Photography jobs

Photographic equipment matters a lot

One of the most cliched phrases about equipment in photography is that it doesn’t matter. I think this is a very big misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. Sure, there are times when gear doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does and has a direct impact on what you can produce.

Buckle up, let’s dive down the rabbit hole of the gear controversy. Most people who claim gear doesn’t matter own high-end cameras and work full time. I partially maintain this point; there are plenty of cases where the customer really doesn’t care what you have: Nikon, Canon or a 5×7 camera. However, if you show up with a 5×7 to a sports shoot, you’ll get plenty of eyeballs. But that’s not the point. If we look at people who say gear is important, they often refer to one brand as being better than another, which in itself is a huge topic. In this article, I’ll break down the times when gear doesn’t matter, but with a focus on when it does.

When is equipment not important?

To really understand when gear makes a difference, let’s first clarify when it doesn’t. Most of the time, customers don’t care what brand you use. Neither do the artistic directors. The brand that photographers use to shoot their images is often a choice they made at the start. Take me as an example: I shoot Canon only because I started with a Canon camera. If it had been Nikon or Sony, I would have shot with them. There are arguments about the lenses made by these brands which I will discuss later. But anyway, it’s the same with flash. Broncolor, Profoto and Elinchrom all make great flashes that last for decades. My flashes are all used, and I have no problem with that because I can count on the quality to guide me through the most important jobs. Of course, if there’s a budget, I rent the packs, but even the old stuff from big brands is still amazing. The brand, whether Profoto or Broncolor, does not affect this. In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter what brand you choose to create your images, as long as you are happy with the quality and the brand itself.

Also, the Sony vs. Canon or Nikon vs. Sony argument is often based on pure spec comparison. The equipment used to make the images, most of the time, whether it’s Canon or Sony, doesn’t matter. Just because a photographer shoots with Sony doesn’t mean he’s a better photographer than someone working with Nikon.

Technological advancements open up more possibilities

Photography is an art strongly dependent on technology. The best photographers in the world have learned to accept technological changes and adapt to new technologies. If you’re about to write a review saying I haven’t adapted to change by not investing in a mirrorless camera, I suggest you read this article. In a nutshell, adapting to new technologies is part of being open-minded. Open-mindedness is a vital characteristic of an artist, allowing them to work with ideas and create bespoke works.

Customer Briefs and Commercial Jobs

The word brief is crucial to my next point. As technology advances, memories get more complicated. A few art directors told me that in the 80s you could take a picture of a pretty girl and get jobs as a fashion photographer. Now the game is different. As technology advances, new creative possibilities open up. Exploiting these creative possibilities is a natural course of action. Imagine how boring advertising would be without Photoshop or CGI. Being able to access material that can offer the possibility of responding to a client brief is crucial. Here is a case study.

Let’s say you need to get a shoot job for an active clothing brand showcasing their new waterproof collection for outdoor sports. The brief would say something along the lines of having the model interact with water. As a photographer, I imagine the model splashed in some way.

To answer this brief, I would need a lot of material. First, a camera capable of capturing fast action. The 5DS probably won’t work, as it’s not the most action-friendly camera. Along with that, I will definitely need flash packs that can freeze water splashes with their flash duration, something like the Profoto Pro-10 or the Broncolor Scoro. Now these are expensive flash packs that very few photographers own. The same goes for some cameras: they are rented when needed. Rental houses stock these products because equipment matters in many situations.

Equipment opens up possibilities, but do you need it?

But it matters a lot, in a very unexpected way. It’s not about the brand that the equipment comes from, although most prefer to work with the same brand for convenience, it’s about the creative possibilities that this equipment offers. To say that the gear doesn’t matter, or the camera body doesn’t matter, or the flash does matter is often misleading, as it tends to show beginners that the equipment they have should produce photos similar to those taken on a Phase One with huge crews and weeks of pre-production. The camera body, lens and just about everything else make the difference. The difference is what you can do with the equipment.

Final Thoughts

That said, I don’t want this article to become an excuse for people looking to buy a new camera they can’t wait to try. If a piece of equipment offers new possibilities, it does not mean that you need these possibilities. At the professional level, equipment choices are often made to suit a particular style of work, not to cover all the bases. A still life photographer doesn’t need a lens with good autofocus because most of the time he focuses manually. A sports photographer needs the best autofocus available. It’s impossible to cover all the bases with just one piece of equipment. Being an equipment buying professional is very important because it not only saves money, but also allows you to focus on craftsmanship and creativity. I would like to end by saying that photography is an art: the tools make the image, but they are not the image.