All of us have fallen into the gear trap from time to time. In fact, it happens so frequently that Zack Arias even coined a term to describe the phenomenon; G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Today's post is all about why what's in your camera bag is almost completely irrelevant.
Over the years I have shot on dozens of cameras, used hundreds of lenses and worked with numerous professionals at all levels of experience. I have come to understand one thing; gear doesn't matter. There's a school of thought that tells us the hottest new camera is the 'best' and it will give you that 'look' that makes you a true 'professional.' Not only is this totally false, it's dangerous. It's false because the entire history of photography (and film for that matter) is packed with amazing work that was done on what would be considered by today's standards completely obsolete equipment. A glance at Avedon's portfolio or anything that Annie Leibovitz ever shot will tell you as much. In fact, some of the best images (in my opinion) ever shot were shot by photojournalists without any extensive kit using available light and in less than ideal conditions. It's dangerous because allowing ourselves to be brainwashed by marketing creates a false belief that if we only had another piece of gear we'd be that much better at our craft; falling into this trap prevents many photographers and filmmakers from focusing on their actual skill set - the most vital piece of the puzzle.
This isn't to say that gear and toys don't have their place - they most certainly do. The trick here is to realize that in order to achieve a level of skill that will allow you to work professionally you must first master the fundamentals. If you can't confidently navigate your cameras numerous functions without thinking or consulting the manual, a ring light or a gigantic soft-box will be practically useless. I like to look at it this way: my camera is merely the device that records an image. This means that before I can even set foot in a studio with a model or a client I must first understand how to properly record an image. If I can't do that correctly, everything else from that point forward will fail. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, the flow chart of great photography begins in your brain, then moves through the camera outwards, not the other way around.
The next time you find yourself pining over a new piece of kit, remember that the worst camera on the market today is light-years ahead of what was available just five years ago. Imagine time traveling back to 1980 with an iPhone and demonstrating what it can do. You would be worshiped like a god. Does that mean that no one in 1980 could shoot a great photograph because of want for modern technology? Absolutely not. Skill is skill. A basic working knowledge of technical principles will always trump any new toy or as Louis Gossett Jr. famously said in the classic film IRON EAGLE III: ACES - "It used to be about the man, not the machine." And as Chase Jarvis is fond of saying, "The best camera in the world is the one that's with you." Keep this in mind as you develop your craft. If you're going to spend money, spend it on training and workshops but remember that much of what you'll need to know will be found for free online. Just get out there and keep pulling the trigger and the results will become apparent as you develop your body of work.