If you think audio is a world filled with people thinking they are sound engineers then take pity on the world of filmmaking. It seems everyone with an expensive DSLR, and in some cases, an iPhone thinks they are the next Scorsese or Deakins.
In some ways, it's easier to spot it in the picture than it is in audio, but those errors can translate across to the audio recording world too and help those who want to be better at the craft take themselves from an over-reliance on gear to really knowing the art of making great recordings.
The first mistake many people make when shooting pictures is not understanding how light works. If you want a straightforward lesson on light, then take out your camera phone and take a picture of something like a person's face or an object. Now flood the scene with light and retake the same photo. Then look at both pictures, and you will see the detail, noise, shadows, in fact, everything is different.
The second mistake is choosing the wrong lens. A lens can make a massive difference to how the shot is composed and how much light you can play with in the shot.
The combinatiation of the right light and a great lens then helps a DOP to get the settings right in the camera, this will lead to a shot filled with the emotion and energy required.
That's the technical stuff, but the third and most fundamental mistake made by an amateur with an expensive camera has nothing to do with the camera and everything to do with talent, and that is composition.
The first time I worked with a Director of Photography on a shoot I realised why I was paying the money for his day rate. He knew how the light worked, what lenses to call and how to compose a shot so that the right stuff was in the frame and just as critical the wrong content was left out. Even more, the time taken to choose the right lens, light the shot and compose it was the most crucial part of the entire process - it meant when we got to edit there was little to do regarding fixing the shot or grading it because he had got it right down the lens.
I recently worked with a crew on an artist video interview at a studio in London. It took longer to get the shots set than it took to shoot the interview... and you can tell. Bad shots are rushed, good shots are considered.
Of course I have failed to mention so far that the thing being shot has to have some merit, all the great gear in the world and even the best shoot crew can't make a bad movie a good one. To make a comparison, all the CGI in the world can't rescue a bad idea!
Even worse if you have great talent give a great performance only to find out that it was let down by a bad engineer then there is simply no way back from that - you lose a moment and you can't get it back.
Coming back to audio, you can own the best recording gear on the planet but if you don't know how sound works, which mics to use and critically where to place those mics, owning the best kit isn't going to save you, it's time you learnt your craft.
Mixing an album that has been recorded by a talented sound engineer is almost as simple as throwing up the faders and balancing the sound, and that comment is not in anyway meant to undermine the talent of great mix engineers, having spoken to many of them they say that great recordings mix themselves. Great recording engineers know how to capture the performance and the energy, two things not a single plug-in on the planet can fix in a mix.
Does high-quality gear matter for creating an excellent recording? Yes, it does, but not in the wrong hands.
I'd prefer both given a choice, but give me a great recording engineer with some average gear any day of the week over an amateur with all the toys - I know who will capture the magic.
If you want to make a real investment in your recording career, then invest in learning your craft and also find someone who can mentor you. Learning may not be a sexy investment you can show off with on social media but it's the smart one.