Why is it that we think that buying a new camera will help us become more creative with our photography?
Why do we think that buying more lenses and gear will help us break out of our “photographer’s block”? Why is it that whenever we buy a new camera, lens, or tripod — we suddenly revert back to baseline enthusiasm after 2 weeks?
Trust me, I’m the first to say that I’m a sucker for gear. I always “need” the newest smartphone, laptop, tablet, and gadgets. I think a lot of this comes from a sense of insecurity. I am afraid that if I don’t have the newest and the greatest, somehow my creativity will be throttled.
In reality, I’ve found the opposite to be true. Having too much gear, equipment, and stuff hinders us. It distracts us. It weighs us down, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I still haven’t cured all of my G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) ills. But finally for once in my life, I feel a little peace and tranquility. So consider this as a letter to myself. None of this might apply to you. But I hope you find a few points that can be helpful.
1. Don’t forget about “hedonic adaptation”
Why is it that after we buy a new camera, we are initially super excited, enthusiastic, and inspired— then 2 weeks later it starts to collect dust on our shelves (like every other camera that we bought in the past?)
Psychologists call this adjustment to our new possessions as “hedonic adaptation.” Hedonism meaning feeling pleasure. Adaptation meaning that no matter what we buy, we will sooner or later “get used to it.”
If you think about “pleasure” as electric signals stimulating our brain — there is a point where novelty wears off. Ask any heroin addict— there is a certain point that getting more and more dopamine to hit your brain, you get adjusted.
It is hard for me to remind myself that no matter what I buy, I will get used to it after about 2 weeks or a month or so.
This happens to everyone. If you buy a new fancy car, suddenly you get used to it — and then you’re looking for the next new fancy car to buy.
The same happens for smartphones. We think that the newest phone will change and revolutionize our lives. But after 2 weeks, it becomes like any other metal slab with a touch screen.
The same thing happens with cameras. There will always be new cameras, with more dials, more megapixels, and new functions. All new cameras will have faster and more accurate autofocusing systems, better high-ISO performance, and better image quality.
Yet whenever I have bought a new camera — my photography has never improved. If anything, buying a new camera introduces a plethora of new problems — more megapixels means we need to buy more storage. Bigger files means that we need to buy faster computers. And the more we upgrade our cameras and lenses, the bigger they generally get — and the more weight we feel in our shoulders. We can’t walk as long without pain. Therefore we end up taking fewer photos.
I’ve actually realized that the 2-week adjustment “hedonic adaptation” concept works for cameras that are cheaper.
For example, regardless if you buy a $500 camera or a $5000 camera, you will get “used to” each camera after about 2 weeks.
Therefore doesn’t it make more logical sense to invest in a cheaper camera, because you’re going to get used to it anyways? And you can use all that extra money to attend photography workshops, buy photo books, or travel. And psychologists have shown that we feel greater “happiness” when we invest in experiences, not stuff.
I also have learned what this means is to set a limit to the gear that you buy. There is a certain point where you don’t need better image quality, megapixels, or other functions. Set a limit— and once you reach it, and are satisfied— you will end up using all your extra mental energy to actually going out and taking photos and being creative.
2. More cameras, more problems
When I used to own lots of different cameras and lenses, I would suffer from “choice anxiety.” I wanted to go out and shoot, and had no idea which camera, lens, or setup to use. I wasted precious mental energy figuring out how to best “optimize” my gear— to make the best possible photos.
More cameras, more problems.
The more cameras we own, the more cameras we need to charge. The more cameras we own, the more difficult it is to organize our files on our computers. The more cameras and lenses we have, the less time and focus we have to master one camera and one lens.
Not only that, but I felt that when I owned many different cameras and lenses— I would feel guilt for not using all of them. Kind of like being a parent and neglecting a certain child.
I personally believe in the “one camera, one lens” philosophy. But I don’t expect you to do what I do.
Instead, there are different strategies to simplify your life.
For example, whenever you buy a new camera, try to sell 2 of your cameras. Whenever you buy a new lens, try to sell 2 of your lenses that aren’t being used much.
Or another way you can simplify your life — categorize your gear for different needs.
For example, one of your cameras can be used for your professional work.
One of your cameras can be used to photograph your personal photos — your kids, friends, and family.
One of your cameras can be your dedicated street photography camera.
Essentially there is no “evil” of owning lots of different cameras. What I’m trying to state is that by owning more cameras than you need, it will add stress, anxiety, and frustration to your life. And therefore you will end up being less productive, creative, and effective with your image-making.
3. Optimize for lightness
Every photographer goes through this phase: we start with a small and simple camera, and we love photography. We take photos of everything we see. Because our camera is small, unobtrusive, and always with us.
Then we want to become more “professional.” We see the other photographers with the bigger bodies, and “fancy” pro lenses.
We end up investing in a DSLR system, and start accruing lenses, hand grips, and all of these other gadgets. As time goes on, our cameras get bigger, heavier, and bulkier. And the heavier they get, the less likely we are to carry them with us wherever we go. And we end up taking fewer photos as a result. And we wrongly believe that we will gain new enthusiasm for photography by buying an even newer camera body, or lens.
I feel that all humans prefer lightness. We like to feel physically and emotionally light. We don’t like feeling weighed down by stress, anxiety, and the bullshit of the world. Similarly, we hate carrying heavy backpacks, camera bags, and cameras while we’re traveling, walking around and taking photos. Nobody likes the pain of a heavy camera on their neck, on their back, or on their shoulder.
My suggestion: whenever it comes to your camera and gear, optimize for lightness.
Try to use the lightest camera possible for whatever work you need to do.
If you’re a professional commercial/fashion photographer— perhaps optimizing for “lightness” can mean shooting with a high-end full-frame DSLR (instead of a medium-format digital camera).
If you’re a landscape photographer, perhaps that means not shooting with a heavy 8×10 large-format camera, and shooting with a “light” medium-format camera instead.
If you’re a casual photographer, that might mean not shooting with a heavy DSLR, and using a compact camera, or smartphone camera.
There are no more cameras that have poor image quality. Even modern smartphones are far superior to many point-and-shoot cameras from a few years ago.
What we lack in today’s cameras isn’t image quality. What we lack is our own creativity to make photos that bring personal satisfaction to us. And it doesn’t help that all these camera companies, blogs, and industries tell us that our camera isn’t good enough — just upgrade your camera, and you will be more creative.
So when you go out and buy a new camera, or decide what to travel or shoot with — always ask yourself, “What is the lightest possible camera or setup I can use?”
4. We will never be satisfied
No matter who you are, you will never be satisfied with the gear you own, your lifestyle, how much money you earn, or anything.
Even if you owned all the cameras in the world, you would still want more.
As human beings, our brains are hard-wired to be dissatisfied. After all, that is what helped us innovate, create civilizations, and new technologies. If we were easily satisfied, we would have been like any other animal — and quickly have died off.
Don’t blame yourself if you never feel satisfied. Just embrace it. It is fine.
But the problem lies in when constantly striving for more — it makes us miserable.
I know that personally, my dream was to buy a Leica M9. I honestly and genuinely thought that after I bought an M9 — I would never buy another camera for the rest of my life. I also thought I would be satisfied with the camera for the rest of my life.
After having the M9 for (little less than a year) — it became like any other camera. I thought the M9 would be a lot lighter than my Canon 5D at the time (it was). Yet I still didn’t take as many photos with the new Leica M9 as I thought I would.
I thought buying the Leica M9 would make me a more confident street photographer— because it would look more old-school and discrete. Yet in reality, I was as frightened shooting street photography with the M9 as much as shooting with a Canon 5D.
The problem is that I thought buying a new camera would solve my psychological problems. I thought buying a new camera would make me more confident, and help me conquer my fears of shooting street photography.
I didn’t always feel inspired in photography, and I wrongly thought that buying a newer or “better” camera would fix my problems.
I always blamed my cameras and lenses for my shortcomings— yet in reality, I should have blamed myself instead.
I don’t think we can re-wire ourselves to always feel satisfaction in every aspect in our lives.
My suggestion: whenever you buy a new camera, be realistic with yourself— and realize that you won’t be satisfied with it forever.
If you ever catch yourself saying, “After I buy camera ‘x’ I will be happy forever, and never need to buy another camera ever again.” — pause. Realize that is bullshit, and you’re just trying to convince yourself to buy something you probably don’t really need.
Even though we will always feel dissatisfied — try to count your blessings. Try to remember how excited you were when you bought the camera you already own. And realize that no matter how expensive or new your camera, it will sooner or later get outdated — just like any laptop, smartphone, or consumer good.
5. Buy books, not gear
Buying new gear or cameras won’t make you a better photographer. You can only improve in your photography by studying great photography and great photographers.
That might mean studying the philosophy of the master photographers. That might mean looking at great images, and trying to deconstruct them and figure out “why” they work.
To become a better photographer, you need to study composition. You need to study the composition of the classic photographers (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Saul Letter) and also studying painting, sculpture, and other forms of art.
To become a better photographer, you need to learn how to create emotional photographs. You want to look at the photos of others and ask yourself, “What kind of emotional chord does this image strike in my heart?”
To become a better photographer, we need to analyze our own images. We need to figure out how we can improve our images. We also need to figure out how to make our photos more personal — and exude soul.
I feel to improve your photography, it is far better to invest your money into photography books (both educational and art books) instead of gear.
If you buy a photo book, you can own it for the rest of your life. You can re-visit it whenever you lack inspiration. And for great photo books, they get better with time (like a good bottle of wine). Not only that, but photo books will never become “outdated” — you will be able to “access” your books without a proprietary device to “load” your books.
However regardless of how expensive or fancy your (digital) camera is — it will become outdated in 4-5 years. Think about it — most phones, laptops, and devices are pretty much unusable after 4-5+ years.
Not only that, but the value of photo books tend to increase over time. One of the photo books I bought (Chromes by William Eggleston) was $300 brand-new. Now they go for $1,000+ on the second-hand book market. Try to name any digital camera that gains value over time (none exist). Even with film cameras, they tend to hold their value quite well — but very few film cameras actually increase in value over time (unless they are uber-rare collector items).
Whenever you have the urge to buy a new camera, lens, or gadget— buy a photo book instead.
A good photo book might cost you $50. A new camera or lens might cost you $500-$1000. So buying that $50 photo book might save you $450-$950 dollars. Quite the investment.
Furthermore, a photo book will encourage you, inspire you, and motivate you to make photos. You will also learn what makes a better image. And the photo book can accompany you for all of your future photographic adventures.
6. Shoot with your smartphone for a month
Most photographers I know don’t carry their cameras with them everywhere they go. Yet most photographers (and humans) I know always have their smartphones with them.
Honestly, I feel that the smartphone is the best camera. Why? It is always with you, small and unobtrusive, and effortless to take photos with.
If you’re frustrated carrying around a heavy camera, and you feel uninspired, give yourself a challenge of only shooting with your smartphone for a month.
Take your fancy camera, and lock it in a drawer.
Then after the month of shooting with your smartphone — see if you miss your fancy camera. You might, or you might not.
See if you shoot more photos with your smartphone — and whether it helps liberate you. Will you be more creative, take more interesting images, and feel more fulfilled? Just try out the assignment, and figure out for yourself.
7. Is your passion photo-making or camera-collecting?
Another important question we need to ask ourself: what is our passion in photography? Are we more passionate about making photos and images, or are we more passionate about owning the cameras and gear?
If you are an avid gear collector, and you know it, and have no qualms with it — that is great to know. There is honestly nothing wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t add stress, anxiety, and frustration to your life.
Yet if your main passion is to make photos (yet you’re always feeling like your camera isn’t “good enough”) — then that is a problem.
Reflect on where your passion in photography lies.
Write a blog post, or a journal entry to yourself. What role does the camera play for you? Are you more interested in the gadget and the tool? Or are you more interested in creating art? Or perhaps a bit of both?
And do you see the camera as an aid or a distraction to you?
Why are you dissatisfied with the camera you already own? Realize for every downside, your camera will have an upside.
8. What makes a great photo?
I feel that many of us want to buy newer cameras and lenses because we feel like buying new gear will help us make better photos.
But in reality, better image quality doesn’t mean better photos.
So let us ask ourselves, what makes a great photo? For me, it is three things:
- 1) Composition
- 2) Emotion
- 3) Soul of the photographer
1) Composition: We need to make photos with a good composition. We need to have a clean background, dynamic lines, and a clear subject. You can make a good composition with any camera or device. Even if you have a really shitty camera phone, you can still compose a good photo.
2) Emotion: To make a great photo, you need the image to strike an emotional chord with your viewer. You don’t need good image quality to evoke emotion from a photograph. You need a certain aesthetic — moody black and whites will evoke a different emotion from a colorful and saturated color photograph. But I find the most emotion comes in a photograph from the color of the light, from the body language of the subject in the photo, and the visual tension in a photograph.
3) Soul of the photographer: Lastly, I think a great photo needs to have the soul of the photographer embedded into it. This is what makes your photograph more unique and personal. When someone looks at your photo, can they sense who you are as a human being?
None of these 3 things to make a great photo requires fantastic image quality. You don’t need 100+ megapixels to capture a great image.
It is true that the aesthetic of an image does affect the emotional output of the image. But perhaps less than we’d like to think.
Let us think less about how to take sharper photos. Let us think of how we can make greater photographs, with more emotion, soul, and beautiful compositions.
Do you really need a new or fancier camera or equipment to do so?
9. Why are you dissatisfied with your photography?
Okay, shit is about to get a little more philosophical.
One of the biggest reasons we want to buy a new camera and new gear is because we feel dissatisfied with our photography, our lives, or something else. We want to break out of our creative “funk” — and we feel that buying new gear will bring us some new satisfaction or happiness in our lives.
Be honest with yourself. Why are you dissatisfied with your photography? Are you dissatisfied with how your photos look? Are you dissatisfied with your photography because you feel like you’re not being creative enough? Are you dissatisfied because you feel like you’re not achieving your creative limit?
Sit down, and really think about what sort of dissatisfactions you have with your photography. Rarely is your problem your camera. Your problem is probably more philosophical.
Write down a list of what dissatisfies you with your photography. I know for me, this list could have included the following dissatisfactions:
- Not having enough likes/followers on social media
- Not feeling like I’m making progress in my photography
- Not getting the colors or monochromatic aesthetics I craved (often is a problem with post-processing or light)
- Feeling envious of the success of other photographers (more successful than myself)
- Feeling insecure that other photographers are judging me by my camera — thinking by buying a more expensive camera, others will respect me more
What would you include in your list?
10. Do you “need” it or “want” it?
Another distinction we need to make with our gear: do we “need” new gear, or do we simply “want” it?
We “need” a new camera if our camera breaks, if we lose it, or someone steals it. We “need” a camera if we don’t already own one already.
We “want” a new camera if our camera “feels” outdated. We “want” a new camera if our camera feels a bit slow, clunky, and is frustrating to shoot with.
I’m not saying you should never buy a new camera, or never upgrade your camera. There are times when a significant upgrade can help you in your photography (if the autofocus is far improved, or the responsiveness of a camera is massively improved). But if the improvements are only small and incremental — they’re often not worth it.
Distinct your “needs” and “wants”.
It is fine to get things in life you want (and not need). But you just need to be honest with yourself.
So the next time you desire a new camera or piece of gear — just ask yourself and be honest with yourself: “Do I need it, or simply want it?”
11. Set an upgrade cycle for yourself
Any digital tool is pretty much obsolete after 4-5 years. I do think it is good to upgrade your digital camera every once in a while. But set yourself a limit.
For some photographers, they like to upgrade their camera every 6 months, every 1 year, every 2 years, or something in the 3-5 year range.
My suggestion: set yourself a limit to your upgrade cycle.
For example, I try to upgrade my laptop every 3-4 years. For my camera, I try to follow a similar upgrade cycle. For my smartphone, I prefer an upgrade every 2-3 years.
What is that limit for yourself? Write it down, and stick to it. Then you will prevent yourself from buying new cameras and equipment for the sake of it.
12. Set a monetary limit to your purchases
Another suggestion: set a monetary limit to your equipment and gear. Tell yourself: “I won’t spend more than ‘$X’ o a camera, or a lens.”
Without setting limits, your desire will never be quenched.
For example, no matter how rich you are, there will always be a more expensive camera out there. And there is no upper-limit to the expense of a camera.
For example, even though you own a digital Leica, you can buy many more expensive lenses. And even if you own all the Leica’s and expensive lenses out there, there will be digital medium-format cameras and all the lenses. Then I’m sure in the future, there will be large-format digital cameras (which will be the next craze).
What is your limit for your camera? Is it $500, $1000, $2000, $3000, $4000, $5000, $10k, or $30k?
What is the limit you’re willing to spend on a lens?
Of course this limit will be different for everyone— depending on how much money you have and earn.
My suggestion: try to set a monetary limit on your camera below your pay grade. Just because you can afford a digital Leica doesn’t mean you need to buy it — perhaps opt for a Fujifilm instead (know a lot of friends who do this, and are perfectly content).
There are a lot of expensive cameras out there that are nice, and I can afford, but I opt for a cheaper camera— a digital Ricoh GR camera. Not because I am punishing myself by buying a cheaper camera— I genuinely prefer the smaller, more compact body which is less of a hassle to shoot with.
So when in doubt, buy a cheaper camera than you think you need. And you will feel more satisfaction with the gear you own.
13. Write down a list of regrets you will have (after) buying that new camera
If you find yourself obsessed with always buying new cameras, and regretting it — do something that psychologists call a “pre-mortem.”
The concept is that you vividly imagine yourself buying a new camera or lens. Then imagine what regrets you might have.
Write those regrets down. And also write down the positives. Be brutally honest with yourself.
Then it will help you make a better judgement of your purchasing decisions (before you make them).
Of course nobody can read the future with 100% percent accuracy—but this concept of a “pre-mortem” will help you not only in your camera-purchasing decisions, but big life decisions as well (buying that new car, home, etc).
Vividly imagine yourself buying that new camera or lens you really want. After owning that camera or lens for a month, 6 months, or 1 year — will you really be that inspired? Will you really take better photos? Will the novelty wear off? How will your new gear help you, but also harm you?
Write this down.
14. Don’t read photo magazines, blogs, or camera reviews
Avoid any sort of media that advertises camera equipment, gear, or lenses.
Because advertising is subtle and sneaky. You might think you don’t get suckered by advertising, but we all do.
I’m the biggest sucker of them all. Because I think I’m immune to advertising and marketing, it affects my subliminal thinking even more.
The only solution is to avoid it. Ulysses knew that he wasn’t strong enough for the voice of the Sirens — so he plugged his ears with wax and forced his sailors to tie him to the mast. He knew that his future self would be weak, so he insured himself before he was subjected to the voice of the sirens.
The voice of the sirens (in today’s context) is advertising, marketing, and consumerism.
For a month, unsubscribe from all those gear blogs, those camera blogs, those camera magazines, and anything that tries to manipulate your eye-lids with an advertisement (related to gear).
See how you feel. And how much less desire you will have for new cameras.
15. Purge yourself of all your gear
This is more extreme — but sometimes extreme cases require extreme measures.
If you’re fed up with G.A.S. and you feel suffocated by all the gear you have, purge yourself of all your gear.
Take all the cameras, lenses, and equipment you own — and sell it all, give it all away, donate it, or whatever. Just get rid of all of it.
Personally, I hit a point where I felt the same. What I ended up doing was giving away all my cameras, lenses, and equipment to friends who I thought needed it. Some of the equipment was given for free (no strings attached) to friends who needed the cameras more than I did. For other friends, I gave it out to them on loan. The only camera I kept was a film Leica MP— which I locked up in storage.
Once I did this, I felt liberated. I then asked myself, “If I started photography all over again today, what camera would I buy and stick with?”
I then ordered a Ricoh GR II online and have stuck with it ever since. And honestly, I far prefer shooting with it over my Leica (I prefer the smaller size, weight, and the fact it is digital).
You don’t need to be as extreme as me. Perhaps you just purge some of your gear. Or better yet, lock all your unused gear in a closet, and see if you miss any of your cameras. Then take out the cameras that you miss, and give away or sell the rest.
You don’t want to become attached to any of your gear. Worst-case scenario, you can always re-buy it if you regret selling them.
But I’ve found in my personal life — purges are good for our mental and physical sanity. And they allow us to feel light again, just like a beginner, and help us stay creative for our entire lives.
16. Focus on ergonomics
There are no more bad cameras anymore. All cameras now make good photos.
What I would recommend instead when you decide to get a new camera— focus on ergonomics. How does a camera feel in your hand? Is it comfortable? Is it too big, or too small?
How do the dials on a camera feel? Do you like the menus? Is it complicated or easy to use?
Is the camera responsive, and turn on/off quickly?
Know that all cameras now are good. The only thing you should probably optimize for is ergonomics and feel (and the aesthetics).
17. Rent before you buy
Before you make a huge investment in buying a camera, I recommend testing or renting a camera before buying it. This way, you will figure out how you really like a camera. You will discover what you really like about a camera, and what you don’t like about a camera.
What I’ve also found out by testing cameras is this: the mystique of certain cameras wear off, and I am no longer interested in them.
For example, whenever I hear about a new camera online and get excited, I’ll find a friend who owns the camera. Then I will ask them to lend me the camera for an afternoon or so. And after shooting with that new camera for a few hours, the charm wears off. I realize it is the same as every other camera out there— and I lose all interest in the camera.
For other people out there— it can be the opposite. You might try out a new camera, and then become infatuated with it.
Just know yourself. For some of us, “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to testing out certain cameras. But for me, I prefer testing out gear before buying it — and realizing that it isn’t great at the end of the day.
18. Is your camera 80% “good enough”?
There is no perfect camera out there. And there never will.
There tends to be two types of people out there: “maximizers” and “satisfiscers”. A “maximizer” tries to maximize their purchasing decisions. They want the absolute best. They’re the type of person who reads at least 100 camera reviews before committing to one.
A “satisficer” is someone who aims for “good enough” and settles. The word “satisfice” is a combination of “suffice” and “satisfy.”
Satisficers tend to be a lot happier and more content than maximizers. Because satisficers are more realistic— they know that “perfect” doesn’t exist, and once they find something 80% “good enough” — they make the best out of it.
You know yourself. Are you more of a “maximizer” or a “satisficer”?
If you’re a maximizer, try to re-wire your brain to satisfice. Aim for “good enough” — and use a 80% “good enough” barometer to gauge yourself. That 80% “good enough” measurement is different for everyone— but I’ve found it to work quite well for me.
Once you own a camera that is 80% “good enough” to your standards— stick with it, and shoot with it as much as you can. When your camera drops below your “80% good enough” standards over time, perhaps that is the time to upgrade.
19. Shoot film for a month
When I hit a block in my photography, I stared to shoot film for around 3-4 years. And honestly, it has helped me tremendously.
Shooting film helped me just become a lot more grateful for modern digital photography. Shooting film helped me slow down, be more considerate about my shots, and enjoy the process more. I learned patience— to wait a few months, sometimes a year before seeing my shots.
Digital is phenomenal and amazing. It is so convenient, and I think is more empowering than film photography. Film photography is expensive, takes a lot of time, and is very inconvenient.
Film photography helps us re-connect with the past, and realize how hard the image-making process was in the past. Shooting film gives us more gratitude to digital technology, and modern digital tools.
Lock up all your digital cameras, and shoot film for a month. Use a cheap film camera that you probably have at home (it can be a point and shoot, or old SLR). Or buy a second-hand one at a flea market for $10. Just buy the cheapest film camera possible, and shoot with the cheapest film you can find for a month.
See whether you love or hate the film process. And at the end of the month, I can guarantee you will make some big insight into your photography. Perhaps you will go back into digital photography with more enthusiasm. Or make a detour and pursue film photography more.
20. Avoid gear-obsessed photographers
We can’t control whether we feel desire for cameras or gear. Because we are all suckers for advertising, and influence from others.
However we can control who we decide to spend time with.
If you know a lot of photographers (online or in real life) who are obsessed with cameras— know that their enthusiasm will influence you greatly.
So if you really want to cure yourself from G.A.S. — distance yourself from them, or ignore them.
20. Realize that most people will look at your photos on a smartphone
We all want better image quality, more megapixels, and high resolution images.
Yet the sad truth is that 99% of photographers and your viewers will look at your photos on a 5’’ smartphone.
As of writing this (2016) Facebook/Instagram is the norm for looking at photos. And if you upload photos that are shot horizontally (landscape) format— the photos look tiny.
Nobody will be even able to tell whether you shot a photograph on a medium-format body, or a smartphone.
I am actually a big fan of looking at photos on a smartphone— because we care less about the image quality. We care more about the composition, the emotion, and feel of an image.
Many photographers invest in more expensive cameras with more megapixels claiming they will print their work really big, and have exhibitions, and such.
But be realistic with yourself. Will you really?
And not only that, but I think we’ve hit a megapixel cap. For 99% of us, we don’t “need” more than 12 megapixels or so. In-fact, I’m deliberately trying to avoid cameras that have more megapixels— because the bigger file sizes just cause me more headaches.
21. What camera/lens do you shoot with 80% of the time?
What camera setup do you shoot with 80% of the time? Perhaps you should stick with that setup, and sell or get rid of the rest of your gear.
The less gear you have, the fewer distractions you will have. And the more focus you will have in your photography.
You can open up Lightroom and filter your photos based on which cameras/lenses they were shot with. Look at your favorite photos — which setup has helped you make your best photos, most of the time?
Or just do a mental calculation — which gear do you shoot with the most, and which gets neglected the most?
Get rid of your excess baggage— and you will have more focus in your photography.
22. Creativity breeds on constraints
The biggest mistake photographers make: we think that by having more cameras and more gear— we will be more creative.
Wrong. Creativity breeds on constraints. “Creative constraints” are what we should be seeking.
For example, take a prime lens. By limiting ourselves to one focal length — we are forced to be more creative with our composition, our framing, and how we make a photo.
The least creative photographers are the ones who have too many lenses— or even worse, the “super-zooms” that cover a huge range of focal lengths (18mm-200mm being an example).
I personally owned a Sigma 18-200mm on my old Canon 350D and it was the most uncreative thing I’ve done to myself. All my photos were all over the place in terms of focal length. None of my photos looked consistent. If my subject was too far away, I would be lazy and zoom — instead of using my feet, trying to experiment with different perspectives, and positions.
The best zoom is “foot zoom” — using your feet to get a better composition of a scene.
Or try to limit yourself to just one aesthetic— stick to only black and white or only color. This will help you see the world more creatively.
Know that by having fewer cameras, fewer options, and fewer lenses— you will be more creative.
How else can you utilize “creative constraints” in your life to be more creative? How can you add more limits to yourself, to help you better over-compensate and be more innovative?
23. How many people would be envious of the camera you already own?
We’ve all heard it before— be grateful for what you have, count your blessings, and think of the poor children in Africa. We’ve heard it so many times, that we’ve become immune.
But damn, it is so true.
Even if you own a digital camera or smartphone, you’re in the top 1% of individuals in the world. For every one person you’re envious of (who has a better camera than you) there are thousands of people out there who would die to have the camera you (already) own.
Don’t look ahead— look behind.
Don’t look at those you are envious of who have fancier cameras than you. Look at all those people out there who have shittier cameras than you — and who would switch spots with you in a heart-beat.
Happiness isn’t owning everything. It is having gratitude for what we already own.
24. People with more expensive cameras aren’t any happier
This is hard to imagine— that people who are richer than us, and own better cameras than us, aren’t any happier than us.
I have friends who own all the cameras they’ve ever desire (many high-end digital Leica’s, exotic lenses, etc). Yet they’re not any happier than the rest of us. Rather, they still feel frustrated with their photography, wish they had more time to make photos, and still desire more cameras and more lenses.
It is hard to realize, but also those with bigger houses, more expensive cars, and more money than us aren’t necessarily any happier than us.
Happiness in photography isn’t owning the best camera that money can buy. Happiness in photography is the act and the process of going out and making photos.
Most photographers complain that they don’t have enough time or opportunities to make photos.
Know that true happiness in photography is having time and freedom to make photos.
So spend less time buying new cameras. Perhaps save up more money to go on more holidays to shoot photos. Or spend less time at work, and more time actually going and taking photos.
I’ve discovered that I’m never dissatisfied with my camera when I’m actually walking around and taking photos. I’m only dissatisfied with my camera when I’m sitting at home on my laptop, looking at gear review blogs or websites, and comparing what I have (against what I don’t have).
25. What is your dream with your photography?
Once again, we often are confused. We think that the problem in our lives is that we don’t have the camera we desire.
Yet we’re confused because we forget to think about why we make photos— and what our dream in our photography is.
For example, we might be dissatisfied with our camera, because we don’t think our photos are sharp enough. Yet the problem actually might be that we’re dissatisfied that our photos aren’t sharp enough, because we think that if our photos were sharper, more people would like our photos. And if more people would like our photos, we might have en exhibition of our photos. And if we exhibited our photos, we might become famous. And we might get a book deal, and then tour the world and make photos all over.
Don’t think so much about your camera or gear. Ask yourself instead, “What is my dream with my photography?”
What is your dream in your photography? Do you want to publish your work, have an exhibition, travel the world, become famous, or gain more social media followers? What do you really want out of your photography?
Write down your dream, and focus on pursuing your dream — don’t get distracted by something as stupid as your camera.
26. What advice would you give yourself?
If you’re semi-experienced in photography, I’m sure one of your (less experienced) friends have asked you, “Hey! I’m going to travel to Europe and want to buy a new camera to take nice photos. What camera should I buy?”
You might scoff and think to yourself, “Oh — these poor newbies. They don’t know the truth that it doesn’t really matter what camera they have to take nice photos.” You might suggest them to just shoot with their iPhones, or perhaps invest in a small and compact camera that isn’t so heavy.
I know that I’ve given advice to my friends (regarding cameras) which is contrary to the advice I would give myself.
Imagine you desire a new camera, and you have all these reasons and excuses.
Take a step back, disconnect yourself from your body. What advice would you give yourself if you were in the shoes of someone else?
Be honest with yourself— and stick with the advice you would give someone else.
27. Why do you take photos?
Why do you take photos? It is a simple question we never ask ourselves.
Do you take photos to record personal memories? To make sense of the world? To document and record history? To connect with strangers? To create art? To self-express yourself? To have a reason to go on a walk?
When you figure out why you make photos— you will better learn what kind of camera is best for you.
For example, the reason I make photos is to connect on a deeper level with others, and society around myself. I feel a lot more confident as human being when I have a camera.
By realizing this is the reason why I make photos— I realized that it didn’t matter whether I shot film, digital, or whether I had a fancy camera or not. I just needed a simple, small, and compact camera that made it easier for me to connect with others.
Why do you make photos? Reflect on that, and think about what camera would be ideal for you.
28. Will your perfect camera really help you?
As time goes on, cameras will just keep getting better and better.
Yet what limitation does your camera currently have for you?
What would you perfect future camera look like? Would you want it to have 100 megapixels? Would you want it to shoot at 1,000,000 ISO without any noise? Would you like it to have 100% perfect autofocus, and for you never to miss a “decisive moment”? Do you want it to be small, compact, and light? Do you want it to fit into your front pocket?
Vividly imagine your dream camera. And if you owned that camera, how much would your photography really change?
29. Are you a slave to your camera, or is your camera your slave?
Cameras should be tools that empower us. Camera should make us feel more exited, creative, and confident.
We shouldn’t be the slave of our tools. We shouldn’t always worry about what is the best camera to shoot with, the best lens, and thinking that “if only” we had another camera— we would be a better photographer.
Make your camera your slave. Use the smallest, least-complicated, and the simplest camera to shoot with.
Know that you’re the master. Never become the slave of your camera.
30. Why do you have “photographer’s block?”
One of the biggest reasons photographers want to buy a new camera or piece of gear is because they have “photographers’ block.” In the past, they might have been inspired, but no longer do they have this passion.
They think that buying that new camera, they will become inspired again.
But once again, the camera is never the problem. It is our mental-states which is the problem.
I honestly don’t think that “photographer’s block” exists. Why not? As humans, we don’t get “talker’s block” and we don’t get “eating block.”
Photographer’s block is when you no longer feel motivation to take photos.
But perhaps the reason you feel “photographer’s block” is because photography really isn’t your passion. You shouldn’t need to force yourself to do something you don’t feel passion for.
Or consider your “photographer’s block” as a reminder— you just need to take a break from photography. This might be a great opportunity for you to pick up another artistic form — whether that be improv, dance, theater, sculpture, painting, drawing, singing, or something else.
If you don’t feel inspired to take photos, don’t feel bad. Don’t guilt-trip yourself. Don’t feel like you need to take photos everyday.
Remember, the point of photography isn’t to become the world’s best photographer. The point of photography is to empower you, and to live a good life.
If you’re a photographer and living a miserable life — why are you making photos?
Focus on finding personal satisfaction and happiness in your life instead. Perhaps that means spending less time taking photos, and more time making connections with friends, family, or loved ones. Or maybe spend less time at work, or less time doing things you dislike.
How can you find more personal fulfillment in your life? It might not be in photography— but something else. And it is your task to find that “something else.”
Conclusion: Can you live a happy life without a camera?
Ask yourself— if you never owned a camera for the rest of your life, can you still live a happy life?
Go a week, a month, or maybe a year without taking any photos. Can you still live a happy life? If so, perhaps you don’t need to take photos.
If you want to find more happiness and satisfaction in your photography and life, read these articles on happiness.
Unleash your creative potential:
- April 10-11th, 2021: BOSTON / Discover Your Unique Voice in Photography Workshop [Register Intent Here]
- May 1-2nd, 2021: CHICAGO / Street Photography Composition Masterclass [Register Intent Here]
- May 22-22nd, 2021: NEW YORK CITY / STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MASTERCLASS by ERIC KIM [Register Intent Here]
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