Being a photographer can be a very expensive endeavor. Seeing pros on the internet have the latest and greatest gear in large quantities makes you wonder if this is what you need to be one of them. The truth is, no. Here is our list of basic gear that you need to start a business.
Having the same gear that pros have has never been easier. If you have the money, you can go ahead and buy everything in the world. However, that will not equate to having any more clients than you did before having expensive gear. Think of it like music: you can buy an expensive piano and build yourself a stage, but that won't mean you know how to play it. This is the mistake many photographers make. They buy all the pro gear and say that they're no worse than the real pros who use this same gear. The truth is, no amount of gear will make you a pro photographer. However, there are smart choices that can give you pro features while also giving room to grow and learn.
I will be honest with you when I bought my Canon 5D Mark IV, my photography was not great. It still isn't, but it is certainly better than it was before. Looking back, I could've been shooting on a 5D Mark II for a few more years. So, do as I say, not as I do. Lastly, this list is mainly aimed at photographers who want to start people photography, as this is the genre I am most familiar with. On that note, let's dive in.
I am a big believer that the body is not important in the current climate. All it is is essentially a box that captures light. Back in the film days, it was hard to sell camera bodies, as all they did was hold film and nothing more. Now manufacturers can put in features that seem useful, but in reality, are rarely used. For example, despite the fact that I own a 5D Mark IV, I use only the core capabilities of the camera, which are shooting stills. Dual Pixel Raw, advanced focusing, and all that is just unnecessary. For the body, I will suggest a Canon 5D Mark II, perhaps a Mark III if you want to have slightly better focusing. That camera has an excellent full-frame sensor that allows for plenty of room for error and learning. It captures 20mp stills, which is more than enough for all clientele. The only problem that I see with a sensor of such resolution is that it doesn't allow for much room to crop, so you will have to learn to compose in the camera. Considering I started on film, I see such a limitation as a benefit and encouragement to get as many things right on camera as you can.
Lenses are a much more important and touchy subject. That said, I would pick a classic 24-70mm f/2.8 version I, and if you have some cash to spend, a 35mm f/1.8 can be a great addition. I am looking at picking up such a lens myself, as it is fantastic for on-location work and does wonders when it comes to separating the subject from the background. My experience with beginning in people photography is that a lot of the time you are working on location and have to figure out how to separate the subject from the background. This is where such a lens can be helpful. It can be useful for both portrait and full-body work. As for the 24-70mm f/2.8, you can simply do everything with it. Most of my work is done with this lens, and the version I might I add. While not great, it is good enough.
I am a firm believer that good lighting makes a good photograph. My first serious light was a Profoto B2 250 AirTTL. I still have it and I still use it on every shoot. That is why my recommendation will be this exact light. While it is getting old, it is not getting any worse, and you can find great deals on them now. The price of such a light can be comparable to Godox or any other system now. However, if given the choice, most would buy Profoto anyway. The B2 250 TTL is a small, battery-powered light that can be charged while in use. It is very reliable and robust. While it can be triggered with a cheap remote or a sync cable, I would suggest picking up a remote as well, as then you get the ultimate experience. Besides, a lot of times, you get a remote as part of the deal. For example, I currently have a Profoto Sony AirRemote TTL that I am looking to sell. Feel free to contact me if it sounds like something you’re interested in.
Modifiers are super tough to pick out. They can be a real pain in the butt to set up as well. This is why your first modifier should be a simple umbrella with a diffuser. While it is as basic as light modifiers get, it is perhaps one of the most underrated modifiers to ever exist. With an umbrella, you can create beautiful light patterns that look high-end. It is softer than a softbox and much more portable. I bought my kit used. It was a Profoto Umbrella Shallow White M with a 1.5-stop diffusion. It was cheaper than a new Photek Softlight. I use this umbrella to this day, and quite frequently too. Despite being in constant use for at least 7 years at this point, it is holding up great. Before buying a Profoto umbrella, I made the mistake of getting a cheap one from Amazon. Fair to say, it was okay until it broke after 3 months of use.
If you're buying expensive lights and modifiers, you can't be putting them on a cheap stand. Cheap stands won't last you a year, and you will end up having a massive bin full of useless junk. My recommendation would be to get a Manfrotto 1004 BAC stand. It is a professional, air-cushioned stand that doesn't cost nearly as much as a C-stand. I have had mine for 4 years now, and they have held up great. Again, bought used. You can find such a stand in single pieces or in kits of three with a bag. I suggest getting a kit of three as it will be cheaper than getting them one by one. Having a bag large enough to fit these stands is also a great benefit when going on location.
So, there you have it. This list is essentially my setup, which is built with professional quality on a budget. I have no problem using this gear myself and recommend it based on my personal experience with it as a beginner photographer. An honest suggestion is to buy all gear used, as the quality is as good, but the price is 50% below. Besides, it is a great way to meet fellow photographers and find out more about this industry.