Why The Gear You Have Does Not Matter

G.A.S (Gear Accumulation Syndrome), is something all photographers feel it at some point in their careers. That feeling the gear they have is never good enough. Learn how to overcome that, and start taking the photos you've always dreamed of today.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.”

The photography market is flooded with expensive gear, often catching the attention of amateurs and professionals alike. Gear is important and is a tool to help us accomplish our vision, but should be used as a tool to further our vision and not as a limitation.  

How many times have you come across an incredible awe-inspiring image, and said to yourself “I must have that light, camera, or modifier that guy is using! If I don't have it, I can not make great photos!” But has the thought ever enter your mind that the person behind the camera spent hundreds of hours, time, and money invested in his craft, learning light and how it shapes a scene, or sometimes years of experience. The gear you have is often not as important as you may think. 

I must admit that gear is always a thing on this photographer's mind, and it is so easy to get wrapped up in it, especially when you are first starting out. You find yourself sitting there with your Canon t4i and Nifty Fifty lens and no idea where to start. You get discouraged because you believe, “It is just a kit lens that cost me a few hundred bucks, there is no way I can create incredible imagery using it.” It is the only thing on your mind, and you get nowhere. The moment you break through the walls of your fantasies of what you think you need to make great images you realize that gear is not the only thing that contributes to a memorable image. Yes it is important, but it's not the foundation; the light, posing, story, location, and expression are. You must first master the light, and learn the basics of composition, and everything under the sun before telling yourself that your gear is not sufficient.

What Makes a Great Photo?

Before you start shooting you must establish what makes a great photo, and break down how it was achieved. When you're scrolling through your Instagram feed or looking through a magazine what photo stops you in your tracks? When you see a remarkable photograph, the thing going through your mind is the subject matter, not what camera the photographer used to capture it. There is so much more to capturing captivating imagery than the camera or settings your using. Think about the composition, the lighting, the connection with the subject, the story, everything else but the camera or settings were used. 

This portrait was taken with my Canon T4I and 100mm macro in the backyard of my school. It was the most published photo i've ever taken. It ended up as a full page spread in the New York Times.

Why Did You Start Taking Photographs?

When you are first starting out, you shoot because your heart tells you to and the last thing you want to think about is gear. When I started shooting, I was a sophomore in high school and did not have the funds to buy top of the line equipment. The first thing I did was I bought a Canon Rebel T4i and a couple of kit lenses. The 18-55mm, 75-300mm, 50mm 1.8, and any other cheapo gear you could think of. Every day, I would sit down and study the best photographs in the world and break down what made them so remarkable. When I saw the front cover shot of the National Geographic "Photo Issue," Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" stopped me in my tracks. From that moment on, all I wanted to do was create that kind of soulful image. 

Immediately after seeing the cover shot, I took the black mattress I had from my room and brought it onto my back porch. That became my background for the next 6 months. My black mattress and a window. That's it.

This was my first setup I ever had. My back porch with a 8ft window and my black mattress. I took this portrait with a Canon T4i and my Nifty Fifty.
This image was created in the heart of my living room. Shot with 100$ continuous lights and a helpful model to help hold up the reflector.
Sometimes you need to get creative. The final shot is unedited. I achieved that warm look and glow by wrapping the lens in toilet paper and setting my white balance to K8000.
This self portrait was taken in my 8x8 very messy living room. Its all about perspective.


When my living room is unavailable to shoot in, I bring the studio into my bedroom.
For this shot I wanted something that looked fun, bright, and happy. So for my lighting setup, I setup with continuous lights because I could hide them in the scene. My key light was a 100W light boomed overhead. My background light was a 100W light on full power hidden behind the subject.
You can create a set anywhere. For this set I transformed my living room into a set from the 1940s.

After shooting hundreds of images on my back porch, the realization hit me; I don’t need the best gear to capture captivating portraits. All I needed was myself, my soul, and desire to bring out a true expression of each person I photograph. I was passionate about what I was doing and fell in love with creating images for the sake of creating images. The gear I owned did not once enter my mind.

This was the first portrait I ever took of my younger sister. I didn't know anything about settings, I just connected with my subject. That photo ended up as a 6ft display outside Macy's for two years.

That mindset still carries over to today. My setup today consists of shooting portraits out of the back of my car, setting up a backdrop in an office building, or converting my 8x8 living room into a space to work art. All you need to create art is a camera and a model. That's it.

Since my friend couldn't make it to the studio, I brought the studio to him. I hung the background off the trunk of my car, set up a few lights, and I was good to go.
This fantasy shot was taken on my back porch. We put down a bed sheet, and set up one light from above. That's all we needed.
A series of portraits I shot for FAU athletics. They couldn't come to my home studio, so I brought my studio to them and setup in their office space. It was tight, but I was used to it.

Conclusion

If you do not allow the gear you own to stop your creative vision, nothing will. Go outside and shoot because you want to. Capture the beauty of the world surrounding us. Dig deeper into the subjects you are photographing. It WILL make you a better photographer. Guaranteed. If I can do it, you can too.

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96 Comments

Elliot Mason's picture

Thanks. I Needed this today as my a7ii was suddenly looking much more dated

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Of. Course! Glad to hear! Feel free to share with anyone who also might need that reminder!

chrisrdi's picture

a7ii? Man i'm still shooting on a d700 lol

Pi Kej's picture

d70s here :)

chrisrdi's picture

Good lord that thing is a fossil bahahaha!!! it was and still is great camera though! I wish i still had my d100. it was super slow but i really liked it's color reproduction. it was my first dslr too haha.

michael bradley's picture

Love the d70s! STill have it too :)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Gear I DON'T have - matters :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Great!

Deleted Account's picture

This article is just as relevant as the 237 identical articles which preceded it. :-/

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I always look forward to your comments! They're always so insightful! Thanks

Deleted Account's picture

I'll try to kiss your butt next time! ;-)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Ok? I'll be ready. Maybe next time comment something remotely relative and helps out the whole community?

Deleted Account's picture

:-) Well, reading the same thing over and over and over gets a little old. Of course, as young as you are, maybe you've never seen a "gear doesn't matter" article before. Now, if you'd brought a new angle to it, that would be different.
I hope your next article isn't a comparison between a smart phone and a (fill in the blank).

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Glad someone understands. If you want to comment or troll at least have a profile picture or show some work for yourself. Some people I just don't understand.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't have a profile picture because I don't like pictures of myself. I don't show my work because I don't care what anyone thinks, good or bad. If you write articles and accept positive criticism, you should be prepared to accept negative criticism as well. Seriously, have you not seen innumerable articles just exactly like this one?
Here's an idea for you. You have a very distinctive style. Why not write an article specific to that? Embedding a little into this article didn't really do it justice.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Fair enough sir. Whatever floats your boat. SO i will look out for your negative criticism on my next post! Looking forward! Yes there is loads more articles coming very soon! The whole article was literally my pictures and my setup, unique to me.

Deleted Account's picture

I call 'em like I see 'em. Anyway, I liked all your previous articles and, in fact, am looking forward to the future ones. :-)

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Canon whatever
Whatever lens
Battery Grip
Camera Tripod
C-Stands
Flashpoint studio strobes
$100 continuous light
Portable strobes
Trigger
Rotalux Deep Octa
Beauty dish
Sock for beauty dish
Easy folding background
Oil painted background
Background stand
Clamps
5-in-1 reflector
Tethering table
Tethering Cable
MacBook
Software
Assistant

==================

Gear doesn't matter :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to look through every bts photo and break down what you see. Appreciate it! But may I ask did you read the article? Like the first paragraph? Where most of those photos are taken on a t4i and nifty fifty. If you could list out your gear list that would be cool too! Love seeing what everyone else has!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWHmQ9Ll_bk/?taken-by=photographeringeneva

That's how I shoot almost every day.

PS: I've read your article. Even first paragraph :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Beautiful setup. Again thanks for taking the time to stop by and read it. What did you get out of it?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Apart from your creativity, skills and model, you need a lot of gear to make a good portrait. You can either buy it or DIY from other stuff you bought before.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

A black mattress and window is a lot of expensive gear?

Deleted Account's picture

Mattresses are gear? As for the rest, Ryan said it very well, below.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

That was one photo. Can you share more photos youve created with that setup? I like cheap and simple setups.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Will do when I get home. Thanks for looking

Deleted Account's picture

You have two images with the mattress/natural light setup, right? Your sister and the redhead. Yes, I read the article and studied the images because your work is lovely. :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Correct! But ill post some more below since people are eager to see

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Here is some more examples for those interested. These 4 photos were my most published. All taken with t4i on my back porch. Natural light.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I've posted some below if you would like to check them out.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Nice, thanks for posting them. I like the bottom photo a lot.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the kind words man! Feel free to see more of my work on my wwebsite: www.elidreyfuss.com

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I don't use word "expensive". Though, you most probably have at least 1 year of living in some African country worth of gear.

Could you make these great photos without mattress? And if you lived in a refrigerator box without windows near highway?

If your answer is "no", than it is also gear.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

A t4i and a nifty fifty. When you look at a Steve mc curry photo what comes to your mind first? The connection with subject or the gear that was used to capture it?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Ok, you take good SLR with quality lens for granted. It is gear. Got it. The rest, it seems to me - you don’t think of it as gear. Then what is it?

When I see McCurry photo I think “staged or documentary”?

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I'd say take a few more hard looks at mccurry and national geographic photos. Like really study them. I guarantee that you will walk away with a new perspective on how to connect with people.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Thanks for recommending me good old sources for inspiration.

So, for you gear is your camera and lens only?

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

It's my pleasure! Please read the comments below as i've clarified what I meant by gear. It seems you don't have an issue with letting gear hold you back from creating your vision. Congrats!

Deleted Account's picture

Fantastic! The essence of photography hasn't changed one bit in 200+ years. It's still about exposure (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), lighting, and the photographer's vision and creativity. Anything else in new gear is just bells and whistles.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Exactly!! Any camera, and a model. That's all you need. Yes gear is secondary. When there's a great photo; nobody cares what camera of lens you used they just look at the shot..

Don Fitzsimmons's picture

Great article and advice. It's tempting to think we need the latest and greatest, but the truth is, any camera and lens combo from the past 10 years is more than adequate to do most of what we need.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thank you for the kind words and support. Glad you liked it.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I always like to say that expensive gear isn't needed to take "great" photos. However, it can often be needed to take "specific" photos. Clients aren't always looking for just a "great" photo. They are looking for a "great" photo that is very specific. Often that can be accomplished with limited gear, other times the specificity they are looking for requires very specialized gear.

For example, say you are a photo journalist tasked with covering the recent Falcon Heavy launch and your client/employer requested a hero image of the rocket as it takes off. The only way to achieve this was with very expensive telephoto lenses.

There are an endless array of situations that require specific gear but fortunately, none of those situations are standing between you and being able to create great work with the tools you already have.

The other big factor is reliability. Cheaper gear is more than capable of creating amazing work, however, it may not reliably stand up to the rigors of any situation which is why most pros end up moving to higher end gear as their career progresses. Their clients pay to know that the photographer will deliver and cheap gear going on the fritz is simply not a valid excuse for missing the money shot.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Correct. What I was alluding to is that it shouldn't limit your creativity. Yes they are tools. You could trefnically be the best photographer in the world. Your settings are always right but there is no connection with the subject. Buying more gear isn't going to make you a better photographer.

Steve Oakley's picture

that totally depends on what you are shooting and under what circumstances. the cheap stuff, besides not being the most reliable usually means working a lot harder for the same results, and also makes it harder to _consistantly_ get good results. been there done that. I have a literal ton of lighting and grip gear now. I don't worry about if I can do a shot now because I know I have what I really need to get the job done. there are also occasions when I'll rent. as for camera bodies, almost doesn't matter ( terms and conditions apply for specific shooting situations ) . only having good glass matters thato questionnworks for what you do. so yes, having good gear does make me better no question about it because it lets me get shots others can't.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I was referring to beginners. Who may not have those funds to buy new equipment. If I had the equipment I have today when I started my photos would suck because I had no idea how to use light.

Samuel Masini's picture

Great article, also worth noting how many great photographers of the past used to capture great images with simple equipment (rangefinder, manual focus prime lens)... Sometimes we tend to get lost in some flame war and forget about the whole photography aspect.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Exactly! WHen i look at an avedon or McCurry porait all I see is the people and how they connected. My most popular photos of all time were taken on my T4I in auto mode.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

I couldn't agree more. Having more megapixels increases resolution, not creativity. Having knowledge and creativity are far more important aspects to being an image maker. Some of the most iconic and well known images of our time were shot on cameras with far less technology.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Wow Brian thank you for commenting! I Loved your tutorial! You're someone who knows your stuff and gear. Yes gear is obviously a tool to get the job done, but if you have 10,000$ lights but you can't connect with a person, your portrait will suck. Gear is not going to fix that. Learn the basics, thats pretty much all you'll need. Especially in the beginning. The article was really geared towards beginners who can't get past that they don't have the latest or greatest. For professionals I understand that you need higher end gear and need to keep updating. Thats because assuming you already know everything else.

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