Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is something photographers deal with all the time: that feeling you get by purchasing something that you think might be the one tool you need to really upgrade your work. Here are some ways to manage these impulses and stop you from buying unnecessary gear.
Can You Afford It
This is obviously the first thing you should think about. Can you afford it? If the answer is no, then put the idea in the back of your head immediately. You shouldn’t be purchasing this item if you don’t have the money for it right now.
Most financially competent photographers will tell you don’t put an item on credit. I agree with this sentiment for the most part. Having Profoto gear will not make you a better photographer. Spending $3,500 on a lighting kit with money you don’t have will only hurt you in the future. You’re now on the hook for this plus 12.5-22% APR depending on your credit card. The interest really starts to add up, and if you can't pay it off, then you're stuck with much more debt than you originally thought.
But Dave, I Want to Be Like Casey Neistat
(If it doesn't start out correctly, the relevant clip starts at 6:10.)
Look, I am only telling you this from experience. I've taken many monetary risks; some have worked out incredibly, some have been complete failures. You hear these stories of people taking risks, and you think: "that’s what I need to do. I need to be the risk-taker and bank my entire financial future on this shoot with baby goats." What you never read (or choose to ignore) are the stories where people had to give up everything to make up for what they lost during that risk-taking period of their lives. Taking financial risks can be fine, but just being self-aware of the decision you’re making and being okay with that might take more willpower than you think. Especially when you see your credit card's APR, that can definitely change how you think.
Find a Similar Photographer Who Has the Item You Want and See if They Like It
I understand finding exactly someone who used what you want that also shoots similar styles to you might be tough, but if you can find a relevant real-world review, there’s nothing more valuable. Maybe what you're looking at is great for someone else, but not perfect for you, and you’re too excited to see its potential problems.
I remember I really wanted a Mola Rayo reflector. Everything about it was perfect, and all the beauty photographers who use it love it. What I didn’t realize is that they’re very heavy — great if you have a studio and can leave it there, not great if you’re like me and use public transportation to get to your locations. I asked another beauty photographer their opinion on it, and they told me about the weight issue.
Ask Yourself if This Will Be a One-Time Use
I’ve fallen into this trap before. You impulse-buy something you thought would change the game, but used it once, and now, it’s collecting dust. You need to really ask yourself if that collapsible beauty dish really going to help your lighting kit? Will you use that fisheye macro lens on every shoot? Both questions I’ve had to ask myself.
If you’re not confident with your answer to this question, don’t buy it. It’s going to be a dumb purchase you regret a month later. This is why renting gear before you buy it is so important. You’re spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on gear; you need to really make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Yes, adding an extra $100 to rent may set back how quickly you can purchase the item, but that extra $100 might save you $1,200 later on.
In April, I photographed a bunch of corporate headshots. They also wanted photos of them fake-talking to each other to make their own stock photography. I debated if this was the moment I should get a 24-70mm. Currently I only own two primes, a 50mm and 100mm Macro, but a versatile zoom lens might be the necessary upgrade that replaces the 50mm. So, I rented the 24-70mm and loved it, but since April, I've had maybe two gigs where a 24-70mm could’ve been useful. But only twice in six months isn’t what I’d call important for purchasing a $1,500 lens.
Wait 48 Hours. Do You Still Feel Like It’s Worth It?
I am one of those people where an exciting purchase really gets the endorphins running; I still struggle with my impulsive purchasing decisions from time to time. One of the best things I implemented into my life was the 48-hour rule. By giving yourself more time before the purchase, you’re allowing yourself the ability to come down from that rush you had when you originally went to order the item.
There have been times when I made a reminder on my phone with a timer for two days later. Out of the times I've done this, I backed down from purchasing the items four or five times. Every time, I made the right decision.
Do You Want It, or Do You Need It?
I remember when the CamRanger 2 was announced. I’ve literally been waiting for this for over a year. I was ready to purchase it on day one. Then, I stopped myself. I asked: "do I actually need this? I’m tethering with Capture One, and everything is working so well. So, I don’t really need it." I figured I just wanted it. No matter how interesting it was, I didn’t really need it. I shoot in studio, rarely more than arm's reach from a laptop. Maybe I’d love it, but it’s not necessary. Not now, at least.
For impulsive buyers, it’s a shoot now and ask questions later mentality. You have tunnel vision that can stop you from making good purchasing decisions. The best way to combat this is to acknowledge that you are an impulsive buyer and ask these questions before every large purchase. By acknowledging it, you're giving yourself the chance to step back and review your decision-making process. This might save you from a regretful purchase one day.