Here’s What I’m Always Upgrading as a Professional Photographer 

Here’s What I’m Always Upgrading as a Professional Photographer 

Photography is tech-reliant. With cameras coming out so often, it’s easy to get lost in constantly upgrading your camera, lens, light, and so on. However, there is one thing that I am always upgrading as a professional photographer. 

Knowledge and skill. If I were to single out one thing that’s holding me back constantly, it would have to be that. Although I consider myself a professional photographer, there is always something to learn, something to try out. This is both beauty and pain in photography, and learning never stops. If it does, you’re either dead or only started. However, one must be careful about what one leans. There is a lot of useless information out there that photographers shouldn't care about. I will break down the things you should focus on upgrading when it comes to your knowledge as a photographer, and things that you shouldn’t perhaps pay any attention to at all.

Knowledge That Matters

The best way to determine if knowledge matters to you are by asking if knowing it will make you money. Although knowledge may not translate directly into making money, it can perhaps become useful when working on an assignment. Me knowing how to recreate the sun doesn’t make me money while I sleep; it does, however, make me money when a client picks me because I can do it. Here are some ideas on the knowledge that should matter to you when you’re trying to upgrade your skillset.


I can’t stress thing enough. Photography, in literal translation, means painting with light. This is probably the core definition that people must understand when they are trying to take a picture. No light — no picture, it’s as simple as that. Investing in resources that help you understand how light reflects, bounces, shapes, and sculps surfaces, and so on, which will ultimately make you a much better photographer with niche knowledge. Even if you are a landscape photographer and technically can't control the sun, knowing that harsh sunlight will bring out detail in the mountains, while a cloudy sky will conceal that detail can help a great deal in taking that perfect picture. 


I strongly believe that knowing the theory of post-production and being able to do basic processing is important. Even if you outsource it to a retoucher, it is vital to know what’s possible and what’s not. This will end up making you a photographer that is much more skilled in estimating for a job. 


As uncreative as it sounds, being able to conduct business and not be reckless with the money you make can go a long way to helping you get the next campaign, major test shoot, and more. One of the things that I focused heavily on learning in the past year is how to conduct business and keep track of all business-related finances and make sure that my purchases are relevant to the business. This ended up enabling me to do more test shots and make purchases that drove my photography to the next level. Basic legal, economics, and marketing knowledge is vital to being profitable. 

The Knowledge That Doesn’t Matter

Camera Reviews

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think there hasn’t been a month without a camera release for the past few years. With the rate technology advances, there are literally thousands of products being released for various purposes in photography and art. One pitfall many photographers fall into is reading irrelevant reviews. While this may sound hypocritical coming from someone writing for Fstoppers, I don’t think it is. Simply reading an EOS R5 review and arguing over the overheating problems in the comments if you don’t own one or don’t even shoot Canon is pointless. Knowing camera spec is only helpful when you are a camera salesman and that knowledge translates into you being able to do your job. 


Lens A versus lens B, light A versus light B. Which one is better for blah blah blah. It sometimes seems to me that one of the biggest questions photographers have is if they should buy one brand or the other. Knowing how much purple fringing a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 has if you will never buy or need one doesn’t help you at all in becoming a better photographer. Sure, I know some specs the lenses I own have, but I don’t know them by heart. It’s vital to understand that unless you need to urgently buy something, camera reviews and comparisons do nothing beyond give you useless information that you don’t need. And yes, I’ve written both camera reviews and comparisons. 

Where to Look for Knowledge?


There are a lot of educational resources on the internet, from full online tutorials to books. There has never been so much choice as there is now. One great resource is the tutorial section of Fstoppers, as it offers a variety of different useful tutorials for a reasonable price. 


There are countless books from which you can learn. If you fancy learning about studio lighting, Light: Science & Magic is a great comprehensive guide that gets to the bottom of how light works and behaves. There are books on virtually anything that you may want to learn about. I strongly suggest reading reviews first, though.  

Private Coaching

Many photographers, such as Andrea Belluso, host private coaching sessions that strive to inspire creators to learn further. Clay Cook also has a private coaching platform that helps many photographers improve their business. Most photographers, including myself, with a public presence offer private coaching, and if they don’t, it’s always possible to shoot an email and ask for help. 

Closing Thoughts 

What to upgrade next is a popular topic that often ends up giving a no-answer along the lines of "whatever piece of gear you need most." However, that answer is not good enough, because the thing you should upgrade first is yourself. Only when you know exactly why the better piece of gear will help you create can you upgrade something that’s not your knowledge. I have shot huge jobs on a 5D Mark II in 2019, and no one batted an eyelid. I have shot huge jobs on a 5D Mark IV, and no one noticed a difference. However, I’ve shot for the same client two years ago and recently, and there was a significant difference in the quality of my work. That’s why you should upgrade yourself.  

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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I’ve often seen reviews where people come to comment just to say they don’t own this particular brand and felt they needed to tell everyone they are not interested (or just want to be unnecessarily negative). It really makes you wonder why they bother at all.

Sound advice, the most powerful tool is the one between your ears. I try to use the gear that I own and maximize it's features and replace it only when you've reached it's limits. Remember when you bought a Hasselblad or Mamiya kit and thought that you'd use it for the rest of your career? Now people are chasing the latest greatest and digital cameras are almost disposable. Hell, my Profoto Acute2 kit just keeps on going but I do think about a B10 or similar for battery powered in the future...

There is a recent article by Phoblographer that suggested modern mirrorless gear doesn’t last as long as DSLR gear because new technology is coming out all the time and we are always upgrading. This is of course quite a misleading statement. Plenty of pro’s still use DSLR’s and our mirrorless gear will still produce the same quality photos regardless how old it is. Clients simply don’t care about the gear we use and constantly upgrading should be left to the gearheads to waste their money. Knowledge and technique are far more vital than new gear. Besides, film cameras are capable of creating stunning photos in the right hands even though they are don’t offer the same resolution and other capabilities of modern mirrorless cameras. Just goes to show how the technology isn’t quite as important as technique and experience.


The worst thing is having gear with no more support from maker as they make newer gear forcing an upgrade in camera, but the camera still takes good images!!! Started with T2i three years later not on site, went A7s but no updates since 2016. Next positive thing was IBIS that got a camera off a tripod and ISO Invariance better noise, then a pixel race that only allows cropping when not able to get close, but today there is Gigapixel AI make as big as you like while still at 12 or standard 24MP. Also a race for fast glass for bokeh or astro but never the size of old film lenses still usable with adapters and best with IBIS. The best thing not looked at is software, not the lazy AI, that can make a 2006 point and shoot look like taken yesterday and MP size increased and below $100 vs PS was $800 every two years. And today with YouTube and others no need for college you get all the training and knowledge mostly free without books or mags. Today a camera from Goodwill tomorrow on a mag cover or lead on a website and sales $$$, Thanks Software....
2006 Vivitar Vivicam 8300s 8MP of Faces in Arizona Oil

Knowledge that DOES matter, reading REVIEWS and COMPARISONS! I changed from DSLR to mirrorless after reading reviews and comparisons, a lot of reviews and comparisons. I buy 3rd party lenses based on reviews and comparisons with the native glass and other available 3rd party lenses. I watch a lot of sources. I listen to their objective and subjective advice. Then, I try the equipment myself knowing about all the benefits and idiosyncracies others have seen. Tripods, bags, filters... I read and watch reviews.

The author says that knowledge is something that needs to constantly be upgraded, but then he says that the knowledge from his peers is not important, even his own advice. By his own argument, we shouldn't even be reading this article!

However, I believe that even a bad article, like this one, can be helpful. I believe that specs that I'll never remember in the field are important in the buying process. I believe that you can see trends start to develop if you read/watch several reviews. I believe some people are smart enough to pick through all the advice and make up their own minds.

Should you be wary of advice? Sure! Don't believe everything you read or see. I don't think a person should buy a camera or lens based solely on someone else's sniff and wind tunnel tests. Go sniff and blow on it yourself to see if it's what you want. You can agree or disagree with "expert" advice. It's your camera, your lens, your gear and your money.

I watch and read reviews and comparisons religiously before I buy something. As a result, I've only made one high dollar purchase that I regret. Not because what I bought was bad, but because I jumped at a lower choice on my list because I got an insane deal on the purchase price. At the time, I could live with the compromise, but it is something I will need to upgrade in the future.

So, my 2 cents, listen to the advice of the "expert" reviewers. Listen to the specs, even if you'll never remember them. Watch their color and focusing tests even if you never will do them yourself. Discard their sniff tests as quackery and false science. Use their knowledge, or lack there of, to help you make an informed decision. Photography is an expensive mistress. Use all the knowledge you can find to maximize your purchase power.

Thank you for your comment. I suppose I wasn't clear on what I meant. Reading reviews of something you won't buy is pointless. That time can be spent learning photography, the history of your genre, and so on. When you need to make a purchase by all means have a look at the reviews.

I don't believe that is correct either. A person shouldn't avoid print or video content not related to their brand or their particular gear. For example, I will probably never buy a tilt-shift lens. However, I know what one is, I kind of know how to use one and maybe I can recognize a situation where I might need one should that situation ever occur. How can I say this? I watched a few videos about something that I'll most likely never buy. There are also times when you might discover a topic or product that you'd never encountered before and it turns out to be something that interests you. You can't discount the unwanted or the unknown. There may be something there to learn.

You are correct about avoiding fanboys whose only purpose is to criticize gear that doesn't come from their particular brand. All the top manufacturers make good gear. They all do things a little differently, but they all make good gear.

"Photography is tech-reliant" and technology is ever changing faster and faster. Wait a few upgrade cycles and the consumer is behind the curve and suddenly technology ignorant. Wait five years to introduce a new camera model and some electronics company takes over the camera market and time honored camera companies go on life support or worse.

All the while fewer and fewer photographers can afford to be photographers much less buy any gear at "today's" prices and those photographers that try to hang on can only do so by resorting to ancillary activity like creating online camera and lens reviews, writing photography articles or creating a Youtube channels to encourage enthusiasts to buy more!