Why Your Gear Might Be Holding You Back From Being A Better Photographer

Why Your Gear Might Be Holding You Back From Being A Better Photographer

Have you ever found yourself thinking: “If only I had <insert expensive camera body/lens/lighting gear>, I would be shooting better images/be winning bigger jobs/get better and higher paying clients”?

If you’ve never had this thought, congratulations, skip this article and move on because you’re already part of ‘The Enlightened’ few.If however, you have ever thought this way, or do think like this, this article will aim to help alleviate an issue that often plagues photographers, and one that can be the cause of both financial and creative stress.

The article aims to address something that as photographers (and videographers) many of us tend to suffer from at some point. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (or G.A.S) it’s a dangerous affliction that can empty both our pockets and drain our creative mojo. Although not unique to photographers, it does tend to be a very common affliction amongst us, either because we tend to be very obsessed with gear, or because during those low ebbs of creative dry spells, it’s all too easy to be sucked into the marketing hype of a product that we feel will elevate us back into a stronger creative space.

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Brookeshaden_GAS_gear_ebayauction
The symptoms of Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Let me just be clear – knowing our gear and understanding the technical aspects of how to create an image with it are necessary skills. Forget style, vision, composition and your design sense – if you don’t know how to accurately capture what you see or envision in your mind with your gear, or how to use the lights and modifiers you've got, then you’re going to have trouble accurately (and consistently) capturing what you want  or need to.

Wanting to know and to understand the technical side of how to use our gear is healthy and important. At some point however, we can get carried away. We leave behind the understanding of the technical we have developed, and move in to a territory where we begin to see gaps in what we are creating because we feel we don’t have the right tools to create them.

There are obviously exceptions - if you’re a commercial photographer shooting billboard campaigns, you’ll probably need to be buying or renting medium format digital backs (although I have worked with commercial photographers who have shot billboard ads with DSLRs). If you want to shoot runway at Fashion Week, you’ll want your 200mm or 300mm teles. Wedding photographer shooting in low light environments probably will need that f2.8 over the 4, or a camera with better high ISO performance. The saying ‘right tools for the right job’ is apt.

However, at what point does the need to acquire the right tools for the job stop, and the obsession (or belief) of needing certain equipment to shoot better images begin? The line isn’t always clearly drawn. At some point, the scale can tip us into a realm where we actually feel that we are holding ourselves back from not having the right gear. Not only are we often misleading ourselves in this belief, but it can be damaging for a number of reasons to dwell in this space.

 

Why Is G.A.S So Bad?

1) This S*hit Ain’t Cheap

Buying photo and video gear tends to be an expensive habit to maintain. Don't think we need to dwell on this one, I think we're probably all too aware of this.

2) New Gear Does Not Guarantee Better Images

Even if you have deep pockets, I guarantee you that unless you are the fractional part of the population who is naturally gifted at photography, throwing more money at ever more expensive gear will not yield ever increasingly beautiful photographs or video. At some point, the return on investment between gear obtained and quality of output plateaus, or even declines.

Creativity Trumps Gear: The Evidence

1) Joey L

Joey L, a successful commercial photographer, started taking shots only a few years ago with a 1.4 megapixel point and shoot Olympus D600.  This image won him 2nd place in a DP Challenge competition. It actually benefitted from his lack of expensive gear. He says:

“Editing consisted of things like dodging and burning, heavy contrast, a duotone of black+red+yellow, an abused unsharp mask for a funky glowing effect, zoom blur with history brush and ect ect... Seems on the border of digital art, but it's the best I can do to obscure the lacking quality of my camera (1.4 mp)”. It was precisely the lack of gear that led to his workaround and editing style that gave the photo a greater visual impact.”

Having cheap gear can force you to be more creative and to experiment and push yourself in a way that having more expensive gear sometimes won’t.

2) Brooke Shaden

Brooke Shaden is a fine art photographer, creating fantastical dream-like images that she conjures up from her wonderful sense of imagination. I recently came across a blog post of hers that does an excellent job of exemplifying the fact gear isn’t what holds back your creativity. Brooke, like Joey, has a wonderful way of visualizing things in her head, and then using her equipment and her editing skills to bring her full creativity to bear on her images.

She recently went out and shot the following 2 images and then processed them similarly in Photoshop. One was shot with a Canon Powershot S95 that retails on Amazon at just over $600. The other with her 5D Mk2 and a Sigma 24mm lens, a combination that would set you back somewhere in the region of $3500+. Can you tell the difference? Brooke answers which is which in her blog post.

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Brookeshaden_dslr DSLR or Point and Shoot?

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Brookeshaden_pointandshoot Point and Shoot or DSLR?

 

With almost a $3k price differential, Brooke demonstrated in the final two images that actually, the camera and lens choice had little to do with how the final image turned out. Sure a keen eye may spot greater detail in the DSLR shot, but really, does it make a final difference in the emotional connection we have with the image created?

Even the test shots without post process work provide an interesting benchmark to compare between the Powershot and the 5D.

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Brookeshaden_dslr_testshot DSLR test shot

Fstoppers_Davidgeffin_Brookeshaden_pointshoot_testshot Powershot S95 test shot

 

Brooke is keen to point out that yes, shooting with a camera that produces a high res image is critical if you want to be able to display your work on a large scale, for instance in a gallery as she often does.

The final output of the image aside, the point here should be very obvious – if you look at purely the vision Brooke had for this shoot, you can see that side by side, the camera and lens choice had little significant difference in the end result we see on our screens. Brooke obviously uses Photoshop to realize her creative vision, so of course both images have been post processed. If anything, this adds weight to the fact that it’s not your gear, but how you envision your end product, and – in this instance – the impact that post processing work can have on your final image, that means we should pay even less attention to the gear we are using.

Because Brooke exemplifies the rationale that it’s creativity and your vision over your gear, she provides an excellent example here for those of us that might be worried we are holding ourselves back because we don’t have ‘that lens’ or ‘that camera body’.

How To Overcome G.A.S 

For those out there still wandering how they can break the GAS cycle, I came across this great little blog post by photographer Olivier Duong who talks about his struggle with GAS and how he became to overcome it.

Final Thoughts

We should know how to use each and every piece of equipment inside and out so that it doesn’t impede the process of creating the visual image we have in our mind’s eye. At some point however, we can go too far, believing it is our gear that holds us back. Brooke summarizes everything beautifully at the end of her blog post:

There is always something better, something to reach for, something that looks shiny and new and amazing. And it very well might be something worth working towards. But never let that stop you from creating in the here and now. Never let the next amazing camera be the reason you don’t take a picture, or the excuse for delay. Let it be a goal that you work towards, all the while fulfilling your creative spirit with whatever camera you have right now.

There is no greater tool than your imagination – embrace it, create with it, nurture it, and share it. Be inspired by it.

Do you find yourself suffering from a need to constantly acquire gear? Have you got any insights you could share that successfully put you back in control of your gear acquisition habit? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear what you guys think.

Image Credits [Brooke Shaden]

77 Comments

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Previous comments

Right. And something to rest the beanbag on. But what if you're on a hillside, or a boat, or a horse, or a roof, or... ?

Now being serious, one trick that can work is a superclamp with a ballhead. The other is a tabletop tripod.

Spy Black's picture

You'd be surprised where you can make use of a beanbag. I could make use of it in every situation you outlined. You just need to use it enough to know. Always in my camera bag.

Beanbag won't work when you're running around shooting a wedding though. That's just my opinion. I'm sure there are ways that I haven't thought of, but at this point that's where I'm at.

Spy Black's picture

You just need to try it. It may not do in every one of your shooting situations, but you're not going to know until you try it.

Thank you Michael for the nice comment.

The trick is simple : I only shoot meaningful subjects. Generally the people I shoot have spend countless hours to be where they are, dressed as they are, doing what they do; ex. a Geisha. From there things are pretty natural.

but this is not photography, you are displaying work of Graphic Artist.

The Canon S95 seems like a waste of a P&amp;S too...no hotshoe for $600? :-P
Try using a Panasonic LX5 or LX7 for around $300 w/ speedlights or studio strobes and you will have a harder time telling which is which.
Or even a Panasonic GX1 m4/3 body for $300. or the Canon EOS-M as someone mentioned (you don't need that fast a focus speed for these types of shots).

The way I feel about it is, if the gear will enhance what I already do, I'll look into it. I mainly shoot weddings with 5D's, however, my second shooters are using 5D3's and they don't truck as big of glass around, and they can obviously get cleaner looking high ISO images where needed. So in that case, I could see myself moving in that direction. Same with my non-IS teles, it's not required I have them, but because I shoot at a lower shutter speed because of the before mentioned ISO condition, it could help improve my keeper rate. Finally, when I was shooting sports, I noticed alot of parents shooting with 75-300 4-5.6 lenses around me. Getting closer to sundown, they started packing them up. There were a few parents and school shooters with 70-200 2.8's that hung out for a bit more. I liked to use my 200 1.8 and I was usually last to quit shooting, so it depends on what you shoot, and if your condition can be improved by the new purchase imo.

stfu... nex ff all the world

I took this shot on a hallway at work with my friend. The background and lighting was so nice that i have been wanting to take a photo of it, so one day I brought point and shoot and we were waiting for the elevator i had my friend lean on wall, using my sony cybershot and had some color adjustment in Photoshop CS5. Its true "There is no greater tool than your imagination"

Sorry, I don't get it. Is the better shot from the more expensive camera or is it a touched up shot (brightness and contrast fixed) from the orig lighter quality shot below?

Joey L uses a Phase One, which is significantly more expensive than a $3500 DSLR and even more expensive than a $600 point and shoot. I don't even want to guess how much the digital back runs for it, not to mention the lenses. Only one person on this thread has mentioned Dynamic Range? Who needs that when you have a boss Canon S95 Elph at the helm?

I appreciate this article as I have been using a point and shoot digital camera for some time. I finally afford to purchase a DSLR and lenses, but as a person in my '60's with back problems it is difficult to schlep a lot of equipment around-camera, multiple lenses, tripod, etc. I'm thinking of just upgrading to a higher quality point and shoot camera.

To me those images by Brooke Shaden are a clear reason that your gear DOES matter. There is definitely a large difference in quality between the images. Sure the most expansive and newest isn't needed, but there is definitely a difference

I still want a Sony A99. :P

I actually like the point and shoot one better. Really liked this article.