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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56 Comments

Previous comments

I do portrait work. Yea now I focus in using higher shutter speed to avoid problems. I've had issues at times at a shutter speed of 200 during daylight hour. Soft focus sometimes fly out blurry

Laughing Cow's picture

"But is changing from a Nikon D500 to a Nikon Z7 going to make your subject that much more interesting?"
Maybe you meant "changing from a Nikon D500 to a Nikon Z6"?

Douglas Turney's picture

Nope not in the least.. I meant changing from camera "A" to camera "B". Insert whatever camera you want because the point of the article has nothing to do with equipment, but rather improving your images by photographing something different and perhaps at the same time a little more interesting. It is also meant to say that people are too quick to spend money on equipment and won't spend it in other ways that could improve the images in their portfolio. It is easy to get someone to spend $1,000 on a piece of equipment but get them to spend it on an airline ticket to a place to photograph something a little different than what they normally shoot. Oh my God you would think the were spending all the money in Fort Knox. If there is any money still there.

I liked this article.

Upon reading the headline, I was ready to roll my eyes at another regurgitation of how new gear doesn't provide new inspiration and blah blah blah.

Instead it actually touched on a very real part of the psychology behind the "new gear" syndrome. Part of the thrill behind getting the new gear is the very act of going out and spending money on something new.

I agree with the general principle that you shouldn't buy new gear just because it is there. However spending money that would have gone to new gear on an experience is a pretty fresh take.

Sure, you could not spend any money and work on inspiration and such. Of course that's an option. A cheaper one at that. But I won't be the one to deny an underlying itch that feels like it gets scratched when spending some cash.

Nice piece, Mr. Turney.

Douglas Turney's picture

Thank you. Call me Doug.

Skye Leake's picture

Agreed, new gear is exciting and can motivate you to go out and shoot (especially when that gear enables a new way to shoot that was difficult or impossible before), but motivation can also be sired up by - investing money to invest time at a location to invest in your portfolio [insert cross-eyed emoji here].

Andres Cifuentes's picture

Hey I totally understand where you are coming from with this and it makes a lot of sense. That being said, your images are amazing, I suspect some pretty pro quality glass at least is on your camera bag.

Douglas Turney's picture

Thank you for the compliment on the images. Actually, most of my gear is I would say middle of the road. Shooting D500's right now and plan on staying with them for a while. Really like this camera and it is doing everything I need it to. Glass is mostly f/2.8 Nikkor but not crazy long. A water housing is the next wish item. Now the water housing is a needed piece of gear to get shots I can't at the moment.

Andres Cifuentes's picture

Just seeing this, d500 seems with f2.8 nikkor zooms sounds like a sweet setup for sports definitely. A housing would surely open up your surfing picture options!

Splendid post!

Totally agree.

Simon Patterson's picture

I suspect that most people realise deep down that we need to take time to improve our photography.

But we are also used to being able to spend money to buy (ie save) ourselves time, whether it's buying an automatic dishwasher or hiring someone to mow our lawns. So we try to spend money in an attempt to shortcut our need to spend time on improving our photography.

The problem is that we can't buy the experience we need in photography to improve our photos, no matter how much camera manufacturers say otherwise. But many people keep trying to spend their way out of the need to put time into improving photography. The quickest way to spend money on photography is to buy more gear, which suits camera manufacturers just fine.

And so, we need reminders like this article, which give practical suggestions on how to better approach the issue. Bravo!

Campbell Sinclair's picture

interesting , so try different situations rather than buying a different camera.

Peter Drucker's picture

Thanks for a helpful article. I sometimes feel a mild case of photo-gear-fever coming on and to combat it, I look at some recent photos and try to describe exactly how the desired gear would improve the photos. Not surprisingly, I usually can't. Then I forget about the new gear and think instead about how I could have stood in a different place or changed my position or taken the photo at a different time of day, all things that have nothing to do with more expensive equipment.
On a slightly different note, I admire your patience with all of these comments. Most of them miss the point of your article and veer off into debates about specific pieces of equipment. This makes we want to scream. Congratulations on keeping your cool and responding so diplomatically.

Douglas Turney's picture

Thanks Peter. Comments like yours make writing for Fstoppers enjoyable.

Celso Mollo's picture

ok, enough of these type of posts< I didn't even read it, because I don't think anyone do that anymore, if they ever did.
This article has no point.

Douglas Turney's picture

Let's see if I got this right. You think there are too many of these types of articles yet you admit you didn't read the article so how can you tell what the article says? You state the article has no point and yet again you admit you didn't read it so how can you determine if it doesn't have a point. You don't have to like the article, but when you admit you didn't read it, well your comment has no point and thus no value. And yes I read your comment in its entirety unlike how you approached my article. If you care to discuss the validity of the article with me, you must first read the article.

Oh yeah, you have some nice images in your profile​.

Celso Mollo's picture

You kids, hahahah you are funny!

Luis Serrato's picture

Douglas, I agree 100% with your article; this has been also my experience as an amateur photographer. Since years ago, I stopped worrying about new equipment, only have keeped track of new resources in order to be ready when an update be really convenient. PS is also a valuable ally for the final result of a great image, and here again, you don't need the newest PS version.

There better be a better way. I can't afford to buy my way into great photos.

Good advice.

really awesome read. I actually regret getting a new camera sometimes. I miss my Nikon d3100. but what can I say, I love my d750 lol, upload more like this, it's really nice to hear honest truths about the camera world.

Great article! I like the way you think.

I couldn't agree more with everything you said in the article, Douglas. This obsession with cameras and equipment is going way too far now. Sure, the tools are important, but nothing is more important than the subject, or idea you're communicating.

I've actually made a short film about the same issue. Happy to share below, if it's allowed of course:
https://vimeo.com/303544085

Thank you. I've been considering a new investment and haven't quite taken the bait yet... It's a useful, even fun potential addition, but not essential. I'll add your perspective (which I've much enjoyed) into the mix... What can and indeed would I do if I directed the cash at a shoot, rather than equipment upgrade ... and comparative value of each option. I appreciate the article.