What Gear do I really need?
8 Years ago, when I decided to be a “professional photographer” on a whim, I simply went to amazon and bought a kit very similar to this for like $400 +/- I got my camera, the kit lens (the 18—55 lens), the random cleaning cloths, a tripod, a bad and some fresh memory cards.
I was set. Then I started advertising that I had everything I needed to be a “pro” My first shoot- a senior session in Alexandria Historic District- was a complete disaster. I shot all my photos on AUTO in WEB quality format (why is that even an option!) and when I photoshopped the crap out of the photos and then delivered them- the highest print quality they could be at was 4x6. (Insert emoji with the person smacking their forehead here.)
Well, time passed and I thought, “Maybe just a better camera and maybe a better lens will help me be a better photographer.) So I saved up all my money and bought a Nikon d7100 and this 18-200 lens (Over $1,000!) and this was HUGE step for me. I had only done a few outdoor shoots with friends, again, only shooting AUTO. But saved up money from our savings account at the time and convinced myself that a better camera equaled better photos.
I was sorely mistaken. Then I studied up on flashes- buying two of these cheap NEEWER flashes and some of these constant lighting. AGAIN, only shooting in auto white balance and auto settings.
Then I thought I would ask youtube when the best lens to get to make me (magically) a better photographer. So I bought my nifty fifty used for 150.00. “I had reached it! I had all my gear to make me a pro!” (or so I thought!) So I booked my first FREE wedding!
I had one day to learn my flash unit before this big wedding at a historical house in Lynchburg. I also new that I wanted to learn how to not be in AUTO anymore, so I decided to put my camera on the A priority section for the entire wedding. Which would have worked well, but then I added my flash unit and started shooting at 1/300 shutter speed to compensate and half of my photos got black lines on them- ruining the image! Do you see a pattern here?
I should have started from the very beginning- learning my camera inside and out- taking classes on composition, shooting manual and basic photography with places like CREATIVE LIVE (I learned from YOUTUBE, but unless you really get some good channels that are very clear and well done, then you are going to get some pretty mixed up information) for tutorials and clarity of message, I like watching this couple, Tony and Chelsea
Anyways, after learning my camera, I should have invested in LIGHTING. PHOTOGRAPHY literally means “Writing a story with light.” So getting my lighting knowledge up and how to use the light around me would have been helpful along the way.
Investing in better lighting would been smarter. Instead of buying all these flashes and remotes to try out what company is my favorite- I should have just stuck to one: godox – the best bang for the buck and these guys just WORK every time! I use these for my main wedding strobe- small enough to fit in my bag and my studio: but powerful enough to light up a whole dance floor. Plus, pair it with this trigger and you are good to go!
For a simple external flash- pick this godox rechargeable. One- the reusable battery is worth the price of admission and two- that baby packs a punch. I have literally spent HUNDREDS of dollars on batteries over the years, when I could have just bought this flash. Then for modifiers, I use these simple umbrella modifiers for all my weddings and events- folds into my suitcase, but flatters everyone!
Let’s talk cameras- what are you shooting? Just outdoor portraits, then a simple Canon rebel, a Nikon d3400 or a Sony Alpha would be sufficient But you are looking to eventually get into video, event, wedding or studio work at ANY point, you are going to need something with more ISO capability. Check out this list of cameras from Tech Radar. Rent, borrow, save up or trade if you have to!
Get one lens if you only have a little money- a 35mm 1.8 or lower or a 50mm 1.8 or lower. All other lenses don’t allow a lot of natural light! If you need a closer lens- get an 85mm 1.8 105 macro lens or something similar- it’s a great way to get close with out breaking the bank. In fact, with all my students- I also have them start out on a 35mm (or a 50mm) and an 85mm for their entire kit.
Get a simple, but sturdy tripod- good enough for video too!. You don’t want one with a ball head- the heavier your camera, the more it moves. And you don’t want something cheap that will break with you use it! (I’ve gone through at least 10 tripods in 8 years, so I know what I am talking about! And YOU DO NOT want twist legs, but snap legs. Heavy duty light stands is a must. I have spent THOUSANDS on cheap crap that doesn’t work and then I have to replace it. Do yourself a favor and save up for the good stuff! You will thank me later!
Other random stuff that you might not think about: Getting a GOOD PC or MAC. You will need at least 12 GB of RAM and higher processes speeds (like a i5 or i7 processor ) to help you with your editing. I have tried to save money so many times on cheaper computers and I have regretting every minute- try to edit an entire wedding when your computer is crashing constantly. Need free or cheap storage online? Amazon DRIVE is the way to go- free jpeg storage for life if you are a prime member! You will need a least ONE or TWO external hard drives to keep your stuff on!
What’s this going to cost me?
1. Start with a GOOD camera first (minimum 400-800 to start off with). Try to go mirrorless if possible. WHY? Better image quality and this is the future really. ($400-800)
2. Start off with a GOOD natural light lens (sell your kit lens if you need to) like a 50mm 1.8 or 35mm 1.8 (all under $200.00)
3. Then Add to that, education and learning expenses. ($100 ball park figure)
4. Add to that lightroom and photoshop monthly fee (you will thank me later!) (it’s only $9.99 a monthly for both, so totally worth it!) Look at tutorials from PHLEARN for some great content. (120ish per year)
5. Invest in a GOOD computer. There is nothing worse than getting a job and your computer CRASHES every 5 minutes and you have to restart!) Look for one in the $900 to 1,000 range at least! ($900 ish) Already, you are at: $1600 ish +/- . I know it sounds like a lot, but if you look at normal “starting a business” costs, then this is probably one of the cheapest businesses that you can get into from the start.
-----Let’s stop there. If you have camera, the education, ONE good lens, lightroom, and a decent computer, you can get away with a lot. The lighting and other equipment will come! Want to spend more money on gear to shoot more?
6. Then add to your kit, lighting, modifiers, flashes and triggers (see above for my recommendations). If you are only shooting natural light, you will still need a basic external flash to bounce off of walls at peoples houses at the lease! (See above for my recommendations! ($300 plus)
7. Then when you start making money and saving up, your can add lenses as needed or better lighting as needed. 8. Can’t afford better lighting or even have a space to shoot? Rent from some pretty awesome rental facilities that have lighting included.
In Conclusion: I have spent over $20,000 on gear for my business over the last 8 years. Yes, you have heard me right! But If I would have known what I know now about what I REALLY needed to start off, I could have saved so much time and money figuring it out! So save up for each piece of your equipment. Really make it count- don’t get cheap stuff that you will regret!
Christal Marshall is the owner of Virginia Photos and Films, Studio Marshall Arts, Marshall Arts Media Group and Virginia Beach Photobooth Company.
She lives, breathes and does media and marketing pretty much 24-7 for over 14 local business through social media management, website design, photo, video or media coverage or graphic design.
She is a homeschool mom of three, cat lover, sushi eater and poke fan!
She started her business in 2011 with nothing but a $400 camera from Amazon, now she is has been published in over 60 different blogs and websites for her media work and rank top Wedding Photographer in Virginia Beach.