You Know What You Should Get?

Photography is one of those things that is a hobby for most and a job for few.  Much like playing a musical instrument, the majority do it for the fun of it and the minority get paid to do it.  But nothing is stopping hobbyists from buying the pro stuff, it's available to all as long as you have the money.  Much like music, photography has "gear heads" or people who know all the latest and greatest gear and just have to have it.  I call this, and I'm not alone in calling it, "gear acquisition disorder."  You hear the new thing is coming out, you read all about it, now you gotta get it.  But do you need it?  

Perhaps it's a symptom of growing up with little money, but I've always been happy with the stuff I have and rarely wish for the new thing.  That is, until I started getting in to board games.  For some reason I always wanted the newest thing to hit the market.  Anything on the top 10 of The Hotness list on, anything that was reviewed positively on the blog Shut Up and Sit Down, and anything that looked remotely fun on Wil Wheaton's TableTop series, I had to have it!  I couldn't stop myself from wanting the new cool thing.  I would even tell friends which ones they should get.  Then I realized I've become exactly the kind of person I hated.  The "you know what you should get?" guy.

"You know what you should get? [insert the most expensive, newest thing in your area of interest.]" Everyone has experienced this person, or perhaps you are that person.  For the most part I think that person is just trying to make conversation.  Or maybe they're tying to legitimize themselves, showing off that they know the newest gear and wondering if you do too.  I used to be filled with self doubt when someone would tell me I should get the newest and best thing.  It made me question my gear and my ability to perform the job I needed to do.  Until I met someone who made me feel better about myself.

I won't use their real name, but for the sake of the story lets call them Lenny.  Lenny was pretty new to the world of photo and video but he was a fast talker and had some decent gear.  I ended up working with him on a few projects, mostly things he brought me in on.  He's great at talking and would somehow land jobs at a pace I can only dream to match.  I was happy he thought of me to bring in as camera 2, but every time I saw him he had a new piece of gear and he'd tell me all about it and would suggest I get the same thing.  The problem is, it's very rare I have enough money lying around for me to buy new gear.  At the time, I had no idea how Lenny had so much money, I assumed he worked a lot.  But later I wondered if his family had money.  Which isn't a bad thing, it just changes the perspective a bit.

I often felt bad after leaving a job I worked with Lenny.  He was better at talking and had better gear.  I was just the lowly lackey.  There were two live shows I did video for on a regular basis and just so happened that each show needed 1 more video person.  So I brought Lenny in because I'd worked with him a lot.  These were shows I was in strong standing with and they were happy that I was able to bring someone in quickly and easily.  I figured it would strengthen my bond with the shows, bringing in someone with hot gear and works a lot, and Lenny would bring me in on more work.  Win-win for me!  That is until Lenny and I shot both shows twice.

Up until this point, I had never seen anything Lenny had shot.  He had never sent me anything he had done and I always had my own footage and photos from a show to keep for my own portfolio, I didn't need to see Lenny's.  The first time I saw Lenny's work was when one of the shows sent me some video from Lenny's camera and asked me what was up with Lenny?  I was totally shocked, Lenny's footage was pretty much unusable.  I asked the second show how Lenny's footage looked and they said it looked awful too.  Apparently both shows wrote off the Lenny's first set with them as a simple mistake.  The footage looked bad, but at least they had mine, and perhaps Lenny hadn't noticed something was off.  But when he did it a second time, a red flag was raised.  I couldn't believe it.  Lenny had all this gear, and spouts a ton of knowledge, but apparently didn't know the basics of how to use it.

This made me rethink all these negative things I thought about myself over the past months or even years.  It was an incredible boost of self confidence.  It proved that I didn't need the newest version of my gear to get the job done.  My gear isn't even bad, it's actually very good, but it's easy for someone to ask "why don't you have the newest thing?"  A little bit of schadenfreude goes a long way.  But just because someone has the latest and greatest, doesn't mean they're better or more experienced than you.  I haven't worked with Lenny since then.  I've barely even spoken to him.  We're still friends on Facebook but I don't see his posts very often.  I tried going to his website but it doesn't load.  I take no pride in believing Lenny has given up on photo and video but perhaps he has learned it's not as easy as just pointing the camera in the right direction.

You can have all the best gear, spend thousands of dollars investing in camera bag filled with the best stuff.  But if you don't know how to use it, it's worthless.  Only buy the new stuff when you deem it necessary.  Never let someone tell you your gear is outdated and you should get the new thing.  There's a time and a place to upgrade and only you know when to do it, because you're the one using the gear.  Don't let someone else's self-doubt become your own.  It took me a long time to learn that, but after working with Lenny and a few other people, I've never been happier.