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Will Your Next Gear Purchase Advance Your Photography?

I'm not much of a gear guy. Well, that's not quite accurate. It's more accurate to say I like specific gear. Gear that advances my craft, moves my photography forward.

I don't believe gear is the end-all, be-all of photography. And I know I'm not alone. Given a choice to be blessed with an amazing photographic eye or have the gear of my choice, I'll take the former every time. Gear is part of the photography equation, a piece of the never-ending photography puzzle. But it's not the whole picture.

The nerd in me often gets excited when a new camera is announced. Or latest release of software package blah-blah-blah comes out. Yes, I lump software into the "gear" category. Ok... maybe software is a "tool". Tool, gear, semantics, right?

I've eyed a lot of gear. I bought some in 2014. I'm eyeing more in 2015. I've become more selective in my purchases. I try to think longer term. I have a litmus test I use when considering new gear. I ask myself:

Will this help me make a better photograph?

Take me, for example. I'm into landscapes (and I'm sure you knew that already). That's very different from, say, street photography. Suppose some new, ultra fast f/1.8 or f/2 glass is announced. I get geeky about it. I appreciate soft backgrounds - and I really admire good street photography. However, that's not the lens for me and my work. Most if not all of the time, I want extreme depth of field. Or I'm dragging the shutter for motion blur in skies or water. The tool sets are different depending on what type of photography fires up your creativity.

Contrast that with a tripod. Although I'm not a street photographer, I'd think a tripod is largely meaningless to someone shooting street. It's the complete opposite for a landscape photographer. Good landscape photos require a solid tripod. It's your anchor to the earth and has to be solid.

In late 2014, I bought a Really Right Stuff tripod - the best purchase I made last year hands down. (And I've been meaning to write up a review of it.)

"Will this gear help me make a better photograph?" I encourage you to ask yourself that question the next time you're thinking about buying new gear. There's two "tricks" with answering this question. First is you have to be honest with yourself. We can all rationalize and justify a decision based in materialistic desire that deep down, the inner you know is wrong. Second is knowing what type of photography compels you to pick up the camera. Different genres demand different tools.

And then, once you get that piece of gear, use it! Or, if you decide not to buy, use the money you saved to progress your craft in another way. Take a workshop. Buy a book. Buy the tickets and travel. Beneath the desire for new gear, I believe the driving force is wanting to be a better photographer. And there's lots of ways to do that. 

How about you? Did you buy any gear last year? What's the single most important piece of gear to you and your photography? Or if you didn't buy something, why not?