Things I Never Go Cheap on as a Professional Photographer

If you’re like me, you like to save as much as possible on gear. As expensive as the gear is, there are some things I suggest you shouldn’t get cheap. This list consists of things that last a long time and won’t go stale quickly.

There are reasons to save on gear, for me it’s the ability to travel and explore the world more. In fact, I write this sentence from rather sunny but cold Stockholm. Although it is not a budget destination, it is nevertheless a beautiful destination. What better I’m here for work, but I always come a few days before to enjoy the city before going behind the camera. Either way, I value travel more than gear, so I go cheap on cameras, as well as other things, but never on the things you’re about to see .

To input

Grip lasts for decades and you have to buy it once. The only thing is if you buy a handle that is cheap once and then expensive twice. The reason I bought an expensive grip is that it’s reliable and I need it to support thousands of dollars worth of equipment. The grip I own is Manfrotto/Avenger. Although there was no brand preference for me at first, I now choose these two brands because I know their range and like the product. Also, I haven’t had any issues with their stuff breaking. Of course, I own the sturdier grip gear that I prefer to the lightweight carbon fiber “wind drops” stuff. Whenever I buy light stands and other gripping equipment, I always buy used because the stands last for decades. So in a way I’m saving money by buying used, but also not because I’m buying high-end gripping gear to support the next two items on this list: expensive lights and expensive modifiers.

Modifiers

My modifiers are made by Profoto, but I also like and use Godox Para. Both are of very high quality and are designed for professionals. The Profoto OCF range may be slightly behind in terms of sturdiness and durability, but to be honest, I’m more of a hard reflector. From the OCF range, I only have the beauty dish, which is pleasant to use and for the moment quite resistant. However, when I have to do something serious, I take the appropriate metal modifier and use it instead of the portable dish.

You may naturally wonder what makes expensive modifiers so expensive, I have an answer for you. For example, a cheap and expensive reflector will not be as effective compared to each other. This is best seen when you compare two beauty bowls, the metal of the cheaper one will consume more light and create unwanted effects.

As with softboxes, the durability of the material is critical. For example, a high-end softbox is less likely to tear or yellow over time. It is also likely to withstand more heat from light. A comparison I often make is my cheap umbrella which broke after a few months of use versus my Profoto umbrella which was bought second hand 3 years ago. I’ve been on pretty much every shoot I’ve done, and so far so good. Expensive softboxes and soft modifiers will also be much better at reflecting light. A problem that some creatives have had is also solved by having a higher quality modifier: the tints of various modifiers. I remember renting a softbox, and after seeing the dire condition she rejected the rental. The reason was simply that the diffuser was so yellow that I didn’t need a CTO filter. If the rental house had spent on good softboxes, they probably would have lasted a bit longer.

Storage

If you can’t store your images, why bother taking them? I learned the very painful way of losing files. That’s right, I lost 2TB of footage in one day, with no chance of getting it back. The customers weren’t happy, I wasn’t, and it was a giant mess. After that day, I was sworn to a robust 3-2-1 backup system. On top of that, I’ve also decided not to skimp on the records I get. So far the LaCie D2 drives have been great to use. I buy two identical ones and use them as if they were identical. There are many software in the market which will mirror two disks, I am currently trying EaseUs Todo Backup as my previous software was not so reliable. If you have the money to buy a RAID system, go for it. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I’m going to stick with two mirrored drives for a while.

My workflow system doesn’t stop there. I have two SSDs taking care of the hardware I’m currently working on. Often when I’m working on location I have a third disc with all the footage from that day. The reason is that I can’t save to Backblaze without the internet, but I need an offsite copy of my work somewhere. This is done using a disk which is given to the customer at the end of the day. This way I stay true to my backup system and make sure no frames are lost. Already.

Tethers

Perhaps the most unexpected item on this list, but a must for anyone working with a crew on set. Put your ego aside and show the crew what you’re up to. They’ll thank you and you’ll even get better pictures. The reason I spend the extra dozen on a proper cable from TetherTools is that they’re more durable, they can transfer images much faster, are made to be walked on, and come in a funky orange which makes them the second best thing more visible (after your ego as a photographer). They have an advantage over regular cables in that they are specially designed to transfer data over a distance of 5 or 10 meters. You can also add things like TetherBoosts to increase transfer speed. In fact, TetherTools offers a complete solution to digital image capture hardware. I have purchased quite a few things from them and love their products. In the future, I will build the ultimate home base. I don’t suggest buying cheap tethers as mine is used on every shoot. Literally.

So there you have it: some products that I don’t suggest buying cheap. Although gear is the most boring topic, at least in my opinion, some gear makes a difference and is worth writing about. I once went cheap on all of this and learned my lesson. Don’t be like me.

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