Fighting gear acquisition compulsion disorder. How did I do this year?

I'll be blunt, if I weren't writing huge checks for my kid's college education every six months I'd have bought a lot more gear this year. Somewhere in my brain my parent spending control hormones are beating out my gear avarice hormones; but just barely.

I made a conscious effort to tighten up my gear spending this year and, looking back, I think I've been at least moderately successful. The entire inventory of working cameras (as distinct from old film cameras I have owned for years or decades...) consists of just six cameras. Of those six there are two sets of duplicates, since I operate on the theory that every professional photographer needs redundant back up gear of everything he intends to shoot with. No real exceptions.

I have two of the Panasonic fZ 1000 cameras but I like to use them for rough and tumble, drag around the street and the rock quarry kind of cameras. They may get dropped. They may get sacrificed in some way. They may just stop working on their on accord halfway through a job that I've structured around their unique feature sets and portability. So I have two. At $750 each they aren't going to break the bank.

I also have two of the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras. One is silver and the other is black. I have them for largely the same reason I have the two Panasonic cameras. Redundancy. But in the case of the Olympus cameras I also need two so I can work at events with a wide zoom on one body and a longer zoom on the other body, for shooting quickly and not worrying about stopping to change out lenses. The duplicate bodies sure came in handy on a couple of video jobs where I used a second camera operator to get additional footage. Set identically, the footage from the two cameras matches up perfectly! While I pulled money out of my pocket to get the Panasonic cameras I was able to trade three of the older EM5's for the two EM5.2 cameras. I had to kick in a little cash, but not much.

Seemed financially conservative to me given all the pluses of the second version EM5.  Two new lenses were purchased for the Olympus cameras this year. One was the Panasonic 42.5 f1.7 and the other was the (ultra cheap) 40-150mm f4.0-5.6. The latter was $99 bucks, on sale, and for the 42.5 I was able to get a  decent trade-in on my Olympus 45mm f1.8. A bit of money out of pocket to upgrade to a marginally better lens with more than marginally better physical design. Not much money spent in the m4:3 realm...

The place where I upgraded significantly was in my Nikon acquisitions. I traded in two D610s and a bunch of Panasonic gear to get the D750 and the D810. Both have proven to be good choices for the higher end advertising projects I do that return to my business the lion's share of revenue. I've also been on a shopping spree for lenses, but only the older, auto indexing, manual focusing lenses from the pre-AF days. Mostly at a fraction the price of their newer, glitzier AF counterparts.

Since the middle of the year I've been quite satisfied with the performance I'm getting out of all three systems and I have no current interest in trading, selling or changing the primary guts of the equipment inventory.

I have several things on my "want" list but nothing pressing on the "need" list. If you don't do this as your 100% make-a-living gig your needs will be different. If I answered to zero clients I wouldn't crave more than a D810 with a 50mm and a 135mm. Life is so different when clients have so many diverse visions of what commercial photography is all about....

There are upsides and downsides to buying less gear. Obviously, you save money. But not as much as you might think. If you buy a lot of gear you can deduct a huge portion of it in the year you buy it, with the accelerated cost recovery deal, via the tax man. You get to know your gear really well if you have less of it to sort out. But the less you have to sort out the less a blogger has to blog about. I fear for the day when the only stuff I have to talk about is the business of photography and the process of actually making images. Who would want to read that!?!

I did buy several sets of lights this year. I bought a couple of Profoto Monolights and a couple of Photogenic Monolights but in each case the carrying cases (Kata and Tenba) that came along with the lights were worth the purchase prices alone. I might even get around to selling off the lights and keeping the cases in 2016. I also bought some really cool LED lights. They are dirt cheap models from RPS (or Dotline). They use the new SMD LEDs that are more powerful and concentrated than the panels with a thousand smaller bulbs "crowdsourced" together on them. The new LEDs are wonderful. I have three now and press them into almost every portrait assignment. If any more lights get bought in 2016 it will be more of these. Maybe.

Those two little things I have on my list??? One is the Leica SL and the other is a Leica 90mm Apo-Summicron to cobble on to the front of the SL. But one look at the cost tells me that they'll be "on the list" but not in hand for at least another two and a half years.....

Not a very sexy gear year and not much to write home about. But on the flip side I've gotten the boy through a year and a half of out-of-state college and we're not yet eating Ramen or taking out student loans from the sharks at Goldman Sachs, so I guess I should count my blessings.

The Last Job of the Year. 2015 comes to a delightful end, as far as work goes...

Holiday Lights in Johnson City, Texas.

Things were wrapping up nicely here at the studio, we enjoyed one of the best years for the business since 2000. Clients were mostly smart and reasonable, the weather cooperated through the seasons when I needed it too, and my choice of cameras, paired with the needs of the assignments, seemed to be good. So, there I was in the kitchen making Christmas cookies and eggnog when I got a text from one of my favorite clients from this year, an electric utility company headquartered in Johnson City, Texas. "Could you come out to our facility sometime this week and make photographs of our holiday light display???"

I put together a jaunty little estimate and the client approved it right away. The weather was going to be perfect last Friday; sunny and clear, highs in the 50's and lows in the upper 30's, so I planned to go then. I asked my wife if she wanted to wrap up work early and go with me. We left Studio Dog to finish decorating the Christmas tree and we headed West, into the Texas Hill Country. 

I wasn't sure what exactly to expect so I brought along two different cameras and some lenses. I brought one of the "Swiss Army Knife" Panasonic fz 1000 cameras and also the Nikon D750 with the 24-120mm lens and the 50mm Art lens. The most important tool was the Manfrotto video tripod with a Manfrotto convertible ball head that allows smooth horizontal pans but also allows vertical orientations for still photography. Nice to have a solid, steady base. 

Like a typical city slicker from a big, hipster town, I was expecting to be underwhelmed by a holiday light display in a tiny, little town out in the Hills (about a 45 minuted drive from the outskirts of Austin). Thought maybe they'd strung some lights from a few trees and run a chain of lights along the roofline. But I was game. I was ready to get out of town and do something a little different, and having Belinda come along with me was a nice bonus. 

We got into town when the sun was still shining and did a quick survey of the site. Seeing it in the daylight at least let me see just how much effort went into stringing the lights. Not only were the trunks of the trees wrapped but also just about every branch. 

We left the car next to my client's facility and walked around the town. The ancient courthouse was also strung up with lots of lights and every antique store in town had rummaged up their best Christmas stuff from days long gone and displayed it in the windows, and on the sidewalks. 

As the light started to drop we headed back to the car so I could grab the tripod, put quick releases on each camera, and figure out where we'd start. There was a corner with a good view of the location just across the street. I figured I'd go for the wide establishing shot first. As the light dropped we felt the chill of evening swirl around us and we got our hats and gloves out of the car. Still waiting for the lights to come on we watched a Johnson City Police car park across from us. The officer smiled and said, "Are you the photographer the utility company told us about?" I told him I was and he smiled and said, "Anything you need from us, just ask!" And he proceeded to move a big van that had parked right in the middle of our view. For the rest of the evening no one parked adjacent to the facility, on the side of the street that might have occluded my viewpoint. 

With a clear shot of the dark trees we waited while hopping from one foot to the other to stay warm. 

I was being a jaded Austinite, dismissive of the whole affair, right up until the lights started to blink into life. Tree after glorious tree lit up until the entire property was bathed in a sparkling ocean of small lights. The effect was stunning. I kept trying to wrap my brain around how to shoot such an immersive experience. It was a visual wonderland. Everywhere one looked on the property the lights shimmered and glittered. My photographs don't do it justice. I can't imagine how to photograph something like this in order to get all the effect that one's eyes see as they move around the scene. Light from toe to the sky. 

We were the first ones there but the walking paths and sidewalks filled up quickly. Lots of families with small children, lots of (well behaved) teens taking selfies, a couple of older guys with cool cameras came complete with tripods, and looked pretty dang competent. Old ranchers and their wives in crusty boots and working jeans. It was beautiful. Just beautiful.

I shot with the Nikon and the zoom for most of the evening and the results were great. This is a good example of a situation where live view is effective. It was so fun to see the results firm up through a big loupe on the back LCD. I used the Panasonic to shoot about five minutes of video, which also worked well. 

Around seven thirty we were getting cold and hungry so we headed back to the car and drove over to the brew pub in town. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea and the wait would be about 45 minutes for a table. I remembered that the last time I was up in Johnson City (a month earlier) the client brought some really good breakfast tacos to our shoot. I happened to ask where they came from and she told me, "El Charro, right over on hwy. 281."  I suggested we head over and see if they were serving dinner; maybe get some Tex-Mex food. El Charro was small town funky, with bright, overhead fluorescent lighting and a cobbled together dining area, but the food was really good. My "Texas" plate with two enchiladas, guacamole, rice, beans and carne guisada was $6.99. And there was no way I could finish it all and not have to lay down and nap for a few hours afterwards. Great service too. 

Refreshed, renewed and re-warmed we headed back over to get a few more shots, this time with more people in them, and then we headed back to Austin. On the way home Belinda turned to me and said, "That was really great. It's nice to know that, at our age, we can still be surprised and delighted by a great display of holiday lights. That's the best I've ever seen..." 

I spent some time yesterday getting ready for Ben's homecoming from college and then I headed back into the office to do post production on my Holiday Light shoot. The images required a bit of color correction and some light-handed clarity enhancement but all in all I loved them.

What a great "last job of the year" this was. And the coolest thing about it all was being able to share it with my best friend.