Monday, August 20, 2012

On Going Pro & Upgrading Your Equipment

This is based on a reply I posted on a social site to someone asking about going pro and thinking about replacing their Canon 450D with a Canon 5D MkIII. Several replies stated it’s NOT about the camera but the photographer. Others stated that the 450D was good enough? Someone stated he doesn’t get the respect because he doesn’t own a ‘pro’ camera but that shouldn’t matter as they should only look at his images. I and others asked what kind of photography does he do or want to do.

A part of being a pro photographer is being able to deliver the goods. By that I mean good quality images. I know way too many photographers that have had to replace ALL their gear because they purchased an Olympus system or a Canon consumer camera like a 450D/T2i or a similar Nikon DX system and purchased the non-pro lenses like the Canon EF-S or Nikon DX lenses.

The reason they had to upgrade is there ALWAYS comes a day in the PRO world where someone wants a LARGE print or a very high quality image. Whether it is a large print of a wedding shot, family portrait, or perhaps a print for making a large product poster/advertisement or perhaps even a 2 page spread in a high quality mag. You need pixels for this. And, if you want excellent quality enlargements you need QUALITY pixels which is why over 94% of the pro's making their living at photography (not a hobbyist that occasionally turns a buck) use High End DSLR's, Full Frame DSLR's, Medium Format Cameras (that now shoot 160 Mega Pixels), and some even still use Large Format Film!

Also, as a pro you use your camera a lot and it gets abused. The pro quality cameras and lenses put up with way more abuse and wear and tear. For this alone the pro or prosumer cameras are worth every penny over what you would pay for a consumer camera.

On the lenses, the Pro lenses are Sharper and Clearer Optically and generally focus faster. Many allow more light in to the camera and will give you that Shallow DOF that non-pros are always looking for. This extra light also turns into extra contrast in your images which also adds to the sharpness. These lenses are also much more durable. I just hosted 11 students that came from India to Canada so they could take a 7 Day workshop with me. Two of them broke their Nikon DX lenses by barely ‘bumping’ the front barrels. One was dead and the other still usable but now has a wobbly front barrel. Not sure how good the images are. And, on the same trip someone dropped a camera from 3 plus feet and it landed right on the front of the lens onto concrete. The drop broke the filter, but the Canon L Series lens was OK. This isn’t about Canon vs. Nikon, but rather Pro vs. Consumer products.

Your Pro Lenses will also last a lifetime if properly taken care of. And, they tend to retain their value very well. Check out the cost of a used Pro Lens like a Canon 50mm f/1.2 or Craigs List or eBay. You see even old ones retain their value unless they have been abused.

On the warranty issue, I am a Canon CPS. I recently sent in my only non-pro lens (my wife usually uses this and a pro lens for cleaning). Canon does not give pros discounts on repairing non-pro gear!

Now just because you have a pro camera, doesn’t mean you will take pro quality images! But, likewise, as someone mentioned, people will not take you seriously with a non-pro camera. Designers, Editors and so on will not think you’re a full time pro shooting a dinky camera and they also think (perhaps rightly) that you will not be able to deliver the high quality images they require. Some of the consumer cameras will give you pro quality images, but if you do not get taken seriously, you may miss a lot of opportunities.

So as a pro, you need to combine your pro skills and artistic skills and pro gear and make pro quality images. But even then your not there. Most pro photographers (but not all) make it as pro photographers not just because of their images but because of their business skills! You need to be able to sell yourself, promote yourself, and talk to people, approach art directors and the people buying the prints. Your personality comes into play here also.

Every year I have people ask me if I think they are ready to go “professional”. I usually give them the above advice. But, in the end, you do want a better camera. And, if you do not go pro, you’ll at least have a camera you’ll be happy with that will last you a lifetime if you take care of it. Learn not only how to use it, but how to ‘technically’ take the best images you can with it. Learn how to take Tack Sharp images and learn how to do it without thinking. Then, work on whatever photography genre you want to photograph and sell, and perfect that also.  If you take excellent quality images that are artistic, commercially viable, news worthy, or whatever, they will sell. But, no matter how good a capture of a scene is, if the image is poor quality, not sharp (non-intentionally), not properly exposed, not well cropped, not well composed and so on, it will not sell.

As far as Art Directors are concerned, they see thousands of images every month with new potential pro photographers wanting to make it in the business. Your images have to stand out! They need to be perfect technically and they need to be different than the rest artistically. This may not be the case for Photojournalism or other genres, but then they still would need to be perfect. Who wants to read a newspaper with a bunch of blurry pictures?


© 2012 Jean-François Cléroux

(Version 1.00 - August 2012)


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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux