How to Become a Pro Photographer, Part 2- Getting The Equipment and Expertise

Edit, November 2010: I am pleased to announce that I have condensed the content of my How to Become a Pro Photographer series into a concise, richly illustrated 27 page eBook that contains all the info, professional insight, links and resources included in the blog posts.

The great benefit of having it in eBook format is that you can have all the info at your fingertips, in one place, right on your computer or iPad.

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In order to become a pro in this industry, you need to start acquiring professional grade equipment and expertise. The first part of that is easy- simply head to the camera shop or to the B&H site, fill up your shopping cart and plop down your credit card, right? The expertise will take more time, but let’s push that aside for a bit and talk gear.

Camera Gear

They make professional grade camera gear for a reason- it’s fast, accurate and durable. It gets the job done and it doesn’t break very often. If you plan on being a pro shooter, you’re going to need pro gear. It’s a simple as that.

Of course, pro gear is expensive, and the last thing you want to do when you’re first starting out is to put yourself in debt up to your ears, or blow through all of your savings on big glass and top shelf camera bodies. It’s stupid to go completely broke before you even start, you’re going to need some of that money later on.

Nor do you want, or need to simply fill your cart with all the absolute best gear available, just because it’s rated the best in pro shooter magazine and that’s what ProBob uses when he’s on assignment. You need to get the gear that works for you.

Start with the essential items. If you already have a digital SLR body, consider it’s capabilities against the kinds of subjects you intend to shoot. For example, if you want to be a sports photographer, a camera body that only shoots one or two frames per second simply won’t serve your needs. If you want to do high end studio work, you’re going to need a camera system that works well with multiple lighting units.

Like I said, you don’t need to rush out and buy a $5,000 body, but you should be prepared to spend AT LEAST $1,000 on a DLSR (body alone). Anything less than that won’t give you the kind of quality and versatility you’ll need.

When it comes to lenses, this is where you must not compromise. Lenses are the gateway to your images and if you’re a pro, you need top quality glass. I’d recommend staying away from the kit lenses that come with many DLSRs. They’re usually not fast enough or sharp enough to meet professional standards. Buy the body alone and then build a collection of pro quality lenses.

Again, evaluate the kind of photography you intend to specialize in and go from there. If you shoot sports, you will absolutely need a fast telephoto. Big glass is indeed expensive, but it’s essential for many types of work. As with a DSLR, I’d plan on spending no less than $1,000 on a f2.8 telephoto.

If you want to do portrait, wedding or studio work, you may not need such a long telephoto, but you’ll certainly need a fast, short telephoto, like an 85mm, or a 105mm, again, at least f2.8 or faster. You may even want a defocus control lens, and probably a couple of medium to short primes, or fixed lenses.

I’m a big fan of fixed lenses. I own six lenses and only one of them is a zoom, my 80-200 f2.8, which is my workhorse tele. All the others are primes. They’re WAY smaller, faster and sharper than anything I could get in a zoom in that range. However, that’s just my preference. Choose the lenses that are right for you.

Depending on what you do, you may also need flashes or external lighting gear, tripods and stands, wireless slaves, sync cables, soft boxes, and of course a good camera bag setup. Again, get what works for you and your style of photography. Shop around. Talk to other pros and see what they use. We’re pleased to share our knowledge and expertise with the younger photographers. Most of use got help from the big boys and girls when we first stared and we’re more than happy to pay it forward with people like you.

How quickly you acquire all this gear is up to you. Prioritize. Think about what you need NOW and what you’d like to have down the road. Believe me, I know it’s very expensive to get all this stuff and it just may not be feasible to acquire it all at once.

That said, don’t feel guilty about charging some or all of your gear. After all, you’re going to need it eventually, right? The week I got laid off, I dropped a Nikon N90, my 80-200mm lens and an SB-25 Speedlight straight onto my credit card. The reality is that almost all business startups take on some kind of debt of financing and you should not be averse to doing the same. Believe in yourself enough to feel good about investing in you and your business.

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Want the rest of the info? Get the eBook.


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