For making good photos? No. Unless you count your mind/eyes as pieces of gear (I do have to include my brain on a checklist of gear to bring with me for shoots as I frequently find myself making stupid, brainless decisions).
If you want to take good landscapes, portraits, street shots etc. – you can do that with anything. About 90% of photography doesn’t have any sort of gear restrictions, of course better gear can improve things but you can still create magnificent photos with anything that takes a picture. I love using Instagram for example, my phone is the one camera that I have on me all of the time so I’m always taking some photos on it and popping the best ones on my instagram. You see many people on Instagram taking brilliant photos with their phones (not everyone, but there are some great photographers on there). There’s always been a huge cult-like hatred for Instagram but regardless of the means used to take/create the photo, surely if it’s a well taken photo – it’s a well taken photo?
But depending on your chosen field of photography, gear can be of the utmost importance. Sports photography is extremely difficult to do well at with minimal gear. It can be done, you can get some good photos, but to replicate the best you need to have the best gear available – there’s no real way around it. Long lenses, fast bodies, rugged equipment. Then for wedding and music photography you need to have gear that can cope with extremely dark situations – fast aperture lenses and high ISO capable cameras don’t exactly come cheap.
There’s something that I’ve learned over the past year which has really shocked me. “Looking the part” seems to be quite important when it comes to getting hired. Flash a white lens here or there, and you’ll have people whispering “oh, he’s a professional”. Getting people to move out of your way is much easier when you have a big camera and lens. Not very many people took me seriously when I was at a stage where I had minimal gear, only when that started growing to more lenses, bigger gear, bigger bags did I start getting respect for what I did. I can still remember the very first time I brought two lenses on a shoot with me – I was photographing a band’s recording session and I could feel the atmosphere in the room get more serious as I took out the other lens. Now, it was only a 55-250mm lens for my Canon 500D (the day that shoot was done was my 16th birthday, I got that lens as a present from my Mam that morning, the only other lens I had was my kit lens), nothing majorly impressive about the lens but I felt like I was in charge, which was a first.
I say it a lot, but it’s true that we live in a society where nearly everyone considers themselves photographers (thanks a lot, hipster culture) so people naturally look for ways to distinguish the big dogs from the rest of the bunch. Sometimes flashing some fancy looking equipment is the easiest way to stand out – it’s quite a dirty tactic, especially if you then go and produce terrible images, in turn damaging the reputation of professional photography. Looking and acting the part will open doors, your ability will dictate whether or not those doors get slammed shut in your face. I sometimes wear my business card on a lanyard around my neck for 2 purposes, having my contact information easily accessible and showing that I’m a photographer, this is my job.
Go look on 500px and you’ll see that there is a plethora of unbelievable photos that are taken with near ancient equipment. If you want to take great photos then just go outside and start taking pictures with whatever camera you have, practice makes perfect. But unfortunately, in a culture where first impressions mean a lot, looking the part is the easiest way to break into the field. But don’t let that hold you back, I’m still chugging along, building my gear as I go and pushing to get media passes, great photos, and respect for what I do.