Professional photographers are expensive. With good reason too. Here are some answers as to why that is:

Professional photography equipment is very expensive and usually not something you can simply pick up at a Best Buy. Camera bodies start at around $3000 and have to be replaced every few years due to technological advancements. But the real cost comes in the lenses. You’ll hear professionals say “it’s all about the glass”. You cannot use a kit lens to achieve the results you get with a pro lens. Nor is there an app for that. Unfortunately there is no single do-it-all lens like a 14-400mm f0.95 IS with macro or fish eye switch and automatic tilt/shift correction! We have to buy a lens for every situation. Wide angle, ultra wide angle, fish eye, wide zoom, super low light lens, telephoto zoom, low light telephoto, macro, perspective control lens etc etc. A good quality lens for each of these won’t start below a grand a piece. And then there’s the $100 000 lens (click here)…

“Rubbish” you say! “A lens is a lens”
Fair enough, let’s look at what really makes a lens good then.

Sharpness
Sharpness is the lens’ ability to reproduce details. A good sharp lens will also have less chromatic aberration which can present as purple or green hues around the edges of objects in the photo. A sharp photo can make a dramatic difference especially when the image gets blown up for ads.

Bokeh
Bokeh defines the quality of the out-of-focus or blur in the background. It originated from the Japanese work boke meaning “blur” or “haze”. Bokeh is influenced by the number of blades in the lens’ iris. The more blades, the softer and more circular the out-of-focus highlights become. This is one of the main factors professionals use pro lenses- the look is unmistakable.

Speed = Low light capability

canon 85mmSpeed is determined as the widest aperture of a lens and often dictates the price of a lens. Measured in F-Stops, f1.0 is theoretically the widest aperture and will make for an extremely fast lens by allowing more light onto the sensor. Leica has a lens, a 50mm f0.95 which goes for $10 000.An f3.5 or f5.6 is considered a slow lens which is usually a “kit lens” that comes with consumer cameras. Prime (non zoom i.e. 50mm only or 24mm only) lenses are usually faster than zooms because they need fewer optical elements. A high-quality zoom lens like the Canon 70-200mm has a constant aperture of f2.8 across the entire zoom range. Fast lenses are indispensible in low light scenarios like wedding ceremonies or artistic commercial photography like fashion/fragrance ads with dark, moody images. The faster the lens, a.k.a. wider the aperture, the more light it takes in which means the shutter speed can be quicker to get the same exposure which in turn eliminates shake and blurriness. This is why if you use a kit lens you can’t shoot your kid’s basketball game without the players being blurry, even with a tripod.

Color and contrast
Color and contrast (ability to discern different hues in close proximity, not black or white like what most refer to contrast as) play a large role in the image sharpness. Lens color and contrast varies, sometimes considerably, from lens to lens. The individual glass elements and various coatings can influence this. Poor sensors can also render colors, like skin tones, incorrectly. The better the colors are rendered in-camera, the less post processing needs to be done which saves time and costs.

So a lens is all that matters then? No.

The pro camera bodies aren’t bigger to look more impressive for clients. They’re bigger because they house more bells and whistles like multiple card slots and batteries, external ports for things like flash synchronisation and intervolometers, and for more support for holding larger lenses and big flashes. Many don’t have AUTO mode or scene selections like “Sunset” either. AUTO produces one image repetitively. Professionals, on the other hand, are painters of light, and can produce many variations of an image with a few turns of a dial. This is not something you can learn over the weekend, even with the most expensive equipment. “Pro Photogs” have a deep understanding of color and light and use the camera as a machine to obtain their vision. Leica, for example, prides themselves on this – the professionals’ professional camera. Pro cameras are also not made of plastic. Aluminium housings keep the water and dust out – something that can ruin a photo beyond photoshop repair.

“But if you shoot in a studio you don’t need weather proofing. Besides my camera has the same megapixels as a pro’s.”

The megapixel debate is one that’s kept in the attic by the camera manufacturers. Believe it or not there is a big difference in a consumer pixel vs our pro pixels. Ours are bigger which means ours handle more light and details for clearer photos. Case and point in that there are cellphones that have more pixels than some professional cameras! There is also a difference in the sensors which house the pixels. We shoot on what is called “full framed sensors”. They are considerably bigger than consumer sensors like APS-C or Micro 3/4s and can house more of the big pixels. Medium format takes it a step further in size and can have camera backs upwards of 60MP. Finally, the dying art of Large Format Photography is the ultimate in mammoth print size production. These are the cameras with bellows on huge tripods and used by the likes of Ansel Adams, not to be confused with local photographer, although just as brilliant with large format, Dr. Adams. (See his work here.) Another big draw in models today is “ISO.” High ISO allows the camera to take photos in lower light conditions by adding grain. You lose some sharpness but post processing can usually take care of that. Points and Shoot’s have usable ISOs around 800. Some pro cameras can have ISOs over 100 000. Big difference when it matters.

Then there are the accessories. Lights, stands, backdrops, tripods, bags, flashes, intervolometers, portable power units, props, filters, cards, transmitters, receivers, computers, hardware, software… none of these are cheap either, despite the claims of online DIY fanatics. Don’t forget insurance on everything. Especially the back up equipment!

All this being said, the cliche “The equipment doesn’t make the photographer” is true. A professional can take a cheap camera, even a cell phone camera ( See Chase Jarvis) and produce fine work. However, even they hit a ceiling when the equipment reaches its limit.

Hence the point of this blog.

Now watch this amusing video!