GAS or Gear Acquisition Syndrome can be a real problem for photographers. So let’s take a look and see if it’s got a hold on you and how you can avoid falling victim to it.
What is GAS?
Before I go into this any further, please understand that this article is all tongue-in-cheek and is meant to be a light-hearted look at photographers’ obsession with gear. It is not a real syndrome or mental health issue.
Okay, so what exactly is GAS? It stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome and refers to the compulsive need to buy more and more photography equipment. In essence, it’s retail therapy for photographers.
There is some actual data behind it as Ph.D. Joshua Sariñana wrote in his article: The Science of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Basically, he states how it’s a combination of avoiding fear and seeking reward that draws us to buy an excess of new and more expensive gear. Read it, it’s really interesting!
Many photographers fall into the trap of believing that they need the newest, latest, and greatest camera or lens in order to take better photos. And, apparently, it’s not just photographers that GAS attacks, but musicians and others as well. Any hobby that requires you to buy equipment can be taken in by GAS.
The dangers of GAS
But, don’t let yourself get taken in by this false narrative. More gear will NOT make you a better photographer.
The danger of Gear Acquisition Syndrome is that you will put your focus and attention on buying more pieces of kit and not on the things that really matter – education and experience or practice.
It has been said that you need to put in 10,000 hours to perfect or hone a skill. That is true for photography as well. Your images will not automatically improve just by adding a new expensive camera or lens to your gear bag.
In fact, the exact opposite can occur or worse, you could become frustrated and disillusioned if you’re photos aren’t improving and give up photography. We do not want that!
Now having said all this, I’m not saying that you should never buy another piece of gear ever again – not at all. But choose wisely and buy what you need, not what you desire.
And the right equipment in the hands of a skilled and experienced photographer (like myself for example) can and will make a difference. This is precisely why I have added three new lenses to my bag – more on that later.
How to know if you have GAS
So how do you know if you have a problem with GAS? Ask yourself the following questions. (Remember this is all in fun)
- Do you automatically order the next generation of your camera body as soon as it is released?
- Have you ever upgraded a lens from the 1.0 to the 2.0 version?
- Have you ever switched from one camera brand to another because you heard it was better in some way (i.e. from Canon to Sony because they have a faster focus or better high ISO)?
- Do you have several lenses that overlap the focal length range? For example, you have a 15-35mm, 24-70mm, 24-105mm, 35mm prime, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm, 70-200mm, and 18-300mm, or more.
- Have you ever bought an expensive high-end lens just in case you might ever need it? For example a lens like the Sigma 150-600mm which is designed for wildlife and bird photography, but perhaps you don’t even do that kind of work?
- Have you ever needed a specialized piece of gear, like a fish-eye or a tilt-shift lens for example, for one shoot but decided to buy it instead of renting it (if that was an option)?
- Do you have a pouch full of every kind of filter imaginable but you never (or rarely) use any of them or even worse, you aren’t even sure what some of them are for or how to use them?
- Do you watch YouTube videos and drool over the photographer’s gear?
- Have you ever bought a piece of equipment because a friend or someone you admire has one or recommended it to you, but you have no clue how to use it?
- Do you have any brand-new equipment sitting in its box in the closet, unopened?
- Have you upgraded your tripod more than three times? Or do you have more than three tripods?
- Do you have a storage problem because you have too many camera bags, backpacks, etc.?
- Do you own a flash (speedlight) or studio lights that you have no clue how to use?
- Do you need to consult the user manual or do a Google search to figure out how to change a setting or something on your camera which you’ve had for over a year?
- Do you have three computers, six hard drives, and four monitors (or similar)? Remember computers are part of your gear too.
If you said YES more often than NO, then you might have GAS. But don’t worry, it is treatable. Help is coming!
How to cure or avoid GAS
If you think that you are suffering from GAS, it’s not the end of the world. There are a few things you can do right now to combat it and make a fresh start.
NOTE: If you think a friend of yours has GAS, send them this article, discuss it, and have a good laugh.
The first thing you need to do is put a freeze on buying anything new. Resist the temptation and just go cold turkey. Then make sure you implement some or all of the following immediately:
- Avoid visiting your local camera store, B&H Photo’s website, and Amazon. No browsing of any kind, you need to steer clear of all temptation.
- Do an inventory of all your photography gear (it’s a good idea for your insurance coverage anyway) and make note of any bits you aren’t currently using or have never used.
- Then consider selling or trading any of the gear noted in the point above. If you haven’t used it in three years, you probably never will.
- OR learn how to use those items and start doing so!
- Find or download the user manual for your camera and read it from cover to cover or find a good YouTube video about your camera model. Learn everything about your camera – what every button does, and what every menu option means. Get to know your camera intimately, inside and out.
- Sign up for a photography course, either in person locally, or online. Learn something new about camera settings, and exposure, or study and perfect your photo editing skills.
- Do more photography more often. Do a photography challenge.
- Try a new genre of photography that you haven’t done before to expand your skillset like portraiture, macro photography, night photography, or street photography.
- Get out your speedlight (flash) and learn how to use it. Start here: Learn Flash Photography Challenge For Beginners – Everything You Need to Get Started.
- Join a photography group or camera club and attend meetings and learn from other members.
- Go on a photography tour or workshop and immerse yourself in photography for an extended period of time. Practice the craft and hone your skills in the field.
The short answer to overcoming GAS is to put more emphasis on actually getting out and doing photography and learning new things than you put on the gear you use to do it.
When should you buy more gear?
So if you get on board with this idea and combat your gear acquisition syndrome, how do you know when you should go ahead and buy more equipment?
That’s a great question, one that requires a bit of reflection and weighing of the pros and cons of your individual situation. So let’s dig into that a little bit.
The first thing you may consider is upgrading your camera body to a fancier more expensive one or to the newest updated version of your existing camera. Or you may be thinking about going from crop sensor to full frame. If that is the case I highly recommend that you read this first: 7 Questions to Ask Before You Upgrade to a Full Frame Camera Body
Next, a lens upgrade is something that you may have thought about.
If you’re currently using a kit lens or an all-in-one zoom (one that has a really large range like 18-300mm) that has a limited maximum aperture then this is a valid option worth considering. Investing in good glass (large aperture or prime lenses) is usually a good thing.
However, if you tend to collect lenses like a squirrel collects nuts for winter hibernation, then perhaps you need to think again. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my current lens lineup limiting my ability to capture or create the images I want?
- Is there a genre of photography that I want to do that requires this new lens (eg. macro photography)?
- Will I use the coveted lens more than once in a blue moon?
- Do you have the funds or budget to afford the lens without hardship?
- Are you 100% certain there are no other options available, that you can’t borrow the lens, rent it, or make do another way (eg. extension tubes for macro photography)?
If you said YES to all of those questions then you can probably justify the lens purchase.
That is precisely why I just bought the lens above for my trip to Madeira, Portugal. The island is perfect for doing landscapes, but my current line-up of lenses was missing one that was wide enough for this kind of photography (point #2 above).
But, if you said NO to more than a few of the points above, you might want to think about it a bit more before you make the commitment.
Ask your fellow photography enthusiasts (camera club members or photography Facebook group friends) and see if you know anyone that bought the same or similar lens. See how they like it and whether they are happy with their decision to purchase it. Perhaps you can even borrow it or try it out with their supervision.
The point is that what if you find that you don’t like the lens or it doesn’t live up to your expectations or fill your needs? Maybe it’s too heavy or it focuses too slowly. Or perhaps even with the lens you still can’t get the shot you want because you need different skills?
What you can do instead of buying more gear
The short answer here is to do this more often – practice, practice, practice!
Ultimately a new lens or any other gear will not automatically improve your photography. Only you can do that by putting in the time required to hone your skills.
So here are a few things you can do or invest in to help take your photography up a notch:
- Take a photography workshop or class in your local area
- Find a mentor or someone you like and trust to teach you
- Take a private lesson with a photography educator or pro
- Go on a photography tour and immerse yourself in the craft for an extended period of time and have a great experience
- Take an online course or webinar
- Join a camera club in your area and attend their events to meet other photographers and people who share your love of this craft
- DO more photography meaning pick up your camera every day!
- Do some photography challenges to push yourself outside of your comfort zone
What other ideas do you have to combat GAS? Share your thoughts on how to avoid Gear Acquisition Syndrome in the comment area below and if you’re brave enough, tell us if you have GAS?