As much as we would all love to have a fully equipped studio to play with, we can all agree it is not affordable for a beginner to get all those Profoto lights and modifiers, all colors and sizes of Oliphant backdrops, and fill the space with c-stands and all other accessories like clamps, sandbags, reflector, et al.
It's easy to blame the lack of equipment for the poor quality of our images, after all, we can't all afford a beautiful and oh-so-sharp L-series lens. And maybe you've caught yourself saying something like "if only I had X, my photos would be much better". Well, as comforting as it would be to know that all this is true, I'm here to tell you it isn't.
I strongly believe what makes a good photograph is a clear subject, good lighting, interesting composition, appropriate use of color and evokes emotion. All these can be achieved without any gear other than a camera and a lens.
How gear helps
There are certain things that can't be achieved without a strobe light, certain setups that require several lights and gels and modifiers, and certain circumstances under which it is virtually impossible to achieve a good photograph without an extra light.
Having lenses with different focal lengths, speedlights, strobes, backdrops and other things can make your life easier. Gear can help you adapt to the circumstances you might face during a shoot.
My strobes, umbrellas, hand-painted backdrops and everything else make my life much easier, but they are not what makes my photos good.
How can I improve my photos if not with gear?
Shoot with a purpose. Before clicking away to capture a portrait, a landscape, or a scene you found in the street define what it is you are trying to achieve. Is it a dark, evocative portrait, or a dreamy, pastel-colored landscape? It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Start thinking of all the elements in your frame, look closely for things that don't add anything to your photograph and remove them. Make sure the light and the colors convey the emotion you are attempting to achieve.
Learn, learn, learn. You can never learn enough. Also work hard. achieving a good photograph takes a lot of practice and it doesn't matter how much you learn if you don't put that into practice. Every time you shoot you'll find places where you need to grow and you'll understand the little things that only come from experience.
There is no feeling that tops opening a box with a $3K camera, or that lens you've been saving for the longest time to get. I get it. I've been there many times. As I was starting to learn photography about 7 years ago, I got carried away thinking I needed more and more to make better photographs. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn't need any of that. It is important to realize we can do great things with what we have. We'll outgrow our equipment as we evolve and grow and learn, and we'll keep adding gear to our shooting repertoire, but gear isn't what makes our photographs great and ours.