There is a phrase that I see regularly pop up on photography forums that I think is horrible advice for emerging photographers or anyone getting started in the image-making business. It is repeated over and over again and while the intent might be good, I think it does a disservice to beginners who don’t know any better.
That phrase of course is “gear doesn’t matter.”
I think the intent of this phrase is to point out that without a solid understanding of composition and lighting, it doesn’t matter what you shoot with, and I agree with that to a point. I see photographers who shoot with insanely expensive gear who’s work I consider mediocre because of the lighting and composition. But I believe that telling a beginner that gear doesn’t matter is not setting them up for success.
Gear absolutely matters. To create great work in any industry, you need the right tools for the job. Photography is no different. If someone is trying to shoot fast action with a slow focusing lens, or headshots with a fisheye, they are going to quickly discover exactly how much the right gear matters.
I have a friend who dabbles in photography. We were at a wheelchair basketball tournament and he turned to me and said, “Man, can you set up my camera so I can get some good shots? Everything I shoot is blurry.”
I took his camera and dug into the menus and got everything optimized for the environment we were in and then tried to take some shots. As the lens hunted to try and find focus and never locked on to anyone, I gave it a closer look and saw that while it was a 70-200mm, it was an f/5.6 lens that had a super slow time to focus. I shoot a lot of athletes and fast action with my 70-200 f/2.8, but that is because it focuses incredibly fast. I gave him the best tips I could provide under the circumstances, but also told him that if he wanted to shoot sports he needed a faster lens. Because gear matters.
And speaking of shooting action, if you are trying to shoot an athlete with strobes and have lights that don’t cut themselves off quickly on the back end, you are not ever going to effectively freeze the action. That requires either a power pack that can cut power at the exact right time or something like the Paul C Buff Einstein lights which accomplish the same thing without an expensive pack. But the Einsteins come with a trade-off because they can’t do high-speed sync. If you can just nail your perfect moment, that doesn’t matter, but if you want to capture a super-fast burst of images all consistently lit with strobes, you need one of those power packs or a light with that quick shutoff that can also handle high-speed sync.
I know I went a little into the weeds with that last example, but that’s the point. There is a reason there is so much gear out there for this industry. Gear absolutely matters when you are setting out to achieve a specific objective, and using the wrong gear can result in missing shots or mediocre results that clients will not accept and the photographer most likely won’t be happy with either.
Another issue with telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter is that it encourages them to waste money on a bunch of junk that they will quickly outgrow instead of investing in a lens that they will continue to use for the next 10+ years. I have 4 lenses for my photography kit. That’s it. And I have never once been in a situation where I couldn’t accomplish a client or personal objective with exactly those lenses. But I knew my style and what I wanted to shoot and got gear that specifically catered to that.
The last photography lens I bought was in 2013, and as I said, there has never been a moment where I have felt like I needed something other than what I currently have in my kit.
Now, these lenses are on the higher end of the spectrum, but I also only have 4 of them, whereas I know a lot of photographers who have a million lenses, but most of them are garbage they outgrew and have no resale value, so they sit on a shelf collecting dust. Probably because at some point early on someone told that photographer that gear doesn’t matter.
So please stop telling beginners that gear doesn’t matter. Tell them that the right gear matters and to not waste their money on gear that doesn’t cater to their niche. That will give them a much better foundation for building their career and working towards achieving the images they aspire to create.
About the author: Rob Gregory is a photographer and advertising director. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Gregory’s work on his website and Instagram.
Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Azlan DuPree and licensed under CC BY 2.0