What Gear Does a Professional Photographer Really Need?

When you are a hobbyist, you can drop whatever money you can reasonably afford on gear if it makes you happy. However, when you are a professional, gear is a business expense, and as such, you have to pay more careful attention to its impact on your bottom line and if you truly need it. This great video tutorial features an experienced photographer discussing just what gear a professional really needs.

Coming to you from Scott Choucino of Tin House Studio, this awesome video discusses the gear a photographer actually needs. I have always appreciated Choucino's approach, as he generally ignores gear trends and perseveres only with what he needs, a sort of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. Sure, new gear can do a lot of things older cameras and lenses can't, but it is important to remember the difference between capability and convenience. A lot of the time, that new gear is just making your life more convenient rather than doing something that isn't possible otherwise, though there is something to be said for convenience. Or, even worse, it is simply offering you features that are nothing more than shiny distractions. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Choucino.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Two identical camera bodies
2 lenses 100mm 50mm
2 lights
Light stands (c-stands)
Softbox and reflectors

2 lights?

He must be right. He’s shot a “world wide ad campaign”

1. Skip to 9:21 for your answer -- rent don't own.

2. How many times can you work "World wide ad campaign" into your video.

Why do you give this guy with his really questionable views such a platform every few months? I'm quite sure 90% of all REAL prophotographers (not educators!!) would strongly disagree with his theses...

On topic: you don't even need a EOS Mark II, analog works well for every professional demand too! ;)

Lee in respect to your detailed answer I'll write a follow up (my initial post was just to unload my anger about such an amount of BS on this otherwise excellent site).

First, maybe with British humor in my genes I probably would more likely get along with his postulates. But If I just think about how the switch from the 5dMKIII to Mirrorless improved my work speed an accuracy, I dont have the demand to proof him wrong in 10 other points. And yes: in Austria nearly every Agencies AD would slap you a 24Mpx Picture in your face ... even for online only...

For me he's just acting provocative for YT-fame. WHICH IS OKAY... many do that. But I assume fstoppers as a source for serious informations.

Analog: I've been one of the last guys educated analog, and you can effectively work IF you know how to perfectly meter any invest some polaroids. Of course no advertising photog with clear mind would try that anyways.

I agree totally on the camera and lens aspect of the video, but for me shooting mostly product photography, I believe things would be different for me if I did not massively acquired lighting and accessories equipment almost from the start. I purchased about 70-80 % used and the rest was new, so I share similarities with Scott.
I have two clients with way over 20 years retention and I believe my capabilities to answer any request for their needs has been my primary advantage. I have shot for a lot of food for packaging labels which did not require much lighting, but jewelry and furniture require to have a lot of options at hand in studio and location. I pack and use my lantern when I know it can be needed, and I have two scrims, one 8x8 one 8x4 with custom made frames that may look a little cheap, but work perfectly in a small room scene or a highly reflective leather silo. On 90%+ location shoots I will travel with no less than six heads of 3 styles and 6 to 8 stands. Beside this, I have a great amount of light shaping accessories of all sorts. Do I need it all, no. Can it save my and the client day? Yes absolutely. I've had battery option since around 2000 and added a couple in 2017 to build a fully reliable battery set that I can also mix with my corded packs. I have no rental house anywhere close so that is just like for many photographers not an option.
The thing that intrigues me with the minimalist concept in this video is Scott's evolution. Adding more and more equipment over the years to later get rid of the extra isn't to me like starting with just a few things as he doesn't show sign of strategy in his path to success, but I'll make the point that predicting the future in photography is hard to do. There has been a learning curve that he shares in the clip, but I think that his conclusion is specific to his specialty. Now someone who starts by supplying images to other types of industries will not necessarily find success as a minimalist. Lots of products can be shot with just a few lights and accessories, but to grow a business and be able to answer any clients's call and build retention, minimal and under equipped might actually be a loss in opportunities. Like I said food doesn't require a bunch of equipment but relies massively on a large inventory of dishes and cooking accessories, a good selection in the food to shoot and of course a large amount of background options. Here in the US, you can buy something at a store and then return it so the cost of renting even tiny inexpensive item can be nothing. Heck you can even do this with untouched food if you want.
Best way to start is to think about what is needed for the specific type of client you want to go after. So it's more of a study than spending money and go and take a chance. I'll admit that I went to a photography school in the 90's and learned a lot from what was available (or not) without spending personally on equipment. I got tips from teachers from pros who would make presentations, pros you'd meet at custom labs and so on. This was a two year program, but only half day getting teaching, but these were film days, so we learned a lot on emulsions and processing, even had a practical class on mixing our paper developer. Beside a part time job, I choose to connect with local pros visit and assist on my free time. So Yes I spend a little money on the school and didn't have a great income for two years, but I learned how things actually worked and what was needed which was in my opinion of great value. Todays seminar are nowhere close to teach the ins and outs and give you a realistic view on the business but then, out of the 30 something students, very few of us were trying to actually connect with the industry. But the good thing was that we didn't have the influence of smartly created videos that would make you feel that this light or accessory was a must have or that bokeh was your only chance at success. In a way, today, while videos can be a short cut to learn, I see a lot of confusion and sometimes absolute misinformation. That's not what Scott does so I like to watch his video but yeah, the character can be a little weird as Martin mentioned.