Is Old School Ok?

I took an advanced studio lighting class in university. The professor gave us a list of things we should have in a studio kit, and explained a lot of tips and tricks I would have never thought of. For example, would you have thought to polish fruit with car wax for a photographic shine? (Or, if you want to eat the fruit afterwards, you can use olive oil.) No soft focus filter? Just smear some vaseline on your lens. He was very experienced, and very…old school. He believed that many of the resources one needs to make good images are at your fingertips. He argued that we didn’t need to buy an off-camera flash diffuser; rather, we should just shoot through the lid of an old, margarine container. It might work, but at what point does old school (or handmade) appear unprofessional? And how important is that?

To be clear, there are scenarios where the vaseline filter trick would be fine. If you’re shooting a personal project in your living room, who cares if you used a tupperware diffuser, as long as the results are good. But when someone has hired you as a professional photographer, you need to appear professional.

I love to save money, and I’ll go out of my way for a good deal, but even I need to draw the line at homemade gear on a professional job. When I show up, I need the client to feel confident that I am capable of doing what they’ve asked. Having the right equipment is one of the ways I communicate that I understand industry standards, and am serious about my job.

One time a hairdresser told me that he hates cutting long hair, because “it’s only one cut, straight across, and then you have to just fluff and primp the client for another 1/2 hour so they feel like they got their money’s worth”. It can be the same thing with handling your clients. If an individual is hiring you for something like a wedding, or family portrait, it’s a special event for them. Even if you photograph fifty weddings in a year, each client deserves to feel like they are important, and that they are getting value for their money. If a client is hiring you for a commercial job it’s likely that they work with a lot of professional photographers, and if you’re the only one showing up with a gear bag made of kitchen supplies, your work had better blow the rest out of the water.

I know photographers who haul extra lights to a set, just to set them up in a corner to impress the client. I’ve been guilty of carrying a bigger camera bag than necessary because even though I knew I would only need one body and one lens, I need the client to believe they hired me for a reason. Having backup gear and a number of lenses sets you apart from a lot of amateur photographers. Bringing an assistant to a shoot means you have a team to aid you with the challenges of the shoot. Even if you use one lens, or your assistant only carries your tripod, or you just set up those extra lights, you are still enforcing your role as “The Photographer;” the person who has been hired to know best. (And, you may end up actually needing the things you brought.)

Do you agree that professional equipment adds value to your services? Or do you think that it doesn’t matter what your equipment looks like, as long as the work is good quality?

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1 Comment

  1. It’s a matter of how you choose to sell yourself to a large degree. You can choose to sell yourself as valuable by having lots of big expensive gear and that definitely works. But you can also sell yourself with your confidence and attitude, exuding the energy that you’re the right person for the job and will deliver no matter what you’re shooting with. There’s also a lot of space in between a margarine tub and a $6000 Profoto kit. It’s amazing what a little matte black spray paint can do. There’s homemade and there’s sloppy homemade. As long as you approach everything you do with a professional attitude, quality will follow. My two cents, anyway.

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