Friday, June 6, 2014

Confession : My "amateur" Equipment

There's something that I don't talk about a lot, though plenty of photographers boast about it often. You can find this subject on their web pages and in their FAQs and on all the blog posts in the world. I coyly avoid this subject, because I've been trained to believe I should be embarrassed by my answer. But I read a blog post recently, and I want to come clean. I want to talk about the equipment I use.

More importantly, I want to talk about SOME of the equipment I use.

Canon 50D w/ 18-55mm kit lens and flash bounced off ceiling

Recently, a friend and fellow photographer, Charisma, tweeted this blog post about studio equipment. In it, the photographer talks about wanting a lot of things but making due with what she has. You can see the evidence in the actual photos, they are skillfully done. At the end of the day, this photographer doesn't need much more than the corner of her dining room to create some beautiful portraits.

Digital Rebel T3i and 18-55mm kit lens

Something that a LOT of photographers emphasize is equipment, starting with camera bodies and going on to lighting and studio space. Most photographers will wax poetic about the fanciest camera bodies, generally full-frame DSLRs that go for several thousand dollars each. And while it's true that there are benefits to these cameras, I just can't be bothered to pay a couple thousand dollars (or more) for a very heavy piece of equipment. Next up : lenses. Oh man, ALL the lenses, which range from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. All told, if you put together the average professional kit of two bodies, three lenses, and a good flash, and you're definitely up to ten grand in equipment.

The cost of this equipment goes directly into the cost of the photographic services. (Skill and experience play a role as well, but equipment is definitely a driving cost in photographic services.) Equipment is so emphasized, that even professional photography organizations outline equipment in their requirements.

What I'm saying is : equipment is a big deal.

Canon 50D and kit lens with no flash

And herein lies my reticence to admit that I have shot the vast majority of my images with a Canon Digital Rebel. This is the lowest form of Canon DSLR, generally considered amateur. When I did upgrade, I went to a 50D, which is just a step above. I did this for a couple of features and because I was interviewing to be a second shooter for a big agency (that went nowhere, since I already had too much experience and a distinct style). My main lens? Well, it's the kit lens...the 18-55mm lens that comes with the Rebel kit. It's not considered a professional lens. If you look at my equipment, I'm not considered a professional. But if you look at my skills, experience, and portfolio, there's no question.

Canon 50D and kit lens

The thing is, equipment is a fine line. Back in the day of slr film cameras, there wasn't such a distinction between professional and amateur. Sure, you had recreational use cameras such as the Brownie, which were basic and provided mostly "snapshots". Other than that, once a photographer decided to upgrade his equipment, there wasn't a variation among bodies. When you bought a fully manual camera, that was it. You chose the best lens and the best film and then you go and shoot and develop your skill. Nowadays, though, there is such snobbery among photographers based on the type of equipment they use.

But at the end of the day, it's really all in what the photographer does. I could create beautiful portraiture with a phone or a disposable camera or a point and shoot digital or my current equipment or a fancy pants, full-frame, DSLR. I was reminded of this when one of my fave IG peeps posted his equipment list under one of his photos. I was shocked to learn that he, like myself, was not using a fancy pants camera. His shit was so basic, and I was actually kind of excited! It made me want to come here and confess that I am a professional photographer who uses "amateur" equipment and I'm really very proud of the work I create. I've worked for over a decade from film to digital, gaining experience as I went, learning skills along the way, and developing a definite style. You can tell when you see one of my photos, because my style is very distinct. And honestly, style is really what's important. Whether you're an hipster who uses toy film cameras or a snobby professional who uses the most expensive full-frame DSLR, prime lenses, and off-camera lighting. What matters is understanding light and your equipment and using it to produce a consistent style. At the end of the day, that's what I do.

Canon Digital Rebel T3i and 18-55mm kit lens


  1. Yay, love this! Had to scan down to say that before even finishing, I'm saving up to upgrade lenses. Excited to do more research on this and talk to other photographers/brainstorm.

    1. What lenses do you have and what do you think you want?

  2. AMEN

    I think it's the photographer, not the equipment that makes the photos. I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day where he was saying how these photographers with their "little rebels" are running the "real photographers" out of the business by charging very little for their services. Truth is, I'm running around with a "little rebel" and I have yet to have a client that has said, "You know, that shot could have been better." or "You're using THAT camera?"

    Glad I'm not the only one that uses basic equipment lol

    1. You know, people used to believe it's the photographer NOT the camera who makes the photos, but that thought process has slipped away with all the fancy pants digital equipment available. I stand by that thought, though. Certainly, more expensive cameras have more features and there is a benefit to even the most expensive, full-frame sensor...BUT, if you don't need it, if you're making the photos you WANT to make with the equipment you have, why stress about getting something way more expensive? Especially if you want to keep your costs low.

      As for the idea that anyone with a Rebel is pricing out photographers with more expensive cameras...Well, I review wedding sites ALL THE TIME, and proper exposure is NOWHERE to be found, though I can tell when someone is using a fancy camera and fancy lighting (and not just because I read their equipment list). If I'm looking through the portfolio of a photographer and all the wedding dresses are lacking in detail and have hot spots of washed out white blocks due to improper exposure and then I see they are charging several thousands dollars and using fancy equipment...honestly, I'm not just unimpressed, I'm actually pissed off. It's a shame that so many people can go buy the biggest and most expensive camera and still not understand basic exposures. So if I'm pricing them out, then I don't care.

      But also, some people don't want cheap photography. My friends are ALWAYS telling me to raise my prices, because then people with more money will want my services. But I don't care. So I'm not doing it. Actually, pricing is a whole OTHER blog post!

  3. Great post! Like you, I believe that equipment doesn’t matter nearly as much as having a creative eye and knowing how to use light! Just look at Instagram and see the spectacular work some people create with just their iPhones. As someone that uses a full frame Nikon and several prime lenses, I do see the benefits of having professional equipment: reliability, sharpness, ability to shoot in low light situations (like wedding reception venues), etc… It makes my job a little easier, but I’m also smart enough to know that it takes more that to make a beautiful image. I’ve seen some great work from photographers that use “amateur equipment” and some not so good stuff from people with top of the line gear. And vice versa. I don’t think anyone should be made to feel superior/inferior based on their equipment. The work should always speak for itself :)