Photographers are perpetually upgrading their gear. Better camera body, better lenses, better tripod, better lighting, better post-processing software, better computer, etc.
The problem is, many photographers upgrade the wrong thing and in the wrong order.
When you plan your gear upgrades, you should so so in such a way that you get the most bang for your buck. You need to have an actual plan rather than randomly pulling the trigger on that latest shiny object that showed up on your feed.
If you have an actual strategy and a plan, you’ll end up making better choices when you upgrade.
Here’s how I suggest that you approach this.
1. Do you even need to upgrade at all?
Many photographers upgrade their gear when they do not really need to. There is no magic camera. Simply swapping gear thinking that it will make you the next Ansel Adams is the wrong approach. Are you getting the most out of the gear you have? Have you really learned what it can do, applied that knowledge and practiced to get the best results? I would start by asking myself these questions. Maybe a gear upgrade isn’t needed. But if it is, continue down the list.
2. Start with the weakest link in your gear bag.
Whatever that weak link might be, that’s where you should start your upgrade process. The weakest link will always be the most limiting factor in your gear. Upgrading anything else will still help, but bottom up upgrading makes the fastest and biggest improvement in your kit.
The basic (broad) categories to consider are:
a. camera bodies
b. ball heads
a. flash heads
b. studio strobes
c. constant lighting
b. online portfolio
Once you have identified these broad categories, evaluate the gear you have and ask yourself, what is the weakest link?
Looking at the CAPTURE category, I generally recommend that people upgrade glass first and camera bodies second. There are exceptions. Like when a major leap in camera technology occurs, etc. But generally, improving your glass is the easiest way to upgrade your kit.
Next up is camera support. I believe that most of you who do use a tripod, could use an upgrade. I base this on the countless interactions I’ve had with photographers at photo conferences and on workshops. You should buy the very best tripod that you can afford. This is no place to try to save money. Ball heads aren’t as crucial as the tripods they sit on but if you buy a really cheap one and it fails, it can have the same catastrophic impact that the tripod failing would have. So buy the best one you can afford.
When it comes to lighting, I have tried them all. I almost always overpay for lighting. Here’s an area where if you want to save money, I’d save the money here. The cheat is buy the largest light you can. Unless you have to photograph fast action and freeze it, pretty much any large light source will do the job. Mono lights or LEDS are preferable but if you don’t have the budget, go get yourself a flash head and some slave units. Remember to look for large light modifiers like soft boxes. A very large soft box, placed close to your subject will make you look like a lighting rock star, even if your lights don’t cost much money.
One caveat is don’t buy cheap lights if you need them to be portable. Once you start banging around with your gear out on the road, outside of your studio, the cheap stuff will fail more often and sooner than the good stuff. Keep that in mind if you’re going on the road with your lighting and stick to well-known name brands.
Last in the upgrade chain is computer hardware and software. Luckily, today, most computers are fast enough to do basic photo processing and the software for post work is anywhere from free to very expensive.
The place I would upgrade first here is the monitor. I am spoiled and have used Apple’s high-end monitors for most of my career. It’s easy to take things for granted. I recently built an inexpensive system for a friend who had almost no budget so we went with a Dell monitor for his computer. I was shocked at how bad it looked sitting side-by-side with the Apple monitor.
Lastly, once you have all the things you need to capture great images, you need to show them off. A digital printer is a good investment if you want to take the time to learn how to use it. I believe it’s a minimal investment in time for a lot of return. Handing someone a physical print is still, hands-down, the very best way to share your work.
If you just want to be online with your images, then consider upgrading to a more professional service. You might even hire an actual web designer and developer to make sure you look your best when presenting your work.
Remember, your best upgrade may be NO upgrade followed by a commitment to learn everything you can about the gear you have and a promise to wring every last drop of performance out of that gear. If you do decide to upgrade, consider my approach of fixing the weakest link first. Even if it’s not the sexiest link in the chain.
When improving the weakest component, you often improve the performance and response of everything upstream. It’s a linear effect. Give it a try. And if you do need some gear, call (don’t use their website – call them) my pals at Hunts to get the best price.
Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Alan at email@example.com or Gary at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.