Why you shouldn't trust "photography" channels like Tony Northrup

March 4, 2018



Today I watched Tony's Northrup's "What's in my camera bag?" video, where he showed which gear he took on his recent trip to Morocco. These kind of videos are fairly common and popular recently, so I could've chosen some other channel as well, but since he's one of the top photography influencers on Youtube in 2018, an area I am personally interested in, I decided to choose him to share some of my opinions about these kind of videos, and the state of photography influencers in general, as well as the problems I have with it.

These are my 4 conclusions after watching Tony's video:

1) It's promoting exorbitant consumerism

I'm sure that the gear in Tony's and Chelsea's travel bags consists of items that the couple personally loves. Both Tony and Chelsea strike me as honest and down to earth, so please don't take my criticism as a personal attack. It's not that at all. It's a syndrome of a greater issue affecting a big portion of Youtube tech reviewers. The issue I have with their travel gear is that it's extremely expensive. Check the value of the items Tony listed in the video's description (I checked the prices one by one and made this chart):



18,000 USD in total! And that does not include Chelsea's smartphone, her Sony lenses and additional accessories, because they weren't mentioned, but I think it's safe to assume that in total both of them travel with gear in value that's way over 20,000 USD, which is insane in my opinion. That's a cost of a good quality sedan where I come from. While Tony is not saying one should have such expensive gear when they travel, but as influencer with nearly 800,000 subscribers he is sending such message to his viewers, because a lot of them purchase based on his recommendation or look up to him (and by listing hot links to Amazon he hopes people buy this gear). With this video he is promoting a photography lifestyle of exorbitantly expensive gear, whether he intended it or not. And that's not the only video that he posted with such implications, nor is he the only channel that does so. This is becoming increasingly common on Youtube, unfortunately.

2) Expensive gear doesn't make you a good photographer

In the video Tony shows some of the photos he made during his Morocco trip. The photos are actually what triggered me to write this post, because in my opinion, they are terrible. They look like they were done with a cheap smartphone while he was walking. Here 3 screen shots:







You don't need a 6000 USD worth professional Nikon kit to take such awful photos, a 300 USD Android phone will do the job as well. And the poorly made blur is not the main thing that is awful, there is no composition, no depth to these photos, these are snapshots that a lot of tourists with point and shoots make. For such a big photography influencer like Tony I believe the bar should be much higher than for your average Joe Shmoe, though.

3) Photography influencer does not equal photographer

I'm perfectly fine with gear reviewers who are masters of explaining the technology behind gear, and give useful tips about how to use the gear in terms of functionality and don't claim to be photographers, but Tony and Chelsea brand themselves as being photographers (Tony's Instagram description says "Photographer, author, & YouTuber"). They also have several videos and books out there on teaching photography, so they're trying to be everything: gear reviewers, photography teachers, and photographers. That would all be fine, if they were able to take a decent picture to begin with. If you check Tony's and Chelsea's portfolios, you will see that they're full of boring and heavily post processed images with bad compositions, made with heavily corrected expensive lenses, and with a strong emphasis on sharpness. Interestingly, I like Chelsea's portfolio much more, you can feel that unlike Tony she has an artistic sense. Tony on the other hand is such an engineer type of guy, probably operating with numbers and DxO Mark values in his mind when he takes photos, not with his heart. His images reflect that to me by being incredibly mundane. For comparison, click on the portfolios of Lee Jeffries, Dani Diamond and Portraits by Sam and compare the portraits to Northrup's. Or compare their landscapes with Philipp Richert, Daniel Cheong, and Iurie Belegurschi work. No offence, but this is like night and day.

4) Hotlinks to Amazon imply bias

A screen grab from Tony's video description:


Tech reviewers who often link to Amazon and other commercial platforms in their video descriptions are not impartial. By the very essence of that act they are biased towards promoting gear that is expensive, because they increase their kickbacks with every purchase made through that link. If a part of their income is based on that, that will heavily impact their decision as to which gear to mention in their videos, and it's usually not the cheap and good value gear, because they won't earn much. Even if they think they're not consciously being biased, they are subconsciously. It's just another way of how brands buy them (besides the "free" trips to various locations like Sony usually does).

In conclusion

Beware of "teachers" and "experts" who are not able to practice what they preach. Beware of the gear acquisition syndrome, because that's what the brands and influencers are trying to trap you in, so that it ensures their continuous revenue stream. And don't think that you need the latest and greatest and most expensive photography tool to be a photographer. Go out and shoot with an entry level DSLR, and don't waste your time with Youtubers. The more you shoot, the better you will get. Photography is an art of manipulating light and mastering the skill of composition. Gear is secondary and doesn't ensure you to be a great photographer - the Northrup's prove this point every day. Same can be said about Fro Knows Photo and most of the Youtube photography channels.

22 comments:

  1. I hope there is more of this kind of comments.
    These Youtube experts have been misleading... some of them actually lack knowledge but there are good ones to.

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    1. @VIGNES K: Yes, totally agree. Check my post about the Top Youtube Photography channels of 2018 by clicking on my name. I have listed some of the good ones at the bottom.

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  2. Replies
    1. @NEOPLATONIST: Thank you very much! Big honor to have you commenting on my blog :)

      Please also check my post on Top 100 Youtube Photography Channels of 2018, you are mentioned as well.

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    2. This is a great list, good job: http://taipeigeek.blogspot.com/2018/03/list-of-top-100-photography-youtube.html

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  3. Chortle, Hee, Hee, Hee! Very valid although subjective observations! But hey, photography critqes are always subjectve. I think, I might have been quite satisfied with taking either my Fujifilm X-T2 and my 23, 35 and 56mm lenses (all in their fastest iteration). Or my Nikon D810 and my (all f/1.8 G series) 35, 50 and 85 mm lenses and accomplished quite satisfying(to me at least) imagery. Best wishes Ben. Instagram @benjaminkanarek website: www.benjaminkanarek.com

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    1. @BENJAMIN KANAREK: I agree that my opinion on his photos being "terrible" is subjective by nature, however all the other criticism are objective and logical. Thanks for your comment, your portraits are awesome!

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  4. Ok, fair enough review. But gear is what most people have questions about .. not that they could not do the same with lesser gear, but most of us lack the money to "buy-try-resell-recover-and repeat" .. and these YouTube reviewers do a lot of things many of us think about. We all know a good photograph but many wrestle with the "how" aspects and "is my camera good enough" -- for that I welcome their contributions and I'm smart enough to know when they "jump the shark" on what is good. And to be honest, we all know it isn't the gear .. it's the photographer's skill and artistic eye that is most relevant. Some of my prized personal work is done with the lesser camera and lenses .. you probably would not like it but it has meaning of time, place, experience and sometimes art to me.. I like new gear but don't depend on a new program and sensor to take me there. Let's keep it real, let's keep it fun and be satisfied .. and let the gear-evaluators have some room to pontificate if it pleases them.

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    1. does your definition of pontification include outright lies, and worse still often repeated ones?

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    2. @ANONYMOUS 4:54 AM: There are many Youtube gear reviewers that are not in bed with brands, or straight up deceiving for money. I listed them in my recent post List of Top 100 photography Youtube channels of 2018. Check it out by clicking on my name here. I have nothing against people making Youtube reviews about the passion of gear or photography, but I will always expose channels who are becoming an advertising machine for various brands, and who are spreading falsehoods about photography and gear.

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  5. I shoot with my older Canon 1D mark3 and I love it.
    I don't like there staged video's. I thought I was the only one who saw these pics of him where crappy. Great article.

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    1. @ANONYMOUS 2:55 PM: That's great, happy shooting. And thank you

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    2. those pics weren't crappy, they were tinfoil hat level insanely bad.

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  6. Tony Northrup is no engineer, he is mathematically illiterate. At 6:20 in the video below, he claims SNR = P / SQR(P), where P is "the amount of photons". This is so incoherent it is NOT EVEN WRONG. Anyone familiar with high school algebra will immmediately note that the formula is not even reduced to its simplest form: SNR = SQR(P). In other words, Tony Northrop is claiming that signal-to-noise rato equals the square root of the total number of photons that strike an image sensor.

    That is mind-numbing bullshit, exposing Northop's technical incompetence.

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  7. https://youtu.be/DtDotqLx6nA?t=380

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  8. Excellent, Well written article and 100% correct in all that you say. Well done sir.

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  9. This is so spot on. I will be doing a youtube video about this very topic. Is there a way i can talk to you about this article even mention it when i do the youtube video

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    1. Yeah, sure. Btw, how did you find this article? Was it posted or linked in any forum?

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  10. Is he really biased when he has links to damn near everything?

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