The debate whether the gear matters or not is probably never ending. And while I generally always place the idea above gear, I still believe gear matters in many other aspects. But what does a veteran photographer has to say about this? What really makes a good photo?
Photographer Jesse James Allen has created a wonderful tribute to his mentor, photographer Charlie Howse. He inspired him and showed him not how to take, but how to create photos. In Allen’s video, Mr. Howse shares his knowledge, thoughts and a message for all the photographers out there. He talks about what makes good photos and if the gear has the influence, and if you’re looking for some wise words and inspiration, take a look.
As Mr. Howse explains, a good photo should help you remember what was going on, how you were feeling and what you were seeing before you clicked the shutter. It helps you remember why you made the click at all and decided to capture the moment. It all comes down to the message, which is what he talks about later throughout the video.
He admits that he used to think that a great image needs to be technically perfect. However, with time he got to realize that the artistic aspect is more important. According to Mr. Howse, a great photograph is the one that allows the viewer to “recognize it” or create his own story about it. As I understand it, it draws and keeps your attention and makes you think about it, at least for a few moments.
Mr. Howse claims what I also believe – a good photographer can take a point-and-shoot camera and take better images than someone with an expensive body and lens. This is because they know how to approach the subject and position it within the scene. They know “how to make an image rather than take a picture.” Of course, this photo may be less sharp or be technically imperfect, but in terms of the story and message, it can be superior to the photo taken even with the best gear in the world.
According to Mr. Howse, anyone can pick up a camera or a smartphone and take a photo. But to be really good at it requires more than the gear. This is why he relies on a large format camera. He observes it as a chance to master the skill of photography and take it to the next level. He embraces it as a tool that will expand his competency and pose a challenge for him.
The photographer also points out that communication with the person you’re photographing is an important part of making an image. Only then you can call it a portrait, and it won’t be just a snapshot. Again, you need to create a context and allow your viewer to see the story in your photos.
At the end, he gives a piece of advice for new generations of photographers: you should learn how to look at the scene and see what kind of message and story you can tell from it. And as long as you put the message at the first place, you’ll be able to tell the story with any camera you have around.
Personally, I agree with the idea behind this video and Mr. Howse’s message. It may be because I’m not really obsessed by gear and I generally don’t pay attention to the technical aspect. I am more attracted to the photos that make me think and feel something, no matter what the photographer used to capture them. And I’m curious to hear what you think. What, in your opinion, makes a great photo?