UK Photography Survey… a Fascinating Snapshot
My previous post announced the launch of our brand-new online scorecard which we call our Photography Assessment Tool. It asks a number of questions to help us analyse your photography skills.
Two weeks on and the response has been phenomenal.
A huge number of photographers from across the southeast of England have been taking part to share information about their skill levels and photography frustrations. From the data that’s coming in, we are able to see where they feel confident and where they don’t.
At a glance, it’s possible to see which elements of photography cause the greatest stress and which are the most popular. We can also see which parts of photography cause the most confusion and which parts are the least understood.
Camera & Software Choices
We can see what makes of cameras are the most popular, which editing software most people prefer to use, and something that has proved particularly interesting… we can even see what causes us to stagnate in our growth as photographers.
It has revealed a remarkable amount of data about how much we all know (or don’t know). There are some big gaps in our technical knowledge, big gaps! It’s no wonder that so many respondents blamed a lack of confidence as the main reason that they weren’t progressing.
Confidence & Technical Knowledge
Without a solid technical understanding of our cameras, if we’re genuinely not sure which button does what… how can we expect to be confident?
When I first take out new students on a shoot, it’s not uncommon to discover that they are fumblers. It’s painful to watch them desperately search for the right button on their camera. Often, not only do they struggle to find the appropriate button, but when they do locate it, they end up adjusting it the wrong way – making the photo worse than when they first started.
I feel for them. It’s a double-whammy with twice the stress. First, they have to work with technology that is unfamiliar to them and then they have me watching over their shoulder.
But of course, many would argue that anyone calling themselves a photographer, should know in advance how their camera works. That they are foolish to even try taking a photo without first mastering the tool with which they are capturing it.
That would make sense… were it not for the fact that these days human beings rarely read any instruction manuals.
We are so used to technology. It’s everywhere in our homes and offices, our cars and on our bodies (smart watches, ear buds, etc) that we often baulk at the idea of reading instructions. We are time-poor and we are definitely not going to waste time reading manuals when we can simply wing it. We can usually get most things working (eventually) just by trial and error, but we rarely get past the simplest operating levels.
Do this with our cameras and it’s obvious we will have a high level of failure.
Full Frame Photographers Just as Bad?
The pie chart below presents an interesting dichotomy.
This is a breakdown of the types of cameras being used by photographers taking the test. The question they were asked was: ‘Is your camera Full-Frame of Cropped’ and they were given a range of options, including:
- Full Frame
- MFT (Micro Four Thirds)
- Medium Format
Notice how 54% of photographers were using cameras with large, full-frame sensors.
Over half were cameras with larger sensors (an additional 2% said they used medium format sensors, which are even bigger). Larger sensors tend to cost significantly more than the smaller APS-C and MFT sensors. They can be thousands of pounds more.
A new or inexperienced photographer may own a beginner’s DSLR, which you can probably still get for a few hundred pounds. It’s not unusual, however, to see students in my workshops with full-frame mirrorless cameras costing ten times that amount – and some as high as 18 times as much!
So here’s the conundrum… If so many photographers claim that they are suffering from a lack of confidence (mainly due to a lack of technical knowledge), why have so many bought such expensive full-frame cameras? More expensive cameras tend to be more complex – which will surely make the problem worse?
I can confirm from my own observations, that many owners of very expensive gear, really don’t know how to use it to its full potential.
It clearly justifies the old adage: all the gear but no idea!
I remember some years ago, back in 2008, I was walking around an RSPB wildlife reserve on the Norfolk coast. Walking past me we two tall, well-built photographers, carrying enormously expensive Canon 1D cameras with those huge white, 500mm lenses strapped to the front. They were mounted on expensive (they were in those days, not so much anymore) gimbal heads, enabling the big lenses to easily move around on top of their equally expensive, heavy-duty tripods.
The men were dressed in the best American Real-Tree camouflage clothing (also expensive).
I was in awe. My own camera gear at that stage was very modest. I had a 400mm f/5.6 lens fitted to my Canon 40D. To be honest, I felt a little intimidated by these two guys. I’m pretty sure I hid my camera behind me as they walked by. How could I compete with all that amazing gear… they were surely highly experienced photographers.
If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, you can never judge a photographer by the amount of gear they have. NEVER!
All the gear – but still frustrated
The pie chart below shows us the responses to the question: What do you think has held back your development as a photographer the most?
Time is the main culprit, closely followed by the confidence issue, then it’s about lack of inspiration, not enough photographer friends, lack of technical knowledge and so on.
The interesting thing I noticed here, is that poor equipment (which was just 2%) appears to have very little effect on skill development. Good news for those who don’t want to spend loads of money.
So what’s going on?
The explanation for this anomaly is more likely to be that as we get more into our hobby, the more we want to get better gear (perfectly normal).
We constantly see professionals, and influencers on YouTube (who I don’t follow at all) using the best cameras and lenses. They have awesome amounts of gear (much of which they don’t buy themselves) and we get fooled into thinking that we have to have the same. So pressure is applied to us at a subconscious level to upgrade our cameras, buy the next model, get the best lens, and so on.
The camera manufacturers have all but stopped making budget range cameras for beginners now. They recognise that most photos are going to be taken with smart phones. Who on earth would spend a casual few hundred quid on a big bulky camera, when their phone fits in their pocket.
No, most people buying cameras these days are enthusiast amateur photographers.
So manufacturers instead have very cleverly concentrated their efforts on producing high-end models with dazzling amounts of technology, which we have to have. And they don’t come cheap.
I’ve never known a time, in all my 50+ years taking photos, when so many people were spending so much money on gear. It’s all culminated in a period in history where social media bombards us with visuals of mouth-watering cameras and their capabilities. It’s not dissimilar to the peer pressure that children face in the playground to get the latest fashion trainers or games for their PS5 or X-Box.
I’ll be honest, this does tend to be mainly a ‘man-thing’, but not exclusively. I have met one or two lady gear heads, but they are relatively rare.
Let’s try and summarise all this:
- There are a lot of photographers suffering from issues of confidence (I would say that it’s rife)
- Most of this lack of confidence comes from not knowing their gear well enough
- A very sizeable proportion of photographers spend a lot of money on full-frame cameras*
- But full-frame cameras are more complicated
- So arguably, they’re even harder to fully understand
- Return to point 1.
(old man laughing)
I’m looking forward to seeing how the analysis develops as more data comes in. If you haven’t taken part in the survey yourself, click here to try the Assessment Tool yourself. I think you’ll find it interesting.
*I mostly use APS-C Fuji cameras personally, even though I still have a full-frame Canon