The Truth About Gear

I’m amazed at how much of photography talk, on blogs, in podcasts and in general is about gear. I understand we’re all geeks at some level, but it seems to take up too much mind share.

I got an email from an apprentice doing the mini-course and he was wondering about what gear he needed for an up coming model shoot. It made me think a little about what is the absolute minimum you need. Here’s what I told him:

As long as you have the ability to control the aperture of your camera you’re fine.

Control the Aperture


That is seriously minimal, but it is also true. When I and my partners teach at our studio we require a SLR, preferably digital. We do this mostly because we are always using studio strobes and we need to insure they have a hotshoe to attach a pocket wizard to.

But I know photographers who have shot models well with a Fuji S9000, which looks like a full DSLR, but doesn’t have a detachable lens. It does have manual control over the aperture.

Why must you have aperture control to do model photography? Because you need to be able to control your Depth of Field. To control what is and what isn’t in focus. This is what separates point and shoots from real cameras, selective focus.

Why don’t I care about shutter control? Because you aren’t trying to stop action in model photography. You want the model in a particular position, you just pose her in it. Also, your strobes are probably going to dictate shutter anyway.

Off Camera Flash

While that is the minimum you need to do good work, it assumes you’ve got good natural light. This isn’t always the case and then you are going to need artificial light. Once you need artificial light you need a way to get the flash off your camera. This is normally accomplished with a hot shoe and a wireless trigger.

You can do off camera flash with studio strobes or small speedlights. But in either case you will need a way to trigger them. When I’m using a speedlight I don’t actually use a wireless trigger, I use a hot shoot extension cable. It has a hot shoe attactement at each end and a curled cord in between. Normally I hold the camera in one hand and the flash at arms length while I shoot, or I have my assistant hold it.

When I’m in the studio I use Pocket Wizards to trigger our studio strobes.

I could never give an indepth lighting course in one post, so I’m going to stop here. But the first place I recommend people go to learn lighting is Strobist.

What’s in My Camera Bag

I’m not a big fan of gear lists, but I’ll do one here for the express purpose of showing you just how little I have. 90% of the images I post are shot with 1 lens, and the other 10% is with a lens I love and rent occasionally.

Camera: Fuji S3
Lens: Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP
Nikon 50mm f/1.8
Strobe: Nikon SB800

That’s all that is in my camera bag. Well actuallly the Tamron is in the shop right now. I forgot to close the camera pass thru on my bag and when I picked it up the camera fell out, breaking the Tamron case. And that is why I own the 50mm, because I realized I had no backup lens.

I bought the S3 a couple of years ago because Fuji has incredible sensors. I also love that it uses regular AA batteries. It has a Nikon mount so you can use those lenses.

Pixie Shot with 70-200
Pixie Shot with 70-200

The lens I rent sometimes, and just love, is the Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR. I’d really like to own it, but haven’t been able to afford it yet.

That’s it. I’ll let you judge if my photography suffers from having so little gear. I don’t think it does.

3 thoughts on “The Truth About Gear”

  1. “I’m amazed at how much of photography talk, on blogs, in podcasts and in general is about gear.”

    Don’t you think that has a lot to do with people wanting to learn? Interested people are often wanting more education. Gee, how did you do that? What did you use to get ….? People often think it is the equipment used as opposed to the WAY the equipment was used.

    We have often had (particularly male) clients come up and closely look at the camera I use in the studio, (Fuji S3 as well!) and ask questions about it. Wow! You have ….megapixels. They were often surprised when I would say that the camera wasn’t that important, it was how I used it. I would sometimes get out my original digital camera (Fuji S1) bought in 2000 I think, and take some photos. It had less mp than the camera they are presently using, yet they were amazed at my results.

    I think it all stems from Camera companies and Camera stores selling the whiz bang features of their latest camera. Now with “face recognition” and “smile detection” etc. , consumers think it is the camera that does all the work – and I guess that is the way the camera companies are trying to lead things. The “dumbing down” of the photographic industry if you like.

    Hopefully that will always separate the pro from the amateur – knowledge.

  2. There is some aspect of wanting to learn for sure, but there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in learning how to shoot, regardless of your gear. I know a couple of podcast about photography that rarely mention gear, – The Candid Frame for instance.

    Camera companies are selling expensive pieces of equipment, and as a result they can and must spend a lot of money on advertising and promotion. There fore they get a bunch of mind share.

    Its just a phenomenon not really good or bad. We just need to realize it isn’t the most important thing, and talk about things that are important.

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