Your pictures are great; you must have a really good camera…

This dreaded phrase came up in a conversation recently and it hurt.

When someone says this, my heart sinks. Why? Because it suggests they believe the sole reason why the photo is ‘great’ has very little to do with the person who took it. Instead, the success of an image is down to the camera.

Well no. The camera you use is irrelevant.

What really makes a photo is the person looking through the viewfinder or at the screen on the camera.

Their skill in knowing and choosing when to take the photo is what makes a photo a success.

Hopefully the following story will explain what I mean.

I’d been planning to photograph the North Pier at Cullercoats Bay for a few weeks before I made the trip to do it. I’d studied the tides and used the cool online tool The Photographer’s Ephemeris to estimate where the sun would rise. I also worked out where would be the best place to stand to get the shot I wanted. I packed my camera, tripod and filters and headed along in the pre-dawn blue hour to set up.

But when I got down to the Bay on that chilly morning, it became clear other photographers had been thinking the same as me. Headtorches flickered in the gloom and tripods clattered at the landward end of the pier. The space (my space?) was already taken.

My first reaction was typical of a lot of landscape photographers. We can be a very precious, self-centred bunch:

They’re standing in my spot! How dare they!

Which of course, is ludicrous; It’s not my spot, and if I’d wanted to stand there, I should have set my alarm for earlier.

So instead I looked for alternatives.

At first it felt like there weren’t any. I’d been so set on getting ‘the shot’ I’d planned for, that I was unable to see potential in anything else. The compositions I tried were bland, lacked structure. This would be a waste of time.

Eventually I stopped sulking and began to watch the waves.

As the tide had risen, waves had started to pour over the pier walls into the bay. This could be interesting.

I set up and waited and the next time it happened, took a shot. This was the result:

untitled – Cullercoats

It’s okay. Not great,  the pier looked crooked, the composition flat, but I felt I was on to something, just not from this spot. So I moved.

I’d noticed that the same waterfall effect had started to happen nearer the landward end of the bay. I couldn’t get up on the pier – there was still no room, but if I stayed on the sand in the bay (which had still not been filled by the tide yet), I could use the pier wall as a ‘leading line’ in my composition as the sun rose.

Sunrise, Cullercoats

Close, but no cigar. The freighter on the horizon approaching Tynemouth would have to be cloned out in post-production and I was standing too close to the wall. If I moved out, maybe that’d be better: light from the sunrise would be reflected on the wet pier walls and the cascade of water would look as if it was coming from sea level.

I waited, firing off a few test shots to check, watching the pattern and rhythm of the waves as they poured over the lip of the pier, waiting for what I thought would happen, to happen.

And then, it happened:

Overwhelmed - web

Now if I thought it was important, I could tell you with the camera settings I used here. In fact if you check out my Flickr page, you’ll probably find them. But they’re not that important. And in fact, to ask is to miss the point. Even if I told you what they were, you couldn’t replicate this picture. The moment has passed: the scene, the lighting conditions, weather, position of the sun and tides have all changed, and will never be repeated.So please, if you want to compliment a photographer, don’t (if you’ll pardon the phrase) compliment their equipment. It’s only part of the story.

Next time: ‘Well it’s all just Photoshop isn’t it?’

3 thoughts on “Your pictures are great; you must have a really good camera…

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