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I agree with iliketag. We all put as much emphasis on pp, posing, composition, lighting, etc. as you probably do, but you’re using that as justification as why you don’t see the value in better gear. I do not have a Canon L lens. I renred one for a wedding (the 1st version 24-70 f/2.8) and it rendered colors and contrast so nicely. I’ve done multiple tests and experiments pitting my sigma against the telephoto zoom and especially when zoomed in all the way, the quality severely diminishes and becomes very soft. And that IS with adequate lighting and fast shutter speed. You’re right that it’s not just the gear, it is the person behind it. I was feeling severely limited using the kit gear. maybe you lucked out with an abnormally great copy of that lens, and maybe I got a bad copy, but the general consensus of people here and on review sites is that that lens really falls short in most situations. If I hired  a photographer and they showed up with kit equipment I’d get nervous.