Rapidly advancing photo and video technology gives us a seemingly endless glut of new ways to create our visions. As creatives, it's tempting to explore every advancement in pursuit of our ultimate vision. The question is, should you?
On the surface, anything that gives us new avenues to explore our creativity is valuable to us. After all, if we only do what we know we're capable of, we can't grow as photographers. So when a new gadget comes along that allows us to explore new perspectives — the influx of consumer and professional drones, for instance — it seems only natural to try it.
It can be easy to fall into a creative rut, exploring the same subjects, compositions or genres. So anything that can inspire us to try something new, to see things in a different way can pay dividends in the creative process. While avoiding the ever-lurking gear acquisition syndrome, sometimes buying, renting, or borrowing a new lens, camera, lighting rig, or even a drone can expose us to new techniques, ideas, or creative visions. Trying something new can alter your creative vision and potentially send you down an exciting path of image creation.
There is, of course, a downside to trying all of the latest, greatest imaging innovations. The first is simply the amount of time it chews up. Like anything else, it takes practice to become a skilled drone pilot and photographer, or to learn the nuances of shooting 360-degree video. If you aren't going to devote the time to practicing with such equipment and getting better at shooting with it, you've wasted a bunch of money on some useless gear that's going to sit on a shelf in your studio. If you are going to devote the time to honing your skills with your new equipment, you'll have to forego time spent shooting with the gear you've already mastered — time that could be spent creating an incredible image rather than some beginner-level images with your new gear.
As noted above, the cost of such new equipment is also a factor. If you're a wedding photographer driven by the bottom line to provide for your family, the decision to spend $3,200 of revenue on a 360-degree camera comes down to whether it will provide a strong return on investment. While a drone will likely provide a solid ROI in the wedding industry, the availability of a 360-degree camera won't be as likely to convince a bride and groom to sign on the dotted line.
I recently saw a video about mounting a 360-degree camera to a drone and I was intrigued. Since some of my drone photography has been among my best-selling images, I was curious. Drone photography has given me unique new perspectives on some of my most common subjects, so surely, 360-degree drone photography would be another great way to explore my creative vision.
However, before running out to buy a new 360-degree camera, I began looking around other creatives who are using them, most of them better artists than I. And as I looked at the images and videos available, none of them moved me. It was then I realized that spending $3,200 or even $300 on a 360-degree camera would be a waste of money for me. I would never put in the time necessary to master it, and I don't see 360-degree photography/videography as a particularly marketable genre that would provide me with the ROI necessary to justify the purchase. It may generate some "wows" and likes on Instagram or other social media, but I didn't see it advancing my photographic career or helping my bottom line.
Of course, the ability to monetize 360-degree images may not be a photographer or videographer's ultimate goal in creating them. For instance, a fine art photographer, or even a serious photography enthusiast with some disposable income, might be well served by exploring the unique images he or she can create with a 360-degree camera. Infrared photography also jumps to mind as a unique genre that can enhance the creative vision of a motivated artist who wants to explore an alternative way of looking at the world, in much the same way as shooting in monochrome.
The answer to the original question can only be found by defining your goals as an artist/businessperson. That's probably something most of us don't do often enough.
If my goal is to some day open my own gallery to sell fine art prints, an expensive gimbal, while awesome, does not further my goals the way a sturdy tripod does. Similarly, spending time and money pursuing 360-degree photography doesn't strike me as a means to that end because I wouldn't be motivated enough to learn the skills necessary to create 360-degree images that would appear in my gallery. My time is better spent working on my website, managing my books, networking with other creative talents, learning and practicing the business of photography, and, of course, getting out and shooting more often.
A YouTube personality, however, might find the investment in the latest and greatest gear to be well worth it. Buying (or receiving) new gear, showcasing it, reviewing it, and using it can all provide a YouTuber with fresh content that will be of interest to a photography/videography audience. The very process of learning how to use new gear can help their bottom line. Plus they get to play with some really cool gadgets.
So the next time an innovative new piece of imaging technology hits the market, before you run out and shell out your hard-earned money for it, ask yourself first if it will help you accomplish your goals as a photographer/videographer, or if it will divert your time, money, and attention away from accomplishing those goals.
Have you ever invested in new gear that inspired you to create something new or took your artistic vision in a new direction? Have you ever wasted money, time, and effort on new gear that didn't help you create that incredible image you had envisioned? Drop a comment below and tell us about the best and worst experiences you've had trying new photography or videography gear.