I just got back from a family vacation to the beach. As with any event involving babies, there were a LOT of pictures taken.

My wife and I have a decent little point-and-shoot camera. I think it’s called a DSLR. You can’t change out lenses or anything, but it’s got a lot of the features of the nicer, more expensive cameras.

My sister-in-law, however, has a nice SLR camera. On top of that, she recently bought a really nice $500 lens for it.

Our camera takes nice pictures.

Her camera takes GREAT pictures.

Okay, Joe, this is a recording blog…where are you going with this?

We can all appreciate a good photograph. It doesn’t take a lot of “eye training” to be able to see the beauty of a good picture.

Want better pictures? Get a better camera.

When I look at pictures from my camera, they look okay, but my sister-in-law’s pictures are noticeably better. It would be silly for me to buy Photoshop and work for hours trying to get my photos to look like hers. That’s just silly, right?

Isn’t that what we do with audio? We convince ourselves that that a new piece of software will fix our crappy recordings? I talked about this the other day. (See Unhappy with Your Mixes?)

Photoshop Is Not Magic

…and neither is Pro Tools…or that Waves bundle. If I take crappy pictures, Photoshop won’t make them awesome.

In the same way, if I record sub-par, bad-sounding audio, I’m a fool to think I can fix it later with fancy software.

Is my sister-in-law a better photographer than I am? Absolutely. She knows all those camera features that I know nothing about. So is it possible that I can get the same results with my camera if I put in more effort to work on my technique?

Sure.

But is it also possible that her camera is simply superior and will always take better pictures? Yep.

Don’t underestimate skill, practice, knowing your craft. But also don’t assume that cheap equipment will be just as good as its higher-end counterpart.

The Environment Matters

I mentioned this a couple months ago in an article where I pointed you to Ronan’s Recording Show, where he made the excellent point that a big part of what makes a video/photograph good is the source and the lighting.

Surroundings matter, whether you’re taking photographs or recording a vocalist. Good equipment is certainly necessary. A good room is JUST as necessary.

What do you think? Have you ever thought about audio in terms of photography?

  • Hm.  I keep going back and forth on this article.  The points are valid. Yes, you should be aware of your environment, have good equipemnt, and not rely on software to “make things better”.  But any tool in the hands of someone who knows that they are doing can be near-magical. The ability to spin straw into gold exists in many cases.

    Any photographer or visual artist who takes an old, ripped up and water-damaged photo and restores it in Photoshop can show you that destroyed source material can be restored to perfection.

    For practice, I used to take random photos from Google Images that I thought looked bad – poor lighting, composition, distorted color – and spend ten minutes in Photoshop doing everything I could to make them great.  Not every attempt was a success, but I humbly submit that with only the software at my disposal, I turned some pretty awful originals into great looking photographs. 

    Bschnetzler’s comment about putting the cheap camera or guitar in the hands of a master is a great point.  It reminds me of the Ray Charles scene in The Blues Brothers, where he breathes life into a busted old keyboard because the music comes from HIM, not the device.

    I have employed the “I’ll fix it in post” mentality at times, with varying degress of failure and success, so I agree that getting everything into shape before hitting record is best.  But with Photoshop an experienced user can take something pretty awful and turn it into prize-winning work. It is perhaps not as analogous to music software as you suggest in the article. 

    • Emptymusic

      Great article! Lots of great comparisons between the two. How many photographers do you know that just use one camera or one lens? They use a wide variety of tools (yea I’d include software as a tool) to flush out their ideas into reality. Some of those tools are expensive, others not so much. Good tools definitely make a difference even in the hands of an amateur. I think a good artist can do what the amateur cannot and that is to great results in spite of the tools. For instance everyone talks about how Foo Fighters recorded their last record in their garage. Tons of people record in the garage with drastic results. Why? Was it the tools? Some. But mostly I’d credit Butch Vig. Sure it doesn’t hurt that FF are an experienced, tight band. Shoot I’d take Butch Vig with Garage Band over an amazing HD rig in a fancy studio with a music tech grad anyday!

  • I never really thought about audio in terms of photography. 
    I am a photographer myself.  
    Sometimes we can have the mind set that the more expensive piece of gear we have will make our recordings amazing or if you have a really nice expensive camera that you will instantly take these amazing picture. Not saying that you can’t get good recordings or pictures but if you don’t fully understand what the camera can do or your recording software then you will only be using probably half of what they are capable of. 

    Nate

  • My small little HD camera is a centerpiece in my studio! Haha I was raised on Photoshop and won numerous competitions with it. But as I got older I realized I loved music more. I never really added the two together 😛

  • Since I enjoy taking photographs and processing them … as I do with audio 😉 … then I’m “constantly” “seeing” comparisons between the two.

    I’m not saying I agree with you’re every word in this post tough 😉

    One of my most popular photos on flickr was (what I thought at the time to be) a “crappy one” … so I “went wild” with PP experiments 🙂  … see it here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/siggidori/632382639/

    I did take me some time to learn how to read the meters and calculate the light and know in what direction I should turn the right knob… all at the same time as manually selecting the focus point .. etc. etc…
    Trial and error .. and experimentation … will get you there… for me then it has been invaluable to know what can be done it post production with the RAW camera files.

  • mequaz

    I use to work for Cannon tech support and that was something we empasized so much. Just because u buy a $1000 camera does not mean it does the work for you. Lighting, settings, lens, environment mean so much. Point and shoot cameras in the right hands can do an awesome job. Ive seen some peopel take point and shoot cameras and do photo shoots and get great results because they understood what they were doing. I completley understand the comparison. Its not so much the tool, but more so the person. Thanks Joe.

  • They are just called compact camera’s joe (unless it has a big lens that is always present, then they are called Bridge camera’s) also you might want to change that “can” into a “can’t”…. Anyway, away from my slight OCD and back to audio:

    Great advice as always, my audio friends always wonder why I have never bought any plugins whilst they have some Waves bundle package. They sometimes ask me, to which I reply something along the lines of:

    “I don’t need super-high end plugins yet, with my gear it won’t make much difference and I know how to use all my current plugins to get the best sound out of them. I would rather spend my money on getting the source sounding great than spend it on a plugin just because its expensive… Yes I may look into getting plugins like these later but I would be better off making it perfect going into the computer rather than trying to fix it later”

    • It’s got a big lens that’s always there, but not interchangeable.

      Love your response…great hardware should always be a first priority.