Buy the New Gear or Take the Trip?

Buy the New Gear or Take the Trip?

You're a landscape photographer facing a choice: invest in new camera gear or embark on a photography trip with some extra funds in hand. Which option is the better choice for enhancing your photography?

Landscape photography often comes with a hefty price tag, tempting us with the allure of the latest camera bodies boasting more pixels, improved autofocus, and better low-light capabilities, or the appeal of that new lens seemingly filling a crucial gap in our camera kit. It's easy to fall into the trap of constantly pursuing the latest and greatest equipment.

On the other hand, you can opt to forego the temptation of new camera gear and opt for a photography-focused journey. Travel expenses may include fuel, accommodations, or even airfare for extensive trips, but does this choice yield a more significant reward?

The Temptation of New Camera Gear

Within the photography community, discussions about new gear are commonplace. Camera manufacturers continually unveil advancements, whether it's the announcement of a cutting-edge camera lens, tripod, or filter system promising to elevate your photography experience. Rumors of the next groundbreaking innovation are also ever-present.

Acquiring new camera gear can undoubtedly offer advantages to landscape photographers, potentially enhancing image quality or providing a different focal length to expand your style. However, it's worth considering that most of us aren't yet maximizing the potential of our existing cameras and lenses.

For some, acquiring new equipment serves as motivation to venture out and capture more photographs. The excitement of using the new camera, lenses, or filters can be enticing and beneficial, although this enthusiasm may incur expenses over time.

The Influence of Photography Experiences

Opting for a photography-focused trip offers unique experiences that can significantly contribute to your growth as a landscape photographer. Exploring new locations and environments can reignite your creativity, offering a refreshing change of pace from your familiar local settings. It also provides an ideal opportunity to apply the skills you've honed in your hometown.

A change of scenery can be incredibly rejuvenating. While your regular photography spots may be in the Midwest, for example, you might have a deep love for the arid landscapes of the southwestern United States. Traveling allows you to immerse yourself in these environments, offering a source of energy and catharsis.

Furthermore, traveling broadens your landscape photography portfolio, presenting new opportunities. Diversifying your subjects can invigorate your creativity and refine your style as a landscape photographer.

Which to Choose?

New camera gear undoubtedly brings improvements to your craft, such as enhanced image quality and expanded creative possibilities. Conversely, embarking on a landscape photography journey can provide invaluable experiences and the chance to refine your skills.

Given the choice between new gear and a photography-focused trip, the preference leans heavily toward the latter. Why? The most significant factor in enhancing your landscape photography is practice and time spent in the field. Camera gear seldom holds you back; instead, it's the practice of mastering exposure and honing composition skills that truly elevates your craft.

Moreover, travel often infuses fresh energy into your creativity, sparking excitement and invigoration in your hobby. For me, the answer is clear: the factors that have most significantly contributed to my growth as a landscape photographer are increased time spent capturing photos and gaining diverse experiences in various locations.

What's your choice? If you had to pick one – new camera gear or a photography trip – which path would you pursue?

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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Pretty simple: Both. In both cases: The cheaper fun. Life is short.

Life is short!

With nearly 48 years behind the lens, I will almost always choose the opportunity to travel and photograph somewhere new. I have learned that the equipment you use is secondary to your vision and opportunity explore new environs. One often overlooked facet of not upgrading is that you learn your gear and know how it will respond in a given situation.

I think the experiences from travel provide more than new gear purchases, where the excitement tends to fade, whereas the experiences are looked back on again and again!

Jeffrey Tadlock asked:

"What's your choice? If you had to pick one – new camera gear or a photography trip – which path would you pursue?"

I don't see this as a binary decision. My way of allocating money to my wildlife/nature photography is more of a split approach. In a 10 year period, I will typically spend about 15% of my photography budget on gear and 85% on travel.

This works out to upgrading one camera body about once every 5 years (buying older discontinued models on the used market), and getting a new (actually, used) lens about once every 2 years. And it allows me to spend anywhere from 45 to 65 days traveling far from home for wildlife photography each year.

So what it means specifically is that this coming year I will keep shooting with my very heavily used Canon 5D Mark 4 and the lenses I already have. However, I will probably have a 2 week trip to northern Minnesota for songbirds and owls in January, maybe two weeks in Arizona for Gila Monsters in March, a week in Oregon for Sage-grouse in April, a trip back east to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey for warblers and nesting birds for a few weeks in May-June, and of course my annual trip for the Whitetail Deer rut for the entire month of November.

But in 2025 I will allocate some of the money to replacing my 5D4 with a mirrorless body and probably get a Macro Probe lens, so I will have to eliminate about 20 days of photo trips to offset that expenditure. I only buy new gear when I have to - to me, gear is not fun and exciting, it is a necessary tool. The travel and the experiences in nature with wild animals is what is exciting.

That is a very well-balanced approach blending upgrading gear over time and lots of travel!

Thank you! Concerning gear, I am always a generation or two behind the others who shoot wildlife, but I get around to a lot more places and shoot a lot more species than most get to shoot, so it's a tradeoff I'll take any time.

It's always a hard balance to achieve. I hadn't traveled much during or after the lockdown so was able to get the gear that I wanted. But, now I'm back into traveling mode; I just got back from a 3 week trip to the south of France and Spain and looking towards spring. But, that new Fujinon 30mm T/S lens is looking pretty good to me. I've been fortunate to be able to travel all my life, so that's always been one of my priorities.

It can be a difficult balance. While I fully understand the value of travel, I’m not going to say I didn’t upgrade some hardware this year! I’m looking ahead to 2024 for some of my travels and trying to finalize those plans.

As an amateur, hybrid “both”: travel + rental gear.
You can explore new places while using the newest and best gear, without worrying about committing to any one brand ecosystem.

In my experience, renting gear is EXTREMELY expensive, compared to buying used gear and selling it after a few years to replace it with newer used gear.

For those of us who go on LONG trips of a month or more, and who also shoot in our home regions on an everyday or everyweek basis, renting gear is preposterous, from a cost standpoint.

For example, in 2007 I bought a Canon 400mm f2.8 for $5,000. I used it about 200 days per year, until 2014, and then from 2014 until 2019 I used it for about 60 days a year. Then in 2019 I sold it for $2,800. So I got to use a 200mm f2.8 for 1,700 days for a net cost of $2,200. That works out to $1.30 per day of actual usage in the field.

How much would it have cost to rent the 400 f2.8 IS for 1,700 days? And yes, actually using a lens for 200 days each year is normal for most obsessive or professional photographers.

If you run the actual numbers, you will find that renting is preposterously wasteful, for anyone who actually shoots a lot.

I’d think renting gear long term would get pricey. I have rented in the past to try a lens out (a local shop near me tends to have pay one day of rent and get five days of rental over holiday weekends). That was a good way to try something out and see if I liked it.

I don’t do a lot of wildlife photography, but I did photograph sandhill cranes this fall - if I do that in the spring, I might rent a longer lens - but it would be for like 2 days, not weeks on end.

Is this even a question, or just click bait.

Spend thousands on gear and use it to shoot your back garden, obviously. What's the point of travelling anyway. It's all just dirt and water put together differently. And family needs and spending time with friends, family or other like-minded people is overrated anyway. You can't go to sleep hugging a mountain or loved-one like you can the full frame gear you read you should buy on some crappy click-bait forum.

Actual question. With so much talk of gear, I was curious about lost opportunities to travel because money was spent constantly upgrading gear. And where should a photographer put their money.

Sadly, many photographers are really interested in the gear itself more than in the subjects they photograph, and more than the actual art of photography. This is evident by the immense popularity of any content about gear, and the very low popularity of content about compositional techniques, color theory, etc. Of course the people who are super-interested in gear are not the professionals or those who have been very successful photographers, but rather the hobbyists who have not really accomplished very much as photographers.

Hobbyists I meet afield usually want to talk about gear. Pros who I meet afield want to talk about the animals we are photographing, their behavior, the light, places to go to find more animals, etc.

It is weird to me that so many people are super interested in a little chunk of metal, plastic, and glass more than they are interested in the amazing things that can be photographed, but that is oddly the case.

I don’t think I could have said it any better! This sentiment “ Of course the people who are super-interested in gear are not the professionals or those who have been very successful photographers, but rather the hobbyists who have not really accomplished very much as photographers.” really drives it home.

I talk about gear on my YT channel, but I try to let folks know - it isn’t the gear holding you back. It is get out there, practice the art of photography, and work on that. That will make the biggest changes and improvements in your photography.

I feel like there's always a broader context that plays into these decisions, which often seems to be ignored. For instance, hobbyists with limited time off might not be able to go off for a week or two at a time. People with younger kids may prefer to stay closer to home. Or a budget might stretch to a new (used) lens, but not to the cost of flights and hotels.

To me, where to spend should account for the broader context. Since I have reasons to travel less for my photography at the moment, I've tended to funnel my budget to gear, rounding out my kit and finding the balance that works for how I shoot. It does mean that when circumstances change, I'll be ready to go all in on travel.

As my kit settles, and while I'm not necessarily shifting to travel just yet, I am turning my focus more to local opportunities that might allow me to have a new photographic experience. Even something as basic as a local boat ride can provide that feeling of something new!

I think that is a great point. A photographer likely goes through phases where a gear purchase might be more appropriate than travel and vice versa. (Admittedly, it is pretty easy for me to say spend money on a trip as I have a pretty complete set of gear).

So definitely a broader context than perhaps initially painted! Appreciate the comment!

I agree completely -- I'm sure we all go through various phases along our photography journeys. And I will say I'm looking forward to when my phase of travel comes around next!

The travel phase is amazing once you reach it!

Very well developed point that you make.

When it comes to nature photography, whether it be landscape or wildlife, I always think of it being synonymous with travel hundreds or thousands of miles from one's home. However, this doesn't necessarily need to be the case.

I have a friend who truly loves to photograph mammals and birds. It is the thing he loves to do more than anything else in life. But he hates to travel; has no interest in going any further than 2 hours from his home in the middle of North Dakota. I have even invited him to accompany me on trips that produce almost guaranteed world-class opportunities with species he really loves, where everything is already provided and paid for. Yet he always declines because he just can't bear the thought of flying, or driving more than a couple of hours. I mean even when I invite him to places in Montana or South Dakota or Minnesota that are only a 4 or 5 hours' drive, he has zero interest.

I know of several other people who truly love wildlife and bird photography, but for them, this means photographing the opportunities that are right there in the region they live in, in their home state or county. They have zero interest in ever traveling anywhere to do the nature photography that they love so much.

So for folks like my friend, it makes sense to spend the money on upgrading gear instead of travel.

Really good series of points here! Definitely a different (and worthy) perspective I hadn't considered!

I'll admit that at the moment, more often than not even a 2 hour drive is a bit far for me! I'm hoping that changes over the next year or so, but I tap out at about 45 minutes right now. Luckily I'm just north of a major city, and a couple of minutes from a forest preserve...although they're lagoons, really. And there are plenty of other preserves around. Plus a lake.

So within 45 minutes I have a good amount of opportunity to do landscape photography (probably my favorite), some seascape photography on the shores of Lake Michigan, and architecture / city / street photography. And that's enough....for now!

There was certainly a period of time in my life when even a day away from home and family would have been more problematic than it is now.

And despite my talk about travel, I have also often talked about practicing locally and how it is a completely viable option to improve and practice landscape photography. And though I travel, a fair amount this year, I still spend more time at an amazing state park within an hour of me.

And Lake Michigan - that means you aren’t crazy far from me - though Lake Erie is the closer lake to me.

I used to live out west, and skied local smaller mountains often. I thought of them a lot like the gym that I used to be ready for big mountain skiing. I think I have a similar attitude towards photography too...the local spots are where you can get the reps in so that you're ready for the bigger opportunities. Or where you go to just have fun and maybe mess around a bit.

And it does seem like we shouldn't be crazy far apart!

Adam Matthews wrote:

"I'll admit that at the moment, more often than not even a 2 hour drive is a bit far for me! I'm hoping that changes over the next year or so, but I tap out at about 45 minutes right now."

Wow! That is something that I cannot relate to. I balk a little at a 4 day cross-country trip, but still do it. And a two day trip covering 1.400 miles or so is actually pretty quick and easy ... the hours on the road just melt away and before I know it, I have arrived!

I'm attaching a screenshot of "My Google Timeline" for reference. It shows places I've been over the past 4 1/2 years. All of it is done via road trips, driving my Toyota Corolla, as I have not flown at all since I started recording my travels via Google maps / Timeline.

Even when I photograph "around home", it usually involves a drive of at least an hour and a half each way. And that's just right here in Okanogan county.

In your other comment you mention that local spots are great because that's where you can get the reps in. I've found that I can get a lot of reps in even at places that are far away.

For example, there is a spot along the coast of New Jersey that is great for photographing sea ducks in the winter - species including Long-tailed Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, and Surf Scoters. I have spent 23 days shooting there over the past 4 years, even though it's on the other side of the country from where I live.

Another place that I can get a lot of reps in at is in Colorado, where I photograph the Whitetail Deer rut each fall. Spend 3 to 4 weeks there every autumn, and over the course of 5 or 6 years the reps really add up, and one can become very familiar with the lay of the land, the light, the animals, and their habits.

A place doesn't need to be close to home for one to become intimately familiar with it and to figure out how to get the best images.

I prefer experience to gear.

100% agreed! Sometimes I look at some of the gear I have that is sitting on the shelf and think - that could have been a trip!