Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Behind The Scenes

When To Upgrade Your Photography Gear

You have photography gear – Maybe you want some more, or you just feel like yours isn’t good enough anymore. You think to yourself- if I could just get this other piece (that costs more money) my photos will improve drastically. It’s not uncommon to feel this way. But I feel like it’s an detrimental mindset that you need to shake as soon as possible. Stop making excuses for why your photos are the way they are- and take some responsibility, the solution isn’t the easy route-spending money. The route you want to take requires a dedication to perfecting your craft through hard work and a borderline unhealthy obsession. Gear doesn’t make photos, you do. To me gear is a tool, and tools – tools solve problems. They don’t create them, most of the time, haha.

I had a experience…. It was about 12 years ago now, where an older wedding photographer mentioned to me that I should use a light meter with my portrait shoots. I was living in Wisconsin at the time and had probably been shooting for about two years or so. He told me me how it worked but I couldn’t quite grasp the concept. I trusted him and went for it. Found the Sekonic brand and purchased one for about $350. I think I was eighteen at the time so it was a lot of money. Heck it is still a lot of money, but it was a lot more back then.

The guy was incredibly kind he even came out to a shoot I had that day in a barn and assisted me to teach me how to use it. I know he had good intentions but the tool just didn’t work for me. It created a problem. It took too long, I had to do it between each shot, even just adding 10 seconds here and there is a big deal when working with artists on a schedule. I try to make my shoots as short as possible and the light meter was getting in the way of that. We stopped using the light meter about 10 minutes into the shoot and I went on to do as I always do. Take a shot, adjust light as needed and go for it. Fix in post if really need. Back in the film days – yeah, a light meter made sense, but for dramatically lit outdoor multi-person portrait – it just didn’t work.

Point of the story is the addition of this gear just created more problems. I mean sure there is a learning curve with everything and sometimes problems are a good opportunity to learn – so you are going to have to differentiate between the two and use your best judgement. Don’t go looking for reasons to upgrade, let them come to you. It will make sense.

I encourage others to try and identify the problems they are having while they work. You solve it to the best you can with your current set up- and if you still can’t, it might just be time to upgrade. Money is also a factor here of course. I also discipline myself to only buy gear with money that I earn from my photographer career, this way I am not really investing too much too fast. It allows met to set a nice pace.

A few years ago I did my first festival run in Europe with A Day To Remember. Now festivals in Europe are unlike anything you see in the USA. They are massive, they are huge, and there are a lot of them. You need to combine a wide variety of components into a single image to capture effetely capture the environment and represent each show. Because of this I purchased a fisheye lens. It was the solution to my problem. Now I didn’t really have much time to test it out but I did my research online and figure it would be the best fit.

Crowd shot without a fisheye
Crowd shot without a fisheye
Crowd shot without a fisheye
Crowd shot without a fisheye
Crowd shot with a fisheye
Crowd shot with a fisheye
Crowd shot with a fisheye
Crowd shot with a fisheye

I usually upgrade my cameras when they are severely lacking. For my line of work – high ISO capabilities, fast shutter speeds and a high level of megapixels is preferable. I shot with the Canon 5D original and skipped the Mark 2 and went right to the Mark III. The original worked great for me and I borrowed my friends Mark II and didn’t really like it, so I never purchased it. Cameras can be kind of like iPhones… sometimes you can skip a cycle and it isn’t that detrimental. They still work even if something better comes out. I am still on the Mark II right now, hoping that sometime soon a mirrorless camera with meet my live photography needs, But for now, this works. You don’t need the best of the best, and my clients would never know any difference.

I also take pride in the fact that I destroy my camera gear. I don’t think you really start using your gear until you stop being scared of breaking it. I sent my 5D Mark III body into Canon a few years ago and they pretty much replaced the whole thing.

I upgraded my flashes from Alien Bees to Profoto when I need reliable color and a light/ more compact setup. I used Alien Bees for a long time and people always told me about the unreliable colors they would output and I never even understood what that meant. Now when I finally did notice it, and understand it I knew it was time to upgrade. It also met a few other needs of mine with regards to being able to pack a bit more compact and that is always a huge plus for me.

I added the F/stoppers Flash disc to my camera when I need a studio like look to my candid image. My job didn’t always include candid images and when it started I just shot natural light- artsy backstage style stuff, it was okay if it was dark. But certain jobs called for a flash. Lets say a band member with a celebrity visiting their show, or maybe someone from Make A Wish is there that day- I have to use a flash and consistency and clarity is valued over how artsy it would look. My bare flash was a mess, it just didn’t look solid. Then one day the flash disc showed up in the mail and all my problems were solved.

F/ Stoppers Flash Dic on camera
Alex and Lisa Gaskarth Wedding
Flash Disc Sample

I hope I can lead by example here and I hope you take some time to think before you upgrade your photography gear. Don’t waste your money. Try and push your gear to your limits and really explore what that glass has to offer. I learn new tricks I can accomplish with my gear every year. So do that. Or just keep reading my blog and I’ll keep telling you all my “secrets”.