Do You Have Enough Gear to be a Professional?

Do You Have Enough Gear to be a Professional?

The longer I've been a photographer, the more I've come to realize that the quality of the camera you own is far less important than how you shoot. The iPhone fashion shoot, now an iconic post on Fstoppers, showed that quality images can be taken without the biggest or latest camera body. While I'll affirm that shooting professionally shouldn't be determined by what kind of cameras you have, I think professionalism should be somewhat defined by how many cameras (and lenses) you have.

I was reminded of this very recently when, because of my own carelessness, I had two of my best lenses and one of my primary camera bodies get completely waterlogged. While I'll save that specific story for a future article, the implications of what happened could have been pretty severe. This time of year is prime wedding season and unfortunately, people won't reschedule at my convenience. With only a couple of days till my next wedding, I had very limited options to work with. In my locale, there's no easy renting option. While online renters like BorrowLenses do a fantastic job at getting you the equipment, they are only able to send it out within a certain time frame. I had to work with what was available to me. I had to be prepared to shoot the last wedding without half of my equipment.

While I did not relish the thought of shooting on only one primary body, limited lenses, and a crappy old 40D body as a last resort back up, the wedding went fine. Because my normal wedding day includes two cameras, an old back up body, and a range of several complimentary lenses, I was able to maintain my normal workflow without much interruption. The images I shot may have had a slightly different focal range than my standard wedding, but the quality of images I delivered to my client remained uncompromised.

My point is not to give myself a pat on the back for being somewhat prepared, but rather I want to illustrate how a very realistic situation could either be stressful and potentially devastating or could been no big deal. What if I didn't have extra lenses to offer a diverse set of images? What if I didn't have a back up camera at all? As professional photographers, we have a responsibility to be prepared for our clients regardless of circumstance. If something happens to a piece of gear, we need to be ready and have a back up plan. In my opinion, anyone who does not have secondary gear should not be charging for any sort of serious gig.

David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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I don't think it's how much gear, but which gear you have. If your lens says 18-55 on it for example, you're out.

Honestly I really dont think the kit lens is that bad...not that I want to use it but Its really not that terible. I feel like if you know what you are doing it does not matter at all if you are using the cheapest camera gear you can still produce similar looking images.

I disagree completely. I do not think it's which gear you have, but how you put it to use. Just because you have a Canon 5D Mark III with a 2,000 dollar lens doesn't mean you're going to take better photos than the girl with a Nikon D3200 with a kit lens. It's how you put your gear to use.

More chance/probability of getting a better shot with less effort though! You get what you pay for, simple as.

Yes it does, If both of them are of equal skill level and both have a very creative eye, The one with the better gear will have better shots than the other


Even though they may have the same technical skills, they still have different aesthetic points of view. A perfect exposure photo can be very boring compared to a artistic photo intentionally taken by using a Holga camera.

I think you're missing my point....If they are both 100% equal
Hell the same person- the better gear will win out

I agree with you Brandon!

I am going up to the snow and I am going to invest in a 5d Mk III and ef 16-35mm,,,

NOT because it's better quality, but simply because it's necessary to have weather sealing in this condition I believe...

If my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM had weather sealing? I'd still rock it on my 7d in the snow!

Kit lenses are GREAT in my honest opinion! Great zoom range, and IS for such a cheap price! I started off on them!

Fact is, unless your doing extreme low light or want that creamy bokeh? then're limited by the lens and the bodies AF system. Otherwise? outdoors? or with flash? they're a fantastic tool to use :)

They make 18-55 2.8 lenses which have amazing quality. The new photographer today thinks about gear WAAAYYY too much.

and the reason those 18-55 2.8 lenses exist is because people were shooting on crop sensor bodies. A 18-55 is close to a 24-70 full frame.

But it works on full frame so I can't completely agree with you on that.

18-55 is a dx lens only

Its a dx lens that works on full frame is what I was saying. Oh and that I couldn't agree with him saying thats the reason the lens exist haha

Yes your right you could use a 18-55 on a full frame body. But why would you ? granted a 2.8 is a 2.8. The 1st thing i bought when i got my d600 was a 24 to 70 tamron full frame lens.

LOVE that lens! Even more so than nikons own 24-70 image stabilization is what sold that lens to me. Nikon and Canon are being caught up to by sigma and tamron fast and at cheaper prices I love it

Someone asked me which "L" lens to buy. I asked him what is he expecting from new lens? His problem was the poor sharpness of the kit.
So I took his 60D with the kit and shoot couple pictures around poorly lit apartment. All sharp.
I proved him that, first he should learn to use what he got ;)

Its not all about sharpness that makes a good shot (from a techy standpoint) L-lenses seem to give ace contrast and colour, save you a lot of time in Photoshop trying to achieve the same results. Can't deny equipment is important, but what makes the most difference is what you shoot/how you shoot it. If it wasnt; we would all just be 'technicians' button-pressers, haha

I wouldn't like to start "L" vs "non-L" lens debate... The point is, most people expect the equipment, to do job for them. When people see great photograph with amazing story behind it, they ask what lens was used or what f-stop was it shoot at...
BTW although all my lenses but one are "L", most used one is "non-L" 50mm f1.4

Not necessarily.
I bring the Nikon 18-55 to every wedding I shoot :

It's sharp, it's a very good macro lens and its range is useful.
I treat it as a 5.6 constant aperture lens for strobist shots, so it's perfect for on-location photobooth. I don't care if kids play near the tripod+backup body+18-55.

It weights nothing, and doesn't take much space in the bag.

Not the best lens to make an impression to those who are judge books by covers, but not a bad lens in practice. Like Eric said, the range is useful and it does have IS...

This comment makes me want to go create some images with a 18-55 :)

F-stoppers, time for an article on a 18-55 kit lens session? Nothing like examples to shut up a troll.

I was just thinking about that myself, I just shot a bunch of products on a kit to prove to another photog that they aren't as bad as everyone thinks

The real problem with the 18-55 is the slow AF, and bad focus os low light situations. But, if you're talking about being pro, instead of earn money with photography, you can throw this lens to the garbage.. Or, smarter than that, don't buy it! :)

I almost never even use AF. I must be a real pro!!

(ps - I'm joking, I never got into AF because of my background is half stills and half video.)

yeah, clients will always do a complete inspection of your lenses before each shoot to make sure you have no kit lenses in your bag. lol

I get asked what camera and lenses do you use all the time when im shooping birthdays.

Shooting birthdays--there you have it!

Food for thought. Altho, having a set of solid lenses and a decent camera body are invaluable when it comes down to getting the shot. Their are just some shots that I could never get with my old canon 450d and the kit lens. You mentioned the iphone photo shoot as the ultimate proof that its not about the gear well I challenge you to try and get good shots with a iphone minus the 3000$+ worth of lighting equipment used in the shoot. We can lie to ourselves all we want but their is a reason we use the gear we use and not point and shoot cameras.

Exactly. And to quote Lee on that...

"But that girl is totally wearing a fancy dress. I bet her outfit was way more than $30. And what about that free bag you got to hold your iPhone? We don't get free bags so we have no where to put our phones. And you have the ocean and it would cost me hundreds of dollars to fly to a large body of water with a model and 2 assistants."

I would be interested to to see the critic of the images from that shoot if photographers weren't told it was shot with an iphone. The blacks are muddy, the boken is terrible, etc...

Here's a different example, I do a lot of home repair, so I am say an advanced amateur, but rather than hire contractors over the years, I have instead invested in the proper tools to do the job. And honestly some of those jobs would not have been possible or worked without the proper tool... so are photographers so arrogant to think that the proper tools dont help out a great deal?

"In my opinion, anyone who does not have secondary gear should not be charging for any sort of serious gig."

Amen to that!

It's not about the equipment. However, as a pro I have to be prepared to keep on shooting no matter what. Unfortunately, that means I need spare bodies and lenses as well as strobe units. I don't need all my gear all the time, it's nice to be able to react to a situation and pull out yet another piece (if that's what it takes to get the job done, of course!) Part of having a professional body and prime lenses is the fact that they iare more reliable, more sturdy than a amateur body with a kit lens

I really can't believe the nonsense I'm reading here. Being a professional photographer (which, by the way, I have been for over 35 years) means finding a client who will trust you not to screw up their budget and get decent shots. Full stop. All you kids bickering about 'kit' just don't get it. How many REAL jobs have you actually done?

I agree with Tim!
I own on body and two lenses (50&85), and a couple of old balcars. These get used when I need to do a test or quick photo, the rest of my equipment is owned by a rental house that gets me what I need for any particular shoot. Being a photographer means knowing how to see a photo and light a photo not own equipment. Should I also own 6 profoto packs with 8 heads along with all the stands and modifiers because thats is what I sometimes need.
There is some good info on this site but this article was a waste of words...

The only point the author is trying to make is that, as a pro, you have to have a backup plan. It isn't professional to not be prepared for equipment breakages and let your clients down. This is part of the "getting decent shots" that you mentioned. If you're not prepared to have a camera crap out on you during a wedding (or similar one-time affair), then you're not acting professionally. No matter how good your images are, you can't make any images if the only body you brought (or own) breaks down mid-show.

I agree with Tim. My guess is that 99 out of 100 people that talk about the photo "industry" on the internet have never even paid one month's rent/mortgage with money earned from photography. Also, it appears to be impossible to convince bad business people how to be responsible. They just won't listen and maybe that's what makes them bad business people in the first place.

Right on, Tim. Also, it seems that many people here are defining "professional" as "wedding photographer" - there are a million (yes, exaggerating) other ways to make money in photography. Not every pro needs an ass-load of gear to justify the title. I've paid for my one body, 3 lens kit from very low-key, non-pressure avenues. (I admit I had GAS in the past - but I got rid of all of it!)

Amen Tim.

I have my iPhone 5 as my primary to shooting wedding. The iPad is only for backup.

What, the iPhone 3GS not good enough for you?

Nah man, only uncle Bob uses the 3GS.

Haha y'all laugh, but I took this photo with my iphone while I was shooting for Circuit of the Americas down here in Austin this past weekend...
The quality is pretty incredible and it definitely serves to show that the "quality" of the gear you use doesn't automatically translate to a great image, and that the reverse can in fact be true.. End result depends ENTIRELY on the person taking the photo. Obviously there are certain areas that make a difference, but ultimately gear just dictates how easily and efficiently the photog can produce said images.

You made my day

Nothing surpasses the sterling sharpness of my Brownie Box camera.

let the age old question "what makes a professional" be debated into eternity. GO!

There are no professional photographers....Marissa Mayer said so!

The hitchhikers guide says this about camera equipment . Avoid samsung at all costs use canon sparingly and label everything because you wouldn't want your new girlfriend to find out what you did with your ex-girlfriend.

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