Reminiscing about the very beginning of my journey in photography, memories of being fascinated by the gear more than anything else happen to be the most vivid ones. In fact, that fascination still does exist to some extent, but it’s far from the obsession it was back then and even until a while ago. To be honest, it’s basically the same story with most modern-day photographers. Thanks to all the advancement this field has seen in the recent past, there’s a plethora of cameras, lenses, bags, lighting gear and the works waiting to be picked up. However, falling into this infinite loop of gear based obsession doesn’t really take much of an effort if one isn’t careful.
What’s worse is that it soon changes our perception of photography, making us believe that better gear would equal better photographs and all we need is that one additional piece of equipment which is waiting to find its place in our kit. Unfortunately, that one additional bit is never the last one and the cycle of acquiring new gear just goes on indefinitely while in no way adding to the quality of the work we create. This phenomenon has been very aptly summed up to be known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS for short.
Dreaming of new gear and believing that it would better our photographs is easy, as is going through review upon review of every piece of equipment that’s out there. On the other hand, the process of practicing your craft, nourishing your passion and nurturing your creative vision takes effort as well as time.
While at a photography seminar a few years back, I heard the eminent Indian photographer Raghu Rai (of Magnum fame) mention that with the kind of photographic tools available at their disposal, all that the new age photographers have to do is focus themselves on building up the quality of their work. Giving this some further thought, I came to realize that we do actually have it much easier now compared to what the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams had to deal with. Heck, back in the day, even my own grandfather endured the challenges of being a documentary photographer while also running his own photo studio alongside and his work continues to speak for itself.
So, what is it that stops us from moving towards that very same creative mastery? Simply put, it’s this seemingly simple yet damaging trait of obsessing over our gear. Sometime around 2010, a friend of mine, for whom photography served as a medium of documenting his travels, was stuck with the belief that only the Canon 7D could help him realize his photographic goals; that no other camera in the world would work for him but this one. So he obsessed over it for quite some time and finally got one for himself. Was there any noticeable improvement in his work? Not really. Now the 7D, a really well-made camera and particularly suitable for sports and wildlife photographers, had nothing specific to offer my friend. In fact, a simpler yet capable entry-level DSLR or even a mirrorless would have served his needs perfectly. In my opinion, envisioning and developing a unique style for his photos that best showcased his travels would have been the right place to start even before the gear came into play.
To be completely honest, there was a time when even I firmly believed in this silly notion and ended up with various pieces of gear one after the other in hopes of seeing better photographs from myself. Funny enough though, it’s the exact opposite that happened as I fumbled with the new equipment and ended up with work that was actually worse than what I could have created with my older gear. Since I had better hold over the existing stuff, I could actually focus my attention on the process of making a good photograph with intent.
It is imperative that one takes their time on deciding what gear they really need and consider letting go off what they already have in favour of something new only after complete mastery is attained. After all, what matters is that you produce work that fulfils your creative vision while your gear serves as a means to an end and not the other way round!