Before even the sun could rise, I knew I’d made a mistake every photographer regrets.
I left my camera gear at home. My Canon body and a wide variety of lenses sat uselessly back at the beach house we rented.
Meanwhile, here I was driving several hours on a highway to meet my parents at a Civil War battlefield, done for the purpose of exchanging a set of car keys. Please don’t ask for details. It’s embarrassing. I may or may not have lost a set to one of the two cars we drive to the beach, an event that caused my family to delay returning home from the Outer Banks.
Just know that it was October, it was raining, the foliage in Virginia looked spectacular, and for some strange reason, I decided I wouldn’t take my camera gear.
To be fair, I didn’t believe I would have any time to make images. The trip was four hours to the visitor center at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, where I would pick up a spare set of keys, then four hours to driving back to the beach house.
So why take the gear?
That day, the hollowed ground – site of one of the Civil War’s most terrible and terrifying moments, a senseless series of charges uphill by the Union army against firmly entrenched Confederate defenders – revealed itself in some serious Autumn glory.
The rain, the unsettling quiet, the gold foliage, the smattering of a few tourists, the teal of silent cannons, the poignancy of the memorials and cemetery — it was so unexpectedly arresting.
There is, however, a lesson. And it’s one you as writers who want to make spectacular images should know and champion.
You don’t need high-end, professional camera gear to make images. You just don’t. Give the Joe McNallys and Susan Striplings of the world a point-and-shoot camera right off the shelf of Best Buy, and I guarantee they’ll blow you away with the images they make.
Do expensive camera bodies and lenses make a difference? Sure they do. But just know that no matter what camera you have, creating the image is about the person holding the camera, not the camera itself.
I swung around part of the battlefield, from the Sunken Road to Prospect Hill, with my iPhone X Plus. I had about an hour. That’s it.
No, none of these images are going to land on the cover of a magazine. They probably won’t end up in any magazine.
But they’re fine. They help tell a story. And that’s the point. I used what I know about light and composition to try, and in the end, I have some images I can use if I ever write about visiting Civil War battlefields in the rain.
Don’t stress it if you don’t have the latest camera gear or a lens that costs four figures (and some go as high as five).
What matters is you. What matters is that you have a camera, any camera, with you to create an image that’s meaningful to you, that you can use in your author marketing or social platforms.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa., who sometimes has to relearn lessons he already knows. He lives with his wife, Alison, and their three sons. Contact him at email@example.com.