How To Become A Pro Photographer: Part 2 - Camera Gear

Posted on 10/13/2010 by Daniel H. Bailey | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Ok, so you’ve delved deep down within yourself and summoned up the courage to make the jump towards becoming a professional photographer. Or at least you’ve given it some serious thought and weren’t scared off by the realities in Part 1: Making the Jump. If you haven’t gotten that far yet, be sure you go back and read the one.

Hopefully you’ve done at least some of your homework by jotting down some thoughts about what your niche and potential business models you’d like to pursue with your photography. Maybe you’ve talked to a few people and read through a few books, websites or online forums and come up with a few good ideas.

Now what?

In order to become a pro in this industry, you need to start acquiring professional grade equipment and expertise. The first part of that is easy- simply head to the camera shop or to the B&H site, fill up your shopping cart and plop down your credit card, right? The expertise will take more time, but let’s push that aside for a bit and talk gear.

Camera Gear

They make professional grade camera gear for a reason- it’s fast, accurate and durable. It gets the job done and it doesn’t break very often. If you plan on being a pro shooter, you’re going to need pro gear. It’s a simple as that.

Of course, pro gear is expensive, and the last thing you want to do when you’re first starting out is to put yourself in debt up to your ears, or blow through all of your savings on big glass and top shelf camera bodies. It’s stupid to go completely broke before you even start, you’re going to need some of that money later on.

Nor do you want, or need to simply fill your cart with all the absolute best gear available, just because it’s rated the best in pro shooter magazine and that’s what ProBob uses when he’s on assignment. You need to get the gear that works for you.

Start with the essential items. If you already have a digital SLR body, consider it’s capabilities against the kinds of subjects you intend to shoot. For example, if you want to be a sports photographer, a camera body that only shoots one or two frames per second simply won’t serve your needs. If you want to do high end studio work, you’re going to need a camera system that works well with multiple lighting units.

Like I said, you don’t need to rush out and buy a $5,000 body, but you should be prepared to spend AT LEAST $1,000 on a DLSR (body alone). Anything less than that won’t give you the kind of quality and versatility you’ll need.

When it comes to lenses, this is where you must not compromise. Lenses are the gateway to your images and if you’re a pro, you need top quality glass. I’d recommend staying away from the kit lenses that come with many DLSRs. They’re usually not fast enough or sharp enough to meet professional standards. Buy the body alone and then build a collection of pro quality lenses.

Again, evaluate the kind of photography you intend to specialize in and go from there. If you shoot sports, you will absolutely need a fast telephoto. Big glass is indeed expensive, but it’s essential for many types of work. As with a DSLR, I’d plan on spending no less than $1,000 on a f2.8 telephoto.

If you want to do portrait, wedding or studio work, you may not need such a long telephoto, but you’ll certainly need a fast, short telephoto, like an 85mm, or a 105mm, again, at least f2.8 or faster. You may even want a defocus control lens, and probably a couple of medium to short primes, or fixed lenses.

I’m a big fan of fixed lenses. I own six lenses and only one of them is a zoom, my 80-200 f2.8, which is my workhorse tele. All the others are primes. They’re WAY smaller, faster and sharper than anything I could get in a zoom in that range. However, that’s just my preference. Choose the lenses that are right for you.

Depending on what you do, you may also need flashes or external lighting gear, tripods and stands, wireless slaves, sync cables, soft boxes, and of course a good camera bag setup. Again, get what works for you and your style of photography. Shop around. Talk to other pros and see what they use. We’re pleased to share our knowledge and expertise with the younger photographers. Most of use got help from the big boys and girls when we first stared and we’re more than happy to pay it forward with people like you.

How quickly you acquire all this gear is up to you. Prioritize. Think about what you need NOW and what you’d like to have down the road. Believe me, I know it’s very expensive to get all this stuff and it just may not be feasible to acquire it all at once.

That said, don’t feel guilty about charging some or all of your gear. After all, you’re going to need it eventually, right? The week I got laid off, I dropped a Nikon N90, my 80-200mm lens and an SB-25 Speedlight straight onto my credit card. The reality is that almost all business startups take on some kind of debt of financing and you should not be averse to doing the same. Believe in yourself enough to feel good about investing in you and your business.

Computer Gear

This is where digital imaging really gets expensive and, of course, it’s all mandatory stuff you’ll need.

The game is pretty simple here. If you’re going to be a professional photographer, you’ll need to drop cash and get yourself a pro quality workstation as soon as possible. It should be a Mac. I know that some of you will argue about that until the cows come home, and we won’t get into it here, but the fact of the matter is that most creative professionals use Macs. That’s just the way it is.

Whether you get an iMac or a Mac Pro is up to you. A 24” or 27” iMac with a dual core processor, which is fine for image work, will give you everything you need. If you also shoot and edit video with your DLSR, you may want the additional processing power of a Mac Pro, or at least one of the multi-core iMacs.

You’ll also want to get some kind of color calibration system for your monitor- I use the SpyderPro3 ColorVision in my setup. The Eye-One by X-Rite is also very good. Both are reasonably priced.

Finally, hard drive space for storing all of your slides, oops, I mean digital images. (Back in the day it was plastic file boxes). Ideally, a rackmount bank of Apple Xserve units all chained together would certainly do the job, but obviously not everyone can afford that kind of setup.

There are a lot of storage options out there on the market, but they fall into two basic approaches. You can either build a system slowly by adding USB or Firewire hard drives as you go, or get a modular system like one of the Drobo Storage Arrays that allows you plug in new drives as your archive increases in size. Chase Jarvis uses G-Tech Drivesin his image backup system. Check out this great video demonstration of his setup and worflow.

Either way works fine, just make sure that if you’re using single hard drives, you double them up in a RAID configuration. RAID setups cost more but this is your livelyhood we’re talking about. I’m currently using Seagate Free Agent Drives. They’re relatively inexpensive, and I’ve never had any problems with them.


This will be a very short section. These days, it’s either Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. Some shooters, including me, use Photo Mechanic for initial editing because it’s so fast, and then dump all the selects into the archive program. You could even use Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. It’s not quite as efficient, but it works.


One of the dictionary definitions for “Professional” is “Expert and specialized knowledge in the field in which one is practicing.” Basically, this means if you’re going to be a pro, you’ll need to be an expert.

Don’t worry if you’re not there yet. Becoming an expert at anything is a lifelong process that you slowly build with each experience or job that you have. It takes time. It’s kind of like watching your hair grow. You don’t always see it growing from day to day, but over time, it gradually increases in length. One day you look in the mirror and see that it’s noticeably longer.

With a photography, you’ll work hard from day to day, and then sometime in a few weeks or months, you’ll look at your imagery and see how much you’ve improved. The same thing will happen with your business. One day you’ll look back and remember the day you first started out with nothing but a dream and lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Photography is your lifelong craft from here on out now, so practice and learn whatever and whenever you can. Be a sponge. Gather knowledge from every rock, stone and twig that you can turn over. Read books. Join photography discussions, both online and in person with other shooters. Then practice what you learn. Experiment. Exercise your creativity and pursue technical excellence.

Be patient with the time it takes you to learn and master certain techniques. The important thing is that you dedicate yourself to your craft in some way each and every day. You will improve. Don’t beat yourself up too bad if you make mistakes, and believe me, you will. We all do. Sometimes, the best knowledge and experience comes from the times you say, “I guess I won’t do that again!”

Finally, noone expects you to know everything right off the bat, so don’t act like you do. Be humble, which brings me to my next point.


You are now a professional, so act like one. Be gracious. Be on time. As I pointed out in the previous post, YOU are your business. It revolves around you and everything you do reflects both you and your business. These days, the field is way too competitive for anyone to rely on their imagery alone. No matter how good your work is, you need to be someone that a client would actually WANT to hire.

If you’re just starting out, you obviously won’t have the imagery or track record that most pros have under their belts, so you’ll have to go that extra mile in order to get and retain clients. It’s pretty simple, really. Just be yourself and use a little common sense.

Still with me? Good. Your homework for today is to evaluate your camera and computer equipment. Take stock of what you already own and make a note of all the essential gear you think you’ll need need to in order to get your business off the ground.

Also, I didn’t talk about it, but consider any other equipment or expenses you will incur, such as office or studio rent if you’re going to start a commercial or studio based business, or things like printers if you’re going to sell prints or do event photography. Be economical and realistic. Turning that second bedroom into an office works fine for most people, in fact, working at home is part of the attraction of being self employed, right?

Start thinking of a budget for how much this is all going to cost and consider how you’re going to pay for it. Remember debt is ok, just don’t go overboard with it and sink yourself too deep in this early stage of the game.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel H. Bailey. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Dan Bailey is a full time adventure and outdoor photographer and writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Visit his website at


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