What Gear Do You Need as a Professional Photographer?April 8, 2016
Getting started as a professional photographer can seem a bit overwhelming at first because it initially costs a lot of money. For most professional photographers, you’ll need a lot more than just a camera. There are a lot of accessories and other pieces of equipment that are crucial to invest in if you want to be successful. But don’t fret! Here is an ultimate guide to all the gear you’ll need in order to be a professional photographer.
Digital SLR cameras have two main pieces: the body and the detachable/interchangeable lens.
For your primary camera body, you’ll want a high-megapixel, digital SLR with lots of settings that can use a wide array of interchangeable lenses. The two main camera companies that you’ll probably choose from are Nikon and Canon—other companies have great cameras as well, but these are the main two competitors as far as digital SLRs go. Some great options include the Canon EOS 5D Mark III($2,499), Nikon D750 FX-format ($1,996.95), Nikon D7200 DX-format ($1,096.95), and the very affordable Canon EOS Rebel T5 EF-S ($399).
With these camera bodies, you’ll be able to take great indoor and outdoor photographs, especially if you pair them up with the right lens for the situation.
It’s always a good idea to have a backup camera body (preferably of the same brand as your primary camera so that you can use the same lenses) in case your primary camera breaks or needs repairs during a job. A great idea for a backup camera is to use an older SLR that you’ve either had for a while or can purchase for cheap—something like a Nikon D40x ($129) works well for this.
You’ll also want a camera that allows you to access your creative side. Many cameras that are used for artistic purposes won’t work in every situation. They can be completely unreliable when it comes to shooting a wedding, for example. But that doesn’t mean they are useless! It is necessary for your own sanity to own a camera that you can use for artistic purposes—one that you can have some fun with.
Some cameras that would work well for this purpose are Holga cameras, which are lo-fi medium format cameras, Yashica Mat 124G, a modified Polaroid SX-70, and Canon AE-1, which produces soft, beautiful colors.
Wide angle (24mm –35mm) & ultra-wide angle (less than 24mm)
Any lens that is less than 35mm is considered to be a wide angle lens, and anything wider than 24mm is considered ultra wide angle. These lenses distort space; they exaggerate distance, meaning objects that are closer appear abnormally large while objects that are in the distance appear abnormally small and far away.
This will allow you to capture a large amount of a scene, even if there is very little space. For example, you can easily capture before-and-after images of a redecorated room. You can also, of course, shoot great landscape photos. Ultra wide angle lenses produce very artistic-looking portraits as well due to their infamous fish-eye effect.
Some great options for wide angle lenses include Opteka 6.5 mm f/3.5 HD Aspherical Fisheye Lens ($149.95 with versions for most major camera brands), Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM ELD SLD Aspherical Super Wide Angle Lens ($449 with versions for most major camera brands), Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra-Wide Angle Fixed Lens ($2,099 for Canon cameras), or Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 14–24mm f/2.8G ED Zoom ($1896.95 for Nikon cameras).
A standard zoom lens is going to work well for you in many situations. Lenses with a focal range of about 35 to 75mm are considered to be “standard,” and they produce photographs with a natural appearance that is closer to what you might see with the human eye. You can use standard lenses for most types of photography.
Some common and highly-rated standard lenses are Canon EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS STM ($549), Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18–105mm f/3.5–5.6G ED ($396.95), Canon EF 24–70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom ($1,749), or Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 17–55mm f/2.8G IF-ED Zoom ($1,496.95).
Telephoto (more than 70mm) & true telephoto (more than 135mm)
Telephoto lenses are great for shooting portraits, photographing far away subjects (think wildlife or sports), and certain landscapes. They tend to have a narrow depth of field—meaning the parts of the photo that are in focus are very clear while objects in the background or foreground are blurry—and they work well to zoom in on a far-away object and make it appear closer (like a telescope!).
Telephoto lenses are so much fun to shoot with because you can capture a clear subject from far away and produce an image that is much more dramatic than what you see with your natural vision. Here are some great options for telephoto lenses: Nikon 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor ($448.89), Canon EF 70–200mm f/4L USM AF ($599), Tamron SP 70–200mm F/2.8 DI VC USD ($1,499 with versions for Nikon and Canon), and Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L USM ($1,249.95).
Superzoom (wide to telephoto, all-in-one lens)
In some situations, like going on a strenuous hike or visiting your family for the weekend, it isn’t ideal to carry around three or four different lenses. This is why the oh-so versatile superzoom lenses are a godsend. If you’re hoping to avoid changing lenses, you should check out Canon EF-S 19–200mm f/3.5–5.6 IS ($699) or Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18–300mm f/3.5–5.6G ($796.95).
If you love to photograph closeups of small subjects, like insects, plants & flowers, or miniatures, you will definitely need to invest in a macro lens. Macro lenses excel at producing beautiful closeups, as they create extremely sharp images. It is important to note that macro lenses also have a very tiny depth of field—which means that most of the photo will be out of focus (blurry). This can be a wonderful artistic opportunity, however, because you’ll get to choose exactly what part of the image will be the focal point. You could take a photography where an insect’s face is extremely sharp and detailed, for example, while leaving everything else in the photograph barely visible. With most macro lenses, you can shoot lovely portraits as well.
If it sounds like you’ll definitely need a macro lens, here are some that are highly-rated: Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro Lens for Nikon ($353.58), Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens ($419), Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8g IF-ED ($896.95), and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens ($849).
In addition to the camera and its lenses, you’re going to need lots of accessories. The essential accessories you’ll need are a tripod (preferably an anti-shake tripod with a level tool to make sure your photograph’s horizons are straight), at least two camera batteries (you’ll want to bring two with you for most lengthy photo shoots), a battery charger (portable or wall), a UV filter to protect the lens, at least two large memory cards (most cameras use SD cards now), a microfiber towel (to clean dust off your lens), and a sturdy camera case to hold and protect your gear (the Domke F-2 is a classic).
Optional gear includes an infrared remote control (this will allow you to take pictures without touching the camera, which is absolutely necessary any time you use a slow shutter speed), other types of filters (like linear & circular polarizers, neutral density—ever seen those photographs of waterfalls where the water looks fantastically smooth?—& graduated neutral density, warming & cooling, or infrared), and specialized cleaning tools. Some photographers also use light meters, which help them determine the proper exposure for a photograph before it is taken. Make sure to do some research and read lots of reviews to help you pick out which accessories will work best for you.
Continuous lighting kits for indoor studios
One of the most convent ways to obtain the best lighting possible for a home photography studio is by purchasing a continuous lighting kit. These kits will provide everything you need to create the perfect lighting for your home studio. Take this kit ($50.89) by LimoStudio, for example. For such a low price, it contains two tall light stands, one tall table top light stand for accent lighting, 3 single head fluorescent light holders, 3 digital full spectrum pure white 6500k light bulbs, 1 umbrella carry case and bulb carry bag—this is a great starting point for any photographer who is intent on creating a home studio, and there are lots of other kits available online for you to choose from to make sure you get the perfect set.
You’ll also need a few more accessories, like backdrops/backgrounds, tabletop lighting tents, and lots of extension cords.
Portable lighting kits
If you are into speedlight flash photography, portable lighting kits might be the best option for you. These kinds of kits contain light modifiers, reflectors, colored gels, and diffusion materials to help you customize the tone and mood of your photographs. A company called Rogue Photographic Design sells a portable lighting kit ($190) which contains reflectors, diffusion panels, flash gels, filter kits, a flash grid/grid stacking system, combo filter kit, and a travel bag. You can find other similar kits as well—just be sure to check reviews from fellow photographers!
If you’re into film photography, that’s great! That means you’re probably going to want to find a studio which still develops film—or you can create a darkroom at home using a tutorial. However, for most photographers, it’s going to be a lot cheaper, more efficient, and safer to edit your photographs digitally, so that’s what we’ll cover in this guide.
You’re going to need a decent computer in order to edit your photographs efficiently, especially if you intend to do batch editing, which means expecting your software to handle hundreds of files at once. The minimum requirements for Photoshop Lightroom CC/Lightroom 6 for Windows are: Intel or AMD processor with 64-bit support, at least Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, 2 GB of RAM (8GB recommended), 1 GB of Video RAM or 2 GB of dedicated VRAM for high-resolution monitors (if you’re using a 4k or 5k-resolution monitor, this applies to you), 2 GB of available hard-disk space (but you’re going to need a lot more than that for photo storage), and an Internet connection.
That said, those are the minimum requirements. We recommend upgrading your computer a lot more than this if you plan on running a photography business. For example, you’re going to need at least 16GB of RAM in order to handle multiple large files.
Additionally, you’re going to need as much hard drive space as you can afford—or as much as will fit into your case. You’d be surprised how many photographs you can end up storing on your computer, and the issue gets even worse if you end up with huge Photoshop files (PSDs). It’s also risky to store all of your files on one giant hard drive—huge quantities of smaller files cause fragmentation and can contribute to hard drive failure—because if your hard drive does fail, all of your photograph files will become corrupted. It’s a much better idea to have multiple hard drives for storage (adding up to at least 1 terabyte). You should also have an extra hard drive that you use for backing up your files, and look into taking advantage of a cloud storage system.
As you edit your photographs, keep in mind that all monitors show slightly varying hues and contrast. A photograph that looks perfect on your monitor may look extremely yellow on someone else’s. This is why you should try to find a monitor that is highly-rated by photographers or graphic designers. Whatever monitor you do end up using, be sure to calibrate it to make sure you have the most accurate colors possible. You can purchase software to do this, or use a browser calibration tool, like this one. Also keep in mind that most printers and printing services will be calibrated differently from your equipment, so you might want to use the color profiles recommended by your printer or printing service if you’re planning to print your photographs.
It is also recommended that you use at least two monitors for photo-editing (one of them can be lower quality) so that you can multi-task or manage your files while also editing. For example, if you’re doing the post editing for a wedding you recently shot, you can pull up a list of photographs that the bride is expecting on one monitor, and find all the corresponding files on the other one. It’s just a matter of efficiency and convenience.
Another tool that can help you be a lot more efficient is a graphics tablet. Graphics tablets allow you control your cursor with a pressure-sensitive pen, which is a lot more accurate than a mouse. This works really well for creating masks or using dodge/burn tools.
As a digital photographer, you’re going to need to pick out photo-editing software that works for you. The good news is that Adobe Photoshop CC, which has been the leading graphics-editing software available for years, is now subscription-based, so instead of paying hundreds of dollars one time, users instead pay $19.99 per month. If you have a business, this can be considered a monthly business expense. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC costs $9.99 per month and focuses more on RAW-editing capabilities rather than graphic design features. GIMP is also a long-time leading alternative to Photoshop, and it tends to be very similar to Photoshop; it’s also free and open-source.
In order to enhance your post-editing experience, you’re going to need to download some addons for your photo-editing programs. Some of these addons include brushes (these will change the brush tips for many different Photoshop tools), actions (you can automatically edit a photo a certain way using these), and plug-ins (these can range from noise-removal tools to kaleidoscope-filters). You can find free downloads of these tools all over the web, as well as pay-to-use premium versions. You can also make them yourself!
Printer or printing service
If part of your business includes selling your prints, you’ll need to either invest in a printing service or a professional-grade printer. Here are a few printing services we recommend looking into. If you’re hoping to create your own prints at home, you’ll want to research reviews for wide-format inkjet printers. It’s also a good idea to get a standard printer for printing contracts and informative documents for your clients.
Whether you want to rent a work space or create one at home, you’ll need to designate an office for yourself. You should make sure your space is clean and that there’s plenty of room to work. You should also hang your best images or favorite work from other artists on the walls for inspiration. If you plan on consulting clients in your office, it’s a good idea to provide comfortable furniture and to hang your past work on the walls for perusing purposes.