I don't want to infringe on anyone's copyright, so in an abundance of caution and professional deference, I'll just tell you what the graphic said, rather than posting it. "Phew! I have all the gear I will ever need. Said no photographer EVER." Now, we can all sit around and have a good laugh about it, but it does merit a conversation about a terrible, insidious affliction, the very mention of which elicits vehement denial from those who fall prey to the addiction. It may not be drugs or alcohol, but it is still a societal menace affecting a frightening percentage of the world's creative population.
That's right. I'm talking about GAS.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome
If you have ever said to yourself something along the lines of, "My photography would be so much better if I could just buy ______," you might have the early warning signs of GAS. If you start and finish every day with a scroll through ebay and Craigslist, the virus might already be inside you. There is no need to panic. Yet. Treatment options are still available. If, however, you spend more time engaged in buying and selling gear than actually using it? Or putting yourself deeper and deeper into debt for gear you can't afford? Or buy a lens today and sell it a month from now? Do yourself a favor. Put the shiny trinket down, slowly back away, and seek professional help immediately. You, my friend, have GAS.
I joke, but only because I care. GAS is real, and it affects everyone differently. I'm not sure how or where it starts, but I suspect it at least partially originates with a big pinch of insecurity, a touch of tunnel vision, and a heaping portion of not knowing how to use what you already have to its fullest. Stir it all together, bake for twenty minutes, and voila-- GAS!
Let me be very clear. I'm not judging. Some of my best friends have GAS. I myself have what I like to call "seasonal GAS." For those unfamiliar with seasonal GAS, it is the occasional flare-up whenever Nikon announces its annual rebates and when B&H announces its holiday sales prices. That being said, I've managed to (mostly) kick the habit.
Back to Where it All Starts
When I first left the practice of law to pursue photography full-time, I sat down and drew up a game-plan. Of course I needed the latest body and a backup. There were four lenses that I absolutely needed. Not wanted-- needed. A full-size tripod, as well as a travel tripod were required, as was a five-light setup. Bags, memory cards, and all of the usual-- and several unusual-- accessories rounded out the list. If I couldn't get it all, then there was no reason to even try, right?
Thankfully, I had some sense knocked into me before a single dime was spent, and Guyer Photography began with a Canon 20D and a 17-85mm kit lens. In my good news/bad news world, the good news was that debt was averted, but lust was not. I had a monster on my shoulder growling, "You need that," in my ear at every turn. Thankfully, I couldn't afford to feed the lust. I had a baby to feed instead. Do the math.
Unfortunately, there are too many photographers starting out who are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have to be prepared for any and every client that might drive within 50 miles of their front door. I'll even grant you that the argument appears at first to be very sound. "I'm a professional and this is what a professional uses. Without it I'll never make it." Trust me-- if you focus on growing your business as intensely as you focus on new gear, you'll make it.
Tunnel vision can be dangerous-- not just because of the potential debt, but because of all the things around you that you ignore when all you can concentrate on is getting the newer, better, brighter piece of gear waiting for you at the other end of the tunnel.
When I look at my own experiences, as well as those of friends of mine, I see my third ingredient of the GAS recipe as being the worst of the offenders. How do you know that brand new camera and lens are going to answer your prayers when you still don't know absolutely everything your current camera is capable of? I'm not talking about what the blogs and fanboys have to say about it. I'm talking about what your own real-life, out-in-the-field, client-in-the-studio, bride-on-her-wedding-day, stop-taking-my-picture-Dad experiences are telling you. Until you've mastered the little black box you already own, leave the new one on the store shelf. For now.
So, Do I Need Rehab?
Not quite. But you do have to change your way of thinking. The most important thing to keep in mind are your priorities. Wait. Let me rephrase that. The most important thing to keep in mind are responsible priorities. I do what I do with a camera to keep a roof over my family's head, food on the table, and Lego strewn across the floor. Unless my gear is broken or inoperable, replacing it will always be secondary to taking care of my family. While it's true that I need the gear in order to do that, a new camera that I don't truly need isn't going to keep me warm at night.
There will always be new gear on the horizon. Always. And I'm okay with that. I know that I can't possibly buy everything I want-- or think I want. One of the best photography advances of the past five years is the surge in equipment rental companies. You shouldn't ever buy anything without renting it first or borrowing it from a friend and putting it through its paces. You might even find out that you don't really want or need it after all.
For me, though, I think it all comes down to a point I raised earlier-- knowing the gear you already have. Knowing it inside and out. Being able to adjust your settings with your eyes closed. Knowing just how much and how far you can push your exposure under any lighting conditions. If you can't do that with what you already have, you've got no business replacing it until you can.
I spent five years working for a school photography company, shooting mostly seniors and a lot of sports. The gear was adequate, but not great. While it was perfectly suited to average photography, for some of us, average wasn't good enough. There was no way the company was going to buy us the latest and greatest, so necessity became the mother of creativity. If we wanted to excel, we had to coax more and more out of the gear. And that's what we should all be doing before we dive down the rabbit hole of debt and disappointment.
Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of new gear. Who isn't? Clouds part and angels sing every time I open a box from B&H or Adorama. But there is a time and a place for new toys. Just make sure you're being smart about choosing your moments
About The Author
Jeff Guyer is an Atlanta, GA photographer specializing in commercial and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and street photography. You connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.