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What Makes A Professional Photographer? (Hint: it’s not the gear)

Written by Mark Mendoza on January 19, 2022

Every now and again when I’m working on-location at a business, someone will pass by, notice all the photo equipment, and invariably come to me and ask some version of the following: “I’m looking to buy a camera—What do you think of the new xyz camera by abc camera company? What are the specs? How many pixels does it have? What kind of sensor? What resolution images does it take?” I watch as disappointment fall across their face when I tell them that I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with that camera.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m not a technical photographer. That is, I am more interested in the artistry of photography than I am the various specifications of the gear. Don’t get me wrong—there are technical aspects of photography and of cameras and lighting gear that one must understand in order to be effective. But that said, at the end of the day, it’s all about the image.  I’ve always felt that image trumps everything. If the client loves your images, they’re not going to care what camera you used to shoot it.

If I Only Had The Gear…

Have you ever heard anyone say they are hiring a photographer because they themselves don’t own the right gear? That is often the refrain I hear from someone who believes that gear is all that separates them from the pros. But ask yourself this: If all the pro gear you needed were handed to you, would that make you a pro? Would you have the experience necessary to use any of it to create a quality image? Would you have the lighting skills to properly light products and people? Would you understand the principles of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed? If not, then perhaps there is more to being a professional photographer than just gear.

What Makes a Pro Photographer?

  • Experience: I started out working in the motion picture business in the 1990’s. It was there I learned about all sorts of grip and lighting equipment that would come in handy years later. I transitioned to photography at the dawn of the digital age. Building on my experience in film, I learned to use flash, camera software, and the ins and outs of still photography. Most importantly, I learned proper lighting: the kind of high-end lighting that makes products and people look their best.
  • Specialization: There are many types of photography, and if you’re looking to hire a photographer, you should be sure you are hiring the right one. I work in commercial photography, which is strictly a b2b enterprise (i.e., not weddings or birthdays). Even within commercial photography there are sub-genres such as product photography, food photography, architecture photography, and headshot photography. If you work in commercial photography, it means you have specific knowledge in these arenas and understand what it takes to work with other businesses.
  • Training: Aside from on-the-job training in the motion picture lighting business, I have been formally trained in food and product photography, as well as headshot and architecture photography, by some of the best in the business. The right training will improve your technique and take your work to a whole new level.

Yes, I have gear. Lots of it.

Like so many professions, being a professional photographer takes a special mix of skills and experience. And yes, it takes some gear, too. I work with Canon cameras including the Canon R5 featuring the latest “mirrorless” technology, along with a wide assortment of lenses. My lighting consists of industry-leading Profoto flashes, stands, grip gear, etc. I use all this equipment together with my lighting and composition skills to get just the shot I’m looking for. 

It’s All About The Image

There is more to being a professional photographer than simply owning the right equipment. 

Quality, high-end images are what my customers expect. What camera I use or how many pixels it has, doesn’t matter as much to me, or to my clients. So if you’re looking for a professional photographer, forget the specs, and remember: image is king!

Want to learn more? Reach out anytime!

Tags: professional photographer

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