Note from the editor:
The following is a guest post by photographer Matt Corkum, but he might as well have pulled the thoughts from all of our collective minds. This is the kind of ruminative thought vomiting that pulls what so many of us think but don’t say – or at least so coherently. It reads like part of the obituary for all photographers, and you’ll want to cheers him after you read this. So, while you may not have had a reason to drink today, you’ve got one now.
Photography is dangerous. Just editing a photo and getting ‘Okay’ results is enough to get you hooked.
Then you get an entry-level DSLR, and a cheap 50mm lens and play with depth of field. And you need a tripod, and an extra battery, and memory cards, and a zoom lens, and a remote. And a flash.
Then you try a friend’s mid-level camera. Then you get a mid-level camera. And now you think what’s really holding you back are your lenses. You start looking at good glass and realize there is no sense investing in lenses that don’t work on full frame cameras, just in case you make the jump.
You make the jump. You’ve got a full frame camera. An ultra-wide zoom, a slew of fast primes, and a 70-200 f/2.8. You’ve tried the cheap primes and the mid primes and now you’ve got the expensive primes. You’ve upgraded your tripod. You have multiple flashes and umbrellas and soft boxes. You have 8 batteries and a wallet of memory cards.
Your files are bigger so you need a new computer with an SSD, lots of RAM, and several external drives. You look into RAID arrays. You move up to a 27-inch monitor with wide color gamut. You need an Adobe CC subscription. And you experiment with other apps. You buy some LR presets. You need a website so you pay for Smugmug. You need to develop a backup strategy so you buy more drives and backup software. You subscribe to Backblaze. You toy with setting up a 12-bay NAS. You realize you could work faster with a pen tablet, so you buy a small Wacom. Weeks later you look into a medium or large one. You debate getting a Cintiq.
You are now an expert in bags and own several. A fun, casual bag for a camera and two lenses; a classic Domke F-2 for working out of; a big roller case for big jobs and flights; a backpack for hiking and other trips; a messenger bag for your basic kit plus your laptop. You also have a tripod case, a case for your LED lights, a case for your background kit, a metal case for audio gear, a bag for your extension cords, and soft bags for your accessories. You’re an expert on straps. You’ve tried a dozen. Now you only use Peak Design Slide straps.
You are a regular on classified sites and Facebook groups. The amount of selling and trading you’ve done is depressing. At least twice a year you think of dumping your whole kit to move to another system. Your insane friend sold his VW Golf to move to Leica. You thought he was crazy. Now you don’t even know anymore.
Everything is out of control. After trying various stupid attachments, you’ve now got MagMods on your flashes, and you get all the attachments and gel colors. You have wallets and little cases for your batteries and cards. You have a mountain of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries and have tried all the brands, and now you’ll only use the black Eneloops. You have six chargers for those, and four for your camera batteries.
And now… you realize your big DSLR is a bit heavy, especially for personal and family work. So you look at mirrorless systems. You fall in love. You buy one. Now you have three prime lenses for it, all new cards and batteries and chargers and cables and grips and straps and bags. You have two completely different camera systems.
You buy Pocket Wizards because the other system you have is proprietary.
You think about buying studio strobes. Another rabbit hole. You buy a GoPro and smartphone accessories and other experimental stuff. You start researching drones.
You’re now in for $25k. Maybe 30.
And you’re never happy because you notice a bit of noise at high ISO or when pulling up the shadows. You lust after rumours of a new camera with a better sensor.
It comes out and you’re disappointed.
You hang out at a friend’s studio and play with his Hasselblad. Medium format. Your eyes go glossy. You shake your head and snap out of it. Maybe someday.
You spend much of your life editing and deciding what to shoot next. You experiment with landscape, headshots, family shoots, wedding, babies, maternity, fashion, still life, HDR, pets, cars, and more. Each time you need more gear and you need to learn new skills and editing techniques. You get prints, make books, and print on canvas. You talk to other photographers about how different it is to see your work in print.
You think about a gallery show.
For a brief period, you put away all your digital gear, buy a rangefinder film camera and a few primes, stock up on film, and shoot only film. You build a darkroom in your bathroom. You study all the greats. You do street photography. You scan your images in and start looking at better scanners. Finally, you realize the cost is ridiculously insane and you fall back in love with your digital cameras.
It gets to the point where you don’t want to take your camera to family functions or other events because you just want to experience it and have fun and not always be shooting. You are both obsessed with it and don’t want to do it at the same time.
You get a great shot and you fully realize it in the edit. It’s the best thing you’ve done this year. You are so excited. You share it out. People love it. You get that buzz. You’re pumped. You realize you’ve put in this time and money and it’s been worth it because you can shoot consistently and you have a great portfolio and you have a stack of family photo books and all these great memories captured.
Then you notice a bit of noise in a shadow area you pulled up. And you start thinking about your next camera and lens…
Since it was originally published, my post seems to have spoken to lots of fellow photographers. Photography often starts as a hobby and quickly gets out of hand; it can be expensive, but of course it doesn’t have to be. If people are happy with their kit, I think that is awesome. Sometimes I am happy, too. But I also love staying on top of technology and seeing what’s next.
For all my purchasing, I’ve tried to be mostly level-headed about it, attempting only to buy gear that I know can help me create better images or work faster. I do a lot of research and testing, and only buy when I know it will fill a void.
Of course, I think some folks believe gear will magically make their photos better. It won’t. However, once you ramp up your skills and techniques, and gain experience, gear can make your photos better because you are able to leverage the benefits of that new gear.
My “journey” has been over 12 years, and every piece of equipment has been paid for by my photography. It has changed from a hobby into a lucrative part-time career. I don’t mind being called a gearhead, but I’m not a collector: all of my gear is put to good use!
About Matt: Matt Corkum is a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Halifax, NS, Canada.