Deciding the Gear You Want vs the Gear You Need

If you are a photographer, whether a novice or a professional, you know the meaning of the word ‘gear envy’. Let me tell you it is a very real thing! That feeling of wanting all the gear that is out there even if you are not sure you need it or will use it. And every one goes through this at some point in their photography career. It is normal and expected. All you need to do is go to a photography event or a photography conference and you will come home with a lighter wallet. The key to overcoming gear envy is to recognize it and address it before it becomes a problem a.k.a a gear closet full of stuff you don’t need and a mountain of credit card debt you can do without.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

So how do you decide what gear you need and what you will use versus what you want to buy? This article will walk through some steps to ensure you have a good understanding, plan, and process when looking for new photographic gear to add to your collection.

#1 Set photography and business goals first

One of the first things every business owner does is create a business plan. Something that helps them identify their goals, aspiration, dreams, etc. Using this approach to photography is beneficial even if you don’t really have a photography business. When I first started my photography journey, I already had a full-time job. Photography for me was just a hobby and a way to flex my creative muscles. I just wanted to learn everything I could about taking good photos. Charging for photos, having clients, and even building a business was not on my mind. But when I started getting inquiries, I realized that my Canon EOS 10D DSLR camera with a basic kit lens was not going to get me anywhere. At that point, it really helped me to understand and conceptualize where I wanted to go with my business. I already had photography clients – family photos – lined up before I invested in my first full-frame camera.

I purchased a Canon EOS 5D MK II DSLR. I kept my kit lens for everyday use and rented a variety of lens like the Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II USM, Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM, and Canon EF f1.4 USM for when I had client sessions. For the next twelve months, I tried and tested as much gear as I could get my hands on to understand what my photography goals should be. I finally narrowed down my first lens to a 24-70mm because I wanted the versatility of a zoom and the depth of field of an f2.8 for the style of photography that I wanted to pursue. Now 11 years later, I still have my 24-70mm f2.8 which sits on my camera 80% of the time. 

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

#2 Perfect the gear you have

This ties in with the first point of tying your photography goals to your gear wish list. If animals and wildlife are something that really interests you and is what you want to photograph, then a 24-70mm f2.8 isn’t really going to cut it. You probably need to invest in a higher zoom like the 200-400mm zoom or even the 500mm zoom lens. For this type of photography, the lens is probably more important than the camera. Regardless of the gear you have, learn the ins and outs of that gear. Like I mentioned earlier, my Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II USM is still in my gear bag 11 years later. Sure, I have had it serviced numerous times, but it still does what I need and works for my style and genre of photography. I know that lens so well now that it has become second nature. I travel with it all the time and use it extensively for both personal works as well as paid clients. 

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

#3 Challenge, create

The best way to learn everything there is to learn about the gear that you have, and what it can and cannot do is to challenge, create. Challenge, create is when you challenge yourself with photography assignments that push the limits of the gear that you currently have. For example, if you have a standard crop-sensor camera with a basic kit lens, challenge yourself to use it in a low-light situation and figure out how to get the results that you desire. Maybe you need to put your camera on a tripod, use a slow shutter speed to open, and let as much light in as possible. Or you need to use an external light source and opt for dramatic flair. Similarly, when using a zoom lens, can you find an optimal zoom and f-stop combination that will give you a clean, light, bright and airy look that is typical of prime lens? The key here is to start with the desired outcome of the photograph and use creative, out-of-the-box thinking to work with the gear you have. 

Understanding Post Processing

Tip: This is the best way to know what you can and cannot achieve with what you have currently, and what you must target in your next gear purchase. This helps to ensure your next piece of gear to be one of need versus want.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

#4 Rent or borrow

The rent or borrow option for photography gear is one of the best things since sliced bread! Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but it is really a game-changer for people like me (and maybe you too!) who want to get all the bright shiny objects as soon as they come out. Am I right?! I cannot tell you how many times I have used the rent option for gear especially when I am photographing weddings and need a backup camera and lens combination. Or even just a second body to make life easy. I have also used this for renting gear that I know I will never ever be able to afford. I once took a photography glass in Yellowstone National Park (one of the highlights of my photography journey) and rented the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens which is quite possibly the sweetest piece of glass ever made. This lens retails at around $11k and I know no matter what, I could never own that lens. But being able to use it, experience it, and fall in love with the photos that I took with it was well worth the rental fee. Plus, my bank balance was also super thrilled.

If you don’t have a local camera shop around you that you can easily rent gear from, check some of the bigger online camera shops like B&H or Adorama that have this service. Sure, it means you must pay for shipping and have to plan your rental ahead of time, but it might still be worthwhile as opposed to buying gear that you might not need long term. Another option is to borrow from a fellow photographer friend. This is where playing nice with others in the sandbox and making friends in the industry is beneficial. 

Tip: Renting is a much cheaper option than dealing with buyers’ remorse which is such a common thing across the board.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

#5 Understand and perfect your post-processing

While gear is one of the most important things in a photographer’s arsenal to creating great images, post-processing knowledge is equally important too. These days there are so many amazing platforms and software that can really take your images from ‘good’ to ‘wow’ in a matter of clicks in post-processing. So, understanding and perfecting your post-processing is key to getting your images to look and feel like how you want them to, even if you don’t have the latest and greatest gear.

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

Exposure or brightness, contrast, color balance, and tone/tint are some of the basic things you can fix in an image. There are many free post-processing tools out there in the market that you can use to make basic adjustments to your image.

If you want to learn advanced editing techniques there are many options for you like Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar, etc. Adobe has great creative editing programs that are subscription-based (a fee every month). Maybe invest in these programs on a trial basis and see if they will suit your editing needs.

Tip: A combination of gear and post-processing knowledge can take a photograph from great to wow!

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

Another great tip is to try and to photograph in RAW as much as possible. Most of the newer cameras today are capable of recording images in RAW format, so give it a try. A RAW image is called “raw” for a reason – it is an unprocessed image with a lot more colors to work with than a JPEG image. It might not look great at the back of the camera when you take the photo but when you import it into your editing software, you have a lot more options to adjust to give it the look and feel you want.

Conclusion

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Photo by Karthika Gupta

Here is the bottom line. Photography is an art form and like any art form, there are many different tools and techniques to achieve the results you want. Photography gear is just a tool to help you achieve that. Just because you have the latest and greatest gear does not make you an amazing photographer. The same is true on the flip as well, an amazing photographer does not need the latest and greater to create beautiful imagery. Work with what you have, perfect your art and creativity, and the rest will follow.

Pop Quiz

  1. Should you buy gear as soon as it comes out?
  2. Why are photography goals important for your gear collection?
  3. What does ‘challenge, create’ mean?
  4. What are the benefits to renting verses buying gear?
  5. Is it important to learn your gear, or learn all about post-processing, or both?
  6. True or False – Making friends in the industry is a good thing.

Cover Photo by Karthika Gupta

Understanding Post Processing
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