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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.

Hardware:

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)

Software:

monitor calibration software

Lightroom

Photoshop CS3 (most current is now Photoshop CS5)

Photoshop Actions

Excel (for accounting)

Email

Extras:

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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43 Comments

  1. 1
    Stephanie says:

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

  2. 2
    Regina White says:

    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.

  3. 3
    Nicole says:

    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!

  4. 4
    Steff says:

    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.

  5. 5

    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!

  6. 6
    Tami Wilson says:

    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!

  7. 7
    Leeann Marie says:

    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.

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

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

  9. 9
    Shannon Jones says:

    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! DDCTPhotography@yahoo.com

  10. 10
    Michele Abel says:

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

  11. 11

    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!

  12. 12
    Brad says:

    Great info! Thanks!

  13. 13
    Regina says:

    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.

  14. 14
    Jessica says:

    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:)

  15. 15

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

  16. 16

    This article is so true!!!

  17. 17
    andrea says:

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

  18. 18
    Morgan says:

    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.

  19. 19
    Alicia says:

    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.

  20. 20
    Yolanda says:

    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.

  21. 21
    Donna Good says:

    thanks for sharing this!

  22. 22
    Kimberly says:

    makes me feel so much better about not having all the lenses! i have the kit and a 55-200 and finally got the 35mm 1.8. my next purchase down the road, maybe the 50mm or the 24-70 everyone goes so crazy about!

  23. 23
    Nataly says:

    Thank you for just telling us like it is! I struggled for a long time because I felt I didn’t have the equipment I thought I “needed” but have since focused my efforts on improving my skills with what I have. It has been a somewhat slow process, but I have bought every piece of equipment one a time, when I could afford it, and that has been worth it.

  24. 24
    Robin says:

    I need to work on my confidence. I tend to down play my skills even when people have great comments for me. I also am not confident on directing my subjects as I am shooting them.

  25. 25
    jessica says:

    Great list to remember not to get anything and everything that sounds cool, especially if I haven’t mastered the equipment I already have. Definitely need to make monitor calibration a priority!

  26. 26
    Breanne says:

    I really appreciated this one. As someone still in the “starting out” phase, I don’t have much. I do love what I have though and it works for me. I’ll likely invest in a wide angle lens at some point and also in a telephoto (more for personal use to get close up of my family behind our boat), but right now, I’m good with what I’ve got. :)

  27. 27
    Andree says:

    Very sound advice. I know that for myself I’m dying to get a “proper” camera. I’ve been reading for over a year about the various models, and all that time reading has given me objectivity and to see where the new cameras are going. Do I need the absolute latest model ? No. But I know that if I invest in a good piece of equipment,it will take me far. Eventually I could always sell it, or keep as a backup. Or give as a gift!

  28. 28
    Michell says:

    WOW, great and simple information…now I don’t feel so inadequate in the computer realm, slowly but surely making my way to lightroom…didn’t think about the calibration software THANKS for that tip!

  29. 29
    Sarah says:

    Reading this article definitely took a burden off of my shoulders! Thanks. I feel like there is so much pressure to have all of the latest and greatest gear out there. It was really good to hear that you can be frugal and successful.

  30. 30
    Beth says:

    Thanks for this! I was just adding away to the shopping cart on BH this morning. After reading your post I felt the pressure to get something NOW lessen. Thank you, thank you!! I am ready to upgrade my Canon 50mm f1.8 but not sure if I should get the 24-70 L or the 50 f1.2 L. I’ll rent lenses a little longer to see what it is I really need.

  31. 31
    Rebecca Ort says:

    Love this!!! Back to feeling good about my one camera and one lens that I always use!!!

  32. 32
  33. 33
    Keri says:

    There is also no mention of buying USED equipment rather than brand-new. I have only bought one lens new (it was actually a gift) and the rest were gently used. Adorama, B&H, and KEH all sell used equipment and I’ve NEVER had a problem with it. Also look into alternatives – like the 24-70….the precursor to that lens was the 28-70. I purchased a used 28-70 for about $300 less than a used 24-70 would have cost me and I LOVE it. I haven’t missed the extra 4mm at all!!

    Also, on calibration, I’ve been “pro” for a few years and have NEVER calibrated my monitor. I used the test prints from the lab when I opened an account to eyeball the colors, and have never had a problem. I definitely don’t get why people get so wrapped up in buying expensive calibration software when they can fine-tune the colors with the already-included software. If you really even need to at all.

    Also, be careful with your camera choice and Photoshop. I use CS2, and the newest camera I can use, and still use the Adobe Raw software is either a 30D or a 5D. I would have to upgrade to at least CS3 to shoot and edit RAW files on my 40D in Photoshop. Sucks that Adobe does that – but I don’t shoot in RAW that often anyway.

  34. 34
    Nancy says:

    Great blog AGAIN! -) I’m going to start looking at some calibration software now…

  35. 35
    Yvette says:

    Thanks again! Great info…

  36. 36
    Ally White says:

    I would like to know if all monitor calibration software is created equal. Are there certain ones you would suggest? I’m getting ready to purchase this product and there are so many options, i don’t know whick one to buy.

  37. 37

    Great advice and some really interesting comments from everyone. Thank you for the reminder on the 1.6 multiplier for lenses. The advice I have been given is a good lens will be with you for a lot longer than your camera. So while a Canon 5D MKII waits for me to give it a home I am mindful of lens compatibility and the factor difference in the focal length on my 300D.

  38. 38

    Nice job!
    thanks for sharing…
    I always love to read your blog post!

  39. 39
    Daria says:

    Thank You for this! i always think “i can’t get seriously into photography b/c i dont have enough fancy equipment” …even though i have a bachelors in fine art/photography i always feel under qualified, not as much talent or skill wise, but i guess gear wise. this article really helped me realize having more gear doesnt make you a better photographer. thank you!

  40. 40

    […] Step 2 – Gear (the gear you really need) […]

  41. 41
    Shaun David says:

    That is a great start. I would also add back up equipment of cameras and lenses. For archival purposes I would also back up on bluest disc.

  42. 42

    WOW! What a brilliant post. Thanks for sharing…

  43. 43
    Tomas Haran says:

    That is a great post. I have downsized my lens list and extras as I found I didn’t really need them, but wanted them. Its tough when you hang out with photographers who own lots of lenses and the newest cameras. You know how they can be better, but you do have to find what works for you and get quality.

  44. 44

    I seldom leave comments, but i did a few searching and wound up here From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 2. Gear You Actually Need | MCP Photography Blog. And I do have a few questions for you if you tend not to mind. Could it be only me or does it seem like a few of the remarks appear like they are coming from brain dead folks? :-P And, if you are posting on other sites, I’d like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of all your community sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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