatever… I’m no etymologist.) It translates to ‘dark room.’

But the Camera Obscura, which goes back thousands of years and is simply a tent with a small aperture, I mean a small hole in it to let the light in, doesn’t much resemble what any of us today usually think of when we think of a camera. (Even though some people do put a lens in that tent hole and focus it on a recording medium inside the tent and ‘Voila!’ They have an actual, tent-size, truly-a-camera, Camera Obscura. I have a friend who is a talented, large format, wet plate photographer and, for some of his work, he uses a tent… I mean a Camera Obscura.)

Do Better Cameras Make Better Photos?

Speaking of cameras (of the non-tent variety), we now have more choices than ever before– Still picture and motion picture cameras (and some that do both), cameras with mirrors and those without, analog (film) cameras and digital cameras, cameras of many different sizes, shapes, and formats whether those formats are indicated by the size of the film they use or the size of the sensor it contains. And every one of those many types of cameras can be used, in the right hands, to make extraordinary pictures. Every. Single. One.

It’s now the Winter Holiday season in many parts of the world. A time of gift-giving, whether we give those gifts to others, to ourselves, or both. During this annual gift-giving time, many of us hope to replace our current cameras with new cameras. (Or, to add another camera to our kits.) We do so for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons, perhaps the single most dominant reason I often hear, is to make better photos.

“Better photos,” of course, is a vague term. What makes better photos better? Is it a camera’s lens or the way it internally records what that lens sees? Is it megapixels? Sensor size? The many bells-and-whistles digital photography technologies have crammed into modern cameras? (And continue cramming more and more into them.) Sure. I suppose in one way or another all those things can make better photos depending on your definition of “better.” But the one thing, the #1 thing, missing from the list of things that might, make that will make better photos, i.e., missing from any and all cameras you might purchase in order to make better photos is…. wait for it… wait for it… YOU!

Better Cameras Don’t Automatically Make Better Photos

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing against buying a new camera now, during the holiday gift-giving frenzy, or at any other time. There are quite a few reasons, good reasons, for buying a new camera. But none of those reasons should include things like, “I’m going to buy the latest-and-greatest from (insert Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax, or any other camera brand) and my photos will be so much better.” That simply ain’t gonna happen. A camera itself does not make a good photographer. Photographers make themselves good photographers. And they do so, for the most part, in five ways:

  1. Learning
  2. Knowledge
  3. Practice
  4. Practice
  5. Practice

Take It From Mark Twain

Learning and increasing your knowledge of photography, combined with practice, practice, and more practice, will do more to improve your photography than any camera on the market you might buy. Famous American writer and humorist, Mark Twain, once said, “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.” And deep down inside, I think you already know that much of the marketing BS and hype from the camera makers regarding their cameras making you a better photographer is a load of horse manure.

Some of their cameras can make you a more efficient photographer. They might further you along the road to technical perfection. (If that’s where you want to go.) They might contain various bells & whistles that make sense for shooting one or two genres of photography over others. But make you a better photographer? I don’t think so. You know it. I know it. And Mark Twain knew it even though he wasn’t speaking about photography in his quote I provided.

Again, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of buying that new camera you’re yearning for. Everyone loves new stuff, especially when that new stuff upgrades your old stuff. But upgrading your tools isn’t the same as advancing your skills. You want to upgrade? By all means, do so. You want to advance? Well, that ain’t gonna happen simply because you upgrade your tools.

I hope everyone has a terrific Winter Holidays season!