"I can't take a shot like that. My camera isn't good enough. Oh sure, you can talk all you want, but you have thousands of dollars in expensive equipment! Yeah, I know it's the photographer, not the camera, but let's get real: my beginner gear can't do that!" Excuses, excuses, excuses. A lot of people, especially those just starting out, use their lack of pro gear as a tether, holding them back from getting the shots they are capable of. Here are some reasons to push past your budget concerns and make the most of what you have.
Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
No matter the photographer, myself included, they started out taking a lot of crappy photos. Most of the icons of photography also started out shooting film, so they had to wait for film development to discover that their photos were crap. Double the fun! These days, we are fortunate enough to be able to learn on digital capture systems. We can see where we screwed up, fix it, take another shot, experiment more, and hopefully get the shot we want. Our learning potential increases exponentially, and we become better photographers a lot quicker. Well, at least that's how it should be.
What happens here in the real world is that without the constraints of film limiting us, and that constant cha-ching ringing in our heads every time we take a shot, we have become lazy. We shoot and shoot until it looks good on the back of our LCD, then move on, not learning anything from the process and what it took to get there. Where's the note-taking? Where's the pre-visualization? What happened to nailing that shot in-camera? Instead, when we don't see what we want on the back of the camera and we can't make it work in Lightroom, where's the next place our head goes? "Well, I must need a better camera!"
Pick a Camera, Any Camera
Here's the thing: cameras these days are ridiculously good. The lowest DSLR camera on Nikon's roster can outshoot a top-of-the-line camera from 10 years ago with its hands tied behind its back — if it had hands. You know what I mean. The camera isn't the problem. A while ago, I wrote an article doing a shootout between a 36 MP camera and a 10 MP beginner camera, showcasing the differences (or lack thereof) in real-world image quality. Of course, the megapixel monster was the better camera, but the old doorstop camera held its own. "But I need a Profoto B1 with a blah blah blah to get good lighting for portraits." No, no you don't. "I can't get the shallow depth of field I need with crop sensor cameras." Yes, yes you can. "But I need at least 8 frames per second to shoot sports!" Nope.
I hear these excuses all the time, and the fact is if you have a camera from a major manufacturer that was built in the the last five years, you can turn out some amazing imagery if you put your mind to it. It's time to roll up your sleeves and start to make the most of the equipment you have. I went out a few days ago and as part of a larger shoot, I took some shots using some cheap equipment: a Fuji X-E1 ($279.95), a Canon 24mm 2.8 FD prime ($149.95), FD to Fuji adapter ($29.95), Yongnuo wireless triggers ($32.90), Neewer flash ($32.99), and a cheap shoot-through umbrella ($8.95). The aim wasn't to make the best flashiest, glamorous shots ever, but to show that you can pull off a nice refined look with very inexpensive gear.
Don't Be Afraid of Kit Lenses
It hurts my cold, dead heart when I see beginners automatically sell off their kit lens without trying to use it first. Some of my favorite work produced has been from kit lenses. In fact, just last weekend, I shot the wedding of two world-class figure skaters, Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca, and did some of my favorite portraits with the Fuji kit lens. Yes, as far as kit lenses go, this one is very good, but still don't overlook yours if you're strapped for cash.
You Don't Need a Full-Frame Camera
Yes, I know, they're nice. I love them too! But when you're just starting out, a modern full-frame camera may be a bit hard on the budget. If you're shooting mirrorless, you're in luck! You can get adapters that will let you use lenses from back in the day that will open up nice and wide with stellar image quality. If not, I guarantee you there are lenses out there that will allow you to get adequately shallow depth of field, no matter what your system of choice. Will it be as shallow as full frame? No, of course not. But do you need it to be? Do you need absolutely the shallowest depth of field ever? If so, why aren't you shooting with a large format film camera? They make a full-frame DSLR look like an iPhone. 90% of the time, the difference in depth from a full-frame to crop sensor just doesn't matter. If you must get a full-frame camera, have a look at the original Canon 5D or a Nikon D700. They are fantastic cameras that can really perform, and you can get them for less than $500 and $800, respectively.
What Else You Could Be Spending Your Money On
With the money you could save by sticking with your budget gear, what else could you be buying? Insurance? Custom website? Educational courses? Seminars? Tripod? Filters? Plane tickets to somewhere amazing to shoot some amazing pictures? The list goes on and on. Put your money where it's most needed. When the dollars start rolling in and you're making a decent amount of money from photography, then start to upgrade your gear. Before that, save some money and put some extra cheese on that Whopper!
Will the Equipment Pay for Itself
When you are making some money and it's time to upgrade, ask yourself if this purchase will pay for itself. Will you see more work because of it? Will you book more jobs? Will you sell more prints? Or is it that you just want the latest and greatest? Those are hard questions to answer honestly, as most people can rationalize an answer that gets them the gear they want. I've been known to do this on many an occasion, and I always feel like a chump later. Just ask my wife. Really be honest with yourself when you're investing in your business. You will know when it really is time to upgrade your gear.