I got my first dSLR 10 years ago. Along the way, I have learned a lot about gear and what it means to learn the skill. Here are a few thoughts to consider when buying gear and learning your skill. It is important to keep everything in perspective but do what it takes to improve.
Start basic & leave room to grow
When starting out I got the most basic dSLR there was because I didn't have a ton of money and I wanted to grow out of it. What? Yes, I wanted to learn everything about it and grow to wish for something better. This came true and I found that I appreciated the fundamental parts of the camera (like aperture, iso, & shutter speed) while I started to realize the things I absolutely had to have. After using my d50 for 3 years I found that I hated the size of the viewfinder. I couldn't really see what I was capturing and it made me feel cramped creatively.
Purchase gear at the edge of your comfort zone
While getting the d50 taught me to appreciate and know my tools it also made me realize that it is also good to get the best at the edge of my price range where it felt a little uncomfortable to spend so much. I purchased a d300s which had a bigger viewfinder, was faster and gave a higher quality image all around. At this point I knew how to use a dSLR and could focus on composition and have more flexibility to be creative. I had to get over the idea that it was twice as much as the d50 and didn't even come with a lens!
Value lenses over camera bodies
While having the best camera is great, lenses are where it's at. I learned that when I want a certain lens, I need to get the best one in that focal length. I started out using the 50mm 1.8 which is only $150 but was noticing that I couldn't seem to get my images to be sharp despite having a good camera body. I became discouraged thinking I wasn't improving on focus. When I went and purchased a used 50mm 1.4 I couldn't believe my eyes! All my images were so crisp, creamy, and came out right!
Beautiful photos aren't always taken with the best gear
Not all beautiful images happen with dSLRs. I have a d610 now which is full frame and wonderful, but when I am out taking a walk I don't always want to lug that thing around. I am happy to use my iPhone to take photos and because I have been practicing with it all the time, I have gotten pretty good at taking photos that look dSLR worthy. When I didn't even own a dSLR 10 years ago I had a photograph that I put in a frame that I took with my little Coolpix. I had a guy compliment me on it and at the time, he owned a pretty awesome long lens and camera. I was intimidated by him up until that point!
Learn everything there is to know about light & shadows
No matter what type of gear you have, it is important to understand light and the shadows it creates. I did a lot of reading up on it, but when it really came down to it I had to practice. One way to learn it quick is to see something you want to photograph and try different angles around it and see how the light plays on the subject. Figure out where the light is coming from and position yourself in different ways that change the look of your image. Love those backlight images, just keep moving your body till the image on your phone looks right. Dont' give up!
These are just a few of the things I learned and definitely don't explain the struggle to get better. It takes time and patience, but with the right mindset, you will go a long way. Yes we shouldn't buy a bunch of gear in order to call ourselves pros, but at the same time gear can take you a long way if you take the time to fully appreciate and use their functions. :)
p.s. The nature photos in this post were all taken with my iPhone 6