(Pro) equipment is not a must... True. Not. And some more...

posted on 7th of april, 2010

© Bedo (Help)
You've heard it said (many times, mind you!) that you don't necessarily need to have professional equipment in order to have great photos. True. I might have said it a couple (tens) of times myself. But then why do so many photographers equip studios, buy lenses that cost numbers with many zeroes and spend another ton of cash (or credit) on lighting?

You see where this is going... Let me put a little disclaimer before you burn me at the stake. I firmly believe that creativity doesn't derive from equipment. What you'll read below is about the necessity/use of equipment dictated by the competitive market in microstock and the demand for higher quality. Lastly - how equipment could actually be what's limiting the expression of your creativity. All clear? Good.

Now, back to the equipment. Say you love tomato soup. Say your mum makes the best tomato soup you ever tasted. Say there's some in the kitchen right now... But you've only got a dessert spoon and a small bowl. Will you eat it? I guess you will - you love the stuff. Will you enjoy it - probably. Will it be better with proper dishware and utensils? What, the soup? - No. But chances are you would enjoy eating it more if you had them.

It's kind of the same with photo gear. You don't need great gear to make great photos (generally), but you sure will enjoy photography much more when you do have great gear. A tripod that doesn't bend under the weight of a lens hood. A camera that actually produces acceptable images at iso200. I'm exaggerating, but you get the point - no more extra fiddling, adjusting, duct-taping... Just you and the image you envisioned in your mind or heart.

Let's bring microstock in the picture. Back in 2004/5 or even 2006 you could easily get by with a middle or high class point-and-shoot. Today's point-and-shoots have improved a lot, but if you want to get serious with selling competitive images you'll most likely need to get a DSLR. And probably not just an entry level one. The technical quality requirements have evolved significantly just in the past two years. I mean, the Canon 5D MKII is already 18-months-old!

Alright, you do shoot in optimal conditions, so you can get by just fine with a cheap(er) body. That's O.K. How about lenses and lighting? It's as simple as that - you can only get an f/2.8 image if you have a lens that opens up at least that much. You can only get a nicely lit shot if you have the light and modifiers for the task. You can only freeze action if you have lights that will help you do that (and you know how to use them).

The (uncomfortable) truth is that you can only do as much as your equipment allows you to. And with most people this line is drawn lower than the creativity limit - you don't have the equipment necessary to unleash your creativity fully. A lot of you have chosen to go (semi)DIY and solve the problem this way. Others are either not as skillful or simply don't like the DIY quality and are happy owners of factory made accessories. When it comes to main equipment, however, I am yet to hear/read of a photographer who upgraded to better equipment, knew/learned how to use it and then regretted it. Be it camera, lenses, lighting, or getting a studio/access to locations...

Did I hear props? Yes, they're also key. Whether it will be in the form of the things you decorate with or the model(s) is holding, clothing... Having them is becoming increasingly important for both the variety and quality of your images. And especially about the way your images relate to the rest that are up for sale.

Enough babbling, get to the point for me! If you want to improve your photography and succeed in making money from selling it, you will most likely have to invest in equipment, accessories and time (continually). You'll need to learn how to use all you've got properly and optimally, too.

Microstock is a (increasingly) competitive marketplace. My opinion is that only those who are serious about it will truly make enough* out of it. It used to be that you made a payout ($100) with some 200 images and a fairly cheap camera in no more than several months. Today, unless your images are outstanding it will take you much longer (and more images) than that.
Your images need to be much more creative, unique and of higher quality, in order to stand out. If you have the creativity and heart to achieve all this, then you simply need the tools.

If you are here simply for the fun (ie. it's just a hobby), then you probably lost 10min worth of reading for nothing. Sorry 'bout that. :) Here's the point for you - just make sure you set your expectations right. If you plan to invest very little and sporadically, then chances are your sales will follow this pattern. Don't complain if this happens. ;)

Lastly, whether you're doing it (semi)professionally, or not - do have a clear understanding of where you're at right now and where you want to be at a later point in time. What's your direction and what do you need to have/learn/utilize to progress along it?


* I know "enough" is veeery relative... I don't mean to say you'll live like a king in centuries past. Think of "enough" as something proportional to your investments (of time and money). If you want to live like a king in centuries past - buy an oil rig. :P

Definition of "investment" - when I say investment I mean equipment and time. Learning how to use the equipment and spending more time using it for producing commercial images. Simply buying a big fat 1Ds MKIII (the monster alone is 1385g/3.1 lb) won't make you successful. Pushing for creative and unique content is also mandatory. If you only replicate what's been shot 5000 times but with more megapixels that won't get you too far either.

Comments (34)

Posted by Mythja on May 03, 2010
unfortnately, it takes some time to collect a nice pack of quality lenses. but i believe it pays off later.
good article :)
Posted by Gmargittai on April 27, 2010
Buying a pro camera and pro lenses for microstock only, is a loosing proposition from financial standpoint. It will take many years if ever to recoup your investment. Most of the pro photographers that are uploading microstock are doing other photography work too which justifies the investment. This is not to say one should not invest in equipment if one can afford it.
A lot depends on what kind of photography you are into. In my experience lighting is a better investment than a pro camera. It is also cheaper and has a bigger impact on the outcome.
A good investment is also taking a photography class with a good teacher.
Posted by Tan510jomast on April 20, 2010
Most pros , or rather all pros, prefer pro cameras and top notch lenses not because they think it will make their images better, as some students once claim. It's no different from the Formula 1 race drivers who do not choose to drive a consumer car for the race. It's meant for the circuit and it works better in tougher conditions . Running through daily shoots of 1,000 frames per shoot through the day and night, shooting in less favorable conditions of moisture, dust, ice,etc.. A pro camera and lens save a lot of headache with failed mechanism and other things that a consumer and PnS will never survive.
True, give the pro camera to someone who cannot take a well exposed photograph without having to rely on automatic and you will get what you put in. But it has absolutely nothing to do with having the best so you can look the best. It's more to do with the reason why pro cameras are more expensive, it's meant to last longer with your pro shooting timetable.
Then there's the more superior...(More)
Posted by Retina2020 on April 17, 2010
I can only agree with you partly. I know of a few successful stock photographers that shot with point and shoot cameras for many years. Nikhil Gangavane comes to mind. Nikhil GangavaneBut I can't disagree with you that Equipment does play a very large role in the quality of the final product.
Posted by Fleyeing on April 14, 2010
There is a point that you didn't mention and that is speeding up workflow. I must have spent weeks in total trying to glorify shots from less than optimal cams as to pixelation/distortion, noise and black-clipping when trying to play with the levels. With the D5MKII, all those worries are gone. No noise, black clipping under control, enough room in the luminance dynamic ratio to play with levels. The workflow is much faster.
Posted by Trottola on April 14, 2010
Great and interesting blog, but let me say that I've seen really creative and amazing works made by people which are here only for hobby. Sometime creativity is much more useful then pro equipment ;)
Posted by Onime on April 13, 2010
Nice blog. I'm your follower. :)
Posted by Digitalexpressionimages on April 12, 2010
I agree completely with everything said here
Posted by Alvera on April 12, 2010
pro gear are good but pro models with pro gear are the best! :D :D
Posted by Vclements on April 11, 2010
The gear you use depends on what you need to do.

I have a ton of gear, which is well suited for my day to day commercial work.
As an added bonus, the gear is available for stock.

If I were only shooting stock, I wouldn't even consider my current (and on going) investment in gear.

From day to day I am faced with numerous different challenges - sure I could spend time with PVC tube, tape, glue and build stuff myself (and I have done that), only to be frustrated at the time I lost building something that is sub-par when I could have bought the thing for $xx.

There is nothing wrong with DIY or limited gear - it all depends on what you need the gear to do.

If you rely on the gear, then better gear can make things quicker and easier, thus removing the "gear" tasks to allow concentration on shooting as time is $$.
That is all better gear does - makes things quicker and easier. (sure there are higher MP...(More)
Posted by Vclements on April 11, 2010
DpReview just finished its review of the Canon S90. Camera scored 75 out of 100 which is quite good. For those looking for a compact camera with pro capabilities this camera shows promise. A lot less expensive than the $7000 Leica RF though the Canon S90 has only 10MP but it is the quality of those megapixels that matters.

Canon S90 Review

No optical viewfinder, which is a huge problem
Posted by Petarneychev on April 11, 2010
Cristi111, that's far from my point. :) I'm sorry if I didn't express myself clearly and that may have confused you. To put it simply, all I wanted to say was: The advantages of professional equipment are not to be overlooked and if someone is planning to seriously dive into microstock then this is something to consider.

For the rest, the majority of the very successful microstock photographers started as amateurs years ago... Others have simply chosen to remain amateurs and enjoy the fun from the whole experience. There's nothing wrong with this. :) I don't think I said there was.

Another point of my article was that everyone should continually evaluate their expectations based on their goals. If someone comes to microstock as a pro and invests as a pro, they should have serious expectations. On the other hand, if someone comes as a hobbyist and uploads sporadically, the expectations should probably be different.

I decided to...(More)
Posted by Cristi111 on April 11, 2010
Dear Petar Neychev,
Personally, I do not know what do you want to say. Please continue your outstanding work as a professional photographer and leave alone other contributors, even they are much inferior than you and than the average level. Let them contribute as amateur persons who can love photography or can have photography as a hobby. What is wrong if they succeed with one (very) good photo from 10 or 20 or 50 submitted? (or one photo accepted from 20 submited?) As it can be seen, you cannot be in their stage where they are very proud themselves for that minimal performance. You have (tens of) thousands photos in portofolio and much more sells maybe. Can you realize that modest persons must be present as professional ones? You are on a high pedestal and you have nothing better to do that to comment the activity of such amateur persons (I did not say "amateur photographs"). What are you thinking is what would The Times and other 2-...(More)
Posted by Avogelbc on April 10, 2010
I think this article does provide some truth. If only one was rewarded the necessary equipment once they have proven to have the necessary creativity and drive to produce it. I use one of the cheaper dslr's (nikond40x) with the standard lense and a 55-200 lense. I just got a flash so thats cool. I still think that my technical sides needs to improve before I invest in a macro lense or light equipment. I do still believe creativity is the backbone of success, and equipment makes it easier to bring that creativity to life. Good article, I wish I had more money now though. haha
Posted by Heywoody on April 09, 2010
Definitely possible to take good pictures with inexpensive equipment but very difficult to produce good STOCK pictures with high enough TECHNICAL quality. The vast majority of my render submissions have been approved and virtually all photos rejected - same eye involved just different tools. Laws of supply and demand being what they are I'm astonished that anyone can fund their hobby through stock let alone derive an income - the rate per hour must be far less than a job in the local fast food joint.
Posted by Shootalot on April 09, 2010
DpReview just finished its review of the Canon S90. Camera scored 75 out of 100 which is quite good. For those looking for a compact camera with pro capabilities this camera shows promise. A lot less expensive than the $7000 Leica RF though the Canon S90 has only 10MP but it is the quality of those megapixels that matters.

Canon S90 Review
Posted by Walleyelj on April 09, 2010
Great article!

As my gear has improved, there is no question that my acceptance ratio and sales has improved. That said, I don't think it's because the data the camera is capable of is producing better images for me. Rather it's that more experience is helping me better utilize better tools (cameras, lenses, etc.). When I was starting out with 4 MP point and shoot photos to sell here, compostion and subject matter were by far the biggest reasons for rejection, not image quality produced from the camera itself. The more I learned about photograpghy in general, and the submission/approval process here on DT, the better my photos became, and the better my sales have been. Don't get me wrong though - I love my DSLRs and my lens colelction, and my wish list never really get shorter, or my ideas on how to use them:)
Posted by Moutwtrng on April 09, 2010
Thats it! Im on a mission now to prove that you dont need pro equiptment to make amazing pictures.

As of now I am selling all my equiptment and dwindling it all down to just a few items:

Nikon D90
Nikon 35mm 1.8
Nikon SB600
2 collapsible 50' reflectors
1 tripod

and thats it it!!!
Posted by Unteroffizier on April 09, 2010
I guess we need to have the appropriate equipment for the job in question. Simple flash bouncer and some lighting devices can be improvised, self made DIY as we call it. While some other types of equipment just have to be bought since not everyone may be technically sound enough to create or modify their own photographic hardware. Take me for example. I not a muscular guy nor with strong build. Sometimes i wish i just have the additional finances to get a proper flashlight holder or extension arms for my macro shoots. Or grow a few more pairs of arms and hands.
Posted by Icefields on April 09, 2010
good round-up of the situation.
excellent article!
best of wishes, Alain.
Posted by Noonie on April 08, 2010
What's wrong with duct tape????? And where can I get a used oil rig??

PS. Most of the other stuff is being discussed already....
Posted by Bradcalkins on April 08, 2010
Another way to look at it is to consider the total cost of equipment, rather than the up front cost. I've purchased several lenses to play with over the years and resold them in a year or two for a total cost of about 15% of the lens. You need to buy quality stuff to get good resale, but when you look at it that way you only have to justify the difference in price. Renting is another good option - I've definitely paid off the $25 to rent the Canon 135mm f/2 prime lens with sales.

I'm not saying you can't justify equipment with sales - I've paid for all my equipment too. I just can't justify everything that is on my wish list :) There is a danger of using all of the dollars earned through stock on photography gear - that is great if photography is your hobby, but once you get to the point of buying equipment only to sell more photos you need to be able to justfiy the expense in absolute terms. The better the gear that you already heave,...(More)
Posted by Visceralimage on April 08, 2010
Good article./blog.

When you start using your equipment every day, in difficult conditions, better equipment works better.

There is a big difference between cheap equipment and what most here at DT call pro equipment. The is another big difference between what most at DT call pro and what is actually pro equipment.

A point and shoot will cost approx. $100-700. An amateur camera is approx $500 and a prosumer camera is approx. $800-2500. A true pro camera will set you back $5000 plus just for the body.
Posted by Afagundes on April 08, 2010
Petar, in general I agree with you.

The new entry levels DSLR, like Canon Rebel have an astonishing quality, though, more than enough for stock.

But, yes, if you want to explore the full potential you will need to invest more, lenses and more professional bodies allways help.

With a more limited equipment, like a point and shoot, you will be more limited in your visions, having to use it with less dynamic range, avoiding low light situations, etc...

But, well used, the limitation might not be such a big problem, a saxophone can only play one note at a time, a piano, 10, but in the right hands who could say a saxophone limits your creativity?

And sometimes the flexibility makes people forget about the simple things and might miss a special moment tweaking buttons or even with the wrong adjustments.

This photo is my best seller, it was taken with a point and shoot from inside my car, no tripods, DSLRs, special lenses, ...,

Posted by Afagundes on April 08, 2010
Shootalot, what I think you are looking for are the new 4/3 sensor size cameras, Olympus and Panasonic.
Posted by Petarneychev on April 08, 2010
Brad, I've paid off all of my electronic gear with stock sales and that in well under a year (which I think is a very good time). I don't even do it full-time or as seriously as I may want to. I did buy things in steps though - first a bit here, then a bit there...

Davulcu, my point was exactly this - low cost equipment will do the job (most of the time), but the question is - does it allow you to do everything you're good at? Moreover, does it make your images stand out? As for portraits - a classical mugshot probably won't do well. However, a bit of browsing around will tell you that dynamic business, medical or lifestyle (ie. casual, at home, etc.) portraits of people sell like hot cakes. Many of them are shot at 85mm or longer.
Posted by Yuritz on April 08, 2010
I basically agree with your thought and blog and I'm one of the people described here,having an entry level camera and wanting to shoot in a better way,not knowing if to improve the quality of my works or just wait and go on like this.
Said it and having a good equipment,everyone should find his way,like looking for landscapes,macro photography,studio one,still life...during this few months have seen lots of amazing pictures,but the best ones always came from a person who's specialized on just a subject;there are lots of things everyone should keep in mind and sometimes even find out the right target for this kind of world is not simple (surely for someone who has just come into photography)
Posted by Yuritz on April 08, 2010
I basically agree with your thought and blog and I'm one of the people described here,having an entry level camera and wanting to shoot in a better way,not knowing if to improve the quality of my works or just wait and go on like this.
Said it and having a good equipment,everyone should find his way,like looking for landscapes,macro photography,studio one,still life...during this few months have seen lots of amazing pictures,but the best ones always came from a person who's specialized on just a subject;there are lots of things everyone should keep in mind and sometimes even find out the right target for this kind of world is not simple (surely for someone who has just come into photography)
Posted by Bradcalkins on April 08, 2010
Shooting for stock puts additional pressure on the technical side of photography - better gear makes that part of the process easier and less time consuming. One must balance the dollars better gear requires against the additional income you can produce with it. I love my 70-200 f/4 Canon zoom, but I can't justify it with stock revenue from sales... I find it very hard to justify more than a normal zoom (24-105) and macro lens (60mm f/2.8) for stock purposes.
Posted by Davulcu on April 07, 2010
In my opinion you can do all with a low cost equipment. For instance you do not need a lightbox. Use an large white print paper. You do not need expensive flash sets either.

Yes you need at least a 40 D or a Mark II or equivalent Nikon bodies.
Lenses... (maybe the most expensive part of the photo business). A quite cheap and sharp 50 mm 1.8 is okay , another 24-105 L series is great and maybe a macro... Thats all ! And maybe a 70-200 if you are going to shoot portraits. But tell me how many portraits are being sold as stocks ?

Also do not forget there are always alternative lens models from third party manufacturers.

Accessories and clothing is very cheap. You do not need to buy from YSL. Even you can collect some of them from yur friends.

All is related with your work. If you work than you will earn. And for gods sake , if you earn invest some back to equip yourself !

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