Jul 3, 2013

How Important Is Camera Equipment?

I tend to receive a lot of random messages about my images, the style I shoot, and various other production and editing quirks - more of my lesson posts can be found here. After another such email about photography, I decided it was time to summarize a few of my thoughts on the importance of the camera equipment you use. Recently I received this message:

Hi Luke! 

First off, I just came across your blog for the first time today and it has been really helpful so far so thank you! Secondly, I was wondering if there is a camera that you use most often when shooting stills? 

I graduated from the film program at Cal State - Northridge last May and since then I have just been pretty lost as to what I want to do career wise. I'm just really overwhelmed with all the routes I could take, and I just don't know what to invest my time in. I've always loved photography and shoot a lot in my free time but all I own is a canon 60d and only have one lens at the moment (50mm, 1.8). 

Anyway, I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to how I could get my hands on more equipment in the cheapest way possible as I am currently unemployed. Also, how crucial is it to own a bunch of equipment (lights, lenses, camera bodies etc) if I decide to become a professional photographer? 

Thanks again! 

I appreciate the message, Emanja. I wanted to respond to you in a blog post seeing as a lot of people can probably relate. I know I've had a lot of the same concerns in carving out my own path. 

There are many who swear by their high-end cameras, fancy software, and arsenal of extras, but at the forefront, it's what you photograph that really matters. In the simplest terms, that's what you should be most concerned about. A keen eye, interesting subjects, a method for sharing your work, the right connections, etc. - these things matter more than whether you're using a $200 point and shoot or a $5000 SLR. Any camera that can shoot a picture in focus is overflowing with potential.  

Don't get me wrong, having nice equipment to work with is a plus, but don't let that be your road block in getting started - people who think expensive equipment will make up for a lack of creativity are fooling themselves. 

To answer your question, I have a range of cameras that I use on a regular basis - the most frequent of which are a Sony point and shoot, a Rebel series Canon, and a 5D Mark II. And before you go thinking that I threw the Sony in to be humble, I really do believe that a decent point and shoot is a must, and I've actually sold a number of images and prints using that little camera.

There are different requirements whether you're doing weddings, or portraits, etc. However, speaking as a corporate photographer I have a basic 3 light set up, a few soft boxes, reflectors, and a light tent that I use in the studio. Outdoors I keep it especially simple, and try to plan shoots for when I know the light will be best. My personal shooting motto is keep it simple and capture a lot. In total though, for the variety of work I've done, my equipment isn't nearly as fancy or elaborate as it probably could be.

In my experience, it's been my editing that's really helped my images stand out. Using just a small collection of programs, none more than photoshop, I've taught myself to build custom filters, play a lot with tinting, and develop a style for my work. Many photographers like to build their shots in camera (which is absolutely fine) but for me I really build my shots in the processing. In my opinion, it's a very easy way of putting a stamp on the work you do - not to mention, if you're photographing familiar things, the editing is like an exclamation mark for the subject matter. 

So here's my advice, if you want to be a professional photographer then simply start working towards that goal. Play with images and take lots of them. Take your 60D and continue to build a portfolio, get your friends to help you with shoots, share your work online, and determine the kind of photographer you want to be. Check out thrift shops, eBay, or even garage sales for props or used equipment on the cheap. Submit your work around, build a simple website to attract attention, and consider applying to places that require photographers - newspapers, magazines, websites, tourism, etc. for added experience - even if you're working contract these are great places to pursue. A few solid shots online with your contact info attached, and the doors will start to open rapidly. Media is always in demand, but to start you have to chase the work to make it pay.

At the end of the day it's your images that speak, and developing a body of work is paramount. The regular messages I receive are often about specific shots and how I achieved a certain look. The cool thing about that is that it's the picture that draws the attention, and people can't tell how much (or how little) money my equipment cost. You can do amazing things just with the basics, and regardless of the type of photographer you want to be, a distinct style and professional aesthetic will come with practice. You already have a camera, so prove what you can do with it.

Focus on creating captivating and unique images first and foremost and the work follows. Talented artists are seldom born because they had the best of the best from the start. Good luck, and happy shooting!

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