Photographers are hired for brains and not gear


It is quite common for me to show up on a photo shoot and find out that the person hiring me has a lot of camera gear themselves. Most of my main customers have some great gear and we often talk shop.

The reason I mention this is too often when I meet amateurs they talk to me about what they don’t have and what they have in equipment, as if when they get enough gear is when they can turn pro.

One of the groups that hire photographers pretty regularly are agencies. Most all these agencies have camera gear and shoot a great deal of the photos for their clients. When they hire a professional photographer, rarely are they ever hiring them because of their gear, they have that gear just down the hall in their small studio.

They hire the photographer for their experience. Here is the concept, now make it better while still accomplishing their intended goal for the photo.

Take this really simple photo of a mobile phone. I just shot this a few weeks ago for a website. The reason the creative director hired me for this photo shoot wasn’t because they didn’t have the gear to take the photo, they hired me to light the phone and create the 3-D feel and be sure the elements they needed to highlight were easy to see.

No glare on the screen and then you needed details in all the black areas of the phone, which was primarily a very dark gray to almost black phone.

I saved them a lot of time of lighting the phone and getting what they needed very quickly.

I am often hired to photograph black objects. The reason is they are some of the hardest subjects to light and reveal the shape of the object.

Often once I have done this for clients they will go out and duplicate the gear and no longer hire me again.  As long as they duplicate the setup they are fine, until they come up on something new, then I get that phone call again.


I am often hired for science and technology shoots, because what I am asked to photograph hasn’t ever been photographed before. They need me to engage the audience with something which is often quite stagnant.

The photo of the researcher holding up the micro-needles on his finger was my idea of how to communicate how small those needles were. When this first came out the photo was picked up by the media world-wide. Many talked about the ouch-less needle.

Another assignment I met the researcher during time when all his gear was just sent away. All we had was his laptop and a spare LCD. He told me his work entailed giving an audience flashlights that they would wave in the air and he had cameras that would pick up those lights and his software would translate this into music that was played live by orchestra on the stage.

I had a Mini MagLight in my camera bag and I asked him to wave it around. I converted the flashlight to candle mode and this helped tell the story in the one shot.

I had to figure out the three different exposures for the photo and combine them into one photo. the exposure of the computer screens, the flashlight and then the strobes on the subjects face and then two more strobes to add some color to the photo.

Those are just a few examples where I used my brain to make the photo. The camera gear didn’t make the photo on “P” mode.

Even if you know how to use the gear and make it work this isn’t what they are hiring you to do. They are hiring you for your ideas, not just to execute their idea. They can do that without you.

What do you bring to the table other than your camera gear and lighting gear?