If you put the cart before the horse you wonget very far, so think before you buy that alluring new kit CAMERAS and lenses are seductive. Exactly what seduces you will vary. For some, it is the latest and newest. If a new DSLR has 24 million pixels instead of 18 people will buy it, even though they ll never make a print big enough to see the difference. For others, itnostalgia and  vision . They wrestle with large-format cameras and obsolete processes For me, it tends to be things that are different - things I haven t tried yet. This can include variations on a theme: I own four very different kinds of soft-focus lenses, plus pinholes and zone plates. In all three cases, though, we often put the cart before the horse: we buy the kit, and then look for a use for it. In other words, we buy the answer, and then start looking for the question. There are even more disadvantages to this approach than are immediately obvious -1 can think of at least four. First, it interrupts our photography. Look at your own work. What are your best pictures7 Ask yourself if there is anything better available for the kind of photography you do best. If not, why do you need anything else? If so, is it your intended purchase? Buying something new, but unnecessary, may well throw you off course, just as you are beginning to get good at what you do. Second - and apparently at loggerheads with the first - it can stop us exploring the new areas that really interest us. What do you want to do that your current equipment wonlet you do? Will your new, intended purchase allow you to do it? If not, why are you buying it? I plead guilty to this with my soft-focus lenses, although at least I have the excuse that I can review them for magazines and for my website. Third, it can distract us from what we want to shoot. We see a set of brilliant pictures by an AP reader; we notice that they were taken with kit we donown; we buy the kit in the hope of emulating the pictures. All too often, though, we lose sight of the fact that while they are brilliant pictures, we are not necessarily all that interested in shooting the subject matter ourselves. For me, the most obvious example of this is wildlife pictures. Fourth, it soaks up our money. Money spent on new and unnecessary kit is money that we can t spend on improving the equipment we already own, or on going out and taking pictures. How, then, can we get good value for money from equipment we ve bought, but donreally use, or donuse to its full capacity? I ve found only two ways. The first is to force yourself to use it. In that way, you can find out what it s good for, and what it s not. This is not difficult if it s your only camera, but with, say, a soft-focus lens, go out with only that lens and shoot with it. This is why I own the legendary Leica Thambar. I borrowed one to write a magazine article about it, and fell in love with it. There were many subjects for which it was not suitable, but for the right subject it was incomparable, so I persuaded the owner to sell it to me. I still don t use it very much, but when I have the right subject I still feel the same way I did when I first tried it, so I donregret buying it. Paradoxically, the second answer (and probably the better one) is the exact opposite of this. Start out by not using it. Leave it at home, at least in the physical sense, but carry it with you in your mind. When you re shooting with your everyday equipment, ask yourself if you might get a better picture with whatever it is that you bought, but don t really use. Slowly, you may find yourself thinking,  Ah, yes, what I really need here is my new xxxxxxx.  In a way, you are building up a head of creative steam. A better way of doing this, though, is not to buy it and leave it at home, but simply not to buy it. Instead, imagine that you have it. Unless you start seeing ways to use it, you really don t need it. When I say , of course, there s a degree of imagination involved, but hey, imagination is what good photography tends to be about. Once you are reasonably confident that you really would get better pictures, and you have a fair idea of how, you are ready to buy - and the cart will be firmly behind the horse.

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