When Gear Matters

It is widely acknowledged that necessity is the mother of invention. DIY and jury-rigged lighting setups are all the rage these days. The phrase "gear doesn't matter" has become a mantra. Why are photographers so loathe to admit that gear can matter? Sometimes not having the right gear is what stands between you and your concept. Check out this Profoto video of Alexvi's images coming to life thanks (at least in part) to the type of gear he uses. (Turn on the closed caption unless you speak Chinese.)

Gear and Personal Style

Sometimes you may have a vision in your head that you just can't get to work once the lights start flashing. Surely everyone would accept that having a particular piece of gear at your disposal can actually help you execute a particular look. Perhaps even more than that, specific gear may help you actually develop your personal style in a way that another piece of gear might not. As a quick example, a photographer experimenting with long exposure would certainly end up with a different feel in their portfolio if they did, or, did not have a tripod. Or, just try getting the soft-light feel of a giant soft box with nothing but a collapsed 18-inch umbrella. Doable? Maybe. But it is unlikely that your images will have the same look.

Alexvi and Profoto

Known for his unconventional approach, Alexvi was asked by Profototo to take their unorthodox strobes out for a test drive. Looking to do something off the beaten track, Alexvi took his team and his Profotos to the shuttered Shijingshansteel plant just west of central Beijing. Using the portable B1sB1XsA1s, and B10s Alexvi shot the models with a complex blend of hard-rim and slightly softer front lighting. Once the initial flashes fired, the model and crew would quickly leave the scene so that the background would burn through the model. Almost a double exposure feel. Having such portable and light-weight strobes that are also capable of producing high-end studio-quality light certainly helped Alexvi achieve his vision.

For me, being able to create an atmosphere or a feeling with light is much more rewarding than relying too much on post-production techniques, the B10 helps me do that - and with its small, lightweight size - I can do it in any location.

Sure, you could shoot this with much less expensive speed lights or heavier strobes. I doubt however that you'd get some of the more complicated lighting setups to work so well in camera. Inevitably you'd end up with color or power problems. You'd also be unlikely to get the lights out of the shot quick enough to allow the desired bleed through effect. So, when the goal is to get the blended exposure technique in camera, it's important to use gear that gets you what you need. I wonder if you tried this with speed lights and ran into color and power problems if you'd move on to something different. I don't mean to say that it would be worse, just that it would end up different. 

Gear Can Develop Your Style

Photographers are often the first artists to claim that necessity is the mother of invention. Why then do we often have such a hard time acknowledging that sometimes the opposite is true? If not having a particular piece of gear can drive your style in a particular direction, surely having a particular piece of gear in your arsenal can drive you in another. 

Make sure you check out the finished shots as well as some interesting behind the scenes shots at Profoto.

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Previous comments

Only thing missing from this article is an affiliate link.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Way too many photography lighting "articles" (or tutorials) look like an advert and almost always Profoto is left, right and center.

It's this sneaky way they nonchalantly dismiss anything that does not require a mortgage as not professional. As if "you are a professional then it should cost you" (as you said).

Honestly Mark, this article smells like one big advert, including a few affiliated links. Everything in it suggests that. The title should have been read "Profoto does matter".

Quality, as we know, does not require unnecessary spending, not anymore. If a photographer needs $11,000 of lighting gear for a portrait shoot then well...

Importance of gear is to have what you need for the job you are about to do. If you show up to on-location family portrait with a camera body, a lens and a speed light, you limit yourself. A reflector, a couple of different lenses and maybe a second light will give you more options. If it's Godox, Profoto or Nikon makes ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE.

And if you know what you are doing you can still get great shots with only a camera body, a lens and one speedlight

And why would you suggest that not using Profoto it's DIYing? I put my 2 AD200's on a stand, put the trigger on the camera and off I go. No taping or any gluing is needed :-).

Cheers mate! (I watch too many Australian shows)

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I agree with "Importance of gear is to have what you need for the job you are about to do. If you show up to on-location family portrait with a camera body, a lens and a speed light, you limit yourself. A reflector, a couple of different lenses and maybe a second light will give you more options."

But, if you're showing up for a high volume commercial shoot, I can't agree with "If it's Godox, Profoto or Nikon makes ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE." Trying to shoot in inclement weather, trying to shoot in hot weather, trying to shoot something that requires colour and power fidelity access the board, the quality does matter. I do agree that brand doesn't always equal quality, but, it often does.

I also agree that you can get almost everything you need with a camera a lens and a speedlight. Don't get me wrong, I do. But, with the pressure of a commercial shoot, that isn't always so. Short timelines, demanding clients and demanding conditions mean that sometimes you need gear that makes life easier. My opinion is that that often comes in the guise of branded lights.


Motti Bembaron's picture

Well, I never did a commercial shoot so I can't comment on that specific genre and what is needed. However, a couple of years ago I saw this Youtube clip and here is the link

The audio is in Hebrew but text is in English.

One minute it's "Why You Shouldn't Buy New Camera Gear" the next minute it's a thinly veiled Profoto ad with the heading: "Gear Can Develop Your Style". I'm about to flip out like a Panasonic GH5 screen. So confusing....

Physics matters- the size and shape of a modifier etc... But- comparing a 7' non-Profoto umbrella brand to a Profoto one... Gear matters- but NOT brand name hype...

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I agree that some parts of your gear bag do not require the same kind of quality. My $20 Wescott and second-hand umbrellas are just as good as anything around. But, there are differences in other parts of my gear back.

Felipe Jans's picture

I think those classical quotations are dependant of the style of photography.
"gear doesn't matter"
"the best camera is the one you have with you"
It is pretty obvious that you don't need a Phase One to be an alleycat through the streets capturing moments. You make the best out of what exists with what you have.
In studio photography, though, gear is important or your product (wether it is a model or a thing or whatever) won't sell.
So gear does matter, but only when aesthetics matter and not the meaning alone of the photos.
I personally love taking street photos and I have been doing it even with my cellphone, but when a person asks for a session, I am not going to tell them I'll do it with my phone right there since gear doesn't matter.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Well stated!
Just one comment, if you were using a 2005 BlackBerry, I'm sure you'd rather have your camera with you. ;)

Andy Barnham's picture

Anyone else feel underwhelmed by the images?

David T's picture

Wish they'd have given a better use case, e.g. freezing raindrops or action, some strobes can't do it. But that's not brand specific, but rather model specific.

The actual best feature and unique point of sale that profoto has are the integrated reflectors and the mount. Gels and softboxes can be very easily mounted.

As for reliability, not so sure... I've even had expensive strobes like Broncolor Siros and Profoto D1/D2 fail on me before. Repair costs are absurd, you can get a whole new cheapo strobe for that.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

That last point is certainly something to think about. Repairs can be expensive and replacement of cheaper models can actually be more cost effective (at least in the short term).

Motti Bembaron's picture

Here is an article written by an experienced photographer using AD200 and AD360 in extreme weather:

It's a good read.

Motti Bembaron's picture

The only US made lighting company that I know of is Paul C. Buff and they have excellent strobes. I had two Einsteins, two B400's and a WL strobe, all well made and work like a charm.

Although they offer a good value they still missing some important features. I now use AD200's and their small size and the all in one system is such a pleasure. I am very surprised PCB did not come out with such a system, they would have taken the US market by storm.

After working with Alien Bees for many years I am so relieved not attach cables, batteries and triggers and instead having everything built in.

Notice though that outside the US PCB are not as competitive. They do not ship outside North America and support is then limited.

The European brands still do very well in Europe because for them they are not as expensive and support is readily available. The likes of Godox though are making huge inroads and are claiming huge part of the market. I would not be surprised if some distributors in Europe will do as Adorama did and re-brand Godox with their name, then offer warranty and support. That would make Godox even stronger.

Although HSS might not be as relevant in the future the TTL ability and the all-in-one system is still a huge incentive for (especially on location) photographers to purchase them. Now with the AD400 PRO photographers can still have a relatively small form strobes with pro grade color consistency and excellent battery life. Not to mention great value.

I would say that Paul C. Buff should really wake up and start making their own all-in-one system or they will be left behind. The likes of Godox are only getting better and better and they are doing it in huge strides.

Bill Wells's picture

I remember a time when we called cars like Datsun, Toyota, Honda rice burners. They hit the US market and were considered low end (they did cost less) and not as good as American built cars. But year after year they got better and better. Until today, they are considered better made by many.

So we need remember that with photography equipment as well. Truth is Godox is getting better and better each year. They are even starting to innovate and not just copy.

Yet, just like we did with cars. Our solution was to write them off and all the while they were getting better and better.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Not necessarily a fan of the term rice burner, but I take your point. I do like the idea of don’t look now, but look how good they’ve gotten. Good point.
Two comments, I’m not sure if they are equal yet. And, the Chinese market and industry is different than Japan’s through the 70s and 80s. I don’t think this is the right space to get into that kind of conversation, but, they do / did have different goals and specialties.

Bill Wells's picture

"Rice Burners" is just what they were commonly called. If you look at Godox their remote will let you fire flashes (all of them) in TTL mode. Then the press of a single button switches each flash to manual power and level last fired. Profoto is the only one other company that I am aware of, that can do that..

Motti Bembaron's picture

Agree! They are absolutely at the same light and built quality as any other brand. But offer a much, much better value.