Mark Condon is the CEO and founder of Shotkit, a vibrant online platform featuring insight into the gear used by photographers across the world. The site also includes technical, creative, and business tips, as well as gear reviews, free resources and templates, and a thriving community of amateur and professional photographers and enthusiasts. We sat down with Mark to get his take on the rise of Shotkit, shifting industry trends, the role of gear in unlocking creativity, and much more…
On filling a niche
“I launched Shotkit about five years ago, just as I was becoming a professional wedding photographer. Keen to invest in the right gear for the job, I started researching what my favorite photographers were using – and it quickly became apparent that there was no accessible resource for finding out. All I could find were forum discussions based on hearsay.
I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one looking for this kind of insight to make more informed gear purchasing decisions.’ So I started contacting as many popular professional photographers as possible, going through the first two pages of Google results for each main genre. The response from photographers was great. I think people remember what it’s like when you’re just starting out and like to help out. Plus, for photographers, the opportunity to get your work shown for free is always attractive.
Shotkit launched a few months later and did well from the start. It was picked up by a few big sites from the industry as they thought it was an original idea.
These days, I choose photographers to feature based on whether I think their work is good rather than their status as an amateur or professional, for example. People see the standard of the work we publish and it creates a kind of virtuous cycle of quality.”
On the Shotkit community
“Initially Shotkit was aimed at professionals, and all the photographers I contacted were doing it for a living. There’s a big distance between the person who’s getting their first camera and someone who’s been a sports photographer for 10 years, and at first, it wasn’t clear who the site was actually for.
After a while, it dawned on me that many people visiting the site were not even photographers but enthusiasts curious about what gear photographers use. Anecdotally, based on the emails and comments we receive, it seems like enthusiasts now outnumber professionals, and the challenge now is to cover all angles, from camera gear to marketing and everything in between.”
On becoming a photographer
“Growing up I was always interested in the gadgets more than taking photos. Before I became a photographer I worked for an online marketing company as a copywriter. I was looking for a way to pay for the camera gear I wanted and discovered that wedding photography was probably the best route. I also realized by looking at the work of other wedding photographers that you can take expressive and creative photos, whatever the genre.”
On “shiny object syndrome”
“Working on Shotkit definitely influences the kind of gear I decide to work with. I’m surrounded by equipment, both from being sent stuff to review and constantly reading about what others are using, and there’s a real risk of what I call shiny object syndrome – the way you question what you have and constantly want to try new things.
At the outset, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing and asked myself whether Shotkit encourages unnecessary gear purchases or opens your eyes to what’s available. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that as long as the gear you buy enhances the creative process, it can’t be a bad thing. I don’t advocate for buying gear for the sake of it, but if you buy a new lens, for instance, and it encourages you to shoot something you wouldn’t otherwise, that’s got to be a positive.”
On what’s in his camera bag
“Even though I have access to so much gear, I personally try to keep it minimal: One camera and one lens for the most part. Every now and then I introduce something new to my kit – and it does unlock some creativity as it forces you out of your comfort zone.
About a year and a half ago I swapped my Nikon for a Sony A73 mirrorless camera. I just use a 35mm f1.4 or f2.8 lens, and if I’m doing an overseas destination wedding and need to travel light I’ll just take the f2.8. Then I’ve got an 85mm f1.4 lens for when I need to get a bit closer to the subject without moving my feet.”
On the state of the photography industry
“When it comes to equipment, I think the move from SLRs to mirrorless cameras is a huge trend and one that professionals are very aware of. It’s a bit like going from a manual car to an automatic, and it’s especially game-changing for beginners.
For the photography industry as a whole, the barrier to entry has lowered a lot in recent years, and that’s partly because the cost of cameras and gear has come down. You can still get very expensive cameras, but these days, if you’ve got $500 to spare and know how to use a camera, you can get started as a photographer straight away – especially as there are now so many free resources to help you learn, like YouTube, forums, and books. I think the photography industry is quite unique in that regard.
There is certainly increased competition, but that also encourages people to be better. From social media and marketing to SEO, people are getting savvier about how to grow their business. Another thing I’ve noticed is that someone who’s really good at marketing will always do better than someone who’s a really good artist but not great at marketing. I find it a little sad that the best photographers aren’t always being rewarded, but I guess that’s the nature of business today: You have to be good at marketing to be successful.”
On the future of Shotkit
“I’d like the site to become even more accessible, and to publish more reviews that cater towards beginner and amateur-centric gear. I’m also aiming to increase the number of posts overall; we’re currently at eight a week, and this time next year I’d love to be able to say that’s doubled.”
“Copyright infringement is a real issue in the industry, but there’s still not enough knowledge around the topic. Before I heard of Pixsy I wasn’t aware of the problem or that it was so widespread. That Pixsy can keep track of images is really liberating and empowering, not only to help photographers make more money but also to put us back in control. All professionals should know about the service.
“If my work does get used without authorization, rather than send a takedown notice, I sometimes simply get in touch and ask the image user to credit me with a link. That backlink boosts SEO and branding. As long as you’re aware that your image is being used, then you can decide how to proceed.”