Why The Gear You Have Does Not Matter

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

Previous comments

Good gear saves time and produces consistent/repeatable results under different circumstances. Just look at Peter Hurley video where he started out shooting portraits using the windows in his apartment. That was good at first but was limiting due to weather conditions and timing of the shoot.
Go tell Hurley the gear he used/uses(hassbleblad, kino) doesn't matter.

I used crappy gear for a long time and now have a decent amount of gear that is reliable and allows me to do the job in tough situations and limited time.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I think I specified it in the article but if not, I mean yes gear is important. But it's just a tool. If you dont have vision or creativity no one is going to look at your images.

Ben D's picture

Great message, great images. Thanks, Eli.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the reply.

Eric M's picture

"It is just a kit lens that cost me a few hundred bucks, there is no way I can create incredible imagery using it.”

I feel like the article over simplifies and misrepresents how most photographers feel about gear. I've never heard any photographer express the quote above, in which the entire article as based.
All equipment has a purpose, and expensive gear can perform in ways less expensive gear can not.

Do you need a 50mm f1.2, or can you get by on a 50mm f1.4? Both are very different then the 18-55 f3.5 kit lens.
A beginner who doesn't fully understand Aperture would be fine with the kit lens, and many great images populate the internet taken with kit lenses.
Someone more advanced could GREATLY benefit from the 50mm f1.4, and could capture shots not possible with a kit lens.
And, of course, a 50mm f1.2 L lens in the hand of an experienced photographer can not be matched by either.

The most important part of gear is to fully understand it's purpose, and how it relates to your work. The real question involves the appropriate time to upgrade equipment you already have.

I'm not a professional, i use a t3i, 7d, and a handful of lenses, including a few kit lenses. But if I had the budget or if I was getting paid to shoot...

This image was shot with a 18-135 kit lens, on my t3i (I needed the swivel screen).
A cable release, speedlight, radio transmitter, and 36" octagon soft box were used.
Take away ANY of this gear, and this image doesn't happen.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

As ive clarified a few times in the comments already, I meant that gear is a tool and is important. yes. But it shouldn't be stopping your creativity. For many beginner photographers the way I felt was I would look at images created by the pros and lament over the fact that I didn't have the gear they were shooting with. It became ingrained in my head, and I'm certain many others that if I didn't have that one piece of gear that the pros had then I couldn't take the shot I wanted to get. The instant I realized that the reason I was drawn to those images was because of their emotional complexity. Not their settings. I realized its the person behind the camera and their connection with the subject that trumps the technically perfect image.

Eric M's picture

What you just typed in that reply should have been in the article.
The irony is that you have WAY better "gear" then me.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Yep! Should have caught that before i posted. Thanks for pointing it out.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks! Appreciate the kind words!

Dana Goldstein's picture

Great article, Eli - you’re doing good work!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Wow appreciate the support! Stay tuned for the next one! :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

See more of my work on my website here: www.elidreyfuss.com

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for commenting bob! Very good points. I'm sorry if the post comes off as misleading. Still getting used to this whole writing thing :) Stay tuned for more!

Randy bott's picture

I purchased the Canon SL1 as my first DSLR. It was great and took great photos but realized I needed to upgrade to full frame and a better camera as I started getting into astro. However, I still use it as my primary camera when I go backpacking. I did upgrade from the kit lenses and that made a big difference in image quality. Good article.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thats the way to do it! As you go along. Step 1: Buy any camera and learn the ins and outs. Composition, lighting, story. Step 2: Upgrade.

Randy bott's picture

Sure is. I have taken it to the Palouse for 2 years, Iceland for 2 weeks and it took great photos but you eventually reach the limits of an entry level DSLR if you are trying to make money as an artist.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Correct. When you start making money, you buy more gear so that you can make more money and buy more gear :) Its a never ending cycle.

This is why I last bought a bridge camera with a fixed lens, to avoid that slippery slope of buying the next lens and the next lens . . . This time around I just take some damn photographs and share them if they'll make someone else feel good for a moment.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Good move!! Inspiring attitude!

Bruce Hargrave's picture

Some great pictures here Eli! I found your article very inspiring. It's a shame that you got some negative comments for it - haters gonna hate, I suppose 🤔
Sometimes the haters forget that new people are coming to photography every day and want to read articles like yours. I've been a photographer for 50 years and your pictures (and the way you captured them) still inspire me. Thank you!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Wow. i needed this :) Thank you for taking the time to comment. Yeah! The article was aimed mostly towards beginners :)

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm a fair carpenter. I built my daughters crib. I have a nice desk in my library that I built as well. I like modernist and Art Deco furniture of a certain type- which means lots of straight lines and not a lot of ornate beveling and whatnot. Which is fortunate, because I only have the tools to make straight cuts, really. Everything I make I make with a jigsaw, a miter saw, and some hand saws.

If I was into baroque furniture, I'd be in trouble. Workmen need tools, and I don't have the necessary tools to make, say, a nice cabriole leg for a Louis XV chair. I could go out and buy a router, perhaps a jointer, and a lot of other stuff. I still wouldn't be able to make a cabriole leg because of the point your article makes, expensive and quality tools don't make a skilled workman. Even if I had the tools, I don't have the skill to make a cabriole leg. I'm just a fair carpenter.

However, even if I was a master carpenter, I couldn't shape wood in certain ways without the wood shaping tools necessary for that particular task, and the same is true for photography.

You don't need a big expensive super telephoto lens to take the portrait shots that your article shows. But you aren't throwing up big Lik-like moonshots, or wildlife shots on the wall, because you simply can't take those with the type of equipment you used to take the portraits. So yeah, tools matter, and you need the right tool for the right job. And gear is, essentially, a set of tools that allow you to do a set of tasks.

Granted, if you don't think about what your shooting, if you haven't trained yourself to see well, and all the non-gear aspects relevant to good photography, your photos will still be bad. Gear, neither cheap nor expensive, will not solve this problem. Even if you buy the big Sigma "Green Monster," when you open the box, there's just a lens inside- the packaging does not contain talent, skill, or dedication to the craft.

So while I like the article, and I think it is important to remind people to concentrate on the hardest part of photography (yourself), I have to disagree with the title. Gear does matter. A better title might be "Why Gear Matters a lot less than You Think.

Nice photos in the article, by the way. Well done.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I think I did emphasize in one of the first sentences that gear is a tool and is important but is not the MOST important thing. It all comes down to skill. Yes I agree and apologize for the misleading title. Still getting the hang of this whole writing thing on fstoppers :) Thanks for the kind words! Lots more photo projects coming your guys way! Stay tuned!

Chris Bruna's picture

People who say gear doesn’t matter probably never reached a situation where the gear actually did start to matter. And as for advice from the masters such as the one you quoted I would say, do as they do, not as they say... Don’t take me too serious. Just use the cheapest gear you can get away with, until you can’t.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thats what I think I meant to clarify. Is use the tools you have and master them. Everything about them. Then if needed by all means move up and upgrade.

This helps me to never forget that my second hand t5i is a very capable camera, but I still need there is a basic setup required, I was going to ask for a small setup but someone else has figured out your gear, i'll compare it to what I already have and find some equivalencies.

Thank you for the nice article and sharing your story.

PS: However, I do want a camera with two card slots, I shot a friends wedding as a gift and I lost all the photos due to a card failure :(

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Stay tuned for my story as a photograher very soon! I'll break down how I built up my setup to how I have it today and also how I got here. It's all about the journey. My first camera was a t4i. I still use it all the time! Perfectly capable. Especially that flip LCD screen! Start where you are and build from there! Learn that t5i inside out,

I will, I was just looking for a flash holder with an unbrella mount, I have two speedlights, and I'm also thinking about what part of my hose I could use for a small setup, kinda like what you did at the beginning but with the two speedlights and umbrellas I have, I wanted to buy a strobe or another flash, but I'll stcik to what I have and master it first!
Also, I'm looking forward for your article!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the kind words! Looking forward to what you create! Please feel free to comment your setup as well! WOuld love to see! Thats more then what I had in the beginning ha ha. I had a red bedsheet, and a 100$ set of continuous lights. ALl in my makeshift bedroom :) This is where I learned about light. I used to shoot self portraits for 4 hours every Saturday.

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