On Professional Equipment

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by blockphoto, Jan 11, 2010.

  1. Hi,
    I'm curious to know how folks here feel about "professional" equipment. It seems like there are basically two schools of thought; on the one hand, there are innumerable full and part time professional photographers that use prosumer/consumer equipment, and clearly you can produce work to a professional standard with such equipment. The justification from that side usually seems to be something like "Why should I spend $5k on a camera body and put a dent in my bottom line/savings/etc when I can be commercially successful with a $1k body?". On the other side are the folks that say "I buy the best there is/I can afford because it gives me a competitive advantage, allows me to differentiate my work, and takes physical abuse better." Personal experience indicates that better autofocus and sensors, faster glass, and higher-end lights and modifiers give you additional options in many situations, in some cases allowing pictures to be made that wouldn't be possible with lesser equipment.
    This issue is particularly relevant for me at the moment; I'm fairly seriously contemplating leaving my stable corporate job and building an event/wedding photography business (yes, I've lost my mind). I have some experience shooting music and events (no weddings yet) and find it vastly preferable to avoid on-camera flash (which means high-end bodies and fast lenses) when working the event itself, but also enjoy thoroughly producing portraits (which usually means significant lighting gear). Buying the gear effectively reduces the amount of time I can live without worrying about being profitable, but not buying it may prevent me from offering the type of product that I want to offer.
    So how do you weigh the financial impact of better equipment (however you define it) against the benefits?
    Any thoughts would be much appreciated.
  2. Candidly? If the cost of a few thousand dollars' worth of equipment is significantly going to impact your lifestyle over the first couple years of running such a business, then it's probably too early to jump ship - since that sounds like classic undercapitalization, and a recipe for trouble.

    It sounds as though you've answered your own question about whether more capable/reliable equipment is going to give you the opportunity to handle a wider variety of work.
  3. Personally - I get great results with Nikon D300's and off camera flash - both SB 800's and studio lights.
    For me - it was a matter of what I could get my spouse to accept as a spend. It was much easier to convince her that I could spend $3000 and get 3 cameras as opposed to 5k and 1. Or 15k and 3....
    Would I like to have 3 D3x's or D3s' or D3's? Absolutely - I'd love it. Is it required? Nope.
    PS. I haven't jumped ship on the corp world / job yet. but hoping to at some point in the next 5 years.
  4. you might want to consider renting the better body/glass on an as-needed basis which frees up your cash
  5. I would tend to agree with Howard. It may be a good idea to rent whatever bodies/lenses you need and then as you build up your experience (and hopefully capital), you'll know soon enough what you need whether it's a $5k camera or a $1k camera with $4k worth of glass and lighting :)
  6. Fair advice...thanks guys.
    I don't think I'm being too irresponsible in my financial projections...budgeting for three years of no income, which is hopefully pessimistic, since by the end of year two I expect to be ready to re-enter the corporate world or making some amount of income (or at least progress) as a photographer.
  7. You need to balance your passion and desire to do this full time with a good dose of reality. Patience plus a good strategic savings plan is the best answer. The more you compromise necessary costs the more it will cost you. (Been there - still there).
  8. Seth,
    First, I urge you to get the terms "professional equipment" and "prosumer equipment" out of your head completely. These are marketing terms, designed to sell cameras to people who don't know any better. Today's professional camera is next year's prosumer camera, and a starter camera for the year after next. You've GOT to achieve a level of confidence in your equipment that is based on the prints you produce, and not on the ratings at dpreview.com or somebody's idea of what is or is not a "pro" camera.
    The right question to ask is, what equipment do you need to do the kind of photography you want to do, and (presumably) to do it well? This is an open-ended question with a fairly large number of valid answers.
    There is undoubtedly a place in wedding photography for expensive, full-frame digital SLRs. But an awful lot of great photographers manage to do their jobs well with less expensive bodies. Consider the following.
    1. There's always something better, available either today or tomorrow. You shoot with the best full-frame DSLR because you think it provides the best quality? If quality is all that matters, why not use medium-format? And even if you get something that makes you really happy today, something better is coming tomorrow.
    2. Unless you're a millionaire and money simply isn't a consideration, you're going to have a budget for equipment purchases. If you spend less on bodies, you can spend more on lenses (or whatever), and/or you can get a newer body more frequently.
    3. Every purchase you make involves a compromise. Big cameras not only cost more, they are also larger and heavier. You may or may not find it desirable to be carrying a couple larger cameras around all day long.
    4. Don't forget that a backup is a necessity, and depending on your m.o. and the kinds of lenses you use, you may want to have a second camera with you at all times. It's more important to have a couple good or very good cameras than it is to have one great camera.
    5. My guess is that 95% of the photos you will take, can be taken as well with a very good APS-C sensor camera, skillfully used, as with a full-frame camera. Actually, the percentage of photos where the full-frame camera was NOT essential to success might be even higher than 95. As with everything else, the full-frame camera may make certain things easier. But it doesn't necessarily make possible what was impossible without.
    6. The idea that you're going to be able to escape the need to use (and thus learn) flash by buying a more expensive camera is wrong. Actually, the single most powerful way to improve your event photography is to get better as using flash, especially off-camera flash - learning to control the light.
    7. If you can't take really good pictures WITHOUT a D3x, you probably won't be able to take really good photos WITH one, either.
    You said you haven't shot a wedding yet. My advice would be, shoot a few weddings first and then reconsider. Do a couple gigs for free for friends or relatives. Work as a second shooter. Even for these training gigs, you'll want to spend time considering your gear, working on technique including flash technique, etc. But you'll learn a lot from doing that you simply can't learn by asking for advice.
    One last point, about "competitive advantage." Your clients don't know what kind of gear you use and, generally speaking, couldn't care less. Competitive advantage right now comes from your ability to succeed as a businessperson, not as a photographer (assuming you've achieved an intermediate level of competence). There are mediocre photographers doing very well and great photographers doing poorly. It's a tough biz and a very tough market.
    Others will disagree. Good luck.
  9. The deciding factor for me is ISO performance. I try not to use flash as much as humanly possibly (only in the darkest of reception halls do i ever need/use them) So spending 2.6k on the nikon d700 when it came out was no question. Now the D3s is out and that will be the next purchase. BUT this is my style of shooting, i hate to use "photojournalism" but that's the approach i take. And that differentiates me enough that i can be getting payed more per wedding and afford better equipment. Some people use flash on everything, more documentary style, just capture the good stuff, and that's great too, but you don't need a $5k camera that can shoot at 52,000 iso for that. Figure out what you want to do and go from there
  10. I always found that making a priority list after honest perusal of how I shoot and matching that list up to gear points to a clear path re gear (disregarding the pro/prosumer categories), particularly choice of cameras and lenses. You might look up the following Master Lesson article by Marc Williams.
    In particular, look at and do the 'assignment' at the end of the article. It will tell you a lot about how you shoot, sometimes totally discounting what you always thought you'd need. I agree that it would be too soon to jump into the gear buying stage without actually shooting some weddings. You won't really know how you shoot a wedding if you haven't shot some.
    I would also advise you to read the Master Lesson by Neil Ambrose, on reportage wedding photography. While you most certainly can shoot weddings without using flash, it is preferable to know how to skillfully use flash, rather than avoid it altogether, even if you don't use it a lot. If you haven't already, read the articles at Neil van Niekirk's website about using on camera flash. He also has a book out.
    You can certainly buy only the best and know that you can handle anything. Or, you can figure out what, exactly, will suit you and your style, which is a lot more painful and requires a lot more honest assessment of your personal style and methods. You don't even know what the latter methods are yet.
  11. You are really just starting into the biz -- a first timer with weddings. A 20d / 17-85 & a flash would be under $600 used >> practice first with the gear . I don't shoot much past ISO 500/640 >> rely more on available/bounce strobe. So whats better , to some, does not always equate to a higher income. Just a higher cost to you..........
    <p>My lastest purchase was a used 40d -- set me back nearly $350. Produces all the pro results I need for our clients. No one has ever asked for an equipment list > for a wedding. After you have accomplished a few more skills with exposure /flash ... you can always wait for a fine used camera , in a few years.
  12. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “Any thoughts would be much appreciated”

    Some other comments specific on your impressions:
    “I have some experience shooting . . . and find it vastly preferable to avoid on-camera flash (which means high-end bodies and fast lenses) when working the event itself”
    I disagree.
    If you choose to work without Flash then you should be able to master 80% to 90% of most Weddings with a camera which gives acceptable ISO1600 or ISO3200.
    With exposure accuracy, skill in post production, and a few fast Primes Lenses, (not necessarily very expensive Prime lenses, but fast yes).
    Most “just above entry level DSLR cameras” can do that and make a saleable product.
    I would however suggest you learn on camera and off camera flash techniques.
    “but also enjoy thoroughly producing portraits (which usually means significant lighting gear)”
    Portraits can be shot with Natural Light.
    Displaying a passion for AL shooting the Wedding and not wanting to use Natural Light for Portraiture seems odd, to me – but I might have misinterpreted your meaning – you might mean “Studio Portraiture”.
    Well that too can be shot with natural light, though these days, not many Studios are set for Natural Light.
    One good, powerful, variable output Flash head, with modelling light and large enough Brolly can be more than adequate for Studio Portraiture for a Family of Four.
    Some people starting out building a studio, buy three or four underpowered Flash heads and also never learn basic one-light techniques.
    They then do not understand why they are futzing around at F/4 or F5.6 at ISO 400 and have innumerable bad shadows, everywhere – so they buy another Flash head to give them more light, which only makes it worse.
    "Buying the gear effectively reduces the amount of time I can live without worrying about being profitable, but not buying it may prevent me from offering the type of product that I want to offer. So how do you weigh the financial impact of better equipment (however you define it) against the benefits?”

    0. Devise a “Final Kit” which suits all purposes you believe you will encounter.
    1. For Weddings ascertain what is necessary to account for 80% of all the situations you will likely encounter 80% of the time.
    2. Buy equipment so that you have those scenarios covered three different ways. That does not mean you need three of each item – it means you need to be able to do the wedding three ways using different gear you have. It does however mean you will need three camera bodies.
    3. For Portraits (assuming Studio / Flash) buy two good quality Flash heads and additional stuff like quality stands and brolly as described above – use one head only until you master it.
    4. Reconnoitre the location of ALL weddings prior to the event and RENT any gear you need specific to that venue.
    5. Have a plan and a time line of “next to get” equipment – this is based upon your “Final Kit”; your Prioritization of your next “need” and your experiences. Note that this Prioritization of the next “need” is fluid, but the capital being put away each week is not. If your business plan dictates that $200 each week is put into Capital Equipment then that does not deviate – though what gear you spend it on might constantly change priority. The key is you MUST do enough jobs each week such that the $200 (or whatever) is available.
    I agree 100% with Matt Laur, in that under capitalization is common with many start up businesses.
    In my experience, it is not so much that the initial capital injection is underestimated, but the capital injection is not ongoing to grow with the additional contracts and jobs a growing buisness will usually snag, because of its lower selling prices, enthusiam and drive of the operator.
    Also the capcity to recognize the total outgoings over the first two years or so, is often greatly underestimated and the Captial Plan goes to "Paying the Bills", which is usually not very good.
    I strongly advise you to do the exercise at the end of Marc Williams' Master series on Equipment as best you can estimate for Wedding work. The answers should form the premise of you "Final Kit".
    I have a particular passion for using a Dual Format DSLR Kit as this can leverage the Lens Cache and it requires fewer lenses for the same output, for most circumstances. If you want more of that, then use the search function - I am most vocal on this particular topic.

  13. I say go big or go home. You can always eat ramen noodles when you're broke. I recently spent every penny I had upgrading my gear. I was saving up to buy land to build my family a house. That can wait :p
    If you are charging people money for pictures, the photos should at least be as technically perfect as your equipment can possibly afford. People complain about pixel peepers and "back in the film days we had to live with grainy ISO800" blah blah blah. It's 2010 already.
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Land Value is actually quite stable over time and usually appreciates, save for catastrophic events.
    In most developed countries, (partial) ownership of land can be used as collateral for a Tax Deductable business loan which can then be directed to Capital Expenditure.
    By contrast, a 1 Series Canon DSLR Camera depreciates, the moment it is taken out of the box. And the very best Lenses, whilst they might be able to be sold for 90% of their purchase price, they are not assets, recognized by most banking and finance institutions; at least where I work.
  15. WILLIAM W ---- exactly why I buy the latest /greatest.... about 2 years later. The camera is only the tool. If one exposes properly & has their post skills down >> how much better can a 8X print look from a 40d vs a 1DMkIV ? Especially if there are not two shooters , at the same wedding, to compare ? Think how much I would have to raise my prices ~ to carry a $8k camera around my neck :)
  16. My additional advice is that you'd better get to grips with the business of photography as well as the craft. Your post is mainly about the craft, and arguments abound RE wedding equipment. You need only do a search on this forum. Also, please read the links Nadine has provided, as well as http://www.photo.net/learn/wedding/ ...Your equipment should be dictated by your style. The old adage still holds true: you can take great photos with a disposable camera, or horrible photos with a 1DsMkX.
    <p>As has been said, you don't need to have lots of studio lighting equipment to make portraits. Just ask David Hobby :) Indeed, portraiture is one of my key genres yet I've never, to date, shot a single portrait with studio lighting, let alone inside a studio. Ditto shooting sans flash. For the wedding photography masters (Jeff Ascough for one) who shoot entirely without flash, they still do so with the knowledge and understanding of how flash works before they decide to shoot AL (Available Light) only.
    <p>Being in the corporate world, you know that the bottom line is your business must be able to sustain itself at least, and hopefully grow. You and yours have to eat, sleep, live :)
    <p>@Caleb: You must have a very understanding family ;-)
  17. I think a lot of pro's, perhaps the ones being in business for a long time know that weddings aren't the only way to make money in photography. For example, a week before Christmas, Craig, my foto partner, and myself shot an aerospace company in Burbank, just north of Los Angeles. We shot about 300 or so products. This one photo shoot paid for the 1Ds Mk 3, although this camera has been paid for in full when I bought it around 2 years ago. These are simply tools needed to get the job done right.

    Some people such as Marc Williams often uses medium format digital cameras, with a sticker price of several thousand dollars. Why? Because these are the needed tools.

    You don't have to have top of the line gear, but it surely makes your life a lot easier if you have all of the gear to get the job done. The price you pay for photographic excellence.

    It's just not the cameras and lenses that are needed to photograph places like what we did, but lighting is as important, perhaps even more. We showed up with about 8 or 9 lights and used 7 of them often for just 1 single shot. When photographing reflective metal objects you have to get the reflections dead on perfect. I'm sorry I can't post any images due to my contract and their contract.

    Without all of this gear the final results would have been very difficult to achieve.

    I'm sure someone with a simple used Canon Rebel, or a 4 or 5, megapixel camera, maybe even without a flash, can shoot a wedding. The same people can also shoot products. You have to ask yourself honestly what you can do to give the bride and groom the finest images they deserve. After the wedding when viewing your work, if you are not satisfied with the results well you failed. You have to ask yourself what would have made the wedding perfect, a tripod, strobes, not having the right lenses, defective flash cards, because your camera only has one flash card slot, and you shot with a 16 gig card.

    Therefore this question is pretty hard to answer. I believe it's a moral question that cannot be answered as a group giving advice, but only you as a person.
  18. Seth, the problem with questions like this is that it tends to gravitate to exaggerations or extremes. Like the difference between a $1,000. body and a $5,000. body (I'd advise neither for a start up venture). Like thinking available light with no flash, or flash for everything ... or no studio flash for portraits.
    Shooting music performance photography and non-wedding events like you've been doing isn't the same as wedding photography.
    The other issue is that because you have not shot a wedding, you really do not know what you really will need based on consumer demand in you specific geographical area. While we can evoke the names of a successful wedding photographer in England, or a successful portrait shooter somewhere else ... it doesn't mean it can or will work for you starting out with a zero base of business.
    Speaking of that, the other extreme is that of leaving your job with no base of wedding business. Why not start the wedding business now, and quit corporate work a year from now? At least you will have started the "word-of-mouth" ball rolling to help with your first year out as a full time photographer.
  19. Sorry, I wanted to add specifics concerning gear, and not mix it up with the general advice in my previous post.
    C Jo and others touched on something that is very important to consider: using informed judgement and reputable sources to purchase used gear at a fraction of the cost of new gear. There are a ton of people on the "upgrade train" who buy the latest greatest and dump last year's gear like changing underwear. I'm one of those ... primarily because I can afford it, (or at least used to be able to afford it before going full time as photographer last year : -)
    For example, I give the same advice to my assistant/second shooter. She just secured a mint Canon 20-35/2.8L for 20% the cost of a new 16-35/2.8L. The 20-35 is known to be a great performer, and 20mm is more than enough field-of-view when used on her mint used full-frame Canon 5D ... a camera that she paid less than the price of a new bottom of the line Canon crop-frame camera.
    Same for start up studio type lighting gear ... or at least some of it. Stuff like light stands, umbrellas are relatively cheap especially used. Even established pros like Nadine and myself use good old solutions for off-camera lights. I think Nadine uses Sunpak 120Js, and I use something very similar for my portable lighting kit. Unless you seriously plan on shooting advertising product or industrial photography, you don't need big lighting and a ton of it ... which is really expensive if you buy the best.
  20. Your investment needs to be a lot more than the equipment.
    If you're starting from scratch you need to build product, brand, reputation, presence and customers. I'm assuming you're already skilled at photography, but if not, then you'll need to develop in that area too.
    All of those things cost money. To be honest, camera equipment is a mere drop in the ocean and probably one of the least important elements. Based on personal experience if you want to make the transition from corporate day job to photography career you need to have the equivalent of a year's salary in your current employment position to invest. Your primary expenses in the first few months will be everything except photography equipment.
  21. A product centric approach:
    1. What product/products do you intend to offer your customers?
    2. What specification and type of equipment do you need to produce that product?
    3. What knowledge, training and experience do you need to be able to produce that product consistently?
    4. What level of redundancy, warranty and expedited service do you need to be able to fulfill your obligations?
    5. What do you need to own and what can you rent or borrow?
    6. Consider your business plan and the investment and financing needed to acquire what you need. If needed go back to step 1 and revise your product offering.
    You could also think in a market centric approach which would be to consider what the market needs and how you can fill that void and then go to step 1 and think about your product offerings.
  22. A while back I discovered, the Bing, "cashback" program (a.k.a Microsoft Live). It pays anywhere from 3-25% of your purchases depending on when you buy and where. If you start building a $10k+ kit this really adds up.
    I used to scavenge around the used gear forums like a homeless person in a trash bin only to find I could now get new gear for the cost of used. At the very least is always pays for shipping on any given day.
  23. @Marc, thanks for your usual diplomacy :) I am in total agreement with what you, Neil as well as the numerous other seasoned shooters have said.
    <p>@Seth, it's probably a lot more information and cautions than you probably anticipated :) It is a very useful discussion too, and I will permanently bookmark this thread for when I finally make the jump to full-time shooting ;-)
    <p>PN is a great resource indeed.
  24. I suspected that there would be a lot of different (and strong) opinions on this, and certainly appreciate all of the information, so thanks again, everyone. I intentionally didn't provide much detail about my current situation because I wanted the discussion to be as open as possible.
  25. The first pictures I got paid for (coverage of a parade for a local paper shot on spec as a freelancer) were shot with a borrowed Canonet GIII QL17 35mm rangefinder, a camera that cost maybe $125 and didn't even take interchangeable lenses. The newspaper where I worked part-time as a photographer in high school used Mamiya TLRs. My first SLR was a $100 Russian-made Kalimar with a very soft lens but the girls I shot senior portraits for (and got paid) loved the look. Even after I moved into full time work at daily papers, many newspaper photographers in the 80s preferred the Nikon FM over the more expensive F2 or F3 bodies because it was "disposable" -- replace it rather than repair when it was broken. To me, a "professional" camera is any camera you shoot pictures with that you get paid for, particularly if you do so full-time or on a regular basis. It could be a D3x or a Holga as long as it gets the job done and your employer/customer/client hands over the cash.
  26. Of course, everyone's situation is different. But to use Nikon as an example, the D700 and D3 series are considered professional standards. They are more expensive than a D90, but are built to more rugged standards, so they should outlast the D90. This would be especially true if you consider that a professional's equipment gets a lot more use (and possibly unintentional abuse) than does a hobbyist's gear.
    Once you get to 12MP, I think much more MP's over that is a waste. Personally, and your mileage may vary, this whole MP race is getting out of hand.
    Even more important than the body you choose, is the glass you put in front of it. Having a 24 MP camera isn't much good, if you have mediocre glass in front of it. You are much better off with a 12 MP body and top notch glass. If I were to point to "professional quality" gear, the bulk of my money would go toward glass and not the bodies.
    There was an old film saying, which although not completely true today as the camera body itself records the image and not external film, was to get a good enough body to get the job done and put the best glass you can afford in front of it.
  27. Way over board --but, maybe what one needed in the 80's ............. learn your craft & equipment. >> pretty much down to one camera & lens~~for 2010.....
    ....purchase good glass , for starts. Something with a fixed , fast, F/stop and a zoom of 28-105mm range
  28. You might as well go on a carpenter's forum and ask whether professional hammers are better than "prosumer" hammers. You might get a really nice hammer for $30 that will last you the rest of your life. But if some company releases a $200 titanium hammer with night-vision and self-guided nail removal, all of a sudden some carpenter's think it's the only hammer that a self-respecting carpenter would use. Even on that forum, there would be dozens of competent professional carpenters who would swear that beyond a minimum level of quality, your hammer is just a tool and doesn't need to be any more expensive.
    This has gotten just as ridiculous in photography. Beyond a certain minimum level of quality, improvements just don't matter anymore.
  29. >So how do you weigh the financial impact of better equipment (however you define it) against the benefits?
    I advise you to ignore the concept of theoretical benefits of better gear. The only thing of importance in your situation should be the actual capability of what you currently have. In that sense, your challenge strikes me as simpler than that of a hobbyist because you have a defined endpoint, where hobbyists are left to judge "is that good enough? Am I happy? Hmm." Conduct a series of experiments and attempt to produce exactly the products you plan to offer. Do several complete shoots and produce the normal post-event products that wedding photographers offer, like large photo albums and some wall prints of varying sizes. I'm not a wedding photographer, but I just hired one for my 2006 wedding, so I'm familiar with the demands.
    I think what you'll find is that it's not at all about certain pro gear being required. Certain elements of your current set up will probably get you to an acceptable product, while other elements will need replacement. And, in my experience so far, it's mostly about the lenses. But, if printing is the goal, you must test print at the desired sizes and formats to find out. I have a hard time imagining a wedding photographer who doesn't use flash, but I guess your tests will show whether it works. Good luck.
  30. Seath,
    One thing that I have not saw on this message is "Man/Woman has limitations as does your choice of eqipment one decides to use. They deserve respect."
    For instance, the person that buys used equipment--One question for those that suggest buying used to start a business---Why did the origiginal owner get rid of it? Quite often it was because the camera or what ever was not upto his/her needs so they replaced it with one that was. It may have simply been that they thought the life span was nearing its end because they were in this as a full time business and shoot 150,000-250,000 shots per year and can not risk equipment failure. Another fact is that Nikon and Canon FULL frame handle noise issues at asa 1600 with ease unlike the non full frame. One thing I did learn in mechanics--buy cheap tools and you loose your skin and blood when a socket or wrench slips plus you end up with bolts that just became much more difficult to remove because as I lost skin,the bolt also lost metal and wound up withh rounded edges instead of flat so after a few losses of skin, I bought Snap-on and kept my skin and blood. Poor choice in camears seldon if ever has the effect that my choice of cheap wrenches had on me.
    Cameras I presently use Nikon D700 and Phase 45 and 65 backs on Hasselblads and yes, I find them necessary.
  31. I don't think you're thinking like a business person here for several reasons - First you should not try to jump right into making your main source of income shooting something you don't have a significant amount of experience with. While its true you can get some good pictures with basic skills or great skills in a different style of photography, you likely don't have the experience to get out of a bind if the shooting conditions change or are different than what you anticipate, or if the plan goes awry. Producing results that are less than acceptable for your clients is the fastest way to close your business.
    Next, when you're able to consistently produce the results you're happy with, you'll already have the equipment needed to get you there, or you'll know exactly what you need to fill in your equipment needs.
    Last, there are significant tax breaks and other economic reasons to purchase higher priced equipment regardless of need. In short, you don't need anything more than the most basic equipment if you know how to use the equipment to its fullest, but you'll soon realize your equipment limitations and its impact on your business which will lead you into the equipment that makes your job easier, faster, better. Once you begin making money, you'll definately need to offset the taxman. I wouldn't overlook the hidden costs of operating a business - self-employment tax, social securtity being 2x the amount currently deducted from your paycheck and so forth. Working for "The Man" is pretty good business sense these days, being "The Man" is a lot harder than most people think.
  32. To jump ship like that is really unwise. At the very least you should have savings at least for two years. A business rule of thumb says, you either begin to be profitable after two years, or you don't have what it takes.
    But back to the question. The "why would I spend more if this does the job" vs. "have the best to be in advantage" is not really an equipment question, but a business question. You need to have the equipment which suits your business; in case of photography, your shooting style.
    For example, I've also been considering to move forward wedding photography recently (ditched the idea for now). I'm the sort of photographer who wants to be least visible. The less sound, less flashes etc., the better. Thus, when figuring out which equipment to use, I was leaning towards small, silent cameras - Nikon D60 (which I've bought eventually), Leica M8, and most likely a blimp for my D200, plus extremely fast lenses. Of course there were other considerations too, but my equation was: better camera = less intimidating camera.
    For someone else, this might be: more robust camera = better camera. Or less noise at ISO 6400 = better camera. Or cheaper camera = better camera. Or something. What kind of a photog are you?
  33. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "I'm fairly seriously contemplating leaving my stable corporate job and building an event/wedding photography business"

    I previously purposely avoided commenting on this aspect, confining my comments to directly address on those bits I quoted.

    But I genuinely fear for your success.

    Making a definitive chop of a regular income, to begin from zero, building the business you describe, is a tall order IMO.

    "[it is extreme to leave] your job with no base of wedding business. Why not start the wedding business now, and quit corporate work a year from now? At least you will have started the "word-of-mouth" ball rolling to help with your first year out as a full time photographer."

    In this regard, do as Marc suggests

  34. Well, there are a number of factors in play...I didn't especially want to go into them, but:
    -I am single and fortunate to have enough savings to conservatively live for three years and cover startup costs (even if I don't make a dime in that time). I also have acquired more than enough gear (and knowledge) to get started, which is why I tried to pose my question as a general one...I do value all the feedback and apologize if it seemed like I was looking for a general critique of my approach, because I was actually just interested in answers to the question :)
    -I really need a change of pace; my job (and the lifestyle it has resulted in) has taken a pretty extreme toll on me. Also, it demands a quantity of time and energy that would make it impossible to build a business on the side. So I'm viewing the first 6 months-1 year as a bit of a break as well as the beginning of a business endeavor...it's an appropriate time in my life to be making this sort of shift.
    -The city I want to start this business in (Boston) is not the city I currently live/work in (NYC), so the benefits gained from establishing myself in NYC would be minimal, and I've found it to be a difficult (time-consuming) place to break into any creative industry, and as mentioned above, time is one thing I don't have.
    -I have an extensive technical skillset that I can leverage into freelance/consulting/contracting work, and I'm happy to do so if it becomes necessary.
    In short, I'm fully aware that my strategy seems somewhat dangerous, but I'm reasonably confident that I've mitigated most of the risks. I appreciate people bashing on my plan though...it's reassuring that no one has said anything I haven't thought of yet.
  35. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    You do not need to apologize, not to me at least, but I do think, whether you wanted to or not, giving a little more disclosure is in your best interest to keep the thread focussed, if any more comments are made.
    One must recognize that in this type of question "to pose my question as a general one" more often than not makes one appear as though none of the balls sorted, racked and stacked.
    Generalist questions reap a variance of answers, interpretations and passion.
    Also, you did write, and as a stand alone paragraph: "Any thoughts would be much appreciated"
    I understand the four points you make. I have no concern now, thank you.
    "I appreciate people bashing on my plan though... it's reassuring that no one has said anything I haven't thought of yet."
    Apropos the bashing of the plan ONLY?
    Or do you mean that no-one has made any comment whatever, that you have not previously considered?
  36. Seems you have thought things through pretty thoroughly. However, there is one thing which you haven't 'covered'. That is the fact that you haven't been shooting weddings. As a few folks above said, including me, shooting music and events isn't the same as shooting weddings. Even if you've assisted, you will not know exactly what you will need until you start covering them yourself and find out how you like things, not the person who mentored you likes things.
    This affects choice of gear, and also affects your present preference for no or little flash. Perhaps you'll stay that way, but then again, maybe not. By the way, low light and high ISO can be handled quite well with the mid/top gear. For instance, in the Canon line, the 85mm f1.8 is not an L lens, but is a wonderful lens, close to L quality, for about $400-500. In the Canon line, I don't hesitate to use ISO 1600 with my lowly 40D, ISO 3200 with care. I realize that ISO isn't considered particularly high anymore, but it does just fine for most ceremonies, especially for an interim set up.
    In any case, I personally buy primary camera bodies new. I do it for the knowledge that the body doesn't have a lot of mileage on it, plus for the warranty. Everything else, including secondary cameras, I get used, low mileage gear, including lenses and lighting gear.
    Hopefully you have read the Master Lesson on equipment. My opinion--get middle/high end gear, shoot some real weddings, renting what would be exotic, and you will soon know what you will want for keepers.
  37. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Hey that's my 10:46 pm slot . . . stop doing that :)


    "However, there is one thing which you haven't 'covered'. That is the fact that you haven't been shooting weddings."

    I went out on a limb and assumed. (always dangerous)

    With 100% time on his hands, I assumed Seth would be doing as many as he could in some manner or another, to get the flying hours up quick smart, prior to formally setting up as a business and making full commitment to any gear plan . . .

    Yeah I know is is dangerous to assume anything, but I was wowed by the articulate response and reassurance he gave.
    So don't let me down Seth - tell me you have a plan (or you have factored to dismiss the idea) of getting Wedding Experience before you set up a business which charges Clients for it.

  38. WW, fair point, I was somewhat more vague than I intended to be. And in reference to my last statement, I was referring to specific comments about my strategy for transitioning into photography...I want to make sure it's totally bulletproof, and so I'm very glad for all the comments (even if they were solicited unintentionally).
    There are definitely lots of useful perspectives here about gear I haven't thought about before, and thanks much Nadine for the equipment link. I think it presented a really balanced viewpoint, and the technical exercise seems like a really useful thing to do once I have some weddings under my belt.
    You're certainly correct that my largest problem is my lack of experience at this point, so I've been contacting Boston photographers to see if they're accepting assistants (or second shooters, though I don't really consider myself qualified for that yet), and am considering trying to work for Bella and/or advertising free (or nominally priced) photography for a couple of weddings to build a rough portfolio and website. I have one wedding in the bag for a friend in July, and want to make sure I'm ready to do great work, and have web presence and a brand for people to associate me with afterwards.
    Thanks again.
  39. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Good rowing,
  40. no such thing as 'pro' equipment, only 'pro' photographers. expensive cameras only make things easier, but will not allow you to produce better work.
  41. Let's see if we can add something you haven't thought of. Not being able to read minds, I have no idea whether that is possible.
    You seem prepared financially ... and I DO understand the yearning to be free from the time greedy clutches of Corporate America (was there, did that). However, despite running mega ad agencies working bone crushing schedules, and dealing with incredible stress, I still shot weddings part time, or did photography that led to the style of wedding photography that I now shoot full time. I'd think that through a bit more were I you. However, if you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown, do what you have to do : -)
    While you have thought about getting experience as a wedding shooter, you haven't mentioned WHY you chose that specific path. What makes you think you would succeed at it? It is very competitive ... and without experience, a defined different approach, and a word-of-mouth referrals, you'll be slugging it out with a lot of people who, like you, are dissatisfied with their situation, or unemployed, that owns a camera and did their Cousin Betty's wedding to rave reviews.
    So, what is your plan and how do you see yourself working the plan? What, if anything, do you think you will bring to the party that will set you apart other than you have decided to shoot weddings?
    The answer to the above question will provide the criteria for answering your original equipment question ... which no one here can answer for you.
    BTW, I DO NOT agree with the blanket statement that pro equipment will NOT help you produce better work. Some cameras AF faster and more accurately than others. A consumer lens with a f/4.5 max aperture won't help in a church that doesn't allow flash ... and sure won't help you isolate the subject matter from a cluttered background ... and so on. Generalities don't work, specifics do.
    The equipment criteria has to be based on your artistic intent, and the real world realities of shooting a wedding. In some cases less capable gear will serve just fine, in others it will not. Unfortunately, the latter becomes the criteria for choice. One can stop down a f/1.4 lens, one cannot open-up a f/3.5 lens to f/1.4.
  42. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    BTW, I also DO NOT agree with the blanket statement that "pro" equipment will NOT help you produce better work.
    I also was going to cite using a consumer kit zoom lens and being relegated to the back of a Church with a no Flash Rule, just as one example.
    I only dropped in to state that, but Marc got here first. . . and . . . Reading his comments gave me pause to think about differentiation, which I also did consider before . . .
    But I might be getting tardy and slack with my comment and advice or it might be that it is because my youngest is now at the age where she must be given space to fly solo, that I did not bring this matter up, myself.
    In any case asking yourself what makes you different and what makes you special and what is it that you will do which will make you stand out from the pack, is a good exercise to do – it is a good exercise for all of us on a regular basis, thanks Marc, for bringing this point.
  43. I...have enough savings to conservatively live for three years and cover startup costs (even if I don't make a dime in that time). I also have acquired more than enough gear (and knowledge) to get started​
    I think this is the key here. Since you already have a kit of gear, and it is sufficient to get started, then there's really no question. You're already set. Point 2: since you already have the start-up capital, then why would you settle for any gear less than the best?
    While I don't believe it is always the smartest financial decision for a beginner to invest heavily into expensive professional gear, the fact remains that the top-tier photo gear IS MUCH BETTER than the less expensive stuff. The best cameras will have the best reliability, durability, weather-proofing, life expenctancy, low noise, fast shutter burst, fast write speeds, highest resolution, etc. The list goes on and on. The same is true for the best lenses: they are the sharpest, fastest, have the best Image Stabilization, AF the fastest, are the most durable, weather sealed, etc.
    If you have the money, then there is no question. Get the best. There's no way you'll ever regret having the best. The only reason you would ever receive different advice is if someone perceived that the difference of a couple thousand dollars could make or break your venture. In some situations, it is just impossible to invest $10k-$20k right away and expect to stay above water. For broke people, you can put together a working photo kit for $2k-$4k. It's not as good, but serviceable.
  44. It's simple really. Sure you can make high quality images with lesser gear. Lens design in particular is very good, even with consumer grade items. The main differences lie in build quality and feature sets. The pro grade equipment is more sturdily built and will have a feature set allowing you to get the shot that SOME amateur grad equipment will not allow under difficult conditions. Pros have a tendency to not baby their equipment and there is a need to get the shot when others can't. Pro quality gear is built with this in mind. Do you need the durability and feature set? Don't know. Only you can answer that.
  45. Seth, just use what you like and are comfortable with.
    I use the kit that works best for the use I give it. 5k, 1k or whatever the cost.
  46. Marc, you make a fair point, and one I have been struggling with in some ways...I don't really have a complete answer yet.
    I know that I find it fulfilling to capture people that are fully engaged in what they are doing (thus the live music/event work), and people seem to think I'm good at it. I also like "making" pictures; getting people in front of my camera and having their time and attention so I can put them in a good environment, light them well, and hopefully get them to do something interesting. It seems like wedding work leaves room for many different types of photography, and that appeals to me.
    I also think the other parts of the wedding photography process are a good fit; I like helping people to solve problems, taking on complex projects and finishing them with every detail seen to, and the rush of being "in the zone" during a live event and spontaneously creating. It also seems like weddings simultaneously provide a concrete set of constraints (which I view as a bunch of interesting problems that change with each gig) and a lot of creative latitude.
    I don't have much to say regarding differentiation yet because I haven't shot a wedding. It seems like succeeding in the business is as much about presenting yourself/your brand effectively as being a good photographer. In my fantasy world I have a fully developed style of photography and brand/product line that are a reflection of me, and since I'm unique and awesome, both differentiate me :). In reality, I have no idea if I'm sufficiently interesting/talented for that to happen, but I'm going to give it a try anyway and devote myself to chiseling out a style and brand that only I can create.
  47. Hi Seth;
    I did not read all the responses but wanted to share my insite. I do feel having "pro" level equiptment is very important; especially today and I tell you why below. When I started out, I could not afford all the pro stuff so I rented it and slowly build it up.
    Here is why I think it is more than ever to have pro level equitpment. Prices on DSLRs, lenses and accessories are dropping in prices everyday. More and more people have DSLRs. At my most recent shoot, there was at least 5 people with DSLRs and two had L series lenses. I understand in the end it is the photographer and not the equiptment but there is a preception that consumers look at. If you are pro, you should have pro level gear.
    For example, one wedding I was a guest at, the photographer gears were not what you consider pro level. While there is not wrong with a Tamron lens and 20D but when you pay someone 5000.00, you would think they would invest some of that money on better gear.
    On a side note, I was also in your shoes. I had a great corporate career and an up and coming photography business. I was thinking of quiting my job and doing photographer full time. Kind of glad I did not because people today are trying to save and will not spend a lot.
  48. Seth,
    Ansel Adams said "I don't get caught up in the gear, buy a camera and learn how to use it" I think that camera companies want us to buy the latest and greatest, but do we really need to? I use 2 D80's with SB 800s I do believe in buying the best glass you can, but it must meet your style of photography. Look at it this way Tiger Woods could beat almost any golfer with a set of clubs from Wal-mart.
  49. Maybe not the best example ... Ansel Adams didn't shoot weddings, and he used the finest LF gear available, was an advocate of Hasselbald for roll film ... and was known for modifying the best darkroom enlargers of the day to be even better than designed.
    If you are the "Tiger Woods" of wedding photography, then the last sentence makes sense. Golf is the worse analogy I can think of ... since every golfer I know thinks a better club will improve their game ... LOL!
    I do agree with the notion that manufacturer hype can put a crimp in profits if you aren't careful. IMO, one should get the best they can afford not just the best there is.
    Most of this constant gear oriented discussion is due primarily to the rapid pace of advancements in technology in a relatively short time period compared to film gear development. The rate of change has been mind boggling in just 10 years ... and so has the cost of paying for it.
    Those just starting in wedding photography now have it easier, since most Prosumer and Pro gear has arrived at a point of being more than adequate, and further upgrades are to fulfill creative wishes not actually needs.
  50. I read a quote from a random photographer. It said, "a great violin doesn't make you a great violinist" or something like that. I have a $50 violin and a $400 violin. When I let my 1 year old rub the bow across the strings in random patterns the $400 violin sounds ALOT better. Aside from all that artistic expression junk, a better camera captures better images, just like steroids and corked bats set homerun records. --- I just had to throw in that last line for good measure.
    skill and performance are very distinguishable from each other. (another example came to mind, Shaquille O'Neal!! haha )
  51. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    The 1 year old can press the shutter release all day on a 1Series camera and not much will happen if the infant of random patterns does not take the lens cap off . . .
    I like your metaphor, but IMO it is not a convincing argument regarding better camera capturing better pictures.
    The cameras we have been discussing are not the metaphoric 8 times difference as the violins in your example.
    The original question cites $1K vs. $5K - that's only five times by money to begin with . . .
    Now realizing that spending 1K (for the camera) and then a few hundred each, for couple of Fast Primes (in today's market place) that gear, in capable hands could get up to ISO1600 and a very good technical quality coverage . . .
    The composition and “seeing the light” is irrelevant to the difference between the cameras' quality . . . that’s all about the six inches behind the viewfinder - not random patterns.
    I think this is a better last line, for good measure.
  52. Seth:
    A competent craftsman produces superior product *with more ease* when using superior tools.
    If I were starting out today with a tight budget, I'd buy a couple original Canon 5D bodies. You can find these for about a thousand dollars apiece. Add a 35/1.4, 24-105/4, and 200/2.8, and three 580ex flashes. You'll be able to photograph just about anything you need to at a wedding once you learn to use this equipment.
    You don't need to drop 5 grand on a body to take good wedding photos. On the other hand, I'd shy away from showing up with the lowest entry level body, too. :)
  53. Compared to older eras; a modern dialog about photography has a more leming approach tending to focus on equipment brand/type compared to results a customer pays for.
    Excessive focus on the tools used seems to be a modern trend.

    If a wedding has goofed up images many folks tend to blame the equipment instead of their lack of skill, being prepared and understanding a tools strengths and weaknesses. Once whining was considered the sign of a child; today is seams to be a slackers excuse of failure to deliver results.

    Many folks will never "get" what matters is delivering results; ie what a customer pays for.
    Every era has its favorite tools to use to shoot images with; rarely do customers care a rats bum about what tools are used; they care about results.

    Great wedding images have been shot with a Yashica D TLR 40 years ago and a P&S digital today; and also poor ones with Canon 5D's and Hassleblads too. I have done printing for wedding shooters with a Canon 5D that have never heard about raw and always use JPEG; and some Olympus 3030 P&S shooters who use TIF and bracket to not blow out wedding dresses. Oh; I forgot; the concept of craft and understanding ones tools is taboo to many on photo.net .:) :)

    Blaming the equipment versus oneself is the hallmark of many folks. If you buy 25K worth of gear and screw up a weddings images; one might have to blame oneself too.

    One can go back 1/2 century ago and find folks scared about shooting weddings; they took an extra body; extra lens; extra flash cords; they talked to the church about whether and where a flash was allowed; if it was a weird dark church they shot sample shots to learn too.

    If you buy the latest canon or nikon of the moment and it dies during a wedding and you have no backup; how will this stand with a client; or Judge; when having a spare was normal 1/2 century ago?

    One could take Marc Williams here and go over to Kmart on Telegraph/8 mile/Grand River and buy two 200 buck P&S digitals and he could shoot a decent wedding; IF he had to. He probalby would not want to at all.! BUT if he had to; he probably would be alot more radically concerned; do tests; understand the lessor tools and deliver far better results than an assumer type. By concerned I mean holy cow I am using a totally unknown lessor tool thus I better do some experiments in actual church the week or two before with the flower girls; same lighting; etc to see what dare I have gotten into. Even with top notch tools a pro will do this going into the abiss of an unknown job; to reduce the chance of a failure. If there is NO photos allowed in church and the couple wants formal done inside lit by 1 candle; a pro has to say this is insane/nuts and say one has to use more light; use a flash; shoot outside. ie you know your limits of the Kmart camera; or Canon 5D with iso 3200 and F1 lens.

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