Technically, professional photography is any type of photography that generates income. There is no gear requirement other than that the image capturing device must be sensitive to light. However, when we think of professional photography, there are certain expectations – we need to be able to handle a variety of projects and shooting conditions and deliver respectable image quality to the client. Therefore, it is easier to conduct professional photography with a modern DSLR than a pinhole camera constructed out of cardboard. But what if you are on a budget? Here are some tips for getting pro-level gear on a budget.
One of the common things that people do when they get serious with photography as a hobby or business is to buy a consumer camera kit package, which usually contains a crop-sensor DSLR such as a Canon Rebel or Nikon D3xxx-series camera with one or two kit lenses and some other accessories thrown in (as of this writing, the kit price ranges from $450 – $850 depending on model and promotion). While this is a fine way to start out, there is an even better option: buy used. Suppose you want to take portraits. You can purchase a Canon 5D full frame camera body for around $300 used. Add a fast prime lens such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 for around $80 (used). Finally, round it off with a Yongnuo YN-560IV flash YN-622C transmitter for around $110, and you have a complete portrait kit for around $500, about what you would have paid for a consumer camera kit.
If you are wondering why one would opt for used equipment (such as suggested above) compared to buying a new consumer kit, well there are several advantages. For one thing, most professional photographers tend to prefer full frame cameras because they represent an optimal balance between size, price, and image quality. Cameras larger than full frame tend to be very expensive, bulky and heavy, have limited flexibility when it comes to usage, and are usually quite limited lens and accessory selection. When you start getting smaller than full frame sensor size, you start to sacrifice image quality and low-light capability. However, one an even more important reason to use full frame cameras vs. smaller sensor sizes is the ability to isolate your subject from the background using shallow depth of field. The smaller the sensor of your camera, the greater the depth of field you will have at any given aperture and focal length. When shooting portraits, you want as much control over depth of field as you can get, and this is one reason why many portrait photographers before using full frame cameras in the field. Note that if you are shooting on a background (e.g. in a studio), then this is far less important as you usually want the background to be in focus anyway.
But even if you are unsure about the genre of photography you want to shoot, it is a good idea to at least consider buying full frame-compatible lenses, because full frame lenses can usually be adapted for use on a crop sensor camera, but not the other way around. Therefore, building a full frame lens collection is a form of future-proofing your hobby or business for the future.