Let’s face it, many photographers believe that “bigger is better.” I know I initially did years ago. Large is in charge, and it’s easy to assume that success is a reflection of how impressive or expensive our camera body or lens is. However, I personally believe that this is less and less true these days. In many cases, advancements in current technology have made high quality equipment very affordable at a relatively low price point.

Manufacturing companies have found ways to make smaller and more compact cameras, and these cameras are giving the larger camera bodies a run for their money. The mirrorless camera movement is a prime example of this. Granted, there is a time and place for specific camera bodies and specific lenses, such as in the case of architectural photography where a tilt-shift is useful, or large-scale print photography where a full-frame DSLR is quite handy. However, if you are just starting out as a photographer and believe you have to immediately get your hands on the most expensive equipment, you may be mistaken. More important is to learn how to use the gear you already have, and then outgrow it.

Are you considering upgrading to keep up with your photographer friends? Before you do, consider this short list of common mistakes we often make when deciding to upgrade for the wrong reasons.

Common Mistakes We Often Make When Upgrading

Mistake 1. Assuming that size is the only thing that matters.

The first mistake young or new photographers often make is thinking that size is all that matters. It’s folly to initially assume that the value of a camera or lens is based solely on how hefty it is. Here’s a question for you: When has a happy portrait client ever asked you about the size of your camera, or what lens you used? You might have a computer-sized camera hanging around your neck, or a camera no bigger than a pair of glasses while making pictures, but a satisfied client doesn’t care about the size of your gear. They often don’t even know the difference. All they know is that they want high quality images from you, and it’s your job to deliver. Your gear doesn’t automatically do that for you.

Case in point: If you’re an entry-level portrait photographer just starting out, one of the most handy (and inexpensive) starter lenses you can purchase is a 50mm 1.8 prime lens. This small, unassuming lens can be easily found for under $150, and is an absolute gem. It allows you to produce professional level images without breaking the bank. Below is a photo from the very first wedding I shot years ago using this very lens. At the time, I was a total newbie shooting under low-light conditions with no external light. Of course I look at it now and see where it can be improved, but at the time it did the job.

Mistake 2. Assuming that more lenses equals more success

Do you know that photographer friend who seems to collect lenses? They have an outrageous number of them, and they keep them for the “just in case” moments. Their newest lens is often their best lens…that is, until they buy the next one.

It’s much better to have a lens that is the right fit for the type of photography you do, as mentioned in the portrait example above. You are the one doing the work, and with the knowledge and the equipment to match, you will still be able to produce amazing images. Yes, having more than one lens is a good idea. However, be careful of going overboard too quickly.

Sometimes, renting equipment is the way to go. There are many resources where you can inexpensively rent gear for a short time, such as at LensRentals or BorrowLenses. This is something I often do. It allows me to give it a trial run. Test equipment out before you dole out hundreds or thousands of dollars for it.

Mistake 3. Assuming your camera body makes you better

When I first started working at a print magazine years ago as a staff assistant photographer, I started with a Canon Rebel T1i body. Yes, you read that correctly. And guess what? The readers of the magazine never asked me what type of gear I was using. Fast forward to today, and of course I’ve outgrown that body and graduated to a more advanced model, but not before learning it inside and out. Below is a practice photo I made from years ago with that very Canon Rebel:

Concluding Thoughts

There has never been a time in history when a sculpture molded itself. Knowing yourself and your gear inside and out will be the difference between “good” and “great” in terms of the images you produce and keeping your clients happy. Yes, there is a time and place for upgrades, but those are in due time as you have the resources and the strong need. Don’t buy into excessive camera bodies, lenses, or other gear just to say you have it. If you don’t know what you’re doing or cannot make the most of the gear that you already have, then you are seriously jeopardizing your chances for success.

The camera cannot make the photo without you and the image cannot be what it is without your creative vision. The camera is and always will be just a tool that we use to produce the images that we do. The composition, the artistry, and the magic is within us, not in the gear that we have. We are the sole difference between good and great.

It’s all a balance of practice, experience, and resources. These factors are the most important parts of being a photographer. Don’t waste them.