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Be our Guest, Be our Guest
- A large family of gnomes. They are quite welcoming to guests, and serve dishes upon dishes of rich, steaming food at their meals, often accompanied by the father and the older sons singing.
- A young tiefling loner who's willing to share his small, spartan flat. A starving-artist type (well, not quite starving, he does pretty well) who specializes in portraits. He doesn't bother the guests if they don't bother him. Keeps his work depicting who he remembers as his mother (an Erinyes) in a safe in his room.
- A soft-spoken Half-orc librarian and his wife, an Elvish herbalist. She isn't as welcoming as him, but is alright with guests as long as they stay out of the workshop. They both do some of the cooking, so the meals are...unique.
- A Kobold matriarch. While her children have all moved out, their children are dropped off at Grandma's house quite frequently, and she teaches them all she knows. She also runs a small shrine to Bahamut in the cellar.
- A hot-headed, wealthy heiress and her more rational lady-in-waiting.
- The prince of a corroding noble line, of late taken to dressing in black, composing gloomy poems, and brooding on the battlements of his manor.
- A dwarvish professor with a magnificent walrus mustache, as well as his warm, old-fashioned wife (a dressmaker) and their daughter, who's visiting for a month or so from her apprenticeship.
- The quiet Mother of a hostel run by the temple of the god of the poor. The tragedy and despair of many of her visitors has rubbed off on her a little. The food is outstanding.
- A not-quite-right young man with ambitions to become a psychologist. Asks far too many personal questions, then goes off on rants about what he thinks shaped his guests to the people they are today. Total quack psychologist, doesn't know what he's saying at all.
- An Eladrin who's spending a few centuries "indulging in kindness". There's a too-good-to-be-true air to the stay. Breakfast in bed, indoor training arena, a small dungeon built underneath the manor and stocked with inexpensive monsters, a wizard's study, everything they could possibly want. And the host is always smiling.
- A jovial Goliath with an Australian accent who spends most of his time wrestling with various dangerous forms of wildlife. Owns a large merchant company, spends most of his time doing push-ups or lifting weights or wrestling yetis.
- A shriveled, wrinkled, hobbling old Bullywug whose sentences are out of order, and seems to speak in riddles. He wears a slightly threadbare robe and carries a walking stick.
- A stern Halfing dance instructor. She's quite sprightly, humming waltz tunes as she works. She corrects people's postures out of force of habit.
- An old Dragonborn mercenary who frequently lapses into a thousand-yard-stare. While not tormented by nightmares, he's a good-humored guy with quite a few tips on adventuring.
- A water genasi weaver whose skill isn't quite unmatched, but it's up there. Naturally, the curtains and carpets of his house are expertly made and quite flamboyant.
- A cackling, bitter old woman. Actually a Green Hag, and her curse is the reason the couple next door (whom she finds insufferable) have been trying for a child for years without success. Serves stew or porridge for every meal from a huge, battered-looking black cauldron.
- A hard-as-nails half-elf rancher. Owns stables upon stables of pure-bred racing horses. Despises city-slickers.
- An old Minotaur noble. He wears huge suits, custom-made for him, and has a staff of Animated Objects who sing, dance, and make dinner.
- A slightly suspicious young woman. Knows far too much about weapons, disappears for long periods of time, and locks the basement door very heavily. She's an assassin for a local gang of racketeers, and will skip town if she's found out.
- An Animated Armor that speaks like the Discworld golems (That Is, She Talks Like This) and moves very jerkily. She (well, it's built for a female humanoid) used to work for an evil artificer before a band of adventurers gave her full free will. Knows a thing or sixty-four about dungeoneering, and considers herself indebted to all adventurers.
- A goblin horse-jockey who loves nothing more than the thrill of a race. Talks a mile a minute, usually boasting about his races, and his house is full of trophies that he polishes devoutly.
- A human card-sharp who won his entire house in a game of Triple Ogres. He's married to the shrewd but not very welcoming owner of a local tavern. She brings home the latest gossip each night.
- A kobold artificer who's trying to turn his species' natural affinity for mechanisms to the good. Owns all sorts of fascinating contraptions, like an automatic pencil-sharpener or a tiny construct that writes down any good ideas he has mid-conversation.
- A merry old smuggler, although he's put his pirating days behind him aside from the odd chorus of Dead Man's Chest. His house is adorned with model ships and sketches of exotic shores. Drinks strong home-brewed grog.
- The town doctor. There's something odd about her of late. She stays up past midnight, tends to skip meals, and always seems to be tearing up some piece of paper and tossing it in the trash. (She's smitten with the blacksmith's apprentice, but can't bring herself to tell him.)
- A rough-and-ready frontier-dwelling female Dwarf, who lives in a quaint cottage. She's older than most of the village, and knows all the skills of the hinterlands: medicine, hunting, cooking, the lot.
- An old man who can't seem to look you in the eye. He has one craft, and one craft only: he's a knife maker. Assassins from every syndicate, court or gang come to him for their daggers. Even the odd Drow comes in the dead of the night to buy an honest-to-Lolth Master Work dagger.
- A scheming duke who tries to see if the party thinks his power-plays would work without hinting too obviously at his massive ambitions.
- A satyr couple who are, well, typical satyrs. They love wine, music, food, the usual revel stuff. Enjoy having guests, of course, but can't stand 'sticks in the mud', 'killjoys' or 'introverts'.
- A female Drow who left the Underdark because she's claustrophobic. Polite, in a regal sort of way. Her house doesn't have hallways so much as long, broad halls, with bookcases or coffee tables or armchairs.
- A newer vampire who is having a little bit of an identity crisis. He gets the 'nocturnal' part, yes, he gets that, but isn't the whole 'domination' thing a little unethical? and similar conversation. Keeps forgetting that garlic tastes disgusting to him now.
- The best Dwarvish pastry-chef that has ever walked the earth. And she knows it. Quite boastful.
- The keeper of a local shrine to the fire god. He'll just sit by the fireplace, staring into it for hours on end. Has a very large and overly friendly golden retriever.
- The local 'crazy cat lady'. An Air Genasi whose hair is always blowing in a gentle breeze. This confuses her cats to no end. She has forty-three of them, and one Mimic who enjoys it's current lifestyle and has decided to stay shaped like a cat.
- A Tabaxi game-warden. His wolfhound isn't part wolf, it's part Displacer Beast, which means people often think he has two dogs. Pleasant but fairly quiet.
- A grizzled old human war veteran. Wears an eyepatch. Has a suit of plate-armor stained with horrific, otherworldly humors in his front hall. Retired after ridding his ancestral estate of some kind of great beast he refuses to describe.
- A gnomish scientist who studies modrons. He's utterly fascinated by them, and can go on for hours with horrifically dull facts and factoids about them. His house is littered with mounted modrons, dissected modrons, everything modron-related you could imagine.
- A time-wizard who messes with his personal time for kicks. Making himself twelve years old, being in four places at once. He thinks it's a riot. His house is full of books of temporal magic, or at least it was, twelve minutes before you try to open one of them. Opening one book makes them all vanish to the past. It's his security system.
- A noble Knight Lord who lives in a small castle and commands an order of chivalrous Knights. A former adventurer.
- A wise Grand Wizard who lives in a magic tower and commands a guild of powerful Wizards. A former adventurer.
- A clever Spymaster who lives in a heavily-secured manor and commands a guild of Spies. A former adventurer.
- A pious High Priest of Light who lives in a modest house attached to a glorious Temple. A former adventurer.
- A homely man with balding white hair, a small beard and eyeglasses. Meets with friends often, talking for hours in the cellar. Are they...acting? Playing some sort of dice-game? It's not quite clear. Says he hails from the realm of Greyhawk.
- An elvish professor of languages who, despite having fought in several wars, is a honorable, straight-laced, old-fashioned gentleman. He's writing a rather long book. Apparently it's about halflings and some kind of Ring?
- A razor-witted Dwarvish comedian who does standup at local taverns, dishing out the side-clutchers and knee-slappers galore. Willing to share a few jokes with the party, too. His 'why did the cockatrice cross the road?' always gets 'em.
- A Bugbear leg-breaker for the local mob is trying way too hard to be polite and gracious. His apartment's nice, of course, but he seems to think that the entire party are some sort of sting operation.
- A former Underdark delver, this calm but dispassionate female Tiefling is married to a far more bubbly and cheery Wood Elf. They bicker regularly about what "acceptable decorations" are, stuffed Troglodyte heads or singing roses.
- A brawny whiskey-maker who meets over a nice, old keg with rogues and grave-robbers every night, it seems. His house is above his tavern.
- An Eladrin woodcarver who has recently taken up trying to enchant things. She's terribly confident it'll work out eventually, but for now you'll have to put up with wooden busts that hurl abuse or curse words and cutlery that work together to spell out rather rude slang.
- A Halfling balloonist with a terrible case of wanderlust. Half of his things haven't been unpacked yet, half of them are already ready to go.
- A master wizard who crafts Golems. Has some shady deals with dungeon overlords, but is still a good man. Might cut the Evil Overlords off from his business if approached; he's a man of principles, just needs a push of sorts to get him to stand his ground for them.
- An Aasimar teamster who's moving into the song business. He's got quite the voice, and a few songs already written: All Shook Up, 500 Miles, and he's working on a few more.
- A slightly edgy Tiefling who wants to be both friendly and intimidating. Budding metalhead. His apartment is nearly plastered with band posters and song lyrics.
- A genteel, aristocratic Red Dragon who lives in an enormous castle.
- A curious young man enamored by the sea. Despite his youth, his hair is receding. He never seems to blink, either. His house is full of weird idols and jewelry of ancient civilizations.
- A charlatan 'wizard' who's really just a chemist. Tries to keep her lab hidden. Nearly has a breakdown if she's confronted about her fraud.
- A Goliath strongman of the local circus. His quarters are rather large, because he's rather large. They're right next to the acrobats' and the lion tamer's.
- A vain elvish wizard who spends most of her time in front of her magic mirror, and the rest of it complaining about upload schedules and dislike mobs and ad revenue.
- A dwarvish butcher. His wife is an author. Both of his daughters are in preschool. He himself is a pescitarian (thanks, u/Nym_Stargazer) . Spends his evenings playing pool in the cellar with his friends, or going on walks with his daughters.
- A professional court-jester of the local duke or lord. Not as cheery off the job; gripes to anyone who'll listen about his poor wages and difficult job. His house is a small cottage within the bailey of the castle.
- A tight-lipped priest who seems to have a shrine to every god in his tiny house. The hallways are crammed with altars and icons, and the whole place smells like incense 24/7.
- An unintentionally insufferable Aasimar ballerina. Lets the guests have the run of the kitchen; she's too busy practicing for her next performance in the studio downstairs.
- A young bachelor Mountain Dwarf, who's bitter about getting turned down by the local army or militia. He's drinking a little more than is good for him.
- A gnomish jeweler, his wife and three children. They have a pretty large townhouse. The husband is a little busy with an important order: a new crown for an anonymous nobleman.
- A halfling priest of various gods of knowledge and nature. He's a part-time biologist, running a few experiments in the lab in his basement. He'd love to meet a Druid or Ranger with more hands-on experience than himself.
- A Fey who lives in a checkers-themed tower. May kick the guests out if they mention chess or use chess analogies. Most of the food is circular (pie, pancakes, etc.), the tablecloths and bedsheets all have checkered patterns. Writes long letters to a bitter rival.
- A Fey who lives in a chess-themed tower. Gets rather testy if people mention checkers. The staff are construct automatons that only move like particular chess pieces. Complains about a completely irrational rival who sends him storms of nonsense letters every day.
- A professional human trick-shot-archer. She goes on tour with the circus now and then. Her favorite one is nailing a playing card out of someone's hand from one hundred paces.
- A stout Dwarf who's a master cook. He puts his heart and soul into every slab of beef, taking hours just to prepare them for barbecuing. Doesn't spend much time with the guests.
- A human former doctor (she's still got the beak-mask hung up on the wall in an airtight case, and she warns the party that it's quite contaminated) who retired after fighting some sort of otherworldly entity beneath her ancestral estate. Recently took up horse-riding.
- A human comedian whose jokes tend to be at his own expense. Unmarried but pretty well-off, for a comedian. He tends to leave in the evening and come back close to midnight after his show.
- An eladrin priest of Tymora. Closer to his fey ancestry than most Eladrin. He's scheming with a local gang to spring some of their hooligans from prison- after all, the whims of chance are unpredictable, or so he'll say if the party threatens to inform the authorities. Then he will try and bribe them.
- A calm Oriental-looking man who works as a janitor during the day. His apartment isn't exactly barren, but it's certainly unextravagant. He's teaching a local child the various martial arts he mastered in his time as a Monk.
- A simple Halfling herb-farmer. She has a small plot of land behind her house, where she grows things like spices and vegetables. Patient, because as she says, you can't hurry peppers. Spends most of her time reading novels.
- A dragonborn tale-weaver. No, not an author, she's quite firm. A tale-weaver, the kind that don't get written down so much as passed along. Though she doesn't exactly have it in writing, she's very familiar with the wording and themes that make a riveting tale.
- A solemn, gods-fearing Dwarvish carpenter. They call him the Pious Benchmaker, which baffles him. His wife is of somewhat better cheer, but tolerates no nonsense in her house. The furniture is first-rate. You could hit it with a battle-hammer and it wouldn't dent.
- An Aasimar mattress-maker. Laments his own misfortune: his mattresses are so good, he either sleeps on them and can't get himself out of bed, or he sleeps on a couch or armchair and doesn't sleep well. It's a DC X Strength save to get off his guest-beds (the best ones, for he's quite hospitable), where X is 10 plus the number of days since the sleeper has been in a normal bed instead of a bedroll or cot.
- A slightly unhinged half-orc scholar. He's studying all sorts of bizarre phenomena at once, and keeps a wall covered in notes, sketches, and pieces of twine connecting them. The statistical anomalies of coin flips, the way the planet is tilted, all those sorts of things. Frequently becomes so engrossed in his studies he forgets to eat.
- A ratcatcher who is quite ferocious in his task. He's got mousetraps all over the place, and hundreds of rat skulls nailed to his wall. Grim, adamant, and talks at length about what utter vermin rodents are.
- A friendly, jocular doppelganger illusionist and it's tame mimic pets. The house appears to have a large staff of servants and much finely-made furniture...
- A gnomish Expert Clown. He doesn't just study mere tossing and tumbling, mind you. He studies the psychology of clowning. What makes a pie to the face so funny? Or what is the thrill-inducing factor of juggling eggs? He can tell you. He can tell you for several hours.
- A human stone-carver and his teenage son. The son's a little worried about his father, as the latter seems to be losing interest in the craft. Their house is full of half-finished works.
- A high elf mask-maker. It's a delicate craft, she'll tell you. Fey come to call every so often, picking up their masks but also staying to chat with her a bit. So do some actors. And one or two assassins.
- A scruffy human gravedigger. He isn't exactly a philosopher, but tends to make incisive remarks about mortality and time. Doesn't like elves, because they don't give him business.
- An old man with a bald head and gleaming eyes. If asked, he only gives his profession as 'chemist', and spends a lot of time in his lab. He's less harmless than he seems; he's the master poison-brewer for a local assassin's guild. If he's found out, he calls in his allies on whoever discovered his true identity.
- A young couple of a Tiefling and an Aasimar. Their ancestors didn't like the marriage much, and it couldn't exactly get officiated by a priest (but the local marriage law did allow for a Fey to do the job). They're getting along fine.
- A pious couple who are gravely concerned about their young daughter. She claims to see 'shadowy people' in the cellar, and apparently brought the family dog back to life. They're both nearly nervous wrecks, and priests of every Good god have been coming and going all week to try and exorcise the child.
- A white-haired old man and his shrill wife, both the village healers, although the Mr. recently got fired by the prince whose father he used to work for.
- A playwright who is outraged at his rivals trying to spread the rumor that his work was ghostwritten for him. Insists on reading off sonnets and scenes to the guests to prove that he's genuine.
- A grizzled, scarred town guard. He's only in during the day, usually asleep, and spends the nights walking the streets and smoking very particular cheap cigars. Moody but not hostile.
- A 'professional quest-giver' who pampers the heroes with everything he can. He's in kahoots with a local dungeon-lord, and gets a share of the armor, weapons and loot of the heroes killed in the dungeon he directs them towards. He'll take to the hills if he's found out.
- A young priestess of a god of the wilds. Her house is on the very outskirts of town, and has a terrible case of rats, which she doesn't mind as long as they don't bother the guests. Rats that do bother the guests get speared. She doesn't take nonsense, but has some sense of humor.
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- An apprentice baker and his wife, a schoolteacher. Their house was a cheap deal, and is a little run-down but still serviceable. Gets a little drafty, though.
- A Kobold who claims to be an architect and interior designer. Actually, she's a dungeon planner who designs catacombs, lairs and castles galore. Highly sought-after by evil overlords, and frantically tries to direct them away while the guests are there. If she's found out, she'll flee to the safety of one of her closer creations.
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Edit: Thank you all for the upvotes, the compliments and the awards. My hat is off to you, fellow BehindTheScreen-ers.
My thoughts on GAS and what to do about it
This week there were a few controversial posts about GAS this week so I thought I’d post this loooong piece that I wrote on a plane a while back. Not everything here will apply to everyone, not everyone will agree with every word, but I’ve tried to make it as constructive and helpful as possible.
What is GAS, and why is it bad?
Everything I write here is based on one assumption: That your ultimate goal, what you really want out of your hobby, is to make better photography. Everything that helps that goal is good, everything that hinders it is bad.
From that perspective, there is nothing wrong with spending money on gear. There is also nothing wrong with being interested in equipment and tech news. There is nothing wrong with researching new purchases and getting excited about it. The problem arises only if and when any of this interferes with your goal of improving your photography.
This interference mainly happens through opportunity cost. Every dollar spent on gear is a dollar not spent on other (perhaps more effective) ways to move your photography forward.
Similarly, every hour spent reading about gear is an hour not spent on improving your photography. Those hours quickly add up, and with new gear coming out all the time it never ends. The money problem is finite - most people stop buying when they run out of money. But the time problem can keep eating up hours until you die. If it’s true that it takes around 10,000 hours to become really good at something, you don’t want to spend half that time looking at test charts.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity cost lies in mental energy or creative headspace. If you’re thinking about gear and about how this lens will look slightly better than that lens, you’re not thinking about the things that will really help move your photography forward. You’re not working on your ideas. Being creative is hard, and GAS is a distraction that can actively slow you down and keep you from creating your best work.
Where does GAS come from, and what can we do about it?
There are different factors that stimulate GAS, and each requires a different approach for fighting it. Not all of these apply to everyone, but I think most people will find themselves in at least some of these.
We mistake correlation for causation
When you browse images by camera type you’ll discover a correlation between the quality of the photos and the quality of the equipment used. If you search for ‘D850’ you’ll see, on average, better looking pictures than when you search for ‘D5300’. Even if you know intellectually that the difference you see is mostly not due to the camera, subconsciously you start to associate one with the other. The thought creeps in that that if only you could buy that flagship DSLR your pictures would be much better too.
In reality it’s probably not the equipment itself that explains the difference in quality between the two different search results. A more likely explanation is the fact that expensive equipment is disproportionally bought by more experienced and/or more successful photographers. Because they have been shooting longer and/or have achieved more success, they have simply had more reasons, more time, and more opportunity to acquire expensive equipment. In other words the direction of the causality is that more advanced photography leads to better equipment, far more than the other way around.
So how do you address this flaw in your own intuition? When you compare your own photographs to the images from photographers you admire, ask yourself how much of the difference is really due to equipment. Are you impressed by the pictures because they have slightly less noise than yours, or are you impressed because they are simply good pictures? Did the photographer have a better camera than you or did they have more experience, talent, grit, creativity or opportunity than you? If the photographer had taken the exact same photograph with your camera, would it really be that much worse? Chances are you’ll conclude that it’s not the equipment that explains the largest part of the difference between the photos you take and the photos you aspire to.
We lack focus
Almost every genre and subgenre of photography has its own requirements for gear. You like street photography? You probably want a small, inconspicuous camera with a 35mm prime. Oh you also want to shoot your kid’s sports game? Better add a fast body with a long tele. Fancy doing some landscape work? Put a superwide lens and a tripod on your list. Doing low light or shallow DOF portraits? Can’t live without an 85mm F/1.4. How about some studio portraits? Gotta get those strobes! If you want to shoot all of these genres you’re going to want all of that gear. It’s like taking on five different expensive hobbies instead of one.
The solution, obviously, is to stop pursuing so many different genres at the same time. The sooner you can pick your genre and eliminate others, the easier it will be to strike gear off your wish list. As an added bonus, choosing one genre will help you focus your time and energy so you will progress faster. Your pictures will be better, your portfolio will be more focused, and your Instagram feed will look more coherent.
We let the internet tell us what we 'need'
Sometimes you just want to browse the internet and read about photography. The problem with that is that almost all outlets that are aimed at photographers directly or indirectly stimulate GAS.
Besides gear forums, tech rumour blogs and review sites, many of the amateur photography news outlets often place a heavy emphasis on equipment and technique and talk far less about ideas and creativity. Casually browsing Petapixel quickly becomes a barrage of “Look what you could do if you only bought some strobes” or “Here's an amazing thing you can’t do without an ND filter and a tripod”. In general most of the articles can be read as “Hey maybe you should try your hand at this genre that requires extra gear”. If you are not completely steadfast in your chosen genre and style, reading enough of these articles is almost guaranteed to make you start lusting after more equipment.
One of the best things you can do to escape the never ending treadmill of GAS is to stay away from the news sources that are constantly trying to sell you more stuff. I would recommend you go cold turkey with this and delete those websites from your bookmarks. DPreview, Petapixel, [yourbrand]rumours, all of them. The world won’t stop turning if you miss out on the latest leaked camera specs. In fact, you might experience some peace.
Instead of reading about gear, you could spend time collecting inspirational photography. Save inspiring images to different folders on your hard drive and create an extensive image library that’s tailored to your tastes. It will distract you from the gear treadmill, fill your head with great images, and get you excited to shoot more. And if you actively seek out the stuff you like rather than have a blog spoon feed things to you it will help you be more focused about the kinds of photography you want to pursue.
If you feel like reading, seek out the sources that focus on the art of photography rather than the gear and techniques. Often these are the sources that aren’t aimed at amateur photographers but cater to art lovers instead. On places like NYT Lens Blog, New Yorker Photo Booth and even BJP, you find very little talk about lenses and camera bodies, and instead more about the thoughts, ideas, and creativity involved in the art of photography. It’s understood that you need equipment to take photos, but the equipment doesn’t take center stage.
If your goal is to move your photography forward then seeking out the right resources will do a lot more for you than letting yourself be spoon fed gear news by a handful of blogs. If the ones mentioned above are not your bag, you can find others that are. The point is to be conscious of what media you consume and how it affects your outlook on photography.
We adjust our ‘needs’ to fit the latest equipment
Are you lusting after a Canon 5Ds? Before you convince yourself that you really really need this camera, remind yourself that few short years ago the Canon 5DmkII was state-of-the-art. It was used by world famous photographers to shoot anything from Vogue covers to billboards to National Geographic features. There are millions of fantastic images out there that were taken with this camera. Six years later these images still look amazing in galleries and in coffee table books. Images from the 5DmkII are still proudly displayed in the portfolios of your biggest photography heroes. Think about that. It’s in their portfolios.
If you go back just few more years you’ll find World Press Photo winners and acclaimed Magnum series that were shot with cameras like the top of the line Nikon D2x. In case you forgot, that camera had a 12 Megapixel DX crop sensor and a maximum extended ISO of 3200. If you own a modern entry level DSLR, you probably have double those specs plus live view and video and god knows what else. Your lowly D5300 is better than what the best photographers in the world had in the early 2000s, and they were taking some excellent photos back then.
As an exercise that will help hammer this point home is to keep a few folders on your hard drive containing amazing pictures that were shot with cameras equal to or lesser than yours, whether that’s a D5300 or a 5DmkII. Each time you think of upgrading, have a look at those pictures. Are you shooting stuff that is better than what Boston Globe or Sports Illustrated photographers were getting out of their 12 Megapixel D3 bodies just a few years ago? If your current camera would have been good enough for them, maybe you can live with it for a little longer.
We want ALL the megapixels
We all want more megapixels and sharper lenses. But at the same time we publish the vast majority of our work on screens where all that sharpness and resolution has to be brought down to literally just one or two megapixels. Even high quality portfolio or wedding album prints at 300dpi don’t work out to more than 12 megapixels, and that includes room for some cropping. That’s not to say that nobody needs 24 or 36 or 50 megapixels, but most of us don’t. We buy more resolution because we think we will use it, but in reality we often need far less than we think we do.
The way to figure this out for yourself is to stop pixel peeping and make some actual prints from the camera you have. Take a file that has sharp focus, good contrast, and no motion blur, and have it properly scaled and printed to a nice poster size of say 32”x48”. If you have a 12MP camera this will look absolutely fine, easily good enough for a wedding portrait poster. I’ve made prints this size from a 6MP Nikon D70s and even those look great at any kind of normal viewing distance. Forget what you’ve read, go make the actual prints. You’ll be surprised.
The same applies to sharper lenses, sensors with better dynamic range scores, and other things that will improve detail. Stop pixel peeping and be honest about how you actually display your work to your viewers.
We want to shoot in the dark
Similar to the megapixel race, we can never have enough high ISO performance. And with every new generation of cameras the bar seems to be set another stop higher. In the film days and early digital days, 400 to 800 ISO was about as much as you’d dare wish for when it came to colour images. Then a few generations later it was 1600, 3200, and now we expect clean 6400 ISO images and we want to be able to use 128000 or 256000 ISO in a pinch. It is never enough, and if you keep chasing the maximum ISO you’ll always need to buy the latest and greatest.
The first thing you can do about this is reevaluate whether you absolutely need to shoot in the dark. Remember that for 99% of the history of photography, it was a given that photography requires light. With that in mind, try to focus on the millions of subjects and situations that you can shoot without ever going over ISO800 rather than seek out the situations that require ISO128000. If you are a professional photojournalist or sports photographer you probably don’t have much of a choice, but if you’re a hobbyist you can be a little bit more flexible in this. If your main hobby is landscape or street photography or portraiture or fashion, you probably don’t ever need to go above ISO800 or maybe 1600. If your entire portfolio is astrophotography, then yes you probably need the best ISO performance you can afford. But if you shoot a bit of everything and just want to dabble in astro, then maybe you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get the latest high ISO body. Similarly if you’re a semi-pro wedding shooter then yes it’s worth the investment, but if you just want to be able to take some pictures at dimly lit dinners with friends occasionally, then maybe you can learn to live with some noise or get better at using flash.
Another thing you can do is, again, look at actual prints instead of pixel peeping. Zoomed in to 100% on your screen the noise from your current camera will look terrible, but on a 4x6” or 8x16” print you probably won’t even notice it. If you use some clever noise reduction and/or mask the digital noise with simulated film grain, you can get very decent prints even from older cameras.
We treat gear like a gym membership
If you have a day job that is not photography, chances are you’re not shooting as much as you would like to. Maybe you’d like to do more street photography but your DSLR is too big and heavy. You tell yourself that you would shoot so much more if only you could buy that small mirrorless you can take to work every day. Or maybe you want to get into portraiture but you only have a small mirrorless which you think is not up to the task. If only you could buy that DSLR, then you would shoot portraits every week.
An expensive gym membership is going to get your ass to the gym for the first three weeks, but after that it’s simply down to willpower just like it always was. Similarly, a new camera or gadget is not going to substantially change how much time you devote to shooting. That’s up to your own ambition and your willpower and your scheduling.
As an exercise, let’s pretend your new camera arrived today. What will you go out and shoot today that will look amazing? Now take your current camera and go out and shoot that. Work around its shortcomings for now. If your goal is to shoot five times a week, try to fill that quota for three months straight before you buy a new camera / lens. If you fail with your old camera, chances are that a new one is not going to help. And if you do succeed with the old one, you will have a ton of great pictures to show for it.
We use equipment to avoid the hard work of photography
The easy part of photography is getting the gear and learning how to use it. The harder part is finding something to say, having ideas and vision, and setting up the projects that will give you access to great subjects and stories. It can be daunting to really question what your photography is saying, and it can be a lot of work to organise the photo projects that will let you say it.
Photographers who find themselves overwhelmed by this challenge often fall back to throwing more technique or more gear at the problem. As long as you’re still working on getting the right gear and trying new techniques, you can tell yourself you don’t have to start the really hard work yet. This keeps you from ever making the work you dream of making.
One little mental exercise you can do to help you with this is this: Imagine you won the entire inventory of B&H in a lottery. That’s taken care of now. You can grab any piece of equipment you like from your warehouse. So what do you do next? You’d have to start working and setting up the shoots and photo projects you want to do. That is going to be the hard work. And the more you think about that work, the more you might realise that you could actually do most of it right now. Maybe your images will have a little more noise or you won’t use precisely the right lens, but most likely you could shoot your project. So why not just skip the gear and get to work right now?