From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 2. Gear You Actually Need

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 2. Gear You Actually Need

Welcome back! Today I’m gonna talk about gear (the gear you actually need) to really get started.

I think investing money into education is money well spent. I think investing money on a dozen different photography gadgets is money well wasted.

Mottos I live by:

#1: Buy quality, need less.
#2: Don’t buy something until you feel limited because you don’t own it.
#3: You know all those fun gadgets? 90% of the time you don’t need them.

I run a profitable photography business. Here is my “barebones” list of what I need to run my business. Although, I have made enough money to own more, if I lost everything else I’d be totally fine.


1 camera (Canon’s 5d Mark II)

1 lens (my favorite is my 35mm 1.4)

CF memory cards

1 flash

1 laptop

1 monitor
(I simply connect my laptop to it when I edit)

1 keyboard, 1 wireless mouse

2 external hard drives (one is fire and waterproof)

Office space (office space is important – even if it’s only a transformed, walk-in closet)


monitor calibration software


Photoshop CS3 (most current is now Photoshop CS5)

Photoshop Actions

Excel (for accounting)



A phone

Marketing material (i.e. website, business cards, etc.)

Proofing software

Ways to make do for less:

1. Don’t feel like you have to have the best camera available to make beautiful photographs. First, you are the one that makes beautiful photographs and after you get your education you will be confident of that no matter what camera you use. Secondly, buying a quality lens is oftentimes more important than the camera itself. Save up and buy a quality one. It might be the only lens you’ll ever need.

2. Use the laptop you already own and spend the money on a quality monitor for editing.

3. Rent, instead of buy, additional gear (i.e. 2nd camera and/or additional lens), if necessary.

4. Don’t get obsessed with purchasing every single Photoshop action set out there. Invest in one or two good sets and only buy more when you have the spare income.

5. Really research extra photography gadgets before you purchase them. The only extra “gadget” I own and use is a diffuser for my flash ($20).

It’s easy to feel suffocated by all the things we think we need to own in order to run a successful business. I challenge you all to really think of what you need to do the job you’re desiring to do. Make a list and stick to it. Only by additional items when you truly can afford it.

Jessica, our guest writer for this series on going from Hobbyist to Professional Photographer, is the photographer behind 503 photography and the owner and creator of 503 |online| workshops for adults and now, KIDS AND TEENS!

p.s. Sign your chid up for one of our kid/teen workshops and use code MCP503 for $50 off. Offer ends May 23rd.

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  1. May 12, 2010 at 11:37 am —

    Interesting that you place a blog/website in the Extra category. Since having a blog is free (can be more to self-host, have custom templates, etc.) and gives you an easy showcase for your recent, it seems like it would be a must-have no brainer for any creative business.

    One question, under flash, do you mean off-camera flash, or are you suggesting that the built-in flash is okay? I have had great results using my built-in flash and a LightScoop ($35), but received a second-hand speedlight for Mother’s Day.

    Also, one may need a memory card reader if their laptop or external hard drives do not have one built in.

    And it may sound silly, but I think an inexpensive black and white printer is essential for any business. You will be dealing with contracts, taxes, and receipts and you need to have a way to print that material out.

  2. Alicia
    May 12, 2010 at 11:11 am —

    For those who haven’t had the education yet but own a Canon Rebel series or an XXD (20D, 7D, etc) – the 35mm lens mentioned here is actually 56mm on those cameras as they are crop sensors and the 5D Mk II is full frame. To get the same focal length on a crop body you will need a 22mm lens (the 24mm fixed is a lovely option.) An easy rule of thumb to determine actual focal length on a crop body is to multiply the listed length by 1.6. Hope that helps someone.

  3. May 12, 2010 at 11:09 am —

    Great advice! I’m still shooting with a good ole Nikon D40 and borrow my Dad’s D90 when needed (can’t beat free rentals). I don’t own Photoshop CS, still working with PSE7, and Lightroom 2 (testing beta 3). I haven’t bought any presets or actions, I just work off what I can find for free. I even make all my own marketing materials (it’s called nice cardstock, Dad’s really nice laser printer, and a good paper cutter). I’ve never had anyone comment on how “un-professional” I am because I my equipment. It’s your photos that make you a pro, not what you own.

  4. andrea
    May 12, 2010 at 11:06 am —

    thanks for this info. It isnt overwhealming and very doable.

  5. May 12, 2010 at 10:46 am —

    This article is so true!!!

  6. Great list! The only thing I would add is a 5-in-1 reflector.

  7. May 12, 2010 at 10:19 am —

    I believe this is true with all my heart. You have to be the one to take good photographs, then you can get extra equipment….Love this article:)

  8. May 12, 2010 at 10:18 am —

    Thanks Jessica! This was helpful, because sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what others say I need or I see what other photographers have. But I have to remember that I’m the one that can make a good photograph through what I see and using the technical skills that I’m learning.

  9. May 12, 2010 at 10:03 am —

    Great info! Thanks!

  10. May 12, 2010 at 9:56 am —

    Loving this series of articles! I have a question – is there a reason to have a laptop versus a PC? I have thought quite a bit about getting a laptop (right now I do everything on my PC), but didn’t think it was necessary to get one. Are there specific reasons you say to have a laptop?

    Thanks so much! I can’t wait to read the rest of the articles!

  11. May 12, 2010 at 9:48 am —

    Wow… make me feel great, as far as gadgets! I have, or am about to get, everything you said. I will stop now!!!

  12. Shannon Jones
    May 12, 2010 at 9:44 am —

    I never thought of hooking up my monitor to my laptop to edit! Duh!!!!
    What calibrator do you suggest? I see that there are some cheaper ones than what everyone on Clickin Mom’s is telling me to get. I need one but I do not have alot of money.
    Someone, please advise!

  13. May 12, 2010 at 9:41 am —

    I have most of that list covered, actually. Monitor calibration & Lightroom are lacking, though, still. I need to look into that eventually. Great info.

  14. May 12, 2010 at 9:34 am —

    I think these posts are interesting, and provide good guidance for starting photographers. However, I’m slightly conflicted too… it can also be read that if you just buy this stuff and read a book you can be successful, which I do not think is necessarily the case.

    I hope that the next steps involve 250% dedication, immense practice, learning more and more, client skills, business tax and accounting skills, time management, post-processing, image backup and more. It’s not easy.

  15. May 12, 2010 at 9:30 am —

    Great advice! When I first started I thought I needed it all. Thank goodness I didn’t have the money to buy everything I thought I *had* to have. 🙂 Looking forward to the rest of your posts. Thank you!

  16. May 12, 2010 at 9:22 am —

    Gosh I love this series! Within my photography group, the ladies have been professional for a VERY long time and I always feel inadequate in my equipment! So I was busting my budget (without going in debt) to keep up with all the bells and whistles they have!

    This helps so much!

  17. May 12, 2010 at 9:21 am —

    So far this series has really helped to calm my nerves. I like to keep things simple and getting my ideas reiterated makes me feel like things are so far so good. I’ve been investing in my education but I really need to expand into post processing with more vigor.

  18. May 12, 2010 at 9:20 am —

    Thank you for all the great tips! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in thinking you need all the extras. I can’t wait to see what you post tomorrow!

  19. May 12, 2010 at 9:18 am —

    Oh! I just love this article. This is perfect for me. I’m always feeling like I need more for my buisness and it’s really hard to listen to other photographers who have more than you do. But this article just smacked me back into reality. Thanks for this.

  20. May 12, 2010 at 9:09 am —

    Very straight-forward and sound advice. I don’t have any gadgets but I must invest in calibration!

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From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 2. Gear You Actually Need