Sunday, October 4, 2015

Instead of buying a new camera, upgrade your mind’s eye

Posted By on Sun, Oct 4, 2015 at 7:41 AM

click to enlarge A joyous Jacob at a rest stop in Kansas. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • A joyous Jacob at a rest stop in Kansas.
I read a tweet where someone asked a photographer friend “What camera should I get?”

There isn’t a photographer alive who doesn’t get asked that question. A lot. When I’m asked, I always tell the same story.

A photographer is invited to a dinner party and upon her arrival the host immediately complements her photography adding, “you must have a really nice camera.”

After dinner is over, the photographer thanks the host and complements her dinner adding, “you must have a really nice oven.”

It’s a tongue-in-cheek story. But also very true. Great photographs are not made with great cameras. They are made with great eyes! 

Photojournalist Patrick Witty is doing incredible work on the refugee crisis in Europe using just his iPhone. 

National Geographic photographer John Stanmeyer’s iPhone essay Timeless Sands of Saudi Arabia is a true classic. 

Time Magazine photographer Ben Lowy’s iPhone photograph of Hurricane Sandy made the cover of the magazine. It was shot with an iPhone 4S, by the way.

Another saying I hear a lot? ”The best camera is the one you have with you.”

And the best camera you have is the one in your head. It takes a lot of practice and hard work to use it, refine it and make it better.

So let's stop asking the question, "What camera should I buy?” Instead ask, “How can I be a better photographer?” That’s not nearly as easy and convenient as buying a new camera.

Here are some tips to get you started down the road to becoming a better photographer and making the kinds of pictures you envision in your mind's eye:

Be Observant

Observation is often quite difficult. We tend to want to ignore more than we take notice of. It takes discipline and patience to observe. Patience seems to be out of style, but is hugely important. Being patient allows you to quietly observe and make great pictures with your mind’s eye.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Without concerted practice taking pictures, you will never get better. For fun, I like to give myself assignments like photographing my kid’s sports, taking on a portrait project, or shooting the same event as in years past but with the intention of making a different picture.

Look Critically At Photography

I look at a lot of pictures and in many different styles. When I’m at the grocery sotre I flip through wedding magazines. I love getting National Geographic in my mailbox every month. And, of course, I look at a lot of photographs online.

Looking critically at photography doesn’t mean being critical, but rather consider how the photographer made the picture. If it inspires you then figure out how you can do the same thing the next time you're using your camera.

To illustrate these tips, I’ve included some of my iPhone photographs from the last few years:

But, if you’re still lusting for a new camera? Then stay tuned. Next week I will review a few of my favorite cameras and give advice for the best bang for your buck when shopping. Hope these tips help you become a better photographer and happy shooting! 

Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at, his personal work at and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to for consideration in upcoming blogs.

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