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Tips & Tricks

The True Cost of Gear and Gear Failure

By Pye Jirsa on February 11th 2017

Everyone has a budget when it comes to gear, but at what cost do you compromise value?

The only cost associated to a piece of gear is the out of pocket dollars attached to it. When I was buying inexpensive flashes I would take anywhere from 4-6 of them with me on shoots and would end up dealing with inconsistent performance or even failure to operate in certain situations. My choice in gear forced me to miss shots that mattered as I focused on troubleshooting instead of the actual photo itself. This all stems down to one uncompromising criterion of purchasing gear: reliability.

Are you sacrificing cost for value?

Cheaper lenses have often required me to make more micro-adjustments as time has gone on and increased my time culling due to misfires. Third party batteries were often failing and causing camera issues requiring me to pause while shooting, taking my focus away from my subjects. Inexpensive radio triggers paired with third party flashes caused miscommunication, and color & power output inconsistency. Even though I dodged the bullet of spending money on expensive gear, I realized that troubleshooting and replacing or repairing my inexpensive gear was starting to add up and inevitably harming the likelihood of nailing a shot.


We recently took our clients to Malibu Rocky Oaks, a popular wedding venue here in Southern California, for a post wedding portrait session. This property was made to be photographed with vast views of the valley and hill tops in the distance and acres of vineyard encompassing the foreground.

Right around golden hour we headed to the peak of the property only to be bombarded with a rush of fog and haze as the sun set behind our couple. The clouds opened up for just a few minutes to reveal the sun peeking through and that was our opportunity to create some magic.


In order to capture our couple and get quality compression, I quickly ran about 500 feet away from the subjects to get a higher vantage point. With the sun already so low on the horizon we needed to carve our subjects out of the scene and underexpose our background to really showcase the true beauty of the scene. But at such a distance, I knew there was really only one piece of gear I could rely on to get the job done.

The True Value of One Light

After dealing with inconsistent radio communication and misfires with third party flashes, I turned to my faithful and resilient Profoto B2 on a Benro Monopod, held by my trusty assistant Neil, to light up our scene. What happened next was…pure magic.

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II – ISO100, f/9, 1/200th

With just a single light we chiseled out our couple and had no problem firing shot after to shot with the Air Remote, even from quite a distance away from our subjects. More importantly, without having to lug 4-6 pocket strobes up this large rock, we still had an equivalent power output with the Profoto B2 at full power.

In just a short 10 minute window we managed to get a variety of compositions before the fog completely rolled through the scene. We used the b2 as a back-light and as our key light to get both silhouettes and dramatic portraits of our couple atop the rock, or what I like to refer to as Southern California’s version of Mordor.

As a professional, you should be investing in reliable gear that makes your life easier and allows you to focus on your job which should be creating incredible imagery.

The true cost of gear isn’t just the dollar amount you pay for out of pocket but the potential of missing breathtaking or irreplicable moments.

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. ralph nardell

    These photos are extraordinary. Congratulations. Your advice is great too, just can’t get over those shots. Bravo, thanks for sharing!

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  2. Mark Kelly

    Wow those shots are world class well done . 

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  3. Griffin Conway

    Amazing images Pye!! 

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  4. Michael Croshaw

    Fantastic images.  Using godox at the moment and they seem fairly reliable but would love some b2s one day.

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    • Pye Jirsa

      No shame in using what you’ve got until you can work into better. I’ve used Godox as well in the past, not bad stuff. 

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  5. Mircea Blanaru

    The composition looks absolutely great, the pair look to small, I wish they could recognize themselves when they look at their picture but I am not a specialist in this domain. If the customers are happy there is no complaint of any nature… I use Olympus and Panasonic stuff, for artistic nature photography and they look very reliable. Even the kit lenses are cool enough for what I want. No issues of back focus or something like that. Of course I would love to take pictures with Pro or Leica stuff but this clearly depends of the income. If the income is small, it is clear that would be suicide to invest thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in this kind of stuff. Anyway, most of the customers don’t give a penny on a little bit less clear borders, not visible on paper but only at 200% magnification on a computer screen. I think the best option is the best price/performance ratio gear, no matter it is Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus or Panasonic. I know, many say, Olympus, Panasonic they are suck!!! But please, try to take a picture with this gear at minimum ISO and magnify it at 100% on your PC. When I did it I was amazed…Have a good weekend!!!

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    • Pye Jirsa

      Hey Mircea Maieru shown online it’s tough to see the clients. But, these images are designed to be enlarged and used to tell the full story of the locations they are within. We do close ups, mid shots, and wides, this is one of those wides designed to feature the location more-so than the client. However, we have a 40×80 Bayphoto print of this image in the studio, and the couple is very easy to see. 

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    • Mircea Blanaru

      It was just an unspecialized opinion as I do not do wedding photography. I missed to my own wedding if I can make a bitter joke and I don’t see myself documenting others weddings…

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