The truth is, I am learning as I go just like most folks. When it comes to purchasing new equipment, there are a few thoughts I have heard a long the way that seem to be logical to me (mostly thanks to Jasmine Star or Zack Arias) or things I wish I had thought about before purchasing my 7D.
1. Take 6 months to learn the gear that you have before you purchase anything else. As in, really learn it. (Thank you, Zack Arias workshop on Creative Live for that one!). Yes, nice gear helps, but learning what you have helps determine your style, best lenses, apertures (and then price ranges) that suit your specific genre of photography. Case-in-point: my friend Del Wallace who recently took up photography. Granted, this boy has jumped whole-heartedly into his work and I am so proud and impressed (yay!), but he's worked some janky equipment like I have never seen! (Sorry, Del!). I passed along my old Canon Rebel to him, scotch taping the broken flash down as I surrendered my first digital camera, and in the two weeks that he has borrowed it he has learned every ounce of that busted little camera and worked the Rebel better than I ever did. It's kind of killing me. Photographers always harp "It's not the camera, it's the photographer" and it's pretty much true.
2. Know what you need. Deciding to upgrade? Knowing what is most important to you in new gear will help compare and contrast your options. Currently for me, I am in search of what I had considered the "elusive" spot on white balance and creamy, smooth skin (that's also tack sharp, mind you). Trying every possible thing I could to get this look to no avail, I finally tested out the 5D mark ii paired with a prime lens and BOOM. Done. That extra little "umph" that I was missing in my 7D was right there, $1000 additional dollars in front of me. Le sigh. At least now I know the look I am going for and the equipment I need to achieve it.
3. Don't rely on other photographer's favorites to stock your bag. You know how you shoot, what you shoot, and when you shoot. There are lenses that are particularly great for certain images (like a good macro for a ring shot), but stocking your bag with lenses just because other people have them may wind you up with a lot of unused gear. I've been there, done that. Still kinda do that. Or, worse, bought lenses just because they were on consignment and the "sales guy at the camera store told me it was a great lens". Do I need that 24mm 2.8? Nope. Is it tack sharp? Not so much. Should I have thought about it a little more before I bought it? Of course! It's like a great dress: just because it's oh so cute on your BFF doesn't mean it will be that flattering on you. For example, I absolutely love love love the 35mm 1.4 lens. Erin Oveis Brant, on the other hand, wasn't so fond of it. We both shoot weddings. We both shoot portraits. It simply wasn't a frame she was crazy about, but I love.
4. If you have the money, invest. If you don't have the money, don't stress out, invest in what you can, but it's always better to stack yourself with the gear that will get you to the point you want to be at. Don't settle if you don't have to. That being said, it's also not about the gear that you have as it is how you rock it, Del style.
5. When in doubt? Rent before you buy! This I could never stress enough! I have been able to test out lenses and cameras to find out what works best for me. Being able to compare equipment before you commit helps in your decision-making process and settles the nerves before making such a large purchase. Plus, it's just fun to play! You will be surprised at what you may think you want (or don't want) and after testing out different options how your mind could change! Best to not risk it by blindly ordering online! But BEWARE! ALERT ALERT! DANGEROUS TERRITORY! It's potentially like trying on a wedding dress that's wayyyy out of your budget. You may fall in love with no turning back. Happened to me with the 5DMarkii, and I have no clue how to purchase it (other than save. For a lifetime.) but I know I have to have it. Don't say I didn't warn you.
6. Do what makes you financially comfortable. This one is a hard one for me. I hear so many different perspectives on equipment and means to purchase it, so really, don't listen to me. Listen to your gut, bank statement, or husband. If you can't afford it right now, continue to work what you have and keep saving. In my opinion, there is no need to purchase something out of your financial range if it's going to cause hardships on your business or relationships. Be patient, work hard, and keep that shiny new lens in site. I am personally trying to learn that if buying something gives me anxiety, then I probably can't afford it right now. Hard to swallow, I know. I still can't get this fabulous pair of potential Christian Louboutin wedding shoes out of my head... But what good is that new camera if you can't reap the profit benefits next month? I'd rather be in the clear, doing a happy dance with my new gear than on edge thinking Bank of America was going to repossess it at any minute.
With all of MY thoughts out there (as there are so many schools of "equipment purchasing" techniques to be heard), I have to make a confession: I have got to find a way to jump on the 5DMarkii bandwagon. I second shot a wedding for the amaaazzzinnnggg Josh Gooden a few weeks ago where he slapped one in my hands, sort of with this smug "Good luck not falling in love" look in his eyes. It had everything my famed 7D didn't have and I was in search of: the white balance, the FULL FRAME (I had no idea what I was missing!), the creamy skin. All around amazing. I'm a sucker now...throwing all of my advice to the wayside and trying to find a bank that will let me take out a loan.
I kid, I kid. Let me get through this wedding planning first!