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So, when did you last experience “gear lust” and how did you alleviate yourself of the condition? Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve looked at that new camera for a total of 8 hours and counting; you’ve studied the spec sheet like you were preparing for an exam; you’ve ogled every available product shot from every available angle; you’ve read all the previews and reviews and press kits you can find. This incredible new camera is the last thing you think about before you go to sleep, the first thing on your mind when you wake up; you probably even dreamed about it in between. And all you know for sure is that this awesome, new, state of the art, the camera would make you the happiest person alive because you’d instantly become a better photographer.
While the preceding scenario is certainly an exercise in hyperbole, it’s not an entirely untrue representation of what has plagued many — dare I say, all — of us at some point during our lives as photographers: an overwhelming, all-consuming longing for the latest piece of photography equipment. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera body, a lens, a flash (or, perhaps, a more elaborate lighting set up), a bag, whatever. There will seemingly always be some new thing that makes us salivate, whereafter we begin the mental gymnastics to convince ourselves that we need it — deserve it, even.
Throwing Money at a Problem
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with acquiring new gear…when you actually need it. And therein lies the problem: gear lust typically has nothing to do with need. A new camera or lens simply won’t make you a better photographer, though they might produce technically superior images. Obviously, the latest DIGIC 5+ sensor is better at handling high ISO levels than the original DIGIC sensor introduced in 2004. Yes, that 18 megapixel camera will provide better large prints than an 8 megapixel camera. In this regard, equipment matters. But photography, at its core, is not about chipsets and algorithms; it’s about seeing the world around you in your unique way and then rendering that vision as something that others can share in experiencing — a photograph. Your equipment is the medium through which the transformation from inner vision to veritable photograph occurs. While state of the art gear may facilitate this whole process with somewhat greater ease, it is not going to magically improve upon whatever shortcomings you exhibit as a photographer.
Improving as a photographer has more to do with practice, learning good habits and techniques, and spending time becoming closely acquainted with the gear currently in your possession than it has to do with owning the fanciest camera body on the market. If you’re unhappy with your photography and you’re using a camera from 2002, buying this year’s model isn’t going to help you at all. You’re completely overlooking the source of your problems.
Then, of course, there are those who are, by all accounts, talented photographers, yet still fall into the trap of wanting new gear just because it exists.
A Friend in Need…of a New Camera
Not so long ago, a friend of mine agonized over whether he should buy the Canon 5D Mark III even though he already had the Mark II. When I inquired as to what exactly had him leaning toward the purchase of new gear, he presented me with an extremely well prepared defense that included an exposition of “awesome specs”, “amazing new features”, and “incredible reviews.” It all sounded great (and I’d love to have one myself), but I couldn’t help but wonder aloud about the odds of the parents of some high school student that my friend does senior portraits for saying, “Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures of our daughter. We especially love the shots you took at ISO 12, 800. It’s like there’s no noise at all!”
Never gonna happen.
But when this lust-lorn friend suggested that he needed to obtain a second camera body before embarking on his first wedding shoot, I told him he might finally be on to something: a legitimate reason, maybe? He seemed to have experienced an epiphany when he realized he could buy another 5D II — a camera he admittedly adores. I could easily turn this into a diatribe about consumerism and the factors that drive it, but that’s a secondary point; the central issue here is one of identifying what your needs are filling them appropriately. If you happen to have a money tree in your yard, then I guess it doesn’t really matter, but given the costly nature of photography gear, it doesn’t make sense to have a ton of expensive equipment in your collection just for the sake of having it. Especially if you skill level is not on par with the gear in question.
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Curb Your Desire
So what can you do to curb that burning desire for new gear? Here are a few coping techniques:
- Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer and asses those characteristics in relation to the gear you own. Ask yourself if there is any piece of gear that you can buy that would help you eliminate your weaknesses while reinforcing your strengths.
- Before moving on to new gear, be sure to master what you already have. Not only will you get your money’s worth from it, but you will be more prepared to advance when the time comes.
- Is there an aspect of photography you want to learn for which new gear might be? Macro or landscape photography could be a couple of examples. In this case, a dedicated macro lens or wide angle lens would be justified.
- Get creative and find new ways to use old gear. For instance, if a macro lens simply isn’t in your budget, you can reverse mount one of your lenses to achieve a similar result.
- Distract yourself by doing some actual photography. You can sit around and pine over all the stuff you don’t have, or you can take what you do have and put it to good use.
- One of the major psychological components of lust is curiosity. Try renting a lens (or whatever it is you’re after) and see if it lives up to the hype you’ve created in your mind.
- Kick a tree.
This is no way an attempt to tell people what to do with their money; that doesn’t matter one bit to me. But there is something to be said for examining one’s desires and what motivates them. Our motives can sometimes be pretty flimsy, and flimsy motives in this regard make for mediocre photographers because, by trapping ourselves in the revolving door of constant upgrades, we never truly hone the skills that matter. Upgrades are a fact of life for photographers. No one in their right mind would suggest we all walk around with pinhole cameras and pretend to be content. I am simply encouraging a bit of self-contained honesty when weighing wants against needs. If you allow your perspective to get all out of whack, you end up wasting not only time and money but, perhaps more importantly, talent.