Quitting Your Day Job

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

chris-nachtwey-generic-gear-photo-3

Investing In The Right Gear

What’s in my bag? I get this question from time to time and since my series is all about running a photography business as much as it is about life after quitting your day job, I wanted to talk about building a kit that works for you and the art of making smart choices when it comes to spending money on gear.

I’m a true believer that gear does not make the photographer, but more so the right gear is an essential tool to help a photographer do their job well. When running a full-time photography business, you need to be smart about purchasing gear. While you might really want to upgrade to that shiny new offering from Nikon, Canon, or Fuji, is it really going to help you do your job better (maybe), or more importantly, will it help you book more clients? Most likely, it won’t.

[REWIND: DESPITE WHAT MOST SAY, I FEEL GEAR DOES, IN FACT, MATTER…]

When I decided to buy better gear (than my Nikon D40 and kit lens) to start my photography business, I took a hard look at what I needed to do my job and I created the kit below. Note: I photograph weddings and create portraits for people and families.

My First Kit

As you see, my first kit did not contain a ton of top of the line gear, but it was gear that I knew would work well for my needs. It contained two very capable bodies (main and back up), two solid speedlights, and lenses that I knew could cover many different situations. I knew with the kit above, I could easily do portrait sessions, and handle most weddings. All of my gear choices were simply for financial reasons, and that’s an important thing to remember when we are talking about running a business – it always boils down to money. Always.

art of purchasing gear-2

Five Tips for Making Smart Choices When Investing in Gear

1. Only Buy Gear You Will Use All The Time

Photography gear is not cheap, so when deciding to make a purchase, you really need to know you’re going to use that piece of gear all the time. I knew when I started out, I needed two camera bodies, a main and a back up. That’s how I ended up with two Nikon D7000’s.

I really wanted a Nikon D800 at the time, but when I looked at my finances, it made no sense to sink so much money into one body and then not be able to purchase the other body or any more of the gear I needed. If I was just going to be shooting for fun, I would have bought the Nikon D800 I so desperately wanted, but I knew that would hurt me financially, and set me back in terms of funding right off the bat.

When investing a large chunk of capital in any piece of gear, make sure you need it for most of or all the work you do. You could be using that money you just spent on a new studio strobe set up you will use once on marketing, saving for retirement, or bills that need to be paid.

chris-nachtwey-generic-gear-photo

2. Renting Gear Is Cool

I love renting gear! There are a lot of options out there for renting gear and I rented for a long time. When I was not shooting weddings regularly, I rented the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII for a long time. First, I didn’t really have the capital to purchase that lens, but secondly, I didn’t have a consistent need for it like I do now. Renting allowed me to have one of the best lenses in the game in my hands for a client’s wedding without breaking the bank.

The other thing I love about renting is that I can try different gear to see if it’s a good fit for me before I purchase it. While going to the local camera shop is fun and all to check out gear, you don’t get a real feel for how a piece of gear is going to perform until you have it out in the field with you. Renting it for a week or two will give you the time to decided if that new camera is a good fit for you or not.

So go ahead, rent to your heart’s content. Have fun trying the best gear out there, and when the time comes that you really need it, then go invest in it.

art of purchasing gear

3. Gear Does Not Impress Clients

If you shoot weddings or portraits like myself, gear is not going to impress clients. You and your images will impress clients. Not one client I have worked with has questioned the gear I use. Now, I don’t work in the commercial photography field, but I would have to imagine that top of the line gear is something those type of clients expect to see. My clients, though, care about great images, not what camera or lens I’m using to create those great images.

I’ve meet photographers who have the best, and I mean best, gear on the market and cannot create great images with it or get paid for their photography. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need the best gear in the game to do your job well. That is a bad disease to have. I have shot weddings where the guests have fancier camera bodies than me, and last time I checked, I was the one being paid to create amazing images and making a living from my photography.

4. Invest in Great Lenses (Glass)

I’m a true believer that if one piece of gear is going to make your images look better, it’s great glass. That’s why I rented the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II for so long. Professional level glass will make your images look better, that is a fact. When I was investing money into my gear, I focused on buying glass that, if treated well, would last forever and work with almost any new Nikon body that came out.

I knew that I was going to be shooting on crop sensor bodies, but I bought glass that would work on full frame bodies also, so when the time comes to upgrade to full frame, my lenses will work perfectly. Nikon and Canon’s top of the line lenses are expensive, but honestly, are worth every penny. I suggest investing in one or two professional level lenses from the start – they will work with a crop sensor body, and when you upgrade to full frame, will continue to work. Trust me on this one, buy good glass!

chris-nachtwey-generic-gear-photo-2

Bonus Tip: Don’t buy the cheapest gear in town! There is something said for saving and buying the better piece of gear first. I did this with light stands, I went cheap and ended up spending more, because I had to replace those cheap light stands that broke quickly with better ones.

5. Only You Know What Gear Is Right For You

You’re the only one who really knows what you need to do your job. When you talk to a group of photographers who work with paying clients on a regular basis, you will find we all use different gear to achieve the same results. Some love studio strobes when in the field, others love speedlights (I’m a speedlight lover). Some photographers will tell you that you need to be shooting with a full frame body, and others like me will say if you’re creating great images, who cares what body you’re using.

If you’re in question about what to purchase, rent gear until you find what works best for you. Just never fall into the trap of blowing all your capital on gear that in the end, that is expensive and not a great fit for your workflow.

Conclusion

If you have the money to buy the best gear in the game, go for it! If you’re like me and are more concerned about booking more clients and investing money wisely into your business, then build a kit that gets the job done and only upgrade when you need to, not just because you want to.

Yes, I have upgraded my gear from my first kit listed above, but I still shoot on my beloved D7000’s and one day, will upgrade to full frame when I have the money to invest in two full frame bodies. All the gear I have added to my kit has a purpose; I purchased it because I needed it, not because I wanted it. As they say, gear does not make a great photo, the photographer does.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!