It is not an urban photo myth that photographers used to rent equipment for shoots that they would never use just to look more ‘professional’. Boxes of lights, bodies and lenses would be ordered and paid for by a client but never used. Some in the advertising business still seem to hold this archaic view of what constitutes professionalism.
Meanwhile, on earth one, camera functionality has raced towards ever higher ISOs and higher quality image capture. The need for big cameras, heavy tripods and huge lighting rigs remains for certain shoots but has disappeared for others. This means that I can breathe a sigh of relief. I am not now and have never been a technical photographer. I have always known what I needed to know to work on both an analogue and digital basis but nothing more and nothing less. The important element of any photograph I was and am commissioned to make was not to look ‘professional’ but to act ‘professionally’ and that did not and does not require mountains of expensive equipment.
I worked with many great photographers from whom I learnt a simple way of working. Jean Loup Sieff, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, William Klein, the list is endless. They created work that I respected and therefore I saw no reason to not emulate their practice. I also worked with photographers who adopted an alternative approach that seemed to create overly technical images that lacked emotion, however clever they were in their lighting or technical prowess. Not my intention.
Today, I attend every commission with as little equipment as I can. One rolling case, one lightweight tripod. I always have three bodies and two prime lenses. The bodies are all the same. Therefore one camera. They are replicated purely as a safety measure in case one decided to stop working. The lenses are both used regularly depending on the commission. The bodies are old and regularly serviced. They are faithful friends that have never let me down.
I can’t remember the last time I visited a camera shop or read a camera review. I did buy a pocket Leica secondhand a couple of years ago as a camera to keep in my car glove compartment but that is the only camera I have purchased in the last ten years or so. My clients are not concerned with what camera I am using and in fact on one occasion when I decided to use the Leica for a portrait commission they were intrigued by the quality of the images I produced with something so small.
My cameras have paid for themselves many times over and I like it that way. They are the tools of my craft, no more or less and I feel no need to keep topping up on my initial investment. So, my suggestion is this. Once you have invested be content with that investment. If you have any spare money buy photo books for inspiration, or attend talks and exhibitions. Focus on the outcome and not the tool you use. Never forget that a bad workman always blames his tools. Do not feel that you need a lot of kit to be a ‘professional’. And finally, keep it simple and recognise the beauty of small things.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Under Graduate and Post-Graduate Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019) and What Does Photography Mean to You? (Bluecoat 2020).
His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com and he is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2023