On gear, the never ending quest for more, why it will not lead to better images and what will

There are those who love the trade and then there are those who love the tools of the trade. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in photography. And it’s a slippery road.

With the advent of digital photography, cameras became even more popular and accessible and the world was introduced to what is aptly named GAS for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It is the epitome of the old saying “just because you don’t need, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to have it”. In photography (and in High End audio, but that’s another can of worms), GAS manifests itself in two different ways: you want to get more goodies for your “system”, such as lenses, flashes, accessories, you name it, and / or you want to get the latest and greatest tons of megapixels camera out of your favourite manufacturer.

Now, one could argue (I know, I’ve done it myself) that more and / or better lenses, newer cameras, pro-spec equipment will turn them into better photographers. This is plain wrong. Of course, there are cases or projects or even genres of photography that are better served or even require specific tools, that much is true. For example, to shoot wildlife or sports, by and large you need a long and fast telephoto lens and most pros use a 300 mm f/2.8 lens for this type of shooting. However, the lens itself will not turn you into a better photographer; it will merely let you capture an image that you would have more trouble capturing with “lesser” equipment. Whether this image is actually good, that is another story and it is dependent on your understanding of the technical issues involved, your ability in composition, your readiness to shoot, your understanding and use of light and a host of other factors.

So, what is one to do if they really want to get better then? Well, there are a couple  of quick things: one is to invest whatever money they intended to use on gear, on seminars and classes in the photography subject of their choosing. Another thing is to squeeze every little drop of “juice” out of their current camera. Yet another thing is to actually spend less time reading about and lusting over gear and instead get out and shoot more.

Classes and seminars will help immensely. There is nothing like learning from the pros and if you choose the subject carefully, it will make a ton of difference in the quality of your images. My first big seminar on photography was a six month deal in Athens, Greece at the Photographic Circle, taught by Platon Rivellis. It was an eye opening experience, with a technical side to it but even more importantly, an artistic side to it as well. We had the chance to see and review the work of great masters of photography, talk about their work and get an understanding of what constitutes a photograph and what doesn’t. Once I overcame the “photographer’s block” that ensued, I personally became a better photographer. What constitutes a “better photographer” is another issue, but suffice it to say that one learns to shoot with a purpose and get more worthy images per 100 shots. Furthermore, one develops a more keen sense of how, what, when to shoot and all this helps in developing a personal style – in the end, everything worth shooting has been shot before, so the only reason to shoot it again is to do it through one’s personal style. This “style” is the result of learning, hence the need for classes and seminars!

Today’s cameras are very capable pieces of equipment for the needs of 99% of the people. If one belongs to that other 1%, I am not sure this article is for them anyway – they are the professionals who spend money on their equipment in order to make money from it and that’s a whole different story. For that vast majority of people, even entry level DSLR or mirrorless cameras are actually all they need to use. If they actually understand the basics of photography and how these basics are handled by their camera, they are on the right track. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focusing, metering, depth of field, white balance… Mastering these concepts and knowing how to use them on one’s own camera quickly and correctly will produce images that are closer to what one had in mind and definitely better than shooting indiscriminately and hoping that at least one image will turn out right.

Spending time to shoot instead of talking about it is yet another way to get much better than getting a new camera would even make you! It all begins with carrying a camera wherever you go and using it. If that is a problem, one can use a smartphone – not the same, but still! Shoot more, review your images, be as tough on yourself as you can bear (not easy, I know) and then go out and shoot some more. In time, it is more than certain that the quality of your image will improve markedly. It is a function of being ready to capture the right moment but also it is a numbers’ game – if you shoot more (but with a purpose) there is a higher chance of producing more worthy images.

So, in a nutshell, one should invest more on knowledge and time than on gear. The return on investment in the former is far greater than in the latter. Sure, get a camera and one or two lenses that suit your shooting style and type of photography and start exploring, learning, experimenting practicing what you can do with the gear you have.