When I first began my business, I was obsessed with two things: camera gear and Lightroom. I thought that the right lens, the best camera, and a few good presets would turn me into a pro. In fact, every article I read during those first few years was all about gear.
But there’s a reason I wrote a post about gear for my third tip and not my first.
Your camera is just a tool.
Lightroom and Photoshop are just tools.
A bag of amazing lenses and tons of purchased presets and actions–that just means you have a lot of tools.
Great gear won’t make you a professional just like having an amazing drill or circular saw won’t make you a great carpenter.
Practice and knowledge make you a professional. Knowing how to get the most out of your toolbox makes you a professional.
My gear bag hasn’t changed in years. I have the tools I need, and I know how to use them. In fact, I have plenty of tools that collect dust because I just don’t need them. I can make great portraits with a basic setup.
(Also, I don’t use presets. I haven’t for years. No amount of presets or editing will save a bad photo.)
My Gear Recommendations
All of that said, I’m sure you’re curious about what gear I would recommend for someone just starting out.
Any basic DSLR or Mirrorless camera will get the job done. You don’t need the newest and best camera body. For years I used a Canon Rebel t5i. I upgraded to a full-frame sensor Canon 6D a few years into business, and that’s what I’ve been using ever since. I am using camera technology that is over ten years old, and I still get amazing results. Just starting out? Any camera body will do these days–the technology is that good.
If you feel like your camera body is holding you back, ask yourself why? Do you actually know what features on the new camera would be life-changing for your photography? Or are you looking for an external solution to an internal problem? Maybe you’re just stuck in a rut and need a new project. Or maybe you haven’t truly learned how to use your current camera. Don’t spend thousands of dollars when a new project or a little education could give you a new perspective.
Camera bodies aren’t really where you need to focus, anyway.
Camera lenses make all the difference. One good lens can completely change things. If you are going to invest upfront in gear, buy one good lens.
And if you are going to create portraits, get the best 24-70mm lens that you can. A 24-70 is a work-horse. The focal range is perfect for just about any kind of everyday portraiture. (If you plan on doing weddings, you’ll need a longer focal length lens, too. A 70-200mm is typically the way to go for that need.)
I do 75% of my work with the Canon 24-70mm L-series lens on my DSLR. I have three other lenses, and I take them out for special reasons or to shake up my routine, but I always go back to the 24-70. It’s just that good.
Beyond that, I really don’t have much gear advice. Don’t obsess over gear. Education and practice are a much better investment than another piece of plastic or glass.
For a more detailed breakdown of everything I use, check out this blog about how I run a studio out of a small room in my home.
Editing Your Photos
As to the topic of editing, you do need a few tools, but you don’t need a lot. And I’ll say this again, the best tools won’t save a bad photo. Your editing programs are for polishing your images, not fixing or saving them.
I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, which is generally what you’ll see most photographers use. You definitely need to know the ins and outs of Lightroom–it’s simply the best way I’ve found to organize sessions and do basic adjustments.
I don’t use nearly everything that Lightroom offers. In fact, I take pride in not spending a lot of time editing. I’d rather be out shooting or doing something else. Who wants to spend their life in front of a screen? I’d imagine you aren’t starting a business so that you can spend your time editing. Learn the basics for exposure, levels, and cropping (and your keyboard shortcuts!), and move on.
As for Photoshop, I use that for detailed skin retouching and not much more. Photoshop can seem scary because there are so many buttons and options. But again, learn to use the parts of it that you need, and move on.
Photoshop's ability to retouch skin is so much more robust than Lightroom, so I would spend time learning the clone stamp, healing tool, and frequency separation. Photoshop is also more nuanced when it comes to dodging and burning. (If all of those terms are like a foreign language, don’t worry. You’ll come to them in time, when you’re ready, when you need them.)
It’s easy to become obsessed with gear and editing. If you’re just starting out, photography can be such a new world with so many options and possibilities. Don’t be paralyzed or overwhelmed by those options. Again, they’re just tools. You only need a few tools to get started.
Your real goal should be becoming a professional with the tools you have. A new camera or set of presets won’t make you a better photographer. Getting the most out of what you have is the mark of a true professional.
I’ll end with this: your clients don’t care at all about your gear. They care about the experience they have with you. There are a million photographers these days, but they chose you. What experience are you going to give them? How are you going to make them comfortable and help them enjoy an experience that most people dread?
Part of that answer is learning how to pose, but I’ll save that for the next post in this series.
For now, go practice with what you have. Save your money, don’t buy a new camera. Get out there and create instead.
If you missed my first two tips for starting a photography business, click below!
Still have questions? Please reach out! I am always happy to help.