It must be really hard to be a camera company these days. Once or twice a year, each camera company must scramble to find some way to get its users to upgrade to a newer camera. And damn! Are cameras getting expensive! You’re looking at spending $2,000 — $4,000 for a new DSLR, and that doesn’t include a lens.
You are being upsold on features like increased dynamic range, more autofocus points, and more megapixels. But you know what? Those features won’t make you a better photographer, and you know it deep down. Unfortunately, the camera companies KNOW what makes you tick: the need for a new camera or gadget that FEELS like it will make all the difference in your art. Something that will finally allow you to do your best work. And that camera they sold you on last year? Garbage. It’s holding you back. It’s an insane game, but the only game the camera companies know how to play.
Let me lay down some truths for you.
90% of the most important photos created to date, were made with cameras far less advanced than the cheapest DSLR you could buy today. In fact, many of the best pictures ever made were shot on film, and often with cameras that had little to no electronics, not to mention autofocus.
You are suffering from G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome), and you know it. I KNOW you know it. But it’s just too easy to focus on gear rather than the more difficult work you need to do internally to make your best work.
So, What Should You Do to Be a Better Photographer?
Do the work. You have mental and emotional work to do such as finding and refining the WHY behind your photography. WHY do you shoot what you shoot? WHY does it matter? When you are on your deathbed, could you tell me WHY you spent your precious time shooting what you did?
You also have other skills to build, such as empathizing and connecting with strangers and models, so you can get a genuine expression and shoot what is under the surface. This work often includes getting over your own insecurities and building your confidence in yourself as a legitimate artist.
I believe your best photos come from synthesizing your knowledge of the world and pursuing subject matter that moves you in some way. Often these subjects are personal — something that you do, or something you wish to learn more about because it resonates with you. And you know what? This internal reflection and drive CAN’T be included with a camera, which leaves camera companies with selling you features you don’t need for new cameras to replace old cameras that were more than adequate to capture your best work. It’s a sleight of hand that’s been happening for ages, and deep down we all know this, even as we joke about G.A.S. on forums and Facebook posts.
Instead of buying new gear, take that money and invest it in anything BUT a new camera, such as:
- Travel. Expand your horizons, step out of your daily loop, see with fresh eyes, pursue a passion project away from your hometown. You may have to travel far and wide to meet and photograph the subjects in your project.
- Education. Take a course or workshop with a photographer whose vision and approach inspires you. There is no way that you will not return a better photographer, as well as have new life experiences to draw from for future work.
- Set-building/wardrobe/prop-styling. Some of my favorite photographers spend 80% of their time building the scene for their subject and only 20% of their time shooting. Why? Because great ideas and visual concepts take a lot of personal investment. It’s not the camera that made the photo great; it’s what happens four inches behind the camera, in the frontal cortex of the photographer. And all the preparation that comes before that split second when you trip the shutter.
- Save your money. Yes! Crazy, right? But instead of spending $2,000+ in gear every year, put that money into an aggressive growth mutual fund, so that you are giving yourself the ultimate reward: the peace of mind and security to live life proactively rather than reactively. If you have financial security, you can take bigger risks in other parts of your life. Trust me.
- Collect art and photo books. Your best work comes from synthesizing information from your life experiences as well as the art you consume to feed your creative soul. I believe that if you don’t study what has already been done, you are doomed to repeat work that already exists at a very mediocre level. Your art will only ever rise to your level of taste, so study the greats that have come before you. Vincent Van Gogh copied famous impressionist paintings, stroke for stroke, to understand how his contemporaries painted. Once he understood impressionism, he could break the rules and find his voice. It’s no different for photographers.
Looking purely at the number of photos that have mattered in human history proves this. There may be some groundbreaking innovation in camera design that makes your art better, but I’m not holding my breath.
So this year, instead of upgrading your camera body yet again and feeling like you’re still not the artist you envisioned, try spending your money on one of the things I’ve listed above.
If you’ve opted out of upgrading your camera body in place of something else, please leave a comment on how it changed your photography.
If you think I’m full of it and don’t understand how vital increased dynamic range is for making a photo that matters, please comment too :)