Get Your Gear Out

Historically, the weekends have been hard on my hobbies.

There’s a photographer that I follow on an occasional basis, mainly because his typical subjects aren’t necessarily family friendly. His name is Matt Granger. He has a saying that I’m finding myself stuck to more now than ever: “Get Your Gear Out.”

He’s right. I need to. If I call myself a landscape photographer, why is my camera gear sitting in my bag all the time?

I have a couple locations I want to visit this weekend that are relatively close by (one is just down the street, actually). I’m looking forward to what I can capture this weekend.

Extending My Writing Goals to Photography

When I’m not working, writing, or studying, I’m (ideally) shooting. I’m a landscape photographer and by shooting I mean “taking photos of.” One of the things I struggled with in 2014 was my motivation to shoot more. I’ve always had a small inkling in the back of my mind that I’d like to live out a career at my desk writing and taking photos. With my start to writing underway (and so far going relatively smoothly), the next half of that is creating more photos.

A lot of photographers will tell you that the gear doesn’t make the photographer. While I find that to be true, the gear does make the photographer more motivated if the gear they just bought is exponentially better than what they used to own. See, up until the end of last year, I owned a four year old camera body—the Canon 60D—and a couple of lenses. Unfortunately, the 60D wasn’t the best for landscape photography for two reasons:

  1. Crop-Sensor: While create for getting extra range when using a telephoto lens, the smaller sensor leads to more noise on the image because each individual pixel is much smaller. This became unbearable at a larger print sizes, which I love doing. I have a 30×20” photo in my dining room I took at Mt. Rainier that I would love to re-shoot with my new equipment. I know I’d get much better results.

  2. Lens Selection: While I could pick out awesome, expensive glass, it wouldn’t be worth it. With a crop sensor body, I’d have to multiply the focal length of the lens by 1.6, which takes an amazing landscape photography lens such as the Canon 16-35mm and turns it into a 25.6-56mm lens. While that sounds nice, that’s a bit too narrow for me. So I settled with a 3rd-party brand lens that gave me 10-20mm of range, which equated to 16-36mm, exactly where I wanted, but with a trade-off. It wasn’t super sharp.

With those two elements combined, I had a setup that I didn’t really appreciate so I stopped using it a lot. When I had the opportunity to replace my gear, I jumped on the idea, and ordered a new body—the Canon 6D—and the Canon 16-35mm F/4 lens. For what I want to shoot, it’s an amazing combination and so far I’ve had nothing but awesome luck and experiences with the combination. The setup is light and agile but not flimsy. The field of view is spectacular and the quality of imagery on the sharpness and clarity fronts are epic. Well worth the purchase.

For those who say that new gear won’t help you take better photos, they might be wrong if the old gear was of retiring age.

When it comes to actually taking photos, however, there’s no amount of gear that will make me get out and shoot. I have to want to. With the gear half of my desire out of the way, all I have left is myself to fight with. For 2015, I’m attempting to apply the same goals I set up for my writing to my photography and have broken them down as such:

  1. Shoot at least twice a week

  2. Different locations each time, not coming back for at least a month

  3. Share at least one image from each shoot.

  4. Stay at the location for as long as I deem necessary so as to not feel rushed.

  5. Start taking my camera more places, intentionally, in case an opportunity appears.

These are rougher goals and guidelines than what I established for my wordsmith self, and that’s ok. I have a running list of places I want to shoot and each location requires different coordination in terms of time of day, weather, how long I’m there, how long it takes to get to my final destination, etc. I can’t reasonably expect it to take an hour to shoot at a beach at sunset and take the same amount of time while I hike two miles each way to a waterfall while raining. That’s unrealistic.

I think a lot of my shooting will end up on the weekends, as during the week, I am working a day job so my possible options will typically be limited to sunsets and night-time photography such as shooting the stars. I’m all right with that. I shoot over the weekend while I was in California and got some great photos. After work yesterday, I ran out and shot a sunset at the beach and got more great photos. I could have just as easily stayed home after work because I was certainly tired, but I knew that it wouldn’t take that long, and I really just need to do it and stop complaining.

If I ever want to make this something I do more regularly and possibly make money from, I need to work at it more. Same with writing. If I ever want to make something of it, I need to keep at it. No one becomes famous overnight (unless you go viral on the Internet, but even then that’s not really fame).

Create A Photograph

Level of Entry: Low

Time to Master: Infinity

There’s a thought in the photography community which extends to pretty much any facet of life: you only get better by doing. One does not become a pro golfer by reading a book—although reading does help—nor does merely buying a professional-grade camera make you a good photographer.

How does one become a pro, though? If that’s a path you want to take, awesome. If not, don’t worry, as this still applies to even those who want to excel at photography as a hobby or a small side gig to pass the time and pay the photography bills. I’ve broken it down into four super easy steps.

[![Guess what camera took this photo? I bet you can’t.](]( what camera took this photo? I bet you can’t.
## Get.

At the start of this little conversation I told you a high-end camera does not a pro photographer make. But let’s make sure we differentiate high-end and high-quality. A Canon T5 is a high quality camera based on how its built, but a Canon PowerShot might not feel the same way. Whereas a Canon 1D-X is a high-end camera compared to a Canon T5.

(side note: Yes, I could use Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Samsung, etc., but the brand doesn’t matter.)

What you need to do to complete the “get” phase is this:

  1. Determine your budget.
  2. Make a list of everything you want in a camera.
  3. Cross off everything that has anything to do with megapixels, high quantity of auto-focus points, the letters “L” or “G” for Canon or Nikon lenses, frames per second, CompactFlash vs SD, Medium Format. You don’t need any of that extra stuff to take a good photo.
  4. Find a camera lens for less than $200. Your choices are limited. On purpose.
  5. No flashes until you feel comfortable without them.
  6. Gather the necessary accessories for said camera. This includes a memory card and bag (simple is fine).

Now that you’ve collected your gear, it’s time to get outside and make a photograph of something. (If you have the space, resources, and ability, you can make a photograph indoors, too, but it’s generally cheaper to walk outside than to buy studio equipment.

[![Or this photo for that matter!](]( this photo for that matter!
## Do.

This is the easiest step.

Before you being, make sure you take your camera out of the box. That’s a key step to becoming fluent in the language of photography. Also, make sure you know it’s controls. The manual is the most detailed source of information on this. If you don’t have a manual, check out your manufacturer’s website. I’ve even provided a few links for you to give you a head start: CanonNikonSamsungSonyPentaxOlympus.

If you haven’t taken a photo of more than your cat, do take a photo of something other than your cat. If you haven’t taken a photo at night, go do that. Do as much as you can as often as you can. You’ll take loads of crappy photos.

While this is the Do step, Do Not let that break your spirit. You’ll figure out ways to tweak and find your unique touch in the next step.

Doing requires time, of course. If you don’t have hours upon hours of free time to spare, do a 365 project—take a photo of something you haven’t taken a photo of before, every day, for a year. Do that as much as you can. Do take photos with your friends. Of your friends. Around your friends. Of people you want to be friends with. Perfect strangers (ask first—don’t rude).

Once you’ve taken your daily photo, go take a hundred more of different things. Go to a park. A zoo. A car show. Walk down the street. Walk up the street. Find a bug. Find two bugs. Find a bug killing a bug, National Geographic style!

There should be zero people in your life pressuring you to perform here. If anything people around you should be supportive of your new endeavor. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll pose for you! If you feel pressured to perform, remove that source of pressure from your life. Stop wishing. Stop comparing. Stop thinking. Now is not the time to think. Now is the time to do, to make.

Getting the idea?



Time to learn. You’ve taken a load of photos and are starting to get a hang of your camera. If not, go back to Step Do. Now’s the time to learn and pretty much down right steal from other people.

We need to be very clear, though. By steal, I don’t mean ripping off another’s work and calling it your own. I’ll go into more detail about that, but first let’s talk about learning. There are great free and fee-based learning platforms and videos available on the Internet. In this day and age, a DVD takes second fiddle to instant, on-demand content.

Great free videos, courses, and platforms include this list from PetaPixelfree live events by CreativeLive, and funny YouTube videos by DigitalRevPhlearn, and Matt Granger.

Premium platforms include Lynda.comKelbyOne, and CreativeLive’s On Demand video selection.

Watch everything you can. If you have to, take notes and watch it again. You can’t watch too many videos.

Once you’ve consumed more videos and articles than your brain can handle, find photographers in niches you personally enjoy. Look at their work. Read their blogs. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, 500px, and any other social networking site they use. Even better, don’t just follow them, chat with them. Reach out to them for tips or really anything you can think of that would possibly help you! If you were to reach out to me on twitter @_JohnathanLyman, I’d respond… just saying.

Once you’ve done that, steal from them. Specifically, steal their look. Try to make a photo that looks like that. If it’s something like a landscape or wildlife, capture that same animal or area! When you’ve successfully done that, do it again, with another photographer. I’d be willing to bet cold hard money bags of money that the second photographer you follow or are otherwise interested in their work shoots differently than you do, with a different style. Once you’ve knocked out number two, go for a third, and a fourth. After every attempt or measure of success, make it your own. This’ll help you figure out what your style is. You’ll find yourself going back to what you like the most and over time, tweaking it to make it your own.



So you’ve completed Step Learn. Now what? Do it all over! If only a small amount of time has passed (less than a year), start with Step Do. If it’s been a bit of time or you have the ability to upgrade, do that, with the mindset that you’re upgrading because you can improve yourself with your new gear in ways that you can easily quantify, not just because you like a red band on the end of your lens.

You’ll find this to be an endless cycle that even pros will execute from time to time. If you become a full-time professional, you’ll always be looking for ways to improve and making sure you have everything you need to be as creative and as successful as possible.

*Author’s Note: I could have made this list stupid long as in reality there are hundreds of different ways to learn or improve. [PetaPixel]( went into great detail with quotes from professional photographers that’s definitely worth reading.*
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[]()Tell me what you think of this article. I love hearing from my readers. You can email me: []( or tweet [@theejl]( I read and respond to everything on both platforms. I look forward to chatting!

I originally wrote this on Medium on September 9, 2014.

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