How to Cure Yourself of Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Gear acquisition syndrome, or G.A.S, is a name for those of us that like to accumulate tech gear, and in this case specifically, photographic equipment, normally in detriment to the learning process. If you struggle with G.A.S, then here are 10 ways to cure yourself.

It isn't as simple as buying a new piece of kit and suddenly shooting at the pro level. While a good kit can really help with better photos and keeping up with the action, it isn't a substitute for decent photography education. So, what things should you be spending your money on (or doing for free) that will help more than acquiring new gear?

Enroll in a Workshop

The first thing I hear from workshop clients of mine after we've gone out together is: "I wish I'd saved my money on all that gear and just gone out on a workshop instead." By this, I think they mean that they've realized that it's not what you can buy that makes you a better photographer, but the knowledge that empowers you to shoot with kit you already own. So, instead of purchasing that new lens or a fancier camera body, why not invest in your photography by enlisting with a local photography tutor or at a local college to improve your techniques?

Have a Change of Scenery

If you normally shoot in cities, try heading to a park instead to refresh the environment (and subjects) you're capturing.

Like many other creative endeavors, sometimes, we photographers get stuck in a rut. Shooting the same old thing in the same areas day in and day out might have you feeling like you need a new piece of kit in order to produce different kinds of images. But you'd be surprised how a quick journey to another city or a day in the local wildlife reserve will transform your approach to photography.

Try a Subject You're Unfamiliar With

If you usually shoot family portraits, try going to the beach to do seascapes. Or perhaps you only ever shoot wide open landscapes, it might be completely out of your comfort zone to try commercial product photography, but there's a good reason for trying something you're unfamiliar with.

Wide vistas might trade for tiny macros, or if you shoot portraits, you might try product photography instead. A change of photographic style can jolt you back into creativity.

By breaking tradition, you'll quickly recognize what similarities there are between the two subject types and identify how they differ. If you moved from portraits to macro, for example, then you'd quickly notice that f/16 is your friend when it comes to small subjects and that even the faintest of heartbeats through your hands would shake the camera wildly and upset any handheld composition you were aiming for. Those new tips you learn from shooting something different can then be taken back to your normal shooting style without the need for extra kit.

Collaborate With Others

This is actually something beginners do incredibly well, which fades over time. Whip out a camera in your local park, and it won't be long before another camera nut comes up to you and asks what you're shooting. After a bit of back and forth, you might compare portfolios only to discover that they've been working on something you find interesting and want to give a go yourself, usually without the need to purchase more gear. Another version of this would be to join a photography group or camera club to practice new photography and techniques with the kit you already own.

Attempt a Photography Challenge

There are plenty of photography challenges online that are aimed at sparking the imagination of photographers. They could run daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly, but they exist to force you out of a box. It's almost impossible to buy a new piece of gear every day to shoot that next theme, so you'll end up using the same kit again and again. In this process, you should realize that it's what you do with the camera rather than what camera you own that really gets you shooting.

Shoot at Different Times of the Day

There are only so many photos you can take in the midday sun before they all get a bit the same, especially if you're shooting the same old subjects. Try to visit new places at different times of the day for dramatically different results.

While waking up at 8 am and strolling around the park until 10 am is appealing for those who love their slumber, they're missing a crucial aspect of photography: the change in lighting. Early mornings and late evenings when the sun rises and sets respectively provide long, sweeping shadows across the landscape and glorious deep wavelength colors such as reds, oranges, and yellows.

Change Your Aspect Ratio

Limiting your aspect ratio can prove useful when trying to improve your compositional technique.

Some cameras give the option for changing aspect ratio. I did this a while back when I started shooting with a different camera, and it totally got me out of a rut. For example, if you find yourself always using the rule of thirds to compose shots, try shooting in a 1:1 aspect ratio (a square crop). You can still use the rule of thirds, but because the frame isn't longer on one side, it's harder to do. Suddenly, you'll find yourself shooting symmetrically or putting subjects in different places than you normally would, giving variety to your photography.

Make Something to Shoot

Craft a light box or create a mini figurine scene with toys; anything creative and DIY will get your artistic juices flowing.

Getting in touch with your arts and crafts side may be what you need to avoid gear acquisition syndrome. Instead of just buying your way through the photography world, it may benefit you to create something from scratch instead, whether that's a miniature figure scene with toy trains and cars or just a homemade reflector made from card and tin foil.

Attempt Off-Camera Lighting

Off-camera lighting might sound scary to some. The use of fractions and technical jargon can put some photographers off. But it needn't be a flash gun, as something as simple as a lamp or a flashlight may be all you need to get started lighting subjects differently. Most of us have access to this kind of lighting already, which makes it much more accessible for homemade portraits and fun DIY product shoots. Try experimenting with colored gels or diffusers made from old sweet wrappers or paper for some even more creative effects.

Read the Manual

Modern manuals are infinitely more navigable than they used to be, with color photos and links to video tutorial help.

It may sound obvious, but reading the manual that comes with your existing kit is a very good idea. It might sound like the most boring idea ever, but hear me out. Often, there's a setting or camera feature in there that you might never have found on your own. Even staff of camera manufacturers that teach others how to use their kit sometimes forget what their equipment is capable of. Luckily, everything is written down in the manual, and it's ready to read anytime. They've come a long way since the reams of text-heavy pages back in the day and now often feature color images or links to video tutorials online.

Try a Tutorial

Tutorials are a great way of learning new skills or free or rediverting that G.A.S cash to something useful

One of the most fun ways to get to grips with your kit, instead of just buying more, is to try some tutorials. There are plenty here on Fstoppers for both photography and videography, but there are plenty of fantastic (and free) resources online. If you want to go a little more in depth with something specific, you can always sign up or pay for online tutorials, which can take you further into the learning process.

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Mike Dochterman's picture

most of those will necessitate even MORE gear acquisition. Going from landscape to commercial product shots, for instance would mean a whole new and different slew of gear needed

Lee Christiansen's picture

The article misses the most obvious solution...

If you keep thinking you need more gear - then buy more gear to make you happy. If you're not happy then - well, you still don't have enough gear... :)

Just waiting for that next trade show to aid in my recovery... ahem...

Ken Hart's picture

One method is to retire. You can't buy more gear and eat if you're living on Social Security! Trust me!

Andrew Eaton's picture

Get a therapist, it might cost less in the long run :-D

Dave Haynie's picture

Another way: just finish your system. If there's nothing terribly interesting left to buy in your camera system anymore, that can shut down GAS pretty nicely. I'm there with my Micro Four Thirds system at this point. Of course, you might make a silly mistake and buy into another system like I did... but man, $300 for an excellent condition Fujifilm X-Pro1, how could I say "no." But only adapted or cheap manual lenses for that one, I promise...

Dave Haynie's picture

To actually be constructive, here's a thought. I have assigned myself creative projects for years... the last big one was a B&W shot a day for 1,000 days. How about this: before you buy anything new, spend at least a week using each piece of old gear. That has the immediate effect of slowing down buying just on practical terms as your system grows. And in the process, maybe you find you still own gear you'll never use. Maybe you find that shiny new thing you're eyeing doesn't really help you out. Or you actually do find a need for something you don't own yet.

Chris Rogers's picture

I cured my G.A.S. by buying so much gear that it caused me to take a step back and look at it all and realize I'm only using like 10% of what I purchased. Killed my desire for anything more. Thousands of dollars sitting in a camera bag. I've actually just given away a few of my cameras to people around me. One of my friends had a d7000 that shutter broke so I gave her one of my two d800's. I get more joy out of seeing her work improve than just having the camera sit in a bag.