Trent Chau | Photographer and Instructor

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How much photography equipment do you need to be a great photographer?

Purchasing a Digital SLR camera is an epic milestone for many people.  Quickly after purchasing a Digital SLR there is the sudden realization that potentially more equipment purchases loom further on the horizon if the photographer wants to achieve more stylized results.  It’s a dreadful pitfall that makes one ask if he or she needs that equipment (lens, flashes) to be a better photographer.

Despite the cliche saying “It’s not the camera (gear) that matters, it’s the photographer (brains/creativity)”, to me the answer is a surprising….maybe.

A camera like any other tool is driven by the capable hands that hold and use it.  There is absolutely no doubt how much the photographer’s inner creativity and technique drives the final outcome of their camera.  Yet when any skilled craftsman/artist picks up a tool, they can visualize their results with that tool.  An artist does not pick up a paintbrush and immediately see a marble sculpture, nor does a construction worker pick up a hammer and see plywood cut into perfect pieces.  There is a tool specifically for the job it entails.

In photography, those “Tools” show up immediately in three things.  Camera Bodies, Flashes, and Lenses.

We are going to talk a lot more about lenses.  Camera bodies are always updating, but in reality they tend to be just one flat surface that gathers a bunch of light, with a bunch of doohicky buttons on it that creates some magical electricity whirlpool that captures your photos.  Some cameras are faster, some cameras have bigger surfaces…but all cameras do the exact same thing, Capture light.  So the saying “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” is pretty much a dead ringer when it comes to Cameras.

Flashes.  They just put out light.  Once again, some put out more light, some put out less.   The whole concept of the flash is to put out light…so not much variable there.  The real variable is lenses.  This is why most people buy an SLR camera anyways, for the ability to change lenses when they need too.

Lenses have so many different purposes.  They offer otherworldly point of views, and also the ability to focus to the most minute of levels.  They allow the camera to pretty much see in the dark.  They can alter the perspective by changing the wavelength of light so that it hits the sensor of the camera differently at the flick of the wrist.  There is plenty of variable in lenses, so much that a photographer should be aware of how a lens can influence their end photographic results for the better.  Do you know why a prime is touted, what a 1:1 macro means, and why a 200mm is better at portraits than a 18mm traditionally?  Those are but a few questions that are related to lenses and why they are so important to what we do.

So to go back to the topic question.  “How much photography equipment do you need to be a great photographer?”.  The answer is a simple “As much as you want”.

One doesn’t have to own the lens, but just be aware of what the lens does.  Renting lenses online now is highly popular, and I highly suggest it to anyone who is interested in trying something new.  I’ve met many talented photographers, but the most talented photographers I have met knew exactly what a lens did.  They didn’t need it all the time, and many times they have given up on certain lenses for their cliche or boring results, but they knew from first hand experience what a lens did.


This short blog was written in response to some inquiries made by individuals looking for their second SLR based purchase.  While there’s no obvious direct answer in this blog post, the goal was to more open the eyes and mind to anyone interested in furthering their SLR equipment purchasing decisions.

Personally I have had the pleasure of meeting amazing photographers who own only 2 lenses, and I have also met outstanding photographers who own 10.  In all circumstances those photographers who were consistently good knew technically how their lenses worked for them.

About trentchau

Photographer, videographer, and photography instructor in Atlanta. Born in New Orleans. I love food more than photography, but do love photography quite a bit.

3 comments on “How much photography equipment do you need to be a great photographer?

  1. Alex
    October 27, 2009

    Good post Trent. I personally often like trying to keep things simple with gear, and think photographers can learn and develop a lot through restricting what they have to work with in terms of gear. Often it is not just knowing what your gear can do, but what it can’t. Once you understand its capabilities and limitations you’re in the best place to get great images from it; and that can be said of some some surprisingly modest equipment!


  2. Brian
    November 11, 2009

    Very well written. I have always thought that way about most things and I totally agree with you here.

  3. Pingback: How Much Photography Equipment Do You Need To Be A Great Photographer?

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This entry was posted on September 26, 2009 by in Uncategorized.


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