As I continue to foray into the unpredictable world of freelance photography, I’ve come to create a personal mantra that I find myself muttering under my breath when out in the field. It applies whether shooting solo, or out creating with clients. The phrase is simple: “Gear first.”

As an outdoor photographer, I’m not exactly easy on my camera gear. Rain, snow, sandy beaches and muddy mountain bike trails are par for the course here in British Columbia. This is okay, as afterall, gear is meant to be used! 

Over time, however, I’ve started realizing how often I find myself rushing a lens change or leaving my bag open to the elements to run and get perfect light further down the beach. These things happen all the time. 

Lessons learned

While rushing a filter change during a spectacular sunset one time, I dropped my Lee Filters Big Stopper and broke it in half — an expensive lesson. Another time I was jumping down from a rock to the beach and didn’t take the time to put my gear back into my bag safely. I landed poorly, stumbled and smashed my camera and zoom lens on the ground. That was another expensive lesson to learn. Both of those incidents were completely preventable had I slowed down and put my gear first. 

ocean waves around rock
Beaches can be precarious places for your photography gear.

Self prompts

After a couple of oopsies like these, I started catching myself in the moment and saying out loud “gear first.” This serves as a prompt for me to take the extra few seconds to prioritize my tools of the trade.

You want to make sure your equipment is safe and protected whenever possible. Put that extra lens away in a bag. Take the time to secure a tripod. Find the lens cap and use it. Slow down in precarious moments, no matter how rushed you’re feeling.

Snowy conditions require careful consideration with your gear!

In the end, there’s not too many epic shots out there that are worth ruining a lens or your camera for. Accidents will always happen, but creating the discipline within yourself to prevent as many as possible will benefit you (and your credit card) in the years to come.