How G.A.S. Failed Me

How G.A.S. Failed Me
We've all heard of it: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.). I'd wager that a fair few of us have suffered from it at one time or another. I mean, really, what Nikon portrait shooter doesn't want the new Nikkor 105mm f/1.4? When that wanting turns to lusting and the all-consuming G.A.S., we have a problem that goes well beyond the boundaries of our wallets and begins to affect the most important aspect of our photography itself: our craft. I'd like to share with you a story from when I first began photography in the hopes that it may help some of you avoid one of the biggest mistakes I made. 
 
As photographers, we have a duty to our craft. We should be diligent about learning it and honing our skills for our clients as professionals and for ourselves as artists. As such, each photograph we create deserves our attention, and we should work hard to make it the best it can be. Even if only for the sake of the photograph itself, we should work hard on making it visually represent our subject to the best of our ability. We should focus more on expressing the content of our image through composition, color, light, and moment than on the tools used to do that.
 
 
In 2007, I made a trip to Syria to visit a friend of mine. The thought of visiting one of the oldest continuously inhabited cites on the planet, a temple of Bel, a Crusader castle, and Saladin's castle were exciting to say the least. At this time, I was (just) beginning photography. I was beginning in the sense that I'd seen beautiful images all over the internet that I drew great inspiration from and studied the metadata of.
 
I had purchased a Nikon D50 with a kit lens, but none of the numbers I was seeing in the metadata were possible on my camera. So, I did what I thought was right: I spent money on some flashy gear. I picked up a Nikon D200. I'd seen the results from a beautiful wide angle by Tokina, the 12-24mm. So I purchased one of those as well. Then I saw some creamy backgrounds in portraits and picked up a 70-200mm f/2.8. I felt I was set to be making the photographs I was dreaming about.
 
 
I thought I was on my way. I had a great camera with more features than I'd ever need. My memory cards were high quality so I wouldn't lose a single image. The lenses would allow me to get those beautiful portraits I'd been studying. I took along lens cloths, cleaning fluid, and spare lens caps in case I lost them. Each lens had a protective filter on it, as advised by the store. I'd even bought a CPL filter that I didn't know how to use, but I'd heard was a great addition to your bag. I could use f/2.8 to shoot in some low-light situations and to blur the background like I'd seen online. However, depth of field wasn't my problem. I was taking the wrong part of photography very seriously. My images weren't saying anything.
 
This really hit home recently when I saw a collection of before and after style images of Syria being shared around the Internet. Though there were not particularly artistic photographs in the collection, seeing it refreshed the idea that if I had been more focused on the things in front of me and how to best capture those, I would have had a valuable record of the people and places I experienced. It reminded me of the duty we have to learn the craft of of photography and create images with meaning. 
 
 
Learning the basic aspects of our craft, such as light and composition, is much more important than the gear we use to record those things. We need to learn how to best frame and light the subjects we photograph in order to convey what we want to say about them. Learning to connect with a person in a way that draws out a photograph not just of them, but about them, or how to use light to bring out the features of a landscape that make it unique, these are the skills we should focus our attention on.
 
Before going to Syria, I did not spend anywhere near enough time focusing on my own vision and how to express that. This has become one of the few things I regret. Many of the things I saw and the people I met are now gone. There is no way for me now to go back and make those photographs. This, I feel, is the perfect reason to get out and actively improve our craft. The things we photograph may at some point be an important historical record. 
 
 
Reflecting now, I wish that I had put my time and energy into learning the craft rather than lusting for gear. Thankfully, G.A.S. has taken a backseat for me, and I'm happy to be concentrating on what I feel are the more important parts of image-making. All of this is not to say that equipment isn't important. We know that without it, we cannot make images. However, by not making it our focus, we can focus on making stronger images of the subjects we photograph. 
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13 Comments

What photographer doesn't have G.A.S. I started out in 1980 buying a Canon A-1 with the kit FD 50mm 1.8 lens. I added a 80-205mm f4.5 zoom, motor drive, Sunpak 522 flash, and a T-mount 400mm f6.3 supertelephoto (anybody remember Spiratone?). In 2011, I added a used FD 28mm f2.8 as a consolation Christmas gift when I found my wife's budget for a DSLR was a Canon T3i. Later I bought a used Canon Auto Bellows for macro photography.
Flash forward to July 2013, I'm driving back home with my wife and I mention that a used camera dealer has a New Canon F-1 for sale, with AE Finder FN and AE Motor Drive FN, it costs $400. She asked "That's their flagship?" I said "Yes, for the 80's" She said "Buy it".
Early one December 2013, my wife is on my computer browsing Amazon. She asks "What do you think about this?" I ask "You buying me a 5D III?" She answers "Yes". I say "Go for it, but let me check B&H". I find a similar package at B&H for $500 less.
In 2015, I find a rare Canon Macrophoto 20mm f3.5 lens for sale at B&H. I buy it.
I need to get more glass for my 5D III; a telephoto is needed to go beyond the kit lens of the 24-105. A 70-300 will fit the bill. Oh, and I'll need to add a flash also.

My wife; I think I'll keep her. I haven't told her that I want a Mamiya 645 and RZ67, or a 4x5 view camera.

Stephen Fretz's picture

I got my Mamiya 645 with the 65mm for $160 off Craigslist. The 6x7s are a bit pricier. 4x5 studio cameras can be had dirt cheap. I recommend the old Graphic View. Wish I could say the same for 4x5 film....

José J. Soto's picture

I recently found a Canon F-1n with the Motor Drive for less than $100. A quick trip to get a CLA and seals and it's like new. Couldn't say no to that deal. :-)

Robert Raymer's picture

AMEN...When people ask me "what should I buy with x amount of dollars? I typically suggest that they spend a minimal amount on gear to start with, and focus on putting the rest of the money towards education so they can actually learn how to use a camera.

Stephen Fretz's picture

Counterpoint: photographic education is free if you know how to read. If you're really serious about this stuff, start with decent gear. I still use the Nikon FM I started with in the summer of '84. My buddy, who went with me to the camera store that day traded in his FG (Nikon's "entry level" model back then) six months later.

Julian Ray's picture

Thanks for posting this article Dylan.

Honing our craft for our clients and ourselves... Great article Dylan. Always good to be reminded that craft comes first.

I have a 5 year-old point-&-shoot superzoom with a 1990's home video camera tripod & use free photo-editing software. I've found that a compelling subject, quality & direction of light, & composition are what really matters. My camera before this was a pocket point-&shoot & a mini-tripod, so I guess I DO have G.A.S.!

Stephen Fretz's picture

When you started your gear was better than you were. That's true for all of us. If we bought wisely we grew into it. Were you still using this stuff 2-3 years later? Did it still feel like a waste of money?

Chris Ferreira's picture

The best cure for GAS: Being a broke college student!

Rob Mynard's picture

That and shooting a lot. As you really get to know that gear you have you get a clearer picture of "what you need vs what you want". The Nikon D500 is a pretty nice camera, and initially tempting, but I primarily shoot weddings so there's very little in it to tempt me away from my D750's.

Chris Adval's picture

I had a little G.A.S. in my first 1-2 years, but with lack of funds I could not actually make those purchases, luckily. But Agreed without the tools we could not create at all. This is why I take my time to hone my craft with what I got, but do I still lust for other gear? Yes. Heck, especially when I feel that different perspective and "feature" on that lens isn't in my set of tools. I've been shooting with a 24-70 and a 70-200 for years and love it and I feel do great at it, but just now honestly falling in love with more wider angles on my work am exploring the 24mm side of my 24-70. Do I still wish to at least try other lenses I soooo lust over? Yes, like the 35 1.4 and 85 1.4 (or 1.2) would be amazing to at least try and see if its a worthy buy for my work and learn some more. Same thing with lighting. I also have dreams of shots I wish I could do but with limited budget and access to gear I am restricted to simply wait or build DIY setups. It's all a learning process though.

Remarking on a previous comment down that the cure to GAS is being a broke college student, it does not work if you are surrounded by second hand camera shops that offer old yet ridiculously cheap lenses, still in good condition. I ended buying this lens and that lens just because I can still afford it without sparing too much. :) Well, at least because of that I learnt how to shoot in manual.