Michael Rammell

Photographers: Are you Investing or just Spending?

Gear, MusingsMichael RammellComment

Part of the journey of becoming a photographer nearly always includes buying way too much gear, spending too much money and then realising you need a whole different set of equipment and then buying it all again. It just seems to be one of those check boxes people tick first when they're on their way.

However, this process of replacing all our gear all too often becomes a cycle: We upgrade from our mid-range DSLR to a top of the range DSLR. Then from there we add more new lenses. Then a new model of our camera is released and so we 'upgrade' yet again. This goes on and on. This of course isn't just something that happens in the world of photography though, I'm sure chef's, cyclists, car lovers and so many other markets have the same cycle too. It's all a result of great marketing by those companies: to drive desire for their products and to create a perception of need. This is especially the case in the world of photography though. We all want to be better photographers and make photographs that our clients AND our fellow photographers will admire and one of the ways these companies convince us we can do that is by spending more money on their products.

Whilst this is all good and we are all welcome to spend our own money on whatever we want, what I see missing in some people is the business-mindset: are you running your photography as a business? Or are you just spending money on stuff and telling others and yourself it's all for the business

Those constant upgrades may make you happy, but are they good for business? Do they bring in more profit? It's time to curb the gear lust and think about whether that new mark 2 body or macro lens is really good for business.

Are you spending money or investing money?

It's completely up to us as photographers what we spend our money on. It's not my place to tell you that the third camera body is not an investment and it's certainly not up to me to stop you from spending money. The idea of this post today is urge you think more like a business (if you are in the business of photography) and to consider whether that thing you're about to buy is worth it.

So, why is it that photographers spend so much on gear? Why is it that we believe that spending that extra £1,000 on something will make us immeasurably or even noticeably different? More importantly though the questions any working photographer should be asking themselves when buying new gear are:

  1. "Will it earn me more money?"
  2. "Will the client notice the difference between now and with the new thingy"
  3. ("Will the client pay more when I use the new thingy?")
  4. "Will it make my job faster, thus saving me money?"
  5. "Will it add a unique selling point to me, my business or my work that no other photographer has?"

When it comes to lenses and camera bodies, the answer in most cases to all of the above questions is simple: No.

That upgrade for the 70-200 is not likely to actually make you more money next year vs the amount you could make with your existing 70-200. Furthermore, I doubt the client will notice the difference between the two lenses either on the day when you're using them, or, in the resulting photographs.

Now, there is of course another question and that is "Will this purchase make me happy?" and the answer to that question is almost always 'Yes', at least to begin with. Then that piece of gear becomes a part of the bag and then settles into it's place as 'Just another piece of gear'. Often this is where we fall down, we have those 5 logical questions I mention above, but we disregard them all and place the purchase of that new shiny thing under the 'It will make me happy' category.

If you want to make more money as a photographer you need to increase your prices, be more profitable or shoot for more clients (all of those can work in combination too of course) so if that is the ultimate goal; if we are looking to build a sustainable livelihood and pay our bills, we need to be serious and responsible with our spending and think with our business heads, not our gear-lusting hearts. Sure, on occasion it will get the better of us and we'll buy something we don't necessarily need but have wanted, but that's the nature of being in the world of photography: we're attracted to tech, gadgets, glass and all that other stuff.

Diminishing Returns

Now, all of this said there will be purchases and upgrades that solve our problems and enable us to better realise our creativity, and that's fine also, but the best way I've ever heard this put was by David DuChemin, who talks about upgrades as 'Diminishing Returns' - the idea that the huge outlay you're about to make for an upgrade, will get you a very small and disproportionate improvement. David and I spoke about this for Ready Steady Pro Episode 16 and David also spoke about this extensively in what was one of his favourite blog posts, titled 'Towards Mastery, Again'.

David Says:

But isn’t it possible we've passed the point of diminishing returns and our hunger for gear is outpacing our hunger for beauty, compelling stories, great light, and amazing moments?

So, whilst I don't want to offer any strict 'advice' with this post, or guidelines or suggestions for that matter, all I want to do is get you to think about whether that new camera, lens, tripod etc is actually solving a problem for you. Will it help you to produce noticeably better photographs to those who pay you? Are you investing money in your photography business for the benefit of your product? (your photographs) or are you just lusting over gear and using being a professional photographer as a cover to justify the purchase?

Either way is fine, but please give it some thought.

As always, comments, criticism, thoughts and feedback welcome. You know what to do: just leave a comment below

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