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Why you don’t need more equipment

Chuck Vosburgh - Friday, December 23, 2011

We all love equipment, especially me. I frequently find myself thinking “if I had this I could do that”. When I speak with people about photography, students and colleagues alike, conversation quickly turns to equipment. We all love it and I see it hurting some talented people.

It’s a paradox. The best investment you can make is in your own business, but like everything else, excess is dangerous.

The new math

Vosburgh math. That’s what my accountant calls it. I can justify any purchase. You name it and I can prove that I can’t afford not to get it. I can convince myself very well. Need or want? I hate that question. For me some things that make “want” look a lot like “need” are pride, trying to be like someone else, and thinking that something besides myself is holding me back. Sometimes it’s hard to admit these things, but I have feeling I’m not alone on this.

One of my favorite sayings comes from Dave Ramsey: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”.

When I was new to the business, I noticed that the old-timers didn’t use much equipment. I reasoned it was that they were old and didn’t have the energy to set up a lot of stuff. Wrong. They didn’t need it and I’ve found that as I get older and better at my craft, I use a lot less equipment than I used to. Those old guys were working smart. Study the masters whose work you admire and see what kind of equipment they had at their disposal. That will make you stop and think. And just for the record I still have plenty of energy to set things up.

Recently, I had a retired photographer whom I admire greatly visit my class. I had the oldest, lamest light kit I own that night and he was amazed at the equipment. “You mean you can adjust these lights by three stops?! Wow!” He told me about the light kit he used when he was working, and I remembered being just as amazed at a friend’s light recently that adjusts in tenth of a stop increments and has a rang of umpteen stops. It’s all relative. 

The money sucking, endless treadmill of death

Exaggeration? Yes, but not by much. Picture this; if you get that lens, you’ll be able to do work like that famous person you like and you’ll really advance your career. If you also have that body, you’ll have the kind of resolution the big clients probably want, and you’ll really advance your career. Now your lights are too slow… It goes on and on and on.

Equipment purchasing truths:

1: If I can’t pay cash, I can’t afford it.

2: If I can’t afford it and actually need it, I can rent or borrow it.

3: If the equipment to do a job costs more than the job pays, I can’t do that job and should refer it to a colleague.

4: Debt is almost never an acceptable option.

5: Clients don’t care what equipment I use.

6: My colleagues don’t care what equipment I use.

7: I’ve done some of my best work without that new thing that I want.

Do I always abide by these truths? Of course not! But the more I do the better off I am.

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