Build a Photographer

Photography is like any other hobby: expensive. However, it doesn't have to be. I am a Canon shooter, so we'll stick to Canon for this. Nikon is awesome, I shoot Canon.

Canon 50mm f/1.8When people first enter the realm of photography, they most likely buy an entry-level $700 camera. A few years ago that would mean a Canon Rebel XT. Today that likely means a Canon Rebel XSi. Unless you special order it, this camera ships with a basic lens in the box. I believe it is something like an 18-55mm, f/5. Photographers are pretty good at pushing buttons, and buy more photography gear. I'd say time-wise, today it's about 10% of the time shooting, 30% of the time in post processing, and 60% of the time talking to your buddies about what's next on the wishlist.

At this point, most photogs dream nightly of sugar plums fairies bringing them 600mm f/2.8L lenses, or 5D Mark II bodies. It is at this point that the money flows and the brain doesn't.

I built my arsenal slowly, but in the typical fashion that I am now blogging about "what not to do". For me, it was all about filling my bag with f/2.8 lenses. They were the coolest, all the pros used them, so they must be good, and they were the most expensive. Expensive means good, right? Well, yes. It does. However, the mistake, that is not necessarily bad, is that expensive means "I need it".

Yes, expensive is good. Yes, everybody wants nice things. What separates us here is, what do we NEED. Let's stray to this route, and say you're building your toolbox. You start with a drill. Good. Then move to the hammers. You'll need three or four. All the professional guys use the "Hammer YZ-67", a $800 hammer. Well a couple of those and you'll be in over $2000 including that drill. Fine, you say. $2000 is a good budget for this anyway.

Lenses are HammersThen you realized a week later you don't have any screwdrivers, levels, gloves or pliers. Instead of going out and buying some decent ones, you tell yourself you've already spent $2K, you don't need to pour any more money into your tools. Then you've frozen yourself as a toolman who can really drill and hammer some screws and nails, but is stuck there forever. You walk around watching the other guys, who have either: A) a well-rounded mediocre set, or B) everything imaginable fancy gear.

Then you buddy up with the mediocre guys, showing off your $800 hammers, and talk about how much you both hate the guy with all the fancy gear. The difference is your friend is versatile, and your are locked until you either pour more money into an already too-deep amount of tools, or stop working because you can only do two things.

Photography is a lot like this. We rush out with our new camera (drill) and buy three lenses (hammers). Buying nice lenses, a week later we realize that we forgot an on-camera flash, extra batteries, a reflector, a trigger, a tripod, external lights, a monopod, light stands, a backdrop, a camera bag, lens cleaner, software, a website and memory cards. Then we buy half of that stuff, really cheap, and tell ourselves we'll never need the other half. Then we've got a nice body, fantastic lenses, and a half-empty undersized bag full of junk that works 50% of the time.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L ISSaying all that, I am the guy who did exactly that. Now, years later, I have learned from the mistakes of myself and others. I have no regrets of the way I did things, only regrets about the future of my beloved hobby. I bought really nice lenses, I bought half the stuff on that list, but now I total up the cost that I have filling my little bag and wonder, "how much more should I pour into this?" I don't feel like an idiot, because like I said, I'm flashing around $1700 lenses, pulling out all sorts of items from my half-filled bag of tricks. However, I could have spent less on some things, to spend a bit more on others, and half leftovers to buy the other half of that list.

Now, for me, this is not a depressing moment. Unlike our drill and hammer friend, I have no interest in giving up. This comes from one source. God has provided me with a constant flow of opportunities to expand my skills in the field, while simultaneously providing for me. Through these shoots, I am able to put the money from one job towards a new piece of gear that will prepare me for the next job.

Glory be to God for all that is good in my life. God has given me a passion for photography that has grown out of a hobby and into a lifestyle.