Bam! Suddenly your salary or that big invoice is being payed out and the cash hits the bank account. You can buy everything that you’ve been wanting for the last month! Now you can finally become a better photographer, with the perfect lens you have been stalking since it came out. But before you run to the nearest camera store, I have a few tips on what that money could be used for instead. And I promise you, any of these tips will make you evolve in a creative way more than any piece of equipment could. Here's the 'What you want to buy' and 'what you should buy' lists back to back.
Now- into the ring!
Digital Leica with 35mm/f2.8 lens (6000 €)
I know. A Leica camera is a great camera, I think so myself. It’s been in the hands of great photographers since the beginning of the 20th century. It has captured men jumping over puddles of water, bearded revolutionaries and indians running down hills, faking their deaths. But no, that wasn’t the work of a camera, it was the work of those great photographers, holding the camera. Have you even held a Leica? Tried it out? Well, why do you then believe that it is such a outstanding camera? The answer? Marketing. Even though a few of us would gain in some way by owning a Leica, the company managed to make all the rest of us believe that we MUST have that camera. By showing the photos of the old masters and letting us know that they were shot with a Leica, we start believing that it’s the only way to become as good. It is not.
Using a rangefinder though, is a different deal compared to a DSLR. It’s quicker, not as threatening as a larger camera, and there is no use thinking too much about exactly where the framing is because the lens won’t capture it exactly like that anyway. So buying a rangefinder is not a bad idea, I’m just saying that you don’t need to buy the f*cking Grail. The wine tastes just as good in a cheaper glass.
What to buy instead
- Start of with getting yourself a Fujifilm X100T, with a fixed 35mm on. 1300€
- A stack of Moleskine notepads. 5 might do it for a start and you can buy more along the way. 100€
- Buy a round the world ticket. That will set you back around 2500€ for the flight, and you´ll have 2000€ left for accommodation, in-country trips and most importantly - food! This is a trip that could easily last for 4 months.
Talk to everyone you meet along the way. Get invited to people's homes and parties, explore every path before you. Write it down in the Moleskin, take notes on the shots you take. Make sure you don’t have anything at home that demands your attention and stay focused on your task.
Why this makes you a better photographer than the Leica does
The iconic photographs that ”Leica” (no, the photographers holding the Leicas) captured was because they found the right moment, the right motif. And they did that because they went out looking for it.
Traveling also trains your people skills. How to talk to others, to become inspired by others. When you have taken enough photos of people you’ll stop thinking about it, it will become the action of intution. And when it begins happening automatically, you’ll never feel anxious about doing it.
The latest semi-pro DSLR body from your favourite brand (3300 €)
Oh, it's got a superfast 51-point AF-system, 36 MP full-frame sensor AND a carbon fiber shutter for smooth and quiet shooting? Yeez! I didn’t even know that my shutter WAS too loud. So, you guys are saying that I´ve been walking around taking photos and people actually heard me? And the superduper-ultra-fast a billion-point AF-system? I really thought I would be able to learn how to get the focus right by timing it. But it was just pure luck? Damn...
It may feel like the features on the just-revealed black beauty from one of the great manufacturers is exactly what you have been waiting for and what will raise you up to "pro". But it's probably not. Not getting noticed is not about the volume of the shutter; it is about being able to blend in and become invisible. Getting the focus just right is not about the AF on the camera, it is about timing. And unless you are shooting for magazines the size of billboards, you’re not gonna need 36 megapixels.
What to buy instead
- Sign up for a few several day workshop with some of the favorite photographers in your field. Check out Eric Kim , TPW in Italy or Fotografiska i Stockholm for a start. You’ll probably be able to fit in two or three including accommodation and flight. The result could be up to two weeks of intense photography. 2500€
- After the workshops, spend two weeks in one location somewhere around the world. It doesn’t have to be too far away, and try out all the things you have learned. €1000
- Buy a bunch of photo books from single photographers in the same field. Check out local galleries, museums and bookstores. I like being able to hold the books in my hand and be able to flip through them instead of buying online. 300€
Why it will make you a better photographer than the camera would
I did not go to photo school. I am completely self taught. For a long time I did not believe someone should teach me how to take photos, that it would destroy my own language. That was my firm conviction for a very long time. Until the day I decided to attend a photo workshop with the famous Swedish photographer Anders Petersen. Petersen's photo style is far away from mine, but being in a room for three days with a dozen other photographers really rattled my brain. I was given a completely new set of thoughts. A new set of tools. And I didn’t have to use them, I could stick to whatever I did before...but I somehow incorporated them into my work thereafter.
Looking at other photographer's photos, reading interviews with them, talking to them over coffee or during a workshop isn’t something that will prevent you from doing your own thing - it will just give you more things to do!
The newly released, super-slim titanium matte computer from that fruit company (2000€)
Ok, if you REALLY think you need it - I mean if there's a five second delay every time you click before something actually happens - you should consider buying a more powerful computer. But if it is just the good ol’ Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), a new computer will make you feel better for a few days, maybe a week. Then you will be as shitty a photographer as before.
What to buy instead
As long as those great shots are stuck in hard drive they are just ones and zeros. Get them out of there! Find a nice place in your area and create an exhibition, a real-life exhibition.
- Choose 15 - 20 of your best shots and have them printed in large format and nicely framed. 1300 €
- Then print a bunch of smaller copies of each photo - use different sizes - for people to buy without a frame and for a cheaper price. 500€
- Food and drinks for opening night. 100€
- A bunch of nicely designed business cards. 100€
Why it will make you a better photographer than the laptop will
A few decades ago, you walked around from agency to agency, from newspaper to newspaper with your portfolio to get jobs. It's all changed now. Today, it's about contacts and getting people to like you, not initially your photos.
I got my first payed assignment out of a small exhibition in a beer tent during a jazz festival in the middle of nowhere. Some agency owner saw my photos and gave my info to his art director. I worked for over three years for that agency after that.
By exhibiting your work - it doesn’t matter where - more people will see it. Nowadays, everyone is working to be seen online, which makes it super hard to stand out. Now is the time to go back to analog.
If you don’t feel like making the whole shebang with frames and an exhibition - just produce a few well-made prints that you sell through your web-site and face-to-face.
A new hi-end on-camera flash (400€)
I brought a flash with me for years while traveling. And then I thought back and tried to figure out when I last used it on a trip. Never, it turned out. I just carried it with me ”just in case”. Just like when we don’t throw away that huge box of ten year old cables "just in case” we’ll need them sometime in the future.
What to buy instead
- Go for a fixed prime lens with a very low aperture number, i.e. f1.4. That will make it as easy possible to snap in very low light- as long as you learn how to keep your camera still. 350€
- Also, put a small foldable reflector screen (doesn’t need to have a diameter larger than 35cm) in your bag which is the perfect substitute to using a fill flash. 30€
Why it will make you a better photographer than the flash would
If you think you need a new flash, just hold on for a second. There’s very few travel photographers that manage to take natural, harmonic images with the help of artificial lighting. A flash will give away your position as soon as you click and everyone will be looking around for where the flashbang came from.
Working with the light that you are given will make you think. An automatic flash will light up almost every scene, no matter what you do. It will also probably look like shit. A prime lens will be able to capture a shot in most places, but it will need a concentrated mind. That is something you will be able to practice and become better at.
Of course, these examples are pretty generalised. You don’t need to spend all your money not buying one thing in order to buy something else. I just wanted to show how much you can gain by buying something else other than another piece of gear.
Before you swipe that credit card, let yourself cool off for a few days and think about if that new piece is something you actually need, not just wast
You DO need a certain amount of technology to do your job and that tech needs to be of a certain calibre or have a specific range of features. But above that, it's just extras. That's stuff you want. Not need.
If you feel like reading more about to gear and not to gear, here's a few posts that I suggest that you continue with: