Gear and Desire

One of the most frustrating and inhibitive parts of being involved in photography is gear. It is our bane and our joy, a source of endless aggravation and a focus of insatiable lust. The manufacturers know this, of course, they're well aware that you'd commando crawl over hot coals to get your eager hands on their latest fancy offering. We all know deep down that keeping up with Joneses is a mug's game and yet we throw ourselves into it without even realising it. I am thoroughly guilty of all of these problems, but I like to think I have some measure of self-awareness about it.

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At least a part of this relentless desire towards acquiring 'better' equipment is a quixotic search for a magic bullet. I have lost count of the number of times I've thought to myself, in some quiet and darkened corner of my mind, “If only I had <x>, then my photography would really move to another level.” A new lens (I don't have *that* focal length yet!), a better body (this one shoots at 6fps rather than 5.5!), lights (JoeyL uses these ones!), modifiers, studio gear, accessories (this SD card says it's for professionals so I need that one). It is a ravenous money pit that has no end, no matter how much of your hard-earned currency you toss into its gaping maw, it's still hungry.

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We all know deep-down that none of this is truly necessary and that what we have is just fine for our purposes. Yet still the thoughts and lust occupies that corner of our mind that deals with hedonist desire. Speaking of hedonism, there is a principle known as the 'cycle of hedonism' that serves as a good explanation for why we behave this way.
When you first buy a 'luxury' (for whatever value of luxury) product, it's the best thing ever. It's better than anything you've ever experienced, you can't believe you were lucky enough to acquire this amazing, beautiful thing. As a few weeks pass and you become accustomed to it, it's still a pretty good thing, and you're very happy with it. Perhaps not as ecstatic as you were when you got it, but you still like it a lot. Months down the line and the thing is just your thing, you don't feel any strong emotions about it one way or another, it just is, and then your eye starts to wander to the newest thing. This thing does things your thing could never do, it's a colour you really like, it's not that much more expensive than the thing you already have but it's so much better. Eventually you crumble and get the new thing and the cycle repeats itself once again.

I constantly battle against the drive in a self-destructive sort of way. I know that I'm prone to wanting to buy things and yet I read gear reviews and watch funny camera review videos anyway. I know that I chose Nikon over Canon by the universal randomness of a coin-flip seven years ago, and yet I still feel the home-team loyalty swell when I read of Nikon getting one over on Canon. Lately I've been eyeing a Fujifilm XT-1/X100T with a glazed over look in my eye. It's stupid, they're expensive, I don't need one, it's a completely different system to the camera I already own, and yet, here I am quietly muttering to myself when no-one can hear “Oh those files look so good, wow, they're incredible, mirrorless is the future!”

Photography is an art-form (though there are some Guardian art commentators who dispute that) but many of its adherents treat it more like golf. Go on a photography forum and you probably won't have to click more than twice before you stumble into it. Men (and it is always men) of a certain age comparing their equipment and arguing the merits of their particular purchases over their associates', when you read you get the sinking feeling that it's not so much photography as golf-players who spend all their time debating which driver is best rather than perfecting their swing. Photographers disdainful of this practise derisively label these folk 'All the gear, but no idea', they spend so much time arguing about camera equipment that they forget why they wanted to do photography in the first place. Don't be like that. Artists don't spend their days arguing with one another about whose brush has the most bristles or who among them has the sharpest chisel. Don't waste your precious time on this planet arguing about cameras on the internet.

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The worst part of this is that it doesn't matter, not even a little bit. There is no magic bullet, no 'essential purchase that'll make your photography amazing with no effort expended'. Once you pass a certain threshold of gear, that of acquiring a 'decent' beginners camera, the only ways to get better are through practise and study. Experiment with your camera and see what it can do. Take risks and embrace your failures, encounter each failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learn how to take control and process your images in your computer. Read and watch lots of tutorials and absorb the knowledge of those who came before you. Look at the photographs of photographers you admire (and those that you don't) and try to identify what makes them 'good' and then attempt to incoporate the elements you like into your own shooting.
Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.” Don't you think it's time you got started?