G.A.S. versus Practice


This cartoon made me laugh. I thank my good friend Gordon for sharing it with me. It’s also kind of tragic because it is more often accurate than not. Contrary to what the web and the makers will tell you, gear will not make you a better creative. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) is not a benefit, it is a detriment.

Gear is a panacea. This does not mean that newer gear may not have more functionality than older products. It will definitely have more features, many of them even passably useful. Regardless, more megapixels, or better low light performance, or a new selection of buttons, switches, artificial stupidity and other in camera stuff will never make you a better creative, nor automatically make your output better.

Sorry for bursting that bubble. I see this question a lot. Whether it is an article that I write for a retail store, in the Community at KelbyOne, in workshops that I teach or in seminars that I run. and certainly at live trade shows, I see good folks wondering if the newest, latest thingamajig will improve their photography or videography.

No. It Won’t. Ever.

Some folks say that new gear inspires them. Actually they inspire themselves and use the gear as a crutch for that inspiration. Creativity is a mental exercise not based on kit. Gear may make it easier to achieve a specific task, but it does not solve the problem of the task. Sort of like how all the software makers are jumping all over the illusion of A.I. This is another kind of bullshit for a different conversation. Gear does not make you better, you make yourself better.

In fact, new gear with more options often reduces creativity by creating confusion the user, or choice paralysis. The other day Gord asked me what the green part of the live histogram in his OM-D EM-1 meant. He thought he remembered it indicative of where in this histogram the focus point fell. I was, and still am, unable to answer, and have no interest in learning because I have no interest in yet another tool or gauge that provides information of no value to me. I am not a motorcycle racer, so while my Aprilia Tuono can tell me my lean angle at any moment, I am busy enjoying the ride and looking ahead, not fixated on the display of information of no particular value to me. I bring this up not to criticize Gord. He is constantly working to find methods that help him improve his work, but I saw this display as a distraction from what was happening in front of him, breaking his concentration from seeing. It happens to all of us.

New gear is like asking another creative what settings he or she used for a particular image or clip. This is mostly worthless information because no two scenarios are identical outside of a highly constrained and unchanging locked down studio scenario. If you buy the Nikon 800mm f/5.6 it will not make you Moose Peterson, perhaps a sad truth for the horde of people we saw jammed together in the Carden Alvar standing around trying to make an image of a nesting bluebird. Each of them easily had over $20K of gear, all festooned in camo gear but none of them had eye to the viewfinder. Perhaps when they did get a shot, the bird’s eyeball would be tack sharp. That does not make for an interesting image. Gear does not make the image better.

Sometimes I get to work with people, like my associate Joanne. She is aware that she has some limits when it comes to handholding. Joanne, has a wonderful artistic eye and sensibility. She also is very modest in terms of her spending on gear. I have heard her say on many occasions that she wants to practice to become better and get the most out of the tools that she has. Her camera is older, but she understands that throwing money at the newest version will not make any tangible difference in her work. Gord is similar. When he made the switch to the Olympus from his Nikon, his images improved, not because of the gear but because he was able to focus on the image and not on dealing with the weight of his otherwise excellent prior system.

We all know, and maybe sometimes we are, the people who think that the lens that we don’t have or the camera that we want will make us better image makers. I admit I bought glass that I thought would help me get the images that I wanted more quickly. As tools these have been both good and ineffective purchases, but never did anyone of them improve my work.

Perhaps before dropping hard earned monty on gear, we might be better served by more honest practice, by hiring a tutor or taking a trip to a place that affords us different subjects that could prove inspirational or challenging. I cannot promise you improvement, but I can offer a pretty solid guarantee that the new whatever will not improve your images. Diligence and practice and some hard work will make more of a difference, every time.

Do you have an idea for an article, tutorial, video or podcast? Do you have an imaging question unrelated to this article? Send me an email directly at ross@thephotovideoguy.ca or post in the comments.  When you email your questions on any imaging topic, I will try to respond within a day.

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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, watching and listening and until next time, peace.