Stop Buying Equipment to Improve Your Photography, There's a Better Way

Stop Buying Equipment to Improve Your Photography, There's a Better Way

The holiday season is upon us and dreams of new camera gear are dancing in our heads. Our email boxes are full of offers for deals on lenses, flashes, tripods and of course those new mirrorless cameras. If only we could have it all, our photographs would be so much better.

Will they? Will our photographs be that much better if only that $3,000 lens was used on our last shoot? Will the same subject that you photographed this summer with a 2-year-old camera body be that much better if you shot it again with that new mirrorless camera body? Most likely not. The subject is still going to be the same subject it was six months ago. How’s that old saying go? If you want a more interesting photo, put a more interesting subject in front of the camera. I’ve never heard anyone say if you want a more interesting photograph, use a different camera.

Of course, camera gear is essential. Without it, no photograph could be created. But is changing from a Nikon D500 to a Nikon Z7 going to make your subject that much more interesting? Probably not. Actually, I am going to stick my neck out and say, no it isn’t. Oh, it might make the image a bit sharper or the colors a little richer. Perhaps it will permit you to capture one more frame in that 1-second burst. But I have yet to see any camera equipment manufacture produce a product that provides more interesting subjects for the photographer or their viewers. Yet we keep on buying that new piece of equipment hoping for different results.

For the price of that new piece of photography gear, I can guarantee you, you can create different and more exciting photographs. It's actually straightforward to do and can be done anywhere at any time. Just use that money on a more interesting subject or on getting to a location with a more exciting subject.

I’ve been using this concept for numerous years now. It might not be as easy as giving out your credit card number and delivery address, but it really isn’t hard at all. For the most part, it only requires a little thought and planning. Let me give you an example of how I applied this concept a couple of years ago.

I was contracted to do a commercial photo shoot in southern California. It involved photographing a professional motocross team so they could use the images in their marketing during the next year’s race season. The shoot was scheduled for 2 days of shooting just outside of Los Angeles. I also photograph east coast surfing as I live on the east coast of the United States. Of course when thinking of surfing people turn their thoughts to California, and so did I. I thought to myself “If I was going to fly all the way to California why not spend a few of my own dollars and spend an extra day shooting west coast surfing?” All of my travel expenses were already covered by the commercial shoot, all I would have to do is foot the cost of another night in a hotel, some food and $20 more for the rental car. I estimate the extra day cost me no more than $200. For that $200 I got a full day of shooting west coast surfing that I was able to use on my website, social media and as stock images. I came home with probably 2000 or so OK images and probably close to 100 of what I would consider good photos. It provided my surf portfolio a different feel from my usual east coast surf images. The next year when I was in Los Angeles again, I again stayed an extra day and headed to Venice Beach. This time I double dipped and shot not only surfing but also some great skateboard images.  Venice Beach is a prime spot for skating.

Before you start writing comments saying that’s great for me, but you don’t have jobs that let you tack on additional days in cities across the country, let me tell you can do it right in your backyard. Or perhaps a location just a couple of hours away. 

Two years ago I wanted to photograph downhill mountain biking. For those of you not familiar with Connecticut, there aren’t many mountains nearby. But 3 hours north in New Hampshire there are plenty of mountains, and they attract riders from all over New England.  So for the cost of a tank of gas and some food, I was able to add some different subject matter to my website.

Here’s a list of ideas off of the top of my head that perhaps might encourage you to think of spending your hard earned money differently.

Interested in portraits or fashion, then why not hire a professional model for a half day shoot instead of photographing your friends for the thousandth time? Cost is perhaps $400.

Or spend the money and hire a make-up artist or a stylist for the shoot. Why not rent a studio for a couple of hours? For Father's Day one year, I told my family that I would rather have some studio time as a gift and for them to let me photograph them. 

Interested in car photography, how about renting an exotic car for a few hours? A vintage Porsche 550 Spyder can be rented in New York City for about $900 or a 911 goes for about $600.

Every state in the U.S. has some sort of impressive landscape. Live too far away to get that early morning shot? Spend a little money and get a hotel room for the night before near the subject landscape.

For a $1,000 or less you can fly almost anywhere in the U.S., get a room for a night and have two days to shoot in that location. 

These are just some ideas I had as I was writing this article. I’m sure if I thought about it for a day, I could come up with a dozen more that would range in cost from a few dollars to several thousand dollars. Remember a new Nikon Z7 is about $3,400 so what ideas can you think of for less than $3,400? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. My next idea involves a boat in Newport RI next summer.

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54 Comments

D500 is a different tool from the Z7, Z7 is not a action camera. it just not good enough. the D500 isnt very good in video. so you wont be able to make a good action photo of that mountainbike with a Z7 and you cant shoot great video with a D500 of that same mountainbiker,.

Douglas Turney's picture

But the article wasn't about a comparison of equipment. I think you're missing the point of the article.

Michael Kuszla's picture

D500 is horrible for video. This is the only drawback. BUT! As it's difficult with to film with, the talent of us, photographer/filmaker will do the difference.

Easy tools are not creative tools... just... well confortable tools.
So do I film with the D500? Yes. And... as horrible it can be (it lacks the tracking subject without this pumpy effect), I film without gimbal. I just follow some tips here and on youtube, and... yeah it works. Cause you have to be creative, to find solutions.

The time I worked in the ski-snowboard-surf-skate industry, I learn this true thing: Whatever you're a pro or an amateur, whatever you surf rolls or small waves, whatever you skiing backmountain or slopes - this gear is made to glide, whatever the size, pop, rock, radius.. or other tech specs.
Finally this is a question of confort, and efficiency (or the time you need to accomplish your goal).
And I still have a quiver of 12 snowboards, 6 surfboards, 2SUP... for what? Even I'm sponsorized, I'm using no more than 1 of each. The one that stick to my feeling. Not to my beloved confort.

For now, I'm really happy with the tiny D500. And I don't shoot more than 10% of sports, I'm more on portrait, lifestyle, travel, documentaries.
And if I had to be a super-productive filmaker, I would had a Zsomtething to keep the lens I like. But not for now. I love that creative way to find solutions.

Thanks Douglas

Duane Klipping's picture

So ARE you saying the video will be better because of the camera and not the skills?

Michael Kuszla's picture

No way. Camera is just a tool. We're the creatives. Tools are tools. Any good creative people can make awesome things with everything.
Better gear will never replace skills, nor creativity.

Michael Kuszla's picture

As Douglas Suggest, I prefer to invest in travel, in collaboration, paying model or hairdresser, an mentoring program (huge thanks to David Duchemin anyway) than in the lastest sexiest gear :)

@duane klipping each job has its tool i shoot a old rebel, a 6D and D750. my sony action cam can do things i cant do with either of them. cant paint the same painting with a spoon that you can with a brush. new tools new options new possibilities. just because above replies disagree with me doesnt mean they are right. i disagree with them so they must be wrong.

Daniel Medley's picture

I mostly agree. But, there are some caveats. For example, there are photos that can be done using off camera flash that simply can't be done without it. And, in the flash world, there are technologies that make creating some photos so much easier. For example using HSS rather than a ND filter. That kind of thing.

Douglas Turney's picture

Of course equipment is important to some level. However I strongly believe that too many people thoughtlessly fall for the newer is better so I will be better thought rationale.

If I had to choose, I'd rather go on a great trip without a camera than sit at home with a great camera. :-)

Nick Viton's picture

The Sigma Art 105 1.4 tho...

Or... Use it to enlist yourself to a course or workshop of something you want to learn, oren wouldn't normally shoot, or with a photographer you look up to. I did, last year, and I definitely learned and improved!

I agree no one should buy the Z7.

David Pavlich's picture

I get it. I would say that I've seen articles and posts about "it's the photographer, not the gear" about every other day in some form or fashion. The wording is a bit different, but it's the same message and my guess is that 99% of the photographers that have made their way to F-Stoppers knows this. So....

....if you have the budget and you want new gear, buy it! It's your money so long as you're not going in debt to have the latest and greatest. After all, we want the camera companies to continue to make new stuff. :-)

You guys could help by not putting all the click-bait gear brand switching stories. One of which is listed in the sidebar as I write this. I don't click on those, but I guess many do for the controversy aspect.

Those ads pay for the free websites and forums

Michael Comeau's picture

Renting a fancy car or hiring a model for a day sounds like just another example of bright shiny object syndrome -- a one-off that feels good in the short-term, but really doesn't do much.

The best way to get better at photography is to PLAY. Experiment and see what happens.

Instead of renting a Porsche, it would be more productive to try, say, 10 different ways to light your used Honda Civic.

Or take a photography class. There are semi pro photographers offering inexpensive classes on Meetups dot com Check out their reviews to pick the good ones. For under $200 (some under $100) you can quality full day hands on training

Douglas Turney's picture

It is not about improving your photography from a technical standpoint. It's about improving the content of your photography. So many people complain that they do not live in an area that has interesting things to photograph or they don't have access to interesting subjects.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Whenever I travel for work, I always try to find the time to shoot (rent my own car, book extra days) - with so many other responsibilities, who has the time to make a special trip? That's good advice.

Even when I don't have the chance to add extra days or when I work in a place that doesn't allow it, I will get up and get to someplace nice for a sunrise or stay up late to shoot the stars. Experiences are everything, even if you have to spend just a little extra to do it.

Made this photo of the Washington Monument while at a conference. No extra days to spare, but certainly there were no sessions running at 6 a.m., so I made the time. Shot it with the good old Fuji X-T1 and humble 35mm f/2. Would it have looked nicer with a Z7? Maybe, but the sunrise is the point.

All good points here!

Douglas Turney's picture

Wasim, great point. One doesn't even have to spend money for a more interesting image. Just look for opportunities that can be used to make more interesting images.

Edward Blake's picture

I'm not sure what is so difficult about the proposition that a different camera will not improve your ability as a photographer or artist.

Eric Salas's picture

Nobody should buy the Nikon Z7 for 3400 bucks.

That’s an article in itself.

Excellent post :-)

Professional bloggers and content writers spend the entire year describing what your missing out on and then atone for their guilt by telling you it doesn’t matter what you have, you just need to be a better photographer or know your equipment better or get out more. I think Doug’s intentions are honorable here and people certainly suffer from GAS, but at the same time gear does matter.

My landscape pictures would be better if I had a Canon 5d IV or medium format. Yes, your pictures may still be better, but that’s not the point; my pictures will improve. I believe in the art of photography but I also believe technology affords us greater options. Not a big deal. No mad about the article, but just wanted to say if you have the money and you have convinced yourself that a purchase is important to your photography knock yourself out.

I want to upgrade from my Canon 5D mark II to the 5D mark IV..... Is this the same? I have focusing issues with my 5DII which is causing me to miss shot and to waste time and time is money. What do you guys think?

Kirk Darling's picture

Figure out what your real focusing issues are. The 5D Mark 1 really had camera-caused focusing issues. The camera's focusing issues were resolved with the Mark II. If you're still having issues, it's probably you, and you won't know if the 5DIV resolves them unless you know what's causing them.

Thank you. I'm still testing. Im gonna go back in pc look at all my settings on my blurry shots. I've had some at high shutter speeds too. I'll have to note everything. Maybe it's just me

Ed Sanford's picture

I have the 5dmkii and to my knowledge, there are no focusing issues. You didn’t mention how or what you are shooting. I find that I have to be really careful when hand hold shooting in that I typically need a higher shutter speed to eliminate blurred images especially in low light. For landscapes, I use a tripod and cable release or the camera’s timer.

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