Help Me Not Become a Gear Junkie

When I started messing around with video a couple years ago, I told myself that I wasn’t going to buy any professional video equipment until I reached the level where I was getting paid for my services.  I had picked up a used Canon T2i camera for pretty cheap and was determined to not become a gear junkie. Plus, it just didn’t makes sense to buy a bunch of equipment when I had no idea if I would ever reach the point where I could actually make the back any of the money I had invested.

Well, that all changed when I was offered my first couple of paid video gigs last month. I’m not getting paid that much, but getting paid anything seems to validate the work I’ve put in and makes me feel a little more like a professional, if that makes sense.  Although getting paid to do video work is cool, it’s not about the money as much as it’s about doing what I love and trying finding bigger challenges to improve my skills.  Plus it allows me to put whatever I make back into video projects and gear.

That said, I decided to buy my first lighting kit.  Over the past few projects I’ve worked on, I’ve realized that my biggest flaw is my understanding of light.  My friends who do video professionally all have a much more in depth knowledge of lighting than I do and have all offered to give me tips and pointers.  I’ve read several books about lighting, but reading can’t prepare you for real shoots and situations.  Plus, everything I read was laid out for people who are using a light kit, which I wasn’t.  I was using all the lights I could find around my house: from lamps, to clamp on reading lights, to construction flood lights.

So I bought the cheapest lighting kit I could find ($80) that satisfied my requirements and unpacked them tonight.  All I can say is that I now see things completely different and understand many of the things my friends were telling me. Now I want to just study more, and will probably just setup the lights around my house to practice until it’s time to use them for real.

My question to everybody out there who does photography or film is this: How do you stop yourself from buying lots of gear?  I’ve been working with borrowed and makeshift gear for the past two years and there’s a lot of temptation to finally get some things I’ve had my eyes on.  How do you stay within budget and not turn into a gear junkie?

I started thinking of little slogans to help me stay focused like:

1. “No gigs, No gear” – Basically, if you’re not making any money off of it, and you haven’t got good enough with the gear you’ve already got then you don’t deserve to buy any new gear.

2.  “If you can make it, Don’t buy it” – I’ve peeped a lot of videos that show DIY ways to make most camera gear, and have made a couple pieces myself. I try to tell myself this so I’ll remember.

Any suggestions welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Word is Blog

P.S. Just realized I should probably post some of my video work.  Here’s a link for a short piece I did for my good friend and fellow artists Zero Star that was posted today:

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  • Heh, this post reminds me of my friend Todd who does videos for RSE (and others/etc). I remember when he first started out. He was the same. Very simple equipment, a couple small things. Now? Jeeez, big timer, all kinds of stuff. I dont have any advice to give here, just good memories. Good luck Print. 🙂

  • First off, I didn’t even know you shoot, I would love to collab with you on a project. I have my own little production company, been in it for about 5 years now. I used to be on the same boat with you, I never wanted to buy gear, especially new stuff because it was so expensive, so I just worked very slowly with it. I started saving for a nicer lens, finally got it, then I would save for something else and get it after a couple jobs. I have done a lot of DIY stuff too, dollies, snorricam, light rigs, and more, but then once I bought professional ones I saw how much better they really are. Most gear is a expensive because it is actually worth it, but I am with you on the whole, if you don’t get paid for something, don’t buy gear. I always plan it out, if there is something new I want, I do a couple jobs until I know there will be money left over. It is really hard not to want gear, especially after you start getting paid, the gear just keeps getting better and cheaper. Hopefully this helped a little. Happy shooting.

  • printmatic

    yeah man, I hope I can follow that same path: from simple gear now to a little more bells & whistles soon. I definitely don’t wanna throw money at it yet

  • printmatic

    thanks for the comment. i started messing around w/ video about 2 years ago, and it’s been a great hobby so far. I made a spider brace out of PVC and a good slider from stuff at Lowe’s but, like you said, the pro stuff is just better.

    Here’s a couple links to my stuff:

    “go hard or go home” music video –
    the adventures of blueprint –

    I like your idea of just writing down stuff you want and just saving for it over time. That kind of gives you a goal, plus inspires you to keep pushing until you get it and not cheat. Right now I would like to get a nice wide angle lens, and I think I’m gonna do it that way: just write it down and start putting money aside for it from each paid gig i get. Even a good used one will hit me for 200-300 at least so it’s just enough to make you really think about making that purchase, especially if you don’t have any upcoming gigs to cover the cost.

    Shoot me a link to your work, would love to check it out.

  • I have worked for a number of productions (large and small) and one thing I learned is that the principal filmmaker almost never independently owns all their own equipment. On larger productions, most if not all of the equipment and lighting is all from rental houses.

    They also can provide in-expensive deals for small time shoots, but often require an insurance policy of some sort to work with you. If you can budget for each shoot or project, you can get top of the line gear.

    However, this may be the most legitimate way to work because the better rapport you build with the rental houses, the easier it is to get what you need. Also it is a great place to recruit the crew members you need who are knowledgeable about the gear and so forth. Most young gaffers / grips start out in rental houses.

    Another way I have been able to shoot is by making friends with people who have gear and like help out on shoots. This usually involves trading favors, and sometimes you have to weigh whether or not it is worth is to you, but this has helped tremendously.

    Just some thoughts as I read this. I think you have found some material for your next book!

  • printmatic

    I didn’t even consider the volunteering angle of it. thanks for the solid ideas!

  • In line with what Pablo is talking about, did you ever get involved with the 48-Hour Film Project? They do an annual weekend thing (around the country and internationally), where entire shorts are written, produced, edited and delivered in 48 hours. Then they screen them all in a theater. The Columbus version is rather well attended, w/ dozens of teams locally and many others coming in from other cities and states to compete. Some are just friends messing around, and some are professional production houses trying to pimp their skills. A lot are just bored or talented people who wanted to make something happen. The last time I was there, one of the teams had an aerial shot in a chase sequence. (I don’t know how they pulled that off in 2 days.) Anyway, this is a good forum to see who is producing stuff locally, what gear and tricks they are using, etc. At worst, you waste a day or two. At best, you learn something, make new connections, turn out a quality piece. And you probably get hands on something new to see whether or not it is worth buying for yourself.

    My ethos for stuff like this is try and demystify it for myself. When it stops being a toy or gadget or status symbol and starts being demonstrably the *right tool for the job*, then I’d feel dumb not buying it or at least having a plan for one. Importantly, that doesn’t mean “the thing other people say I need.” Know where it goes in your workflow (i.e. how to use it for real), know where it falls in your priorities and know where it goes in your budget.

  • printmatic

    Hey Joe. Thanks or the comment man. I just heard about the 48 hour film project last year when a couple of my friends participated in it. It seems like a really cool idea, and I definitely want to do it soon. It never occurred to me to view it as a way to learn about new gear though. That’s a really good idea. Much appreciated!

  • I would give you advice… but I have none. I have become a gear
    junkie, although I have avoided buying some things I don’t absolutely
    need behind the logic that if I won’t require to use it for a paid gig, I
    don’t need it. That said, I am pretty good at convincing myself that I
    “need” a slider to get those awesome slow moving shots.

  • printmatic

    hahahaha! real shit right there! love the honesty!