I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to re-shoot a band, fashion/family portrait, a luxury home, or you name it - sometimes just weeks after another photographer was hired to shoot the exact same thing. I keep hearing from new clients about their total disappointment in the results from the last photographer they hired, despite all the fancy gear that they used.
So what is going wrong? It's simple. People are buying into the hype, not the skill, and are being fooled by all the gimmicks.
When I roll up to a shoot carrying my lowepro backpack and favourite hand-held lighting setup, people often shudder thinking I'm a goofball who doesn't know a damn thing about photography. But I've never once let anybody down with the end results. Knowing this, I don't worry about my gear or how it looks because at the end of the day my photos will speak for themselves - and that's the way it should be.
Do you think a guy driving a red Porsche is cool and does that car make him a better driver? I hope not. Similarly, the brand of camera you use and how you choose to store it is essentially irrelevant when it comes to your professionalism or skill level. Don't ever let yourself think that just because someone has better gear than you, that they are a more successful/experienced artist than you. Nothing could be further from the truth. No number of expensive flashes, stainless steel travel cases (or even college degrees) will ever guarantee that a photographer is good at what he/she does.
I remember my first fashion shoot back in 2008 was for high-profile designer Nada Yousif, who was at the time one of the main features of L'Oreal Fashion Week. I was scared to death, but confident I could get the job done. I showed up to the location (distillery district) met up with Nada and her team of makeup artists/stylists and she says to me, "I hope you don't mind, but I have another photographer coming to shoot with us today as well". Instantly I thought to myself - crap - looks like someone with more experience is going to take over today and I'll be stuck behind the scenes. I thought to myself how dumb it was of me to think Nada and her team would trust me with such a huge responsibility. Sure enough, the other photographer arrives with his steel cases complete with DSLRs and vintage Polaroid cameras and here I am standing with my backpack looking like a total fool (or so I thought). He walks over to us and I shake his hand, seems like a totally nice guy - but I assumed he was about to totally show me up. Nada turns and says to me, "Matt, meet Ben. He's here to learn from you and will be following you around to cover behind the scenes shots and candids throughout the day. Fashion Television is also planning to come and get some video footage of you at work." LOL, I could hardly believe my ears! Here was this photographer with all the bells and whistles - and I'm being told he's here to learn from me (and I'm on my first fashion shoot EVER?!). It was a truly surreal and humbling moment, and a great reminder to never judge a book by it's cover (that includes the flashy new books and the old beat up ones). Of course, the shoot went incredibly well - I felt totally at ease doing my thing, Ben the other photog was super cool - and Nada was extremely pleased with all the photos which were later printed in a booklet and handed out to VIP guests during her runway show. Unfortunately, Fashion Television bailed on us last minute, but that would have been really cool, too, and completely unexpected on my part.
Moral of the story: Better to be underestimated than overestimated, and blow people's expectations out of the water with outstanding results. Stop worrying about your gear, or how "pro" you look and start worrying about the photos you take. Your skill (vision) and outgoing personality will be be the driving force behind new business relationships, they will help land you more referrals and will keep people coming back to you - not your flashy camera, or anything else you own for that matter.