Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The Upgrade Game
Keeping your gear up to date is part of the business of being a professional in the digital age. The decision on when and how to upgrade comes down to determining how to make the most of what you have.
You've probably found yourself thinking at times about how much easier life would be if you had an unlimited supply of money (and if you already do have an unlimited supply of money, drop me a line). For professional photographers, it seems that life before digital was simpler and less expensive. You bought a camera and a collection of lenses, and they served you well for many years.
In the digital age, things are much different. To start with, there's a lot more stuff. Besides a camera and lenses, you need a computer and software, probably a printer, and if you started out with film photography, you'll likely need a film scanner to digitize previous images. And don't forget about all the accessories, peripherals, add-on software and other tools available to tempt you. To make matters worse, with the rapid advances in digital technology, you'll probably find that you need (or want) to upgrade these tools on a much more regular basis than was necessary with film photography.
And so it begins: the upgrade game. The object is to ensure the tools you use for digital imaging are meeting your needs, providing optimal performance and quality, and that purchasing them won't cause you to go bankrupt. If you succeed, you'll be more efficient and profitable, and you'll probably have a lot more fun and a lot less frustration.
Why And When?
The reason many photographers upgrade their equipment is simple: they just want to have the latest and greatest tools. Most of us enjoy having cool gadgets, so this is an easy motivation to understand. On the professional level, upgrading your tools is an assumed part of photography. As nature photographer John Shaw puts it, “Especially for the pro, I think updating is just part of the process. It's necessary in order to stay competitive.”
The best reason to upgrade is that it actually improves your profitability. A new tool may lower costs, improve productivity and improve the quality of your results to the extent that you can charge more for your services, or otherwise make sense from a business perspective. A new and improved tool may simply add to your enjoyment of photography, which also is a valid reason. You may need to upgrade software to maintain compatibility with clients or service providers. Whatever the reason, you'll have situations where you really need to upgrade (and, of course, probably even more situations where you simply want to).
Photographer Joyce Tenneson offers some perspective, explaining, “I'm an artist, so for me the most important thing is the content of my work—what my photographs say and how they affect people. However, it's important for me to evaluate yearly how I can be more effective with my message. But I'm careful with my budget. I only buy things that I really feel will make my studio more efficient or my shooting run more smoothly.”
Upgrades are inevitable, so you need to consider when you'll upgrade the various components in your digital photography workflow. Most photographers need to think about how much they're spending in a given period of time, so you'll likely need to plan your purchases to spread the cost and stay within budget. But there are other considerations as well.