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gear-photography-business Insights & Thoughts

What Gear Do You Really Need To Start A Photography Business?

By Max Bridge on February 10th 2016

Photography is wonderful, and if you are reading this, you most likely agree. Taking your hobby and turning it into a viable business is something which many of you may currently be considering. One thing that might be holding you back is the notion that you need every piece of gear under the sun to get you going.

Some will agree with what I’m going to say here, and some of you will not. The point of this article is to highlight that gear should not be the overriding factor stopping you from taking that leap. With that in mind, here are my recommendations for the bare minimum you need to get your photography business off the ground.

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Photography Business Gear Essentials

We hear it on an almost daily basis, “it’s the photographer, not the gear” and as a professional photographer, I understand that phrase. However, it does not mean you can begin to charge for your services while using a smartphone. But what camera do you need?

Ultimately the answer to the question, “What camera do I need?” comes down to two main points.

1) What are you shooting?
2) What will the resulting photos be used for?

Sadly, it would take too long for me to reel off every camera out there and say which would be best for each genre of photography. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that you will not need the best of the best when you’ve only just started. My advice would be to get the best you can afford and stop there. The key part there is the word afford. You need to view your business expenses as a whole and not blow your entire budget on any one item.

If you’re already in the position of looking to take the next step, you most likely have a camera. My opinion is, don’t upgrade. Instead, invest that money in marketing. After all, it’s no good having the latest and greatest with $0 to market your services.

[REWIND: WHAT CAMERA SHOULD I BUY? | AN OVERVIEW OF TODAY’S MOST POPULAR CHOICES]

Personally, I use the Nikon D750 and love it. The lower end models of many camera manufacturers these days far exceed the capabilities of the best cameras ten years ago. And guess what? Ten years ago, photographers made money with those cameras. If you need full-frame, the Nikon D610, Canon 6D or Sony A7II are all excellent cameras. (Oh no, I’m doing it. I’m falling into the rabbit hole of listing gear! I’m going to quit while I’m ahead).

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What Lenses Do I Need For My Photography Business?

I’m not a wedding photographer, but I know people who shoot entire weddings using only one lens. It’s possible. Would it be limiting? Yes. Is it impossible? No. There will be many of you now thinking “I couldn’t shoot a whole wedding with one lens!” and that’s fine. But do not allow a fear that without such and such piece of gear, you cannot work as a photographer. It’s simply not true.

In an ideal world, we would have every single lens our hearts desire. But do we need all that glass when we’re starting out? Having a keen eye on all your expenditures is a vital step to making your business viable. As a new photographer, you simply won’t have the turnover to allow you to invest heavily in gear. Does that mean you shouldn’t start your business? Or that you need to save thousands before you even get going? No, not in my opinion. If we always waited for the ideal circumstances, we would never do anything in life.

At the end of the day, the answer to “what camera / lens do I need?” is something which only you can answer. The best piece of advice I can give is: base your decisions on need, not want. When I began, I felt it was necessary for me to have everything. That mentality held me back.

[REWIND: LIGHT MODIFIERS: WHICH SHOULD I BUY? THE BIG, THE BAD, AND THE UNNECESSARY.]

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Screenshot from maxbridge.co.uk

Things Your Photography Business Cannot Do Without

Imagine you started a business selling something online. You built a website and invested all your money in machinery for when the business would begin turning over millions. Because it will, of course. Then you sit there waiting for the cash to start rolling in. You have all this stuff, but nobody knows about you. All your stock and machinery now sits there doing nothing. Nobody is buying what you are selling, not because the product is bad, but because they don’t know it exists.

The most important place you can invest your money when starting a business is marketing. Sure you can be the photographer with thousands, even tens of thousands worth of gear, banging your head against a wall wondering why your lovely new camera is not getting you work. OR, you can be the photographer who starts with the bare minimum (a basic camera, one or two lenses and a computer) but invests all their money into marketing. Yes, you’re using inferior equipment, but you’re working and earning money.

Spend a small amount of money getting your website together. If you can, design it yourself using something like WordPress. Decide on the genre of photography you want to pursue and then scrutinize your gear. In the beginning, approach gear with this in mind: “What can I get away with NOT having?” With your website designed and a small list of equipment to purchase, throw every remaining penny toward marketing.

[REWIND: YOU’RE NOTHING WITHOUT SEO! | WHY I MOVED MY WEBSITE TO WORDPRESS]

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When Can I Buy All The Gear I Want?

As your business turns over more, you’ll be able to start upgrading your equipment, and I would advise doing so. No, you don’t need an amazing camera, the best lenses, lighting equipment and so on, when you first start. But, as you work more, the value these items present will become even more apparent. Eventually, you’ll be able to scratch that itch and purchase everything you want. I’m eagerly awaiting this day myself.

Some of you might be thinking, “I’m at that stage now. Thanks. You’ve now helped me justify spending loads more money on gear.” Wait a minute. As photographers, our focus is often on the acquisition of lots of new shiny gear. It’s understandable. However, as a business owner, your focus should always be on the acquisition of new clients. Therefore, gear should never be your priority.

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Image courtesy of Sunshine & Reign Photography

Education, which allows you to develop your photography, is a much better place to invest. It will allow you to charge more for your services, as you’re offering a better product, and hopefully, bring more clients through your door. Take a look at all the courses we offer in the SLR Lounge Store and see if any of those will improve the breadth and quality of services you can provide. Click here.

Summary

I wish I could have listed loads of gear and said, “This is exactly what you need to start a business!” As I eluded to above, the fact of the matter is, YOU need to answer these questions yourself. Keep business at the forefront of your mind, and gear right at the back. Remember that photographers ten years ago used equipment, which today, is comparable to lower end cameras. Prioritize getting clients and advancing your skills as a photographer, rather than satisfying your inner gear hoarder. Finally, always think, “What can I get away with NOT having?”

What gear did you have when you started your business? Comment below.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tom Roach

    Great article, and very inspiring. Thank you so much !

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  2. Ravi Teja

    Great article Max, Last year I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D 3300 along with the kit lens and a 35mm f 1.8g prime. I shot events and my cousin’s wedding with it. A couple of months ago I bought my D750 with 2 lenses (50mm f1.8g, 85mm f 1.8g). I also shot a complete wedding only with the 50mm lens. I am looking forward to improve my photography skills and also marketing. Thank you for the article.

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  3. Stephen Glass

    Great article! Yeah I love my D750, but for headshots and lower ISO stuff my wife’s D610 produces similar quality with color correction via ColorRite profiles in Lightroom. It’s amazing to think of what you need to produce a particular result and how much difference it would make between a D5 and a D610 for just a headshot or typical family portrait.
    I started a local seminar “Lighting ON A Budget” where we look at cheap flashes. I bought 4 Yongnuo $35 flashes and used one as a trigger a top the camera but not contributing to the exposure. With cheap brolly boxes and home made craft foam snoots I developed a $200 off camera lighting setup for indoor headshots. Works great. Disadvantages over my Einsteins? sure. Einsteins disadvantage over some ProFoto B1’s… sure. But the end results for certain types of photography that will make you money are not significant.
    I agree Max.
    It’s a paradigm shift from what is necessary to what is sufficient to the task.

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    • Max Bridge

      Great comment Stephen.

      As always, knowledge is the most important thing. Like you say, the more expensive gear will (in general) have features that make ones life that little bit easier. However, knowledge of photography will allow one to push the boundaries of what is necessary. Your headshot example demonstrates this perfectly.

      Thanks!

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  4. Michael Stagg

    All I have is a Canon 70D, a 3 head lighting kit I acquired during school and a few hand made modifiers. While I haven’t spent as much on marketing, it is something I’ll be focusing on heavily this year. Great post!

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  5. David Bruno

    Max – I would like your opinion if possible: I have had an offer from an organization (actually a branch of the Armed Forces) to give me free advertising for a year on their website, social-media, and electronic bulletin boards at their installation in exchange for my photographing 5-6 events. I have only been earning money for a year in Event Photography, and am wondering if this a good thing for me to do (I think I know the answer). Why I am hesitant is because it’s for no pay, and I haven’t been making as much as I had hoped to this point. Also, I’m told this will reach people in the community outside the installation, but my gut tells me I’m not so sure. Any advice would be appreciated.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey David. If the advertising was straight up free, then it’s a no brainer. Even if it resulted in 0 jobs booked it’s no skin off your nose. However, 5-6 events is a fairly hefty time investment on your end. I’d say it’s worth it ONLY if you feel that 1) the “free” advertising would actually be worth anything anyway. Do the clients you want to attract actually go to these places online? If not, there’s no point. 2) Would the time you invest photographing and editing 6 events be better invested marketing yourself? Could you gain more clients that way? 3) are you doing nothing and have tonnes of time on your hands? 9 times out of 10, I’d say no to this type of thing but in the end it’s your call. If you feel the exchange of services is truly worthwhile then go for it. Usually it’s not.

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    • David Bruno

      Thanks, Max. I appreciate your thoughts, and have given me some things to think about. The office that is doing this is trying to really get itself going after what I believe was a period of mismanagement. They may be looking for small businesses – any small businesses – run by people who work on the installation to get some visibility and show they are doing what they are supposed to be or want to be doing (that’s my opinion of it anyway). I know they want events photographed by someone outside of their office, because they don’t have enough people to run the events and photograph them. I’m not sure what the reach would be on the advertising and, like you wrote, 5-6 events is sort of a lot.

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  6. Christian Boecker

    Right now, I am experiencing the marketing argument.
    I did photographyas a hobby since 2013, mainly for my travels and then started to learn about doing portraits.
    Last year, I started with wedding photography. Mainly, because my friends and colleagues knew about my photography, liked it and asked me to do their weddings. And they wanted to pay me for doing it. And I was lucky to be in an age where everyone in my surroundings is getting married… ;-)
    Now, with this year, i started photography as a part tie job besides my full day job. And I am reaching out of the influence of my friends and colleagues and I am getting payed jobs from totally strangers who want to book me because they love my pictures, even for 2017!
    What did I do toachieve this?
    First, studying. Last fall, I invested some money in tutorials from SLRLounge, Fstoppers and RGGEDU. This really got me forward.
    Second, marketing. Building a website. The most requests come in due to a post in a local brides forum, where one of my clients posted a small review and a link to my homepage. This is gold for me. Next sunday, I will be at a wedding exhibition and will represent my (small) business in public. Therefore, I had a roll-up, business-cards and postcards printed. I invest around 600 – 700 € justin this exhibition and the prints for marketing. But it will pay off.
    I think, I will have to turn down a lot of requests for fridays, because I cannot take off more fridays from my main job.

    And now another main aspect. Not one client was asking about my gear! They just don’t care. All the want, are these pictures. So, having a lot off fancy gear to show off will just not work or impress anyone. At least here in Germany.
    To be honest, I work with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III but I bought it used for small money. I do my wedding photography with only 3 prime lenses, no zoom. Two of them are “cheap” (Canon 50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.8) and one is more expensive (Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART).

    In my opinion its the best to work on technics for achieving impressive results and studying them by workshops or even youtube videos. This will make your client happy. Lets say, 95 % of outstanding pictures you can do with middle segment equipment, only for the top 5 % you need the extra mile like a 1.2 fstop or so.

    I am still learning and haven’t reached a point where I will have to upgrade the gear in order to advance the photography.

    The only argument for high class gear in order of triggers, light stands and light formers is the reliability of the stuff. Branded products are expensive but also have a higher quality and reliability.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Excellent points, Christian!

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    • Max Bridge

      Love your comment Christian. Thanks for spending so much time writing such a well thought out response to this!

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    • Sedric Beasley

      I like your Story Christian.

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    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      My path seems similar to yours, I work full time and started photography for my local church. Now I do family portraits part time and getting more into weddings. I got a 5Dmk3 but mostly for video (clean HDMI out) and lens are 50 1.8 and 24-105 which I am considering trading for a tamron 24-70 2.8. My most important investment was not the gear but a lynda.com subscription and time on CreativeLive.com … Those 2 websites have been the most valuable spend of time and money in knowing how to grow in my photography journey.

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  7. Unknown Unknown

    Instead of recommending what gear you need to start a business, I would recommend with what gear you should NOT start a photography business. Because there are a lot of people out there who start a business with a cheap digital camera like an IXUS or even worse. These “photographers” ruin business for others and give photography a bad name.

    However, you also don’t need any fancy equipment, if you’re creative. Because your most essential gear is your creativity (also a thing most wannabe “photographers” don’t have). For instance admired fine art photographer Brooke Shaden has only started with a Nikon D80 and a 50mm f1.8 lens. And only that. No flashes, only real light. And her artworks are amazing.

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    • Max Bridge

      For the most part, I agree. You definitely need a camera which is good enough. As I mentioned in the article, that decision will be based around 1) what you are shooting and 2) what the photos would be used for. I wouldn’t feel comfortable using an IXUS level camera myself.

      Having said that, if I knew, for example, that I would only be shooting product photos for websites which would be 1000 pixels maximum…then I tentatively say you could get away with it (if you can trigger flashes with that, I don’t even know!). It’s tough and I’d never advise someone to start a business like that but at the same time I wouldn’t want to discourage people. At the end of the day if a client is happy with their photographer providing low quality photos then they aren’t MY client anyway. No skin off my nose.

      Like I said though, for the most part, I totally agree. All you need, dependant on genre of photography, is a camera, lens and computer.

      Thanks for the comment!

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    • Unknown Unknown

      But most first-time clients maybe don’t know better, so they’re maybe happy with the results (cause they think you’re a pro).
      Of course I also don’t want to discourage people that actually have talent or put a big effort in photography. And so I would say every camera is good to practice with.

      But its always a double-edged sword encouraging people to open a business, cause nowadays that almost everybody can afford a camera, you have so many wannabe-photographers who actually have little to no talent.
      And like in “American Idol” I sometimes feel a lot of people have to be told: “Sorry but you have no talent for that – please practise a lot more or look for something else.”
      Because creativity and talent can not be learned, no matter how good you are with photography and gestalt principles.

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    • Max Bridge

      Talent and creativity is another article altogether and for the most part I agree with your comments. I would say, however, that I think anyone can reach a particular level of competency in photography. Throw in a decent amount of marketing skills, and you’ve got a fairly successful business.

      Very few have the talent, creativity and drive to reach beyond that level.

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    • Michael Stagg

      I somewhat agree with you. If you’re out and about taking images with that IXUS camera and the work is creative and people are coming to you asking you to do work for them then it can’t be all that bad (theoretically speaking here). We all have to start wherever we are. Perhaps you start off doing only images for clients that need pics for social media. Then, as you get more clients and start making more money you buy a DSLR/Mirrorless or whatever you can afford. I remember I started out with just a Canon G12 and then I moved up to a Rebel XTi, a 40D and now I shoot with a 70D.

      I fully agree that there are some people that try to jump into a business with any little rinky dink camera they get their hands are but I believe many do some sort of research first, get what they can afford for now and upgrade later. It’s also agreed that creativity trumps gear. I’ve not heard of Brooke Shaden; I’ll have to check her out. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. David Hall

    Great article… thank you.

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  9. Andy & Amii Kauth

    This is spot on: “Nobody is buying what you are selling, not because the product is bad, but because they don’t know it exists.” We totally agree that a mindset of amassing gear will hold you back when you should be focusing on producing quality and marketing.

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    • John Sheehan

      Agreed. Gear acquisition doesn’t help your photography. Education, practice, and learning the business is key. I know people with a basement full of cameras and lenses, and they don’t shoot anything. I know a young woman who has one camera and is building a business with only that.

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    • Max Bridge

      Well said John. If one does it correctly, you’ll have that basement full of equipment AND a successful business. That’s the dream anyway

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    • Max Bridge

      Definitely. It’s a sad fact, but it’s not necessarily the best photographer that succeeds. It’s far more likely to be the best marketer. However, the same can be said for every business. Glad you liked the article guys and thanks for the photo. I need to do an overhead shot of all my gear too!

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