In our never-ending quest to help others not repeat our mistakes, we recently asked a group of photographers about the gear they purchased early in their careers as professional photographers. We asked what they purchased and, in reality, didn’t need, never really used, and would advise photographers newer to the industry against purchasing. Read on … Because, well, we don’t want you to buy something that you really don’t need!
Studio strobes, video lights, large lighting modifiers … When it comes to lighting equipment, several photographers mentioned the need to avoid expensive purchases early on. And that’s fairly easy to do these days. Certainly, over the past decade, lighting equipment has become more affordable and more compact.
“Pretty much all of our big studio strobe off-camera lighting equipment. We had six strobes, parabolic light modifiers, endless umbrellas, and softboxes, which we brought along for one wedding season. Then, we realized how much of a nightmare they were to move around. Now, our lighting kit has shrunk to a few speedlights and MagMod modifiers. In fact, we rarely use stands these days, simply clamping our lights to things in the venue instead. Less is more. It frees us up to focus on the moments instead of being overly technical.”
“One continuing purchase I will never EVER regret is hiring an assistant to lug my gear around and hold a light. It’s so freeing to just have a few things you don’t need to think about. For example, If you’re ‘in the zone’ and walk clients 200+ ft. down the beach or trek with them through some fields, your gear follows you because an assistant is in charge of it.
My bigger regret is buying gear like studio lights, multiple flashes, or large modifiers, before knowing how to use them. I ended up selling gear at a loss and then purchasing it again later because I know how to use it correctly now.”
“An equipment purchase that I didn’t really use was a multi-colored video light. I thought I would be able to boost my creative portraits with the option to use all the colors of a rainbow in a continuous light stream. However, what I found was the video light just wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the natural light I was working with. I would have to hold the light very close to my subjects in order to make use of it. Eventually, I stopped bringing my multi-colored video light along to weddings and portrait sessions. Now I use MagMod products to shape and color the light coming from my off-camera flashes. I can control the flash power with the flick of a dial on my camera and control the color and light spread using MagMod’s light shaping products.”
“We used to haul a large strobe and accompanying battery pack all over the place (desert hikes, up mountains and hillsides, etc.). Now that we’ve learned to master light (and realize how tiring it is to lug that setup around), we’ll use one or two speedlights (max). It’s so much easier to carry, and it’s so true that you can create amazing photographs with basic gear and one light (we tend to favor the Nikon SB-910). And, more often than not, for outdoor portrait sessions, we typically use natural light right up to sunset. The above photograph is natural light (silhouette + a piece of copper pipe).”
“ExpoDisc. Learn Kelvin and save your money on the ExpoDisc. Learning Kelvin helped me see the light and color I would be getting exponentially better. It allows me to adjust on the fly without the client ever knowing. And I don’t need to stop my flow every time I change lighting situations. Using the disc, I believe, hinders a new photographer’s growth, creating a crutch for them to rely on instead of truly mastering their art.”
“White balance lens cap. I pulled it out of the bag several times during my first few weddings, seeing results that didn’t match what I was going for. When photographing in RAW—and bouncing back and forth between natural and flash—it’s just much easier to quickly change Kelvin. And if it’s not perfect? It’s easily fixed in post. Once you do it long enough, you pretty much know what your white balance should be for your style in every environment, with and without flash.”
“I bought super expensive video lights before I knew how to use flash. I definitely didn’t use them much. And now? I favor the Profoto B10, which has a continuous light in the strobe.”
“Big flash equipment for weddings. I used to use heavier lights that gave me more power, but over the years they’ve developed smaller, more compact, and higher powered strobes. Light and easy to move is the key for me when it comes to weddings. There’s no time for complex settings.”
“We used to use A Clamp that had a wide mouth and big spring with 2 different flash mount attachments. It never really felt secure and was almost impossible to find anything to attach it to. In fact, flashes would embarrassingly fall in front of clients. We carried it around in our light stand bag for way too long. Then we started using smaller clamps with swivel heads, and we still do. But what really works well is this somewhat larger clamp that is more like a small vice grip. It’s 6″ and, yes, weighs a little more … But we can attach it to anything, and it’s rock solid. When clients see us attach this clamp to something, we always make it fun and turn it into an interesting teaching moment. Tech heads love it, especially when we also pull out our MagMod gear and throw magnet modifiers at the flash and clamp. They start laughing and begin playing with us. Technicality meets fascination and fun!”
Want to get into a debate over which program is better for efficient post-production? Yeah, we didn’t think so … What’s most important is considering how the software functions for your type of work, and style of editing. For example, portrait photographers may need a program that gives more flexibility in retouching capabilities.
“Fancy editing software. I spent so much time trying to make garbage photographs look good rather than learning how to create better images in-camera.”
Lenses & Camera Bodies
Although you obviously need a camera and lenses, you don’t need the newest body or as many lenses as you might think …
“24-70 and 70-200. I know that will make people cringe, but I spent so much money on those two lenses when I was starting out. Instead of investing in those, I could have saved so much money by using primes. I feel I fell into some lazy habits using zooms, and I didn’t learn how to frame and compose effectively until I switched to prime lenses, which forced me to move, instead of relying on the zoom. I’ve not owned a 24-70 since my first year in business. I do own a 70-200, but I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used it. Mileage will likely vary with this sentiment, but I could have saved myself thousands of dollars by just leaving those out of my bag and rocking primes.”
“My biggest regret was buying a used medium format film camera. I wanted to be a ‘hybrid’ photographer since it was the trendy thing to offer in my market. I brought it to one wedding and my couple couldn’t differentiate a single image (film vs. digital). It never came with me to a wedding after that!”
“When I first started out, I bought a crop-sensor camera. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but at the time I didn’t think I needed a full-frame camera. Then, when I rented lenses, I couldn’t figure out why the focal length was different! Also, I purchased a hefty video light per the recommendation of one of the photographers I looked up to at the time. It was so bulky and expensive and ended up just collecting dust. I took it to maybe two weddings and realized it wasn’t for me.”
“Alright, I’m just going to come out and say it. I, Eric Talerico, bought a fish-eye lens my first year of photography! Whew, I feel so much better letting that cat out of the bag! Looking back, I’m not even sure what I was thinking, if at all. I thought it would be something cool, but it was hands down was one of the worst purchases I ever made. I still cringe when I think about it. Okay, now I’m going to go hide and pretend I never wrote this paragraph …”
“We have several things we bought that we didn’t need and were pointless: big studio lights, giant softboxes, super heavy-duty light stands with boom arms, etc.; however, my 70-200 lens would be my choice, just because it was so hard to move away from the zoom lens and move to primes only. It was too easy to use a zoom lens and not move my feet, and it became a crutch for me to rely on. Not that all zoom lenses should be removed from your bag, but learning how to photograph with a prime lens will really up your game. As well, it will help you see compositions much faster. You should choose a focal length for the qualities that focal length can provide, and not to get you closer or farther away from your subject. Use your lens for what it is designed for, and use your feet to zoom.”
Editor’s Note: While primes definitely have their place in weddings & portraiture, our very own Pye Jirsa actually recommends that the first two lenses to buy when starting out are the 24-70 and 70-200 for their versatility and range. What are your thoughts? Would you ditch your zoom lenses for your primes? Sound off in the comments below!
We used to haul one around with our studio strobe. It can certainly be cumbersome. Newer-to-photography photographers: with the vast improvements to flash power, flash modifiers, and flash battery life, long gone are the days that you’ll have to be concerned with this purchase!
“Over the last 10 years, I made many (too many) purchases that simply sat on the shelf in the studio. From big battery packs to white balance lens caps and editing consoles… I’m so much happier now with portable lighting, primarily relying on Profoto.”
“Battery packs! You just don’t need them. Why? They’re so big, bulky, heavy, and expensive … And the reality is that there are plenty of quick breaks during the day when you can swap out batteries, which are lighter, less expensive, portable, and convenient.”
We absolutely love to get creative, using a wide variety of “tools” that have seen their days trending on social media. The problem with trends, however? Well, just keep in mind that a timeless, classic moment never goes out of style. But “trinkets” in front of your camera? They just might have an expiration date.
“I bought portable twinkly lights because I loved the look of them. It wasn’t a huge investment (a mere $15), but I learned that I didn’t want to always be bringing a bag of tricks and little gimmicks. Sure, if I see cool sparkly lights at a venue, I’ll use them for a cool composition. I much prefer doing that than bringing my own. I now work harder to be creative with what I can find! This way, it’s also unique and different from one session to the next! As an example, in the photograph above, I found leaves! And the leaves make total sense because the couple had a destination wedding in Maine during the October foliage.”
Although these answers are based on the experiences had by these photographers, some of this gear may work for your line of work or niche of photography and that is totally understandable! While there are many lists, videos, and articles out there that recommend the perfect gear to have in your kit, we wanted to offer you a perspective from some of the most successful professional photographers out there!
What gear have you purchased that’s collecting dust on your shelves? Let us know in the comments below!