Red Bull Photography recently joined our community with a verified brand profile of their own. This partnership isn’t just about amazing photography—it’s also about amazing stories. Behind every shot on Red Bull Photography is a talented photographer, a wild story, and a few lessons learned. We’ll be telling those stories every week here on 500px ISO and the Red Bull Photography website. Scroll down for a thought-provoking editorial by award-winning U.K. photographer Leo Francis on what makes a photographer—his/her camera or his creativity?

“Hey man, nice shot! Bet you have a good camera.”

This is something every photographer has heard a thousand times. It makes me want to roll my eyes every time I hear it. It’s then that I have to explain, “It’s not the camera. It’s the artist behind the camera. It’s not about the gear.” To quote Elliot Erwitt—one of my favorite photographers—”Photography has little to do with the things you see, and everything to do with how you see them.”

My camera is just a tool. That’s how I’ve always seen it. It takes a level of imagination, knowledge, and skill to get a great shot. It’s not the camera.

Although I have a soft spot for getting new piece of gear, talking about gear to other photographers personally bores me after a while. I like to believe photographers are artists who have chosen the camera as their tool. This has always been my opinion on this argument.

Until recently.

I had the pleasure of shooting Neptune Steps with Olaf Pignataro and Ian MacNicol. We turned up at the site, full of gear. A student photographer was there to learn the ropes.

“You travel light,” I said to him.

His reply was, “Well, I don’t have any money to buy gear. I’m a student.”

He had one camera and one lens. He showed me his work, and it was good. As a whole body of work, he had a really consistent portfolio, and on that day, he got some great images. This all proves that having limited gear allows you to create a style to your images, unaffected by different uses of gear.

This made me start to think about my own approach to shooting. Have I got too much into gear myself? Which, in turn, made me consider situations I’ve been in where having the right gear—or not having it—has helped or hindered the opportunity of getting the shot I want. Sometimes, not having gear has stretched my imagination to places it wouldn’t have had to go if a tool had given me a short cut. In turn, I’ve created images I wouldn’t have captured without that challenge.

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So, is your gear just a tool while the most important aspect is the creative viewpoint of the photographer? Or is good quality gear an essential part of being a photographer?

I’d love it to be solely the first point, that good photography is purely about the artists’ vision. But I don’t think it always works out that way. You don’t take a great photograph—you make it, and your tools are an essential part of this creative process.

As photographers and artists, we’re living in such an amazing time with all kinds of tech around for us to capture our vision. But as a sports or adventure photographer, you’re always battling with having just the right amount of gear to let you get what you need, but not having all the right gear can’t get you to where you need to be.

Having a certain piece of camera equipment allows you to access certain imagery that would not be possible without it. In the competitive industry that we work, that can be the difference between getting that extra assignment—all because of that one shot that you captured using that specific camera gear. In a world where getting the most interesting angle can separate you from the competition, you’ve got to do all you can to get that shot.

Sometimes your whole idea and concept relies on an idea with the gear. It’s this situation that lets you capture the uniqueness you’ve imagined. However, remember that the starting and finishing point always comes from the imagination of the originator, and not the gear.

For me, the photographer’s vision and camera go hand-in-hand. The photographer/artist’s viewpoint is key, but essentially, having the right tool on-hand enables you to capture what you have in your head, and translate it into an image. We have to be honest with ourselves. So when someone says, “Hey man, nice shot! Bet you have a good camera,” — our reply should be, “Yeah I do, and some passion and ideas to help me use it.”

So yes, your camera and all the equipment are an essential element of photography that we should embrace. It enables us to project our visions, capture new angles and push the boundaries of what we can capture. However, we shouldn’t forget the most crucial factor — so eloquently put by Ansel Adams: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Stay tuned for another story from Red Bull Photography that will blow your mind next week!