Why does new gear always seem so much more alluring when business is slow and income is just dribbling in?

From Zach Theatre's "Alice in Wonderland."
Open shade with sidewalk sun bounce. 
Camera: Sony RX10ii. Lens: Yes.

I've been practicing a new discipline lately; one that my fellow freelancers can be cavalier about. The new discipline is to make sure my SEP (retirement) contributions and quarterly tax payments are up to date before writing checks for any new gear. It's been an effective throttle on the capricious and stochastic acquisition of gear I would really love to play with but have no real, business-y reason to actually own. The only real downside is that I have less to write about in the most popular sphere of blogging: Gear, gear, gear!

I got off the phone with a photographer friend this morning and had to ponder the whole gear/income/anxiety axis. We were just catching up and we got around to talking about work. I've been very busy with projects since the beginning of the year and I noticed that my actual, ongoing desire to buy more cameras and lenses had diminished in direct inverse proportion to my increase in profitable work. This friend and I used to talk more about "what to get next" than anything else but with both of us booked up our gear talk was minimal. Most of the conversation was about investing or interesting client interactions (seems everyone is paying their bills very quickly this year --- what does that mean?).  After I got off the phone I thought about it and here's what I thought...

When we are not busy we do things to fill up the time. After we've sent out e-mail blasts and physical postcards and scheduled the lunches with art directors there's only so much more marketing you can push yourself to do. So we start thinking about the art. The mechanics. The tools. We have time on our hands to really delve into what might work well on that next big project --- if it ever comes in.

We look at our cameras and lenses and wonder if the paucity of work might be related to the relative antiquity of our gear. Can clients sense our aging inventory? Is the Jones family photo business bringing newer and better stuff to the table? Is that why the phone isn't ringing, the e-mail account lies fallow and client texts are as rare as titanium Nikon F2s?  The quiet times are dangerous time for artist's frail egos and popping open the box on a new Sony A7R2 may make us feel a bit more invincible for a day or two...

I find that most of my big equipment purges seem to happen two or three weeks after the end of a big string of jobs. The files have been massaged and the bills sent out and perhaps I've been twiddling my thumbs worrying if I will ever work again. Then the thought creeps in: "You could get the new XXXXX and go out and shoot a new portfolio with it. It's a remarkable camera/lens/light and your clients can't help but be impressed by the new work. The new c/l/l will pay for itself in one shoot. Believe me, I'm your subconscious. Would I lead you astray?

And off we go. To get that new device that might have the potential to change the face  of your work and lead you out of the darkness of the slow times and into the promised land of high day rates and huge usage feels.

So, we end up with the box and a bunch of remorse, and a week later we're looking around the studio to see what we might be able to sell off to pay for the new arrival. But, if it comes in the form a new system camera, the sell off of the older system becomes more and more inevitable as the gap between work and today grows ever longer.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is our buying behavior when we are busy with work and projects loom large across the calendar. This is the time that we hold tight to the gear we have, comfortable in our mastery and comfortable knowing that we have all the camera bodies and lenses we need in order to execute well. I live in fear of buying a new camera midway through the work deluge mostly because I am so deficient in working my way through the menus that I can't imagine tossing myself into a tight scheduled, inflexible shooting environment with the chance that I might not remember how to set a custom white balance, turn of the image review or work some other vital, menu driven control. We might add a lens with a big project looming, knowing that the learning curve for new lenses is extremely shallow, and that the promise of a big, sure payday makes it easier to sell the idea of our new purchase to our chief financial officers...

But what I do during the fertile times is to flesh out the smaller items that we need at every shoot. I replace the errant, ancient and rickety light stand with a newer, better one. This is the period when I am very susceptible to new camera bags and new rolling cases. My immunity to cool light meters plunges, and being able to rationalize a new light fixture is enhanced. More new tripod heads have been purchased in the time between two big annual report jobs than at any other times in my career.

Interesting that we have a tendency to double down on periods of financial weakness by adding new debt or needlessly diminished our precious capital only to husband it more effectively during times of plenty.

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.