Camera Or Vision?

Recently a photographer posed the question, would you rather have the best camera system in the world (price is no object) or learning to truly see (you could spot artistic compositions anywhere), which would you pick?

The vast majority said they would take the vision to see over having the best gear that money could buy.

A couple comments were for the better gear and I thought that was interesting.

One commenter said that they had been told that they already had “the eye” so they would opt for the camera gear.

Another said composition techniques could be learned so they opted for the gear as well. Another said “I can learn to see”.

Those comments really surprised me. For the record it would be without question that I’d pick to truly see over any camera gear.

Many of the commenter’s I think confused composition with the ability to see.
I agree you can learn composition rules fairly quickly, but to see artistically is something I think you are born with.

I could study painting for decades and never paint anything more than glorified stick figures. I could play basketball for hours on end every day and maybe be a mediocre player but never be good enough to make the pros.

yellowstone copyEveryone has the ability to see to a certain extent. Visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and I don’t see how anyone could not find that beautiful. To really see artistically though, you have to see what most others do not.

I was talking to a young friend of mine, Liam who owns Liam Filtness Photography and Film and he asked the question “Trouble is, how do I know what looks good to film?” My response was pretty simple on the surface. I said “When you see something that makes your heart skip and beat and go WHOA, hit the record button”.

That sounds pretty simple and in many ways it really is that simple. I see something that stops me in my tracks and I record it.

I was walking down the Sac and Fox trail near Indian Creek Nature Center the other day and striking visualizations were jumping out at me everywhere. I know that 99.9% of the people that were walking on the trail that afternoon failed to notice most if not all of them.

Oftentimes people slow or stop on the trail trying to see what it is that I have my camera pointed at. Sometimes if I happen to look up at the right time I catch their puzzled expression as the green leaf backlit with the setting sun’s golden light against the dark brown of the tree trunk behind it is lost to them. Yet to me, it’s as impressive as the view from Artist Point in Yellowstone.

That is where I think the difference is. Seeing beauty in the simplistic and mundane.

droplets_630So, the million dollar question is, can this artistic vision be taught?
I really don’t know the answer honestly, but let me put forth my thoughts and let me know if you agree or disagree with them.

I think that I can take any budding nature filmmaker with me on a field trip and point out the things that catch my eye artistically. I think from that point forward, they can then recognize those artistic compositions in the future whenever they encounter them and create some stunning footage.

The real question though is are they able to come up with unique artistic compositions on their own based on what they’ve learned looking at other filmmakers work? I think to a certain extent that they can.

I believe artistic vision is much like a muscle that has to be worked in order to get it into shape. However, like a muscle genetics plays a role into how well it can be developed and what it’s full potential can be.

I’d like to know your thoughts about this. Do you agree that you’d rather have artistic vision than gear? Also, do you think that artistic vision can be taught and anyone can learn the ability to come up with new visions of their own?

Let me know in the comments below!

And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

By | 2016-11-06T09:39:01+00:00 September 17th, 2014|Categories: Filmmaking Naturally News|Tags: , , , |6 Comments

About the Author:

Award-winning filmmaker Kevin J Railsback has traveled as far as Africa to test HD cameras for Panasonic.
His stunning nature and wildlife footage has appeared in productions on National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel as well as in commercials for such corporate giants as AT&T.


  1. Liam September 18, 2014 at 2:51 am - Reply

    Great article Kevin…Look forward to more of them and thanks for including my question 🙂

  2. Mark
    October 8, 2014 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    While I can’t completely discount the value of having better gear, if faced with the choice, I would also probably go with the vision. Why? Because vision would be rewarding to me 24/7, with or without a camera in hand. The equipment then only becomes a mechanism to share it.
    Mark invites you to read…Young bucks sparringMy Profile

    • Kevin J Railsback October 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm - Reply


      That’s an excellent point about vision being rewarding whether you had a camera in hand or not.

      Better gear allows you to achieve your vision easier, much like a circular saw helps a carpenter but a master carpenter could build a house with a hand saw if they had to.

      Thanks for your insight! I really appreciate it!!


  3. Gary L. Paulsen January 8, 2015 at 11:24 am - Reply

    I plan to purchase a DSLR camera that will be used to film outdoors in the natural world. As you have said, a world that many times folks are not aware of. Your subject of having the ability of “the vision to see” things that are worth noticing is of great interest to me when it comes to filming. Although I am at 77 years now, I hope to learn as I go. I am hopeful that you will continue to publish articles in this regard so that my skill in this area may increase and therefore the quality my photos will do the same.

    • Kevin Railsback January 8, 2015 at 12:07 pm - Reply


      Thank you for the great comment! It’s nice to know that people are getting some value from the site!

      You know I’ve had so many conversations with filmmakers and photographers about “seeing” and what we think it is.
      I’d love to do something where I just set up my camera and take a wide shot of everything and then start looking for what I think are good compositions.

      One component of seeing I feel us the ability to separate the subject from the clutter. To many people they just see a tangle of branches but to others they weed out a majority of them and find the needle in the haystack.

      I have big plans for 2015. I have a mind map made of all that I want to do. Now I just need to make it all happen! 🙂

      Thanks again for the comment and please stop in from time to time and let me know how you’re doing and if there’s anything I can do to help.


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