Mmm gear. Precious, precious gear! I can’t think of one fellow photographer that isn’t a gear head at one point. I want to talk about an idea to Grow into Your Gear over giving into GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome.) The concept of growing into your gear stems from my poor, broke teenage years. When financially unstable, little 18-year old Melly didn’t have enough money to both a fancy 1D-blah-blah-blah body and fancy L lens. Instead of taking out loans and building up credit card debt I did things the ole’ fashion way by saving up and then building out my camera outfit piece by piece.
I started off on a Canon Rebel XT paired with the Canon 50mm/1.8 II, while the rest of my classmates seemed to have all the top of the line gear plus more bells and whistles! I remember myself feeling super n00bish. Especially when a peer got into photography after me somehow kickstarted her photography with a Canon 5D Mark II (the top dog camera at the time) and the trifecta of L Zooms (16-35mm/2.8 , 24-70mm/2.8, 70-200mm/2.8) and Primes (35mm/1.4, 50mm/1.2, 85mm/1.2.) “Dude… How am I supposed to become a great photographer when I’m already so behind” was all I could hear in my mind.
Years later I’m very grateful that I started getting more into photography with barely anything. Although at the time my adolescent self was dealing with
penis camera/lens envy, growing into the gear that I had set me up for a stronger foundation and clearer artistic vision for photography. For anyone now that asks me what camera and lens combo they should get when getting more into photography I recommend the best basics that work within their budget. My recommendations are usually followed up with some form of “What if I want to shoot something really far/wide/macro/etc.” and to that I still recommend shooting with the basics and then growing into new gear, here’s why:
1. Foundation, foundation, foundation!
To go deeper down the rabbit hole of photography all you really need is a camera that has manual controls and a decent all around lens. Generally 50mm is a good lens to start off with because its focal length comes very close to mimicking the human eye. When you’re not worried about changing lens or how close/far you have to me to get your subject in focus, you can concentrate on honing in the foundations of photography such as: using aperture and shutter speed to control exposure, composing subject matter, and using light.
2. Artistic Direction and Style
When I was getting more into photography I stuck to the status quo in that I loved and would photograph everything. If you check out my portfolio now –clearly this is no longer the case. Instead of looking at gear as a means to unlock creativity, reverse that thought and allow your creativity to dictate what gear you need. Since I wasn’t burden with the obsession of gear acquisition I found myself developing a visual palette for taste and style. Gradually I began narrowing my photography’s subject matter to only those that genuinely caught my interest. As a result of being more specific with subject matter I’d start to develop a specific visual palette for framing and shooting. When my vision started expanding (and I was financially able to buy more gear) I would get equipment that I knew would help me achieve the thought I had in my mind dying to get out.
For example after a few months of shooting with a 50mm I noticed that I like shooting moving subjects (a lot of dancers and athletes) and I liked compressing my photos so that the background would blur away. My next lens after the 50mm was the 70-200/2.8 IS.
3. You Will Know Your Gear Extremely Well
During pre-production and tech-scouts I’ll walk around to examine a space we’re shooting at while listening to the client or collaborator describe the shot that they like to achieve. As I’m doing this I’m thinking of the library of lens I’ve worked with and know exactly what lens would be most flattering to shoot at which location and for which subject.
The only reason I’m able to do this so easily is from many, many years of shooting with each of my lens. I know them very well. By that I mean I know exactly how my 35mm, 50mmm, and 85mm will frame, their weight (sometimes I need to be light on my feet if we’re moving around a lot), and especially with primes how much low light can I get away with shooting in. When I started focusing on portraits I sold all of my gear and had only a 35L and a 85L in my arsenal for the longest time. They were all I needed to achieve the portraits I was taking.
It wasn’t until went into photography full-time that I started building out my camera outfit again. Because I knew my primes so well [Pros and Cons of Prime Lens] I knew they wouldn’t be ideal for all the new jobs I was getting into. Sometimes certain jobs will call for a speed delivery over anything else. I picked up a 24-70mm/2.8 for a general all around lens. It’s great when you’re constantly changing scenes and subject matters, but it’s not my go to lens because of the amount of distortion and vignetting. Although sometimes I do want the vignetting that lens brings if it complements the subject matter! Matching lens to subjects are a case by case thing.
To see more of my photography arsenal visit my gear page.