Equipment or Skill?

July 3, 2012, 5:54 p.m.

When it comes to multimedia creation, the technology involved is always getting more impressive as time goes on.  As technology gets better and better, there is always a question of how much skill and artistic ability is involved.  When electronic music was first coming into the forefront, people questioned whether synthesizers, drum machines and sampling would put "real" musicians out of work. These fears were obviously unfounded and new technology led to more creative uses, but there is a grain of truth that as technology gets better, it does become easier for your "average" hobbyist to achieve results closer to professionals with less money and time investment.

I got to thinking about these questions after recently purchasing a Canon T3i DSLR.  Just by purchasing a new piece of equipment, my photographs immediately went from amateur hour to a large increase quality.  Since I'm mainly an audio recording guy, I tend to approach art from that point of view.  I know buying a  great new microphone/interface/monitor system/software/etc will result an improvement in quality, but it is not nearly as drastic of an impact as the camera had.  The main limiting factor in my audio recording is and will continue to be my mixing, arranging and tracking ability. This doesn't appear to be the case in photography.  An improvement in equipment equaled a big improvement in quality.  

My theory (and feel free to disagree in the comments) is that arts such as photography are more equipment dependent because you are capturing a real scene.  Sure, you have some control by changing angles, zoom, layout of objects and lighting, but essentially you are capturing a moment in time.  The better your equipment, the better your ability to capture that moment. When it comes to Audio and Video, you are typically recreating a performance or scene that didn't actually happen.  This composition of a simulated real event (using tools such as reverb, multiple takes, color correction, etc.) requires more experience and skill to pull off correctly.  

Now this isn't to downplay skill in photography as there is still an immeasurable amount for me to learn.  But if you don't have the ability to piece together a decent audio recording using an sm57 and any multitrack recorder, you probably need to take a look at your own abilities before upgrading equipment will do much for you.  On the other hand, there is a lot to be learned about basic composition by using a point and shoot camera, but by stepping up to a DSLR, you will see an immediate improvement. I'm not exactly sure what point I'm trying to make, but getting a nicer camera has had a big impact on the way I view art and creation (expect many more posts to come with pictures and video grossly abusing depth of field to make me feel artsy).  Let me know if you agree or disagree with some of the points in the comments.

  • I think in anything you do there is value in talent, skill and the tools you are given to use. Part of being skilled I believe is taking limited resources and maximizing them to produce a good outcome. But I also have been given older equipment and expected to produce something that looks like what others make with the newest equipment. This can be very irritating though also a welcome challenge in that you have to dig into your imagination and take what resources you have and make the most of them. Good luck in your photography adventures! Even if you realize photography isn't your forte, it's never a bad idea to learn something new. You never know how something you learn today may actually help you create something great in your realm of expertise.
    Catie - July 3, 2012, 6:20 p.m.