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A great gear box is an asset; however, the top essentials in my book are
INSPIRATION & VISION
After that a great muse (model), a great stylist (partner), a great location (atmosphere) and then the gear.
Although, the right gear can even make things easier, always remember too much gear can become cumbersome, distract and slow down even the best.
In general when I shoot portraits, I bring a short telephoto (say 85 mm for 35mm or 180 mm for medium format), a normal or wide angle lens, large reflector disc, light meter and of course the camera and a backup. On a location shoot, its best to bring an assistant to act as a gopher, hold the reflector / gobo, load film backs, fetch memory cards / lenses / camera bodies, carry gear, fetch refreshments, etc.
Backdrops, muslins, portable strobes, umbrellas, soft-boxes, monopods, tripods, long telephotos and extreme wide angle lenses, and so on are all nice to have but not necessary for my work.
If your vision dictates that you have a need for these things, you'll know. Otherwise, although it's always good to be familiar with what equipment is available, so you know what to ask for when your vision dictates the impossible, most of it you'll never need.
Aloha from Hawaii,
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all very nicely put michael thanks very much. my vision is still in the works. i see images in my head all the time, my effort to recreate them in real life has been my struggle. hence my seeking out cool new equipment to try and pull off some ideas ive got!
and well.. IM the assistant/gopher... having one of my own is a ways away for sure. and im not basing that on ym age cos i dont think age plays a factor too much, im referring to my amatuer status. im lucky to get a model to not flake on me so trying to add more people into the mix right now is just frustrating!