Choosing the Right Tool for the (Photographic) Job

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On a balmy, autumn day in the mid-1990s I started my first “real” job selling consumer electronics at a local department store.  My favourite items to sell were, of course, the cameras and I did a pretty decent job of hawking them.  I didn’t know much about cameras at the time except that lots of zoom had to be a good thing, and that store-brand film was cheaper, but surely just as good as that Kodak stuff.  At least, that’s what the guys in the ties told me.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve spoke with a lot of people about photography, and heard a lot of interesting stories and aspirations.  There’s one thing I continue to hear regularly that still bugs me though, and it usually starts off with someone saying something like, “I want a camera that takes good pictures,” or “your camera takes beautiful pictures – which one is it?”

The issue here is that the tools of the trade are being confused with the knowledge held by the user of those tools – quite like attributing a quality paintbrush to the creation of the Mona Lisa rather than the exquisite skill of Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s a harmless misconception, but one that leads many people to believe that great photographs result from expensive gear, not knowledgable, intuitive, and patient photographers.

The truth is, great photography is not limited to a certain camera.  Cameras are tools and they need to be selected based on the job at hand.  To put it in perspective, a landscape photographer like Peter Lik (depicted below) can be seen using equipment like the Linhof 617s ($9000), and a Hasselblad H4D-50 ($30,000).

However, he chooses this equipment because his style demands the best equipment available, he’s tremendously skilled, and because he can sell photos for up to one-million dollars each.  That being said, there are countless amazing photos out there that were taken with inexpensive equipment, or even homemade pinhole cameras. A great idea, clever ingenuity, and/or rich knowledge can make great pictures out of any camera.

As for real estate photography, it is a very specific photographic job that I believe benefits more from experience than it does equipment.  That being said, there are the “right” tools for the job, or at least ones that will give you the proper control required to create eye-catching photos.  So if you find a listing photo that you love, don’t praise the camera – seek out knowledge and guidance from those who have learned effective shooting methods so you can produce similar results.

If you’re keen to share some of your own work, feel free to submit them to the Point2 Agent Flickr Group.

8 Comments

  • Maya Day says:

    The thing I most wary of is using a wide angle lens when photographing my listings. While it does allow more of the room to be showm, it also makes any space look a lot larger than it actually is. The risk you run is in disappointing the buyer when they view the home and find that it is much smaller than they anticipated.

  • I use a 12-24mm lense for all of my interior shots and highly recommend it. I think it captures the spaces really well as opposed to making them look bigger than they actually are.

  • Susan says:

    Great article. I borrowed an expensive camera to take listing photos. The photos had no pizazz so I studied other pix I liked and retook them with my little inexpensive camera using different angles and heights. Lesson learned and now I Love my camera!

  • Disappointing. Your article is entitled “Choosing the Right Tool…”, yet, you give no guidance toward choosing a superior (yet affordable) camera at all.

  • Bryan says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment all 🙂
    @Carson – Cheers for the gear recommend. I have a lens with a similar range and also consider it my “go to” lens for interiors.

    @Barbara – I suppose my point is that choosing the right tool really involves looking to the knowledge and expertise of others, rather than the camera/equipment in their hands. It seems that you are looking for this article: http://is.gd/1QUAxS or this one: http://is.gd/p2LuQw Take care!

  • Suzie says:

    I must say Bryan that I must disagree with you somewhat. As an amateur I don’t know all the settings necessary to produce a good photo…especially indoors. After shooting my first listing, then hiring a friend to reshoot it, I purchased a Sony NEX-3. It does the thinking for me. I just have to choose the right angles (for which I take many photos) and hold the camera steady. The camera does the rest. The fact that it can take a wonderful photo in a dimly lit room is amazing. Smart cameras are the way to go!

  • Bryan says:

    @Suzie – Now that’s an argument I’ll take! I guarantee that a photographer with a rich knowledge base can produce better quality photos than a “smart camera” anyday. Smart cameras produce the same shot every time, whereas an intelligent photographer will make selective choices based on the specific scene at hand. If you want to look better than the rest, it has to be custom.

  • chris says:

    I must say i agree with Bryan, that the picture quality has alot to do with the photographer rather than the camera. yes more expensive cameras my produce a higher quality have more settings, but when it comes down to it the photographer is the one behind the camera snapping the photo.

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