The process of photography is a bit more complex than many people think and the downside of it is the investment into gear but not many people have a deep pocket, therefore, I am here to answer in detail a general question:
What gear do you need to have as a photographer? There are two types of gear you should centre on investing, the mandatory gear such as a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a minimum of one good lens and a tripod and the optional gear and accessories such as flashgun, filters, spare batteries, reflectors, lights, shutter remote control and many others.
The amount of gear you need to have reflects directly to the niche you are going to be into photography or already are, such as portrait, wedding, landscape, event etc., your available budget and your photography plans such as starting a business or hobby photography
In this post, I want to share with you everything I know about the gear and accessories a photographer should have and how this reflects on the niche you are or about to be.
“As a disclaimer, many times around the post I mentioned “DSLR camera”. I want you to know that in the same cases, a mirrorless camera would do just fine and I am totally not excluding it from the content.”
Business photography or hobby?
Before to get into it, I want to start with asking you a question: what is your photography plan for the future? Having a photography hobby, seeking a path or career or creating and having a business in photography?
I had to ask this because the amount of gear and investment you need to put up will always fluctuate for each of the above scenarios. Now I want to get into detail a bit covering each of them.
Photography as a hobby.
Most of the photographers are hobbyists and mostly as myself, I love to create art with photography. Having photography as a passion is a pure sentiment to last a very long time, but beware, once you start thinking about how can you monetize your photography, make money from it or create a business, let me tell you the truth, the passion as a photographer will diminish a lot.
On the first stage, because of the passion of photographing, people tend to invest a lot. Not only a camera and a lens but a very lot. I could’ve classified myself in the past as I invested no less than £16000 in gear from my personal savings, from DSLRs to lenses and drones.
I am not saying you should be the same, in fact, if you want to start photography as a hobby, I warn you to research well before buying your gear because you will often find yourself spending money in time more than you can even afford (again, I find myself here).
How much you should invest in photography as a hobbyist?
Now, I’m going to be honest with you, gear will matter but more will mater the photographer and the burning passion for photography.
Do NOT invest a lot of money. In fact, a simple DSLR with a good quality lens should be more than enough with some accessories.
But what do you need to start taking some awesome photographs?
- An entry-level DSLR but I would prefer an entry-level full-frame DSLR (FX sensor). Those cameras would perform amazingly in low-light scenarios and benefit from very shallow depth of field and astonishing bokeh. But the camera is not all, in fact, a lens would mean a bit more.
- A good quality prime or zoom lens. If you would find yourself that you like the “zoom function” of a lens, to cover multiple focal lengths and in special to travel, I do recommend a zoom lens such as a 28-70mm. The stock lens 18-55mm would perform poorly compared to most of the lenses on the market. But what I would recommend if you are an artistic person, you like to shoot at night and progress in photography, even more, a prime lens such as a 35mm, 50mm or 85mm. If you are interested in detail about prime vs zoom lenses I would recommend checking our other article linked.
- You need a tripod. For a tripod, you don’t have to invest a lot and any would do. But the quality, portability and the stability of a tripod also matter a lot in the long-term run.
- Get a few filters. Now with filters would be a whole lot more to discuss and would be covered below, but an ND4 or ND8 filter and a polariser would do just fine.
More or less those are the things you will mainly need when starting into photography and pursuing as a passion and not career. In reality, you don’t need a lot to start with, and even breaking the above guidelines and buy the most basic DSLR with the stock lens would do just fine to start to learn photography and advance to a point you will benefit more from more expensive gear.
Seeking a path or career in photography.
We are not going to talk about when you are going to be your own boss, have your sack of gears and be self-employed. Here, I want to cover the basics of being a photographer and seeking a path or career in photography.
To understand by this, I would give a few examples: Stock photography, photojournalist (employed), real-estate photographer or a career where photography may be only a secondary skill to learn and focus on.
In these cases, only specific and higher quality gear should be invested into. Giving more example is that as a real-estate photographer, you may need a DSLR with a very wide lens, as a photojournalist, 2 DSLR’s (goes well with 1) and zoom lens(es), in stock photography to invest into gear for what area you are going to focus on (e.g. landscape photography) etc.
Anyhow, although these cases may require you to consider a better gear than entry-level, a lot should not be invested into. Know your domain and area of expertise and research it before you make any purchases.
Starting a business in photography.
Before you want to start a business in photography consider a few key things to avoid disappointment:
1. Have some deeper knowledge of photography.
You have to be professional, you have to photograph as a professional. Although it could be portraits, wedding photography or any other areas you can work as a self-employed photographer, it is crucial to know your niche inside-out.
2. Expect to invest a lot.
In many cases, you will have to dig deeper into your pocket to invest a lot more and into more professional gear. As an instance, as a wedding photographer, would be important to have two DSLR’s (but not always), a bunch of spare batteries and memory cards, another bunch of lenses, lights and reflectors, tripod, maybe even a drone and an assistant to help you with all that. All of the above would probably cost you a lot of money.
3. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Would be unlikely to start earning once you launch yourself. There is a lot about advertising yourself, expect to work for less and high competition. Some photographers could start working for even under minimum wages, barely to earn for existence. But with much passion and knowing the system, you can always go up, but beware, down could happen too.
4. Extreme competition.
In the photography business there would be a lot of competition, more photographers than requests, and to expect to compete with bigger companies and lifetime photographers. Be smart, think smart. Make yourself a business plan and try to visualise it before you even start the business, and more importantly, offer something unique nobody does.
5. Good days and bad days.
Would be times when everything would go better than expected and other times when nothing will work even for months. Always have a contingency plan and enough savings for the dark days. Prepare yourself as photography being a seasonal job with more requests during the summer and warm days where less to none during winter and holidays time.
Well, you could say that if you want to start a business in photography is not everything related to the gear and the investment you have to make. Those are just minor parts to play on the bigger picture. Could you be successful? Very likely… but also, very likely to fail. It all depends on you, the photographer.
What gear do you need to have as a photographer? The mandatory gear
In terms of gear, there are a few pieces to be considered mandatory gear for any photographer. In fact, even a mobile phone with a good camera could be gear to use as a photographer, isn’t it? Despite its limits.
But here we are going to talk specifically about DSLR gear and what you should have in the beginning, in special if you want to start photography.
Buying your first DSLR or Mirrorless camera
I remember the time when I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D3300. An entry-level camera I was so attached to it. Although I’ve studied photography since my childhood, owning my first DSLR changed the direction of my passion. Since then, everything changed.
It is essential as a new photographer to buy your first DSLR. But which one? there are so many on the market; but before this, I want to explore you a few key points which will help you pick your first DSLR.
- Choose your brand and stick to it.
The first key point would be to choose your brand. As an instance, my timeline of gear belongs to Nikon and never been happier. Some people would get into Canon while some other into Sony. There are much more. But the point of this would be that once you have chosen your brand, stick to it.
Why is this so important? Well, it would be difficult to swap brands as you will have in special to sell your gear and buy another one, and there is barely minimum compatibility with some accessories between brands (e.g. using a Nikon lens on a Canon camera).
Therefore, once you researched and decided which brand is going to be, remain with it.
- Decide your budget
To buy your first DSLR with a stock lens, and I will give example my first Nikon D3300, is not expensive. You can get a brand new for about £250. But this doesn’t mean that you should.
Reflecting a point I’ve mentioned above, I would recommend you (if your budget allows it) to get into full-frame directly as your first acquisition. This would help you to avoid swapping camera gear. A DSLR would come as a second-place when we reflect on the quality of the photos we take, the first place would be the lenses.
But if your budget is very limited, anything will do. In fact, I do recommend you more to buy an entry-level DSLR than to wait much more time to save some extra many and get a full-frame. You will benefit more of learning and gaining knowledge from the gear you will or already have than the one you will plan to get in the future.
One thing to know is that you should NOT invest everything you have into a DSLR.
- Don’t think too hard!
One of the worst parts when buying your first camera is that you will think only about it, you are not decided what to buy, which brand to go and how much you should invest and you research the internet probably for days over and over if not more only to pick your first DSLR.
Well, that was me! Thinking too hard about what to choose does not help and will only increase the amount of anxiety and stress when is about to take a decision for our gear.
I would say to research maximum an hour or two for something within your budget and just buy it. But now, there are two things: do you want to buy your first DSLR with the stock lens or you are planning a separate budget for your lens?
If you want a small investment into your first DSLR and not buying any additional lens, anything with the 18-55mm stock lens would do just fine, but if you want to buy separately a lens, buy your first DSLR without any stock lens (would be cheaper) and buy the lens separately.
Just keep in mind the basic researches that you have done and if you are going to buy your first lens separately than your DSLR, consider to read the next point: picking your lens or lenses
Picking your lens or lenses
Picking a lens would be the most important part of photography, more than picking your DSLR. You need to know what focal length(s) you need for your type of photography and the quality of the lens before you buy it.
There are a few lenses “jack of all trades, master of none” in special zoom lenses to help you not only get started into photography but to explore any opportunities and niches you want to get in.
Although I do not recommend those, if you feel that you want to explore photography before you decide your niche, any zoom lens would do just fine (as an example of 24-120mm)
A good quality lens is ten times more valuable than a good quality DSLR!
Reflecting on the quality of a photograph, the lens plays the most important role. Let’s say that you have a high-end DSLR but only a cheap lens – your photos will mostly look poorly. But instead, if you have a cheap or entry-level DSLR and a good quality lens, your photos will look exceptional
The only time a DSLR will have a significant matter if you are often photographing sports or any other niches where you need a high burst speed, exceptional autofocus capabilities and/or a great DSLR with low-light capabilities. Even then, your DSLR will matter only about 50%
But now let’s explore about picking the right lens for you, shall we?
DX vs FX lens.
There are two types of lenses:
- An FX lens designated for both FX and DX cameras.
Having an FX lens is more recommended for a few reasons: you can use it on a full-frame camera and DX camera, if used on a DX camera you would have the crop ratio of 1.5x and not suffer at all from vignette, and whenever you want to upgrade your camera from a DX to an FX, you get to keep your lens because it will be largely compatible.
Any investment into an expensive lens I strongly recommend to be an FX lens.
- DX lens designated only for DX sensor cameras (APS-C).
A DX lens is designated to work only for a DX camera and not for a full-frame. The disadvantage of it would be if mounted on a full-frame, your photos taken will look as they are captured through a pinhole.
If for some reasons you will strictly remain on a DX camera and not intend in the future to invest into a full-frame camera, the idea of buying a dx lens doesn’t sound that bad.
A prime or a zoom lens?
Most of the people would pick an FX lens for the above-mentioned reasons. But now it comes a real challenge when is about what type of lens you should choose: a prime lens or a zoom lens?
There are two different countries in the world of photography. Let’s explore this a bit, shall we?
Why and when you should choose a zoom lens over a prime lens?
A zoom lens would be fundamentally better when you don’t want to concentrate on investing in more lenses, such as the prime lenses. A zoom lens will allow you to zoom between two different focal lengths (e.g. 24-70mm).
The simplicity of a zoom lens is widely noticed by most of the photographers around the world, where a scene you want to capture will benefit more from rotating the zoom ring and fit the elements into the frame as you like.
A zoom lens would also benefit from an image stabilisation (subject to the lens), allowing you to stabilise your image when shooting even in low-light conditions. Moreover, with a zoom lens, you can cover multiple photography niches without for you to invest in other lenses.
Why and when you should choose a prime lens over a zoom lens?
A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length. Simpler to say, you cannot zoom. A 50mm prime lens will remain only a 50mm. But there are some advantages to that.
With owning a prime lens we have three major advantages over a zoom lens (there are more but I want to share with you the top 3), things which will make many photographers focus on buying and using prime lenses more than zoom lenses.
- Price. The price of a prime lens is much lower as compared to a zoom lens because fewer glass elements are used in creating the lens. In fact, in many cases, a prime lens could cost even a fraction of price as compared to a zoom lens, which makes it perfect for a limited budget.
- Quality. The autofocus, quality and sharpness of an image is and will be always superior over a zoom lens, for the same reasons of being fewer glass elements as in the above points. This makes the prime lenses not only cheaper but even sharper.
- A low f/number. Although a zoom lens can have f/numbers about f/2.8 to f/5.6 (rarely lower), a prime lens can drop even to f/1.2 or beyond. This is crucial for photographing in low lights, obtaining a shallow depth of field and outstanding bokeh, impossible to obtain with a zoom lens.
A prime lens would be the perfect choice for an artistic photographer.
My final conclusion reflects the above points. If you are a traveller, love to photograph anything you see and don’t mind the budget, a zoom lens can be a good choice for you, but if you are an artistic photographer, shoot in low-light and you like to take the challenge of photography to a whole another level, I would say go with a prime lens!
As a disclaimer, I am in the favour of prime lenses (not only but I am a 50mm photographer) but if you need more information about it, I would recommend you to check our prime vs zoom lenses guide.
Before taking any decision, I would recommend you to read the next captions in special the gear you need per type of photography.
Having a tripod. Mandatory or optional?
In the first instance to say, a tripod is not mandatory but only optional. I did classify having a tripod under the mandatory tree because, without one, you will be very limited into DSLR photography.
But in general, you can take photographs without a tripod. What is used a tripod for?
A tripod is mainly used to stabilise your camera, allowing you to take long exposures images without to obtain the undesired blur from the motion when the shutter speed is too slow and/or you have to take photographs in difficult lighting scenarios. This being only one of the many roles of a tripod.
With a tripod, you can take limitless long exposures during the night, break the rules of obtaining long exposures during the day and to ensure that every image you take is the sharpest possible.
To invest in a tripod is not expensive. In fact, tripods are very cheap but as with everything, the quality always reflects the prices.
Do I recommend you to buy a tripod? Yes! Every photographer should have a tripod no matter what.
What gear do you need to have as a photographer? The optional gear and accessories
Sliding towards the optional gear and accessories that can be used with a DSLR camera, they are limitless but every each can have their role, some more important than others. In this part of the topic, I want to share with you what accessories you can buy, although they are optional, to improve your photography even further if the budget allows you.
A flashgun is a really nice piece of equipment allowing you to capture images with your camera handheld on any lighting conditions. With a flashgun, you can rely on stabilising the shutter speed when this is too low.
Of course, a flashgun can have multiple uses, and although the above-mentioned one is the main reason most of the people are buying a flashgun, most of the professional photographers are buying them for control over the lighting in special in portrait photography.
You can interconnect multiple speedlights controlled wirelessly by your camera on different angles when you capture a professional portrait. Your camera will trigger all the flashguns creating a soft image and shadows over a specific person, in a specific area.
There is even a niche called flash photography where the main approach is to use flash when photographing portraits.
To understand it better the complexity of working with multiple speedlights, I would recommend you to watch the following video from YouTube (not mine).
When we talk about filters here, we do not refer to the filters using on Instagram or Snapchat but the physical filters we attach to the lens of our camera for different reasons. Why are the filters used for and what types of filters are out there?
Filters are mainly used to reduce glare and reflection, improve contrast and colours and to reduce the amount of light coming through your lens into the camera sensor. Furthermore, I want to share with you the top 3 types of filters that can make a difference in your photography.
- ND Filters. The ND filter, or neutral density, is a type of filter which helps you control and reduce the amount of light coming into your camera sensor in order to achieve longer exposures during the day or when the lighting is too abundant.
- The polarizer filter main usage is to darken the skies, suppress glare from surfaces and manage reflections. A polarizer is an important accessory to be used in photography. More information about the polarizer filters on Wikipedia if you are interested.
- UV Filters are used mainly in film and less in photography and their role is to block the UV lights coming into your camera sensor, as a sunscreen for your camera. A UV filter will not have a major impact on your photographs but nowadays, its main role for most of the photographers is to protect the front element from scratching or damaging. More information on Howtogeek
Lights and reflectors
Lighting in photography is the number one cause to differentiate a photograph from being a poor one and a piece of art.
In photography, lighting is everything. There are lights we have no control over such as daylight, street lights at night etc., and the lights we do have control over such as indoor lights, spotlights and to include this, reflectors.
A reflector main usage is to softly reflect a direct light, this either being natural or artificial light.
Where the lights and reflectors become a mandatory gear for photographers?
Lights and reflectors are mainly used in studios and outdoor portraits, weddings or largely, anything related to portrait photography.
Not everyone will need to have lights and reflectors but if your niche of photography is one of the above-mentioned ones, this becomes a mandatory gear to have.
Many times, one spotlight is not enough. And keep in mind that with the lights, you need stands or tripods to be able to set the lighting at different highs and angles.
Many people underestimate the usability of a monopod. With a tripod, you need to set up and to set your camera on it, but a monopod can be attached to your DSLR and it has incredibly valuable.
Not only that a monopod would be very manoeuvrable and portable, being able to use it in spaces and places where a tripod cannot, but the stability of the camera it can offer to take photographs at slower shutter speeds makes this a necessity.
Should a photographer have a monopod? My personal opinion, definitely yes. It is mandatory for a photographer to have a monopod? Well, not really. Only a few percent of the photographers are really using monopods.
Spare batteries and memory cards
For a photographer to have continuity in taking pictures and recording videos in special if you are a traveller, wedding or event photographer, basically in any situations where you have to take plenty of photographs or be away from a source of power for a longer period of time, spare batteries and memory cards are essentials.
The easiest thing to do when you are away taking photographs and you see “low battery” is to actually swap with a fully charged one. If you don’t have it, that’s it. You can call it a day.
Think about yourself, your area of work or how often you are going to travel, are you going to take long sessions of photographs or only short sessions (e.g. studio portrait)?. Most of the times, as photographers, the answer would be longer sessions, and extra batteries would be priceless to have.
It is also a peace of mind to know that you will always have a backup battery at least no matter what. Many times, I found myself emptying more than one battery per my photography sessions. Think about it, it is one-time investment. I don’t say that you need to have 5 or 10 spare batteries but at least one if not two.
The same thing works with memory cards, but here we talk about capacity. The speed of the memory cards will definitely help on emptying the buffer faster when we take burst photographs or with high-resolution videos.
But the capacity would allow you to take only a number of photographs. Now not the number of the memory cards you need to have matters but the total capacity.
You can have 8x 32gb memory cards to carry with you or only 2x128gb in your camera. Well, in almost most of the cases, unless you are doing a heavy and long photoshoot, 256gb would be more than you ever need. But as a safety backup, throw one more memory card in your backpack. You never know when you will need it, and on the day of today, is pretty much inexpensive.
Shutter remote control
A shutter remote control will have only one but important function: release the shutter to take a picture. But why do you need this?
When you are taking long exposure including night photographs and you have your camera mounted on a tripod, you will probably have to take a couple of seconds exposure of your scene. If you press the shutter button physically, you will induce shake to the camera, and most possible you will take blurry photographs.
A wired or wireless shutter remote control will step us away from the camera and tripod and have any interaction with it. This is the best approach for maximum stability and for the images to have their maximum sharpness.
Is a shutter remote control mandatory to have? No. Do you need it? Definitely yes, more often than you think.
Other accessories (backpack, lens caps, hard drive)
Except for the above-mentioned accessories, there can be limitless but a few important ones to mentions is bags (and transportation), lens caps and a hard drive.
Let me take one by one, shall I?
Backpack. A backpack you should have because every time you travel, you store and take with you all your gear safely. Consider the size of the backpack in concordance with the gear you have. If you or you will have plenty of gear, a larger photography backpack would be essential, where if you don’t take much on your trip, a normal-sized one would be okay.
Photography backpacks have some compartments with soft dividers, allowing you to modify it in order to shape your gear into it. If you really care about the safety of your gear, buy a photography backpack. They are inexpensive and comes in many models.
Lens caps. You really should not invest in lens caps as all your lenses will come with a lens cap. But sometimes, there are rubber caps covering all the lenses (more or less), helpful if you will ever lose your lens cap while you are away or you are looking for extra protection for your lens.
Hard-drives. I learned my lesson not to store all my photos on my laptop anymore. A few years back, that is what I was doing. My computer badly crashed and lost all my data and my photos for an over 2 years period.
I bought a 2TB external hard drive and since then, I store all my photos in there. It is more than enough, but for you to know, it is a solid-state drive.
I strongly recommend you if you want to invest in a storage unit to be an SSD hard drive and not a disk one. If you drop the disk hard drive (although they are very cheap compared to the SSD’s) you highly risk losing all your data.
Therefore, if you are travelling a lot, or even in general, care about all your work, invest in an SSD.
An alternative would be to upload all your work to either iCloud, Dropbox or Google drive. Is not a bad idea, but consider this: whenever you need to access your photos you need an internet connection and to download them. Sometimes, in special for travelling photographers, this won’t always be possible. Not to mention, you will spend a lot of time waiting for your photographs to upload and download from the cloud services.
What gear do you need to have as a photographer per niche
- Aerial Photography – Is often obvious that if you want to get into aerial photography you need a drone. There are quite a few drone manufacturers, but many drone photographers may ask: What DJI Drone you are going to buy?
DJI drones are without questioning the lead on the drone market. You have to think about portability and budget when you are buying your first drone. Ensure that your drone has a larger sensor such as Mavic Pro 2 to greatly improve your drone photography. If you are just starting with it and never flown a drone before, I would recommend you to check your country for the drone regulations and if you are happy with them, then invest into a drone.
There are not as many models as the DSLR cameras on the market, but keep in mind that drone technology evolves every year and after a while, you will want to upgrade your drone.
Also, there are a few tips I want to share with you to improve your drone photography, you can check our other article “14 drone photography tips to consider“
- Astrophotography – Astrophotography is a very complex niche to start as a photographer. And very expensive as well. If this is your first gear, don’t go straight into astrophotography unless you understand the photography in general pretty well. You need a specific wide aperture prime lens for your exact area of astrophotography:
A very wide lens (under 18mm) would be perfect for capturing the night sky and milky way.
A medium format lens (50mm) is more than good to capture parts of the night sky and many constellations.
A telephoto or super-telephoto (105mm+) or even a DSLR attached to a telescope would be the next step in capturing messier objects, galaxies, cluster, nebulas etc. But here you need an equatorial mount to be able to track those objects and capture long exposures.
To capture the night sky, constellations or wonderful sceneries with the night sky, you will need a full-frame DSLR (dx will do as well but is better to have a full-frame), a prime lens with an aperture wider than f/1.8, a tripod and shutter remote control.
Once you get into capturing with a telephoto or a telescope, you will get into an area of bigger investments (could easily cost you thousands of dollars).
- Fine Art Photography – As probably I mentioned several times around my blog, I love fine-art photography and to capture it with a 50mm lens. In this case, you do need a DSLR camera, a prime lens (I recommend a 50mm wide aperture), a tripod and shutter remote control.
- Food Photography – To get into food photography you need gear suitable for indoors. A DSLR (either DX or FX would do just fine), tripod, a minimum of one spotlight and a reflector, a few model surfaces and backgrounds to place your food to, either a prime lens (for the depth of field) or zoom lens (to cover multiple focal lengths). Other than the “mandatory gear” all other gear is not that expensive to buy, therefore, it is not expensive at all to get into food photography in the first place.
- Landscape Photography – Landscape photography is not all about the gear but the patience you need to have and travelling. In terms of gear, a DSLR with a wide lens, a tripod, ND and polarizer filters and maybe a shutter remote control is all you need to have.
Long Exposure Photography – Is it going to be during the night or day? During the night to be able to take long-exposure photographs you need a DSLR camera (or any other), any lens, a tripod and shutter remote control and for day long-exposure photographs, throw in an ND filter (or two).
Macro Photography – The first thing you will need to get into macro photography is a macro lens or a lens with macro capabilities, a DSLR with live view mode, tripod and a lot of patience. Among the tripod, you may need an arm extended as in the image linked here.
Night Photography – For night photography, the long exposure night photography is covered above, but to take handheld night photographs is another story.
In the first place, you will need a DSLR with good camera sensor to be able to get high ISO values without to induce too much image noise. It is a lot preferred a full-frame (FX) DSLR. Moreover, in terms of lenses, you have two options:
- The first option would be having a zoom lens with image stabilisation. Although your aperture may be smaller than f/2.8, the image stabilisation would help your image to be stabilised and capture photographs on slower shutter speed, at even 1/4sec.
- The second option would be to have a fast prime lens, with a wide aperture of f/1.8 or even wider. In general, those lenses do not have image stabilisation, therefore, you may need to reach a minimum of 1/40 or 1/60sec or even more, depending on your focal length. But because of the very wide apertures and in combination with a full-frame camera and high ISO performance, you are able to take night photographs handheld as much as there are sources of lights around.
- Photojournalism – I do not have much experience in photojournalism but upon my researches, you need a good DSLR with a high-burst capability, a zoom lens covering multiple focal lengths (e.g. 24-70mm) and many many spare batteries and memory cards.
- Portrait / Family Photography – This is a whole lot topic to talk about. A DSLR and a good lens, this is what you need to start. But the lens could be either zoom lens or a prime lens.
Most of the photographers would definitely go for the prime lens because you are able to capture the model with a shallow depth of field and during the night to create beautiful bokeh. A 50mm lens or an 85mm lens would be most people’s choice.
A tripod or monopod is only optional here. Some photographers work with them while some others don’t.
Moreover, to add up, you probably need lights and reflectors if you working on a studio and a reflector in special if you are working outdoors. For this, you need an assistant with you. But to commence with, ignore this if you just start your first lessons in portrait photography.
Two or more flashguns would be recommended to be used and controlled wirelessly to create a diffused light in a studio among the lighting you already have.
Things are getting scary when aiming to create professional portrait photography, where you gonna need all of the above including the assistant. But as I’ve said, don’t get intimidated if you just start photography, a good DSLR and a 50mm or 85mm lens would be more than enough to learn and get going into portrait photography.
If you are interested, I did wrote a post about taking portrait photographs with a 50mm prime lens, for you to check.
- Sports or Action Photography – In this case, please consider to buy a good DSLR with very quick and accurate autofocus, high burst and a telephoto zoom lens (such as 70-200mm). Without those, you won’t be able to do much in sports or action photography.
Considering the sports you are attending, you may need to take into consideration a monopod or even a tripod in some cases, add another super-telephoto (e.g. 200-500mm). It all depends on the real distance you are going to be related to the action. All of these things can get pricy.
An entry-level DSLR will do no good as this won’t have continuous autofocus fast enough to track live-action and to be as accurate as possible. Most of the times, the autofocus will miss keeping the focus on the subject.
- Street Photography – To be able to create art through photography on the streets you will need a DSLR with a prime lens, either 35mm or 50mm. Those two, in special the 35mm are the most used focal lengths in street photography.
You probably won’t need much more than that, although a monopod can help you stabilise your camera and capture on slower shutter speeds when the lighting is not sufficient.
- Travel Photography – A photography backpack, packed with: spare batteries and memory cards. Oh, and a DSLR, a zoom lens preferable, a tripod, maybe a drone, filters, etc. If you don’t have all those, a camera with a zoom lens (even a 50mm prime lens works amazingly in travel photography) and a few spare batteries and memory cards will do.
- Wedding Photography – To be able to be a wedding photographer you probably need to invest into a bunch of gear, more than in any other niches. Most of the wedding photographers would start with having two DSLRs. A few prime lenses and another one or two zoom lenses would probably cover.
You need prime lenses which would do amazingly in portrait photography, to photograph the bride and photoshoots. You need a wider lens or a zoom lens with a wider focal length to be able to do group photography.
Moreover, an assistant is like gold to have to help you with all the gear, and take into consideration to have at least one reflector for portraits. The assistant will help you with that though.
Before to jump right into wedding photography and invest into it, take for free a few wedding shots with the gear you have and create an abstract portfolio to be able to gather clients. Nobody can complain about a free photographer.
Do you know what some wedding photographers may also have? A drone. Everyone loves group photos from above, but kindly be aware not to crash it into the bride. 🙂
- Wildlife Photography – Wildlife photography is one of the most beautiful niches in photography, being and photographing the mother nature with its creations. You do need to have a pretty good DSLR with good autofocus and a super-telephoto lens such as a 200-500mm or 150-600mm with a teleconverter (optional).
Also, it may help you to have a good and portable tripod or mini-tripod, or even a monopod to help you stabilise the camera and the image. Consider that on that high-magnification, would be pretty difficult to stabilise the image, the lens and camera would be extremely heavy and you don’t want to miss a shot or get it blurry.
How much you should invest in gear?
The answer will always differ for each person and what you are intending to further do: being a hobbyist, seeking a job in photography or being self-employed? As well, it matters, are you going to upgrade your gear in the future, what is your financial status?
In general, I would not recommend to invest a lot in gear unless really necessary. Take into consideration the above points and what area of photography you are going to be. But mostly, consider the budget of your lens to be at least 50% of your total gear.
A lens is the most important piece of equipment you can have as a photographer. This will always make a major difference in your photographs.
Set your budget and think on the above points. I would try to give you a fictional example:
My budget is $800. I like fine-art photography as a hobby and decided to go for it. I want to invest into Nikon gear, therefore, I would probably need a Nikon DSLR, Nikkor lens (won’t go for 3rd party this time), a tripod, shutter remote control and a filter.
I decided to go with a 50mm f/1.4, which would cost me $410. The camera I want is a Nikon D3300, would cost me $290 refurbished. This would leave me a budget of exactly $100 to invest in the rest of my gear. An entry-level tripod would be around $25, a shutter remote control $20 and the rest of $55 I can invest into a good quality ND8 filter.
Now, let’s detail a bit my choices and why I decided to go for it.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens costs around $410 new. It is a brand new lens never used and for the price and the glass is high-quality. Moreover, it has a very wide aperture of f/1.4. The lens I have chosen is an excellent one for fine-art photography. Moreover, the lens is an FX lens, therefore, if I further want to upgrade my camera to a full-frame Nikon one, I can still use the same lens.
Nikkon D3300 refurbished. $290. I took this camera from the local shop without any lens on it. It is refurbished, therefore, probably a bit used before but guaranteed for it to work as new. I am asking the seller if I can have a lens attached to it (unless I already have my Nikkor 50mm lens) for testing. Everything seems fine with the camera, I saved a few bucks, very helpful because I could be afforded the above lens. Alternatively, I could pick a new camera from the internet but would cost me a few extra bucks.
The Nikon D330 is an entry-level older camera. Nothing special, nothing excelling to. But it wasn’t expensive and I could invest in my lens. In the future, I can upgrade it to a full-frame Nikon D750 or something better. But for now, is more than enough to learn photography and take advantage of a brilliant lens.
I cannot afford to invest into an expensive tripod, therefore, a $25 tripod will do just fine for now. I don’t have a heavy camera with a lens for the tripod to have better stability. It is okay to learn with it.
Further, I want to invest $20 into a shutter remote control. It is more than enough for me to take long exposures without touching my camera, so my photos will look as sharp as possible. But if I want to take long exposures during the day, to the sea, a river or waterfall, I need an ND filter.
I found an ND8 filter would be good for my needs. Only that there are many models, from a few bucks to over a hundred or more. Which one to take? I also found that screw-in filters are much cheaper than square filters, and since I am working only with one lens, I don’t need to invest in a square ND filter.
Therefore, my budget will allow me to invest in a high-quality $55 ND8 filter. But why does the quality of the filters matter? The filters play the role of another piece of glass in front of your camera lens. You can have the best quality camera lens, but if your filter will be poor quality, so your images will look.
More or less, this is how I would spend an $800 budget for my gear in fine-art photography. I would probably have to throw another $20 for a memory card but cannot afford high-capacity one and extra batteries for the moment. No worries, those you can buy in time. You have everything you need now to start learning photography and to get into fine-art.
Should you invest in new gear or second hand?
This is a question I often see on many forums and Facebook photography groups, and frankly, the opinions of many are split. I can say that both new gear and second-hand gear would be fine, but that is no true. There are a few things you really have to buy as new while some other works fine as second hand.
The advantages of investing in new photography gear
When investing into new gear you know one thing: your gear is new. Frankly, you will have warranty and as per many countries, you are able to return your product for a full refund if you are not pleased with or is defective.
A lens would be the only and main piece of gear I would recommend more than anything to buy as new!
Keep in mind that every time you use the zoom ring or the focus ring of a lens this creates a vacuum in it. That vacuum is a magnet for dust, and in time, a lens is gathering dust inside, impossible to remove unless sent back to the manufacturer.
You will never know a second-hand lens how often, much and in what environments were used. I got to follow not one buy many cases where there is a layer of dust inside the lens. This won’t affect your sharpness that much but your images will look poorly and contrastless.
Buying a new lens also will ensure that absolutely no particle of dust would be inside a lens.
But what about a DSLR camera? Well, more or less it can be under the same situations as a lens, but if dust is stuck on the sensor, this can be cleaned at photography stores (will cost you).
The worst part about a DSLR is that the actual shutter, the mirror which slams have a life span. This will depend on the camera, some of will have around 120.000 shots, while some other 200.000 shots. This is not guaranteed though.
If a DSLR was used for many years, the lifespan of it may be very short, this being one another reason I do not recommend a second-hand DSLR. Thinking about the refurbished ones, those go back through the factory, therefore, you probably won’t get to have a C-grade refurbished but a decent one.
The advantages of investing in second-hand photography gear
As I do not recommend to invest into second-hand DSLR and in special lenses, for most of the accessories there would be no reason to do it, in special if you will find a great difference of prices between a second hand and a new one.
A tripod, filters (careful with filters), shutter remote controller etc., could be easily bought second-hand. I don’t recommend batteries because as well, it has a lifespan.
Try to think through and decide what are you going to invest in second hand, if you really need to. But overall, I am not a fan of buying anything related to photography second hand, I’d better wait a bit longer and buy it new. At least I know that the gear I have is new.
Conclusion on what gear do you need to have as a photographer?
Every photographer, either amateur or professional, no matter on the skill, knowledge, age, location and financial status, started somewhere: acquiring the first gear.
Sometimes it can be terrifying because you don’t know what to expect from it, how good it is, if you got to pick the right manufacturer to start and so many more questions.
It is no shame to ask others and/or in Facebook groups or forums, many people can give good advice. Do some research, set your budget and get to enjoy this unique form of art: photography.
Really thank you for remaining until the end of this post, this is Gabriel and I hope my guide on what gear do you need as a photographer helped you to find your answer. Take care and happy photographing.
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