One of the most asked questions I get about photography is what I shoot with, so I thought I’d give you an introduction into my work world and share a bit of that with you. This is a list of everything that I currently use, and a few items that I have used in the past but still strongly recommend. I will share alternatives and other recommendations in a future post, because my gear is not necessarily for someone just starting out, but I wanted to put it out there because this is asked frequently. Before I begin, I will say that while equipment does matter a heck of a lot, it takes time and practice to perfect this craft. So, while some people are able to produce gorgeous images right out of the box, most (like me) find that it takes a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of practice to reach the point where everything “clicks”.
Another thing you need to know is that there are many considerations that go into a great image. Besides equipment, you also need a great editing program, a properly calibrated computer, the knowledge of how to manipulate settings, how to work with light, composition, and even the best time of day to snap away. So yes, there is a lot that goes into this, but having the right tools will definitely set you up for success in your own photography.
This is my first post in what will become a pretty large part of A Million Moments, because as you know photography is my passion, and I adore sharing it with others on their own journeys. So, let’s get started! FYI: I really love the Canon brand. (And I know the age old feud – Canon vs. Nikon. I’m team Canon through and through, but in future posts I will make sure to also provide similar Nikon items for those on the other side.)
The main camera that I shoot with is the Canon 5d mark iii. I’ve been using it for a little over a year, and this baby is my favorite out of all I’ve gotten my hands on. It is amazing in every way, it lets me fulfill my potential and it doesn’t restrict me with limited capabilities. Basically it allows me to produce what I see in my head in the best way possible, and I love it for that! Before this camera body I was shooting with a Canon 6D, and while it was amazing itself, I did reach the point where I felt I was outgrowing it. Or maybe I was just restless and wanted to trade up. If you are not a professional photographer, then this body probably isn’t going to be the right choice for you, in which case I would suggest going with the 6D if you are moving to full frame. Yes, the markiii is the “best”, and yes the 64 point AF system is the stuff dreams are made of, but it’s one of those things that some would consider “too much” to work with considering the price tag is right around $2500. With the 6D you will knock around $1k off of that, which will give you more room to build up your lens collection. Because let’s face it – lenses aren’t cheap!
Next up is the Canon 6D. I don’t have this camera anymore, because I sold it to help pay for my Markiii, but I am including this because I think it is an amazing body that anyone feeling the need to upgrade from a Rebel or other crop frame body should definitely invest in. I shot with this one for about two years, and I have absolutely no complaints. The colors are vivid and rich, image quality is top notch, and ISO handling is amazing. You can shoot well over ISO1000 and not see a speck of grain. I regularly shot at ISO2500 with no problems at all. That is one of the great things about full frame cameras – they don’t have the weak ISO capabilities that hinder most entry level and crop frame camera bodies (Canon, Nikon, and most other brands included). But seriously, both the 6D and the 5d markiii are absolute dreams when it comes to noiseless ISO. (AKA: No grainy images when you crank it all the way up.) The color saturation is true to Canon’s reputation in that images are deep, rich, and fabulously crisp. It is one of their newer bodies, being released in 2013 as an alternative to the older 5d mark ii, and it has some fancy upgrades like wi-fi transmission and the ability to use your smartphone as a remote shutter release. You can find it on Amazon.
Every beginner photographer should have a 50mm in their bag. This is a great little prime lens with tack sharp focus and a nice price tag. It is widely used for portrait photography, but also has uses in lifestyle, food, and product shots as well. It allows for great bokeh and a shallow depth of field for isolating objects, and with a 1.4 minimum aperture it lets a great deal of light onto your sensor. The only drawback of this lens (and most all other 50mm lenses) is that it has a minimum focusing distance of at least 15 inches, meaning that you will not be able to get closer than a foot from your subject at all, which can be an issue if you primarily shoot food. Other than that, it is a fabulously solid lens that is an asset to any collection. For a lower cost alternative that is just as amazing, check out the 50mm f/1.8. It costs around $150 less and the only real difference is that it has a minimum aperture of f/1.8, which is just two stops, and that doesn’t make much of a difference unless you want to get super technical and *really* need that tiny amount of difference.
The Canon 100mm f/2.8L is the #1 most used lens in my collection. It is my holy grail of lenses, and it almost never leaves my camera. It is a macro, which means it magnifies and has the ability to capture extremely close up details that most other lenses can’t get. It perfect for food photography, but it’s also great for portraits, lifestyle shots, and much more. This thing is a bokeh beast, allowing for creamy dreamy backgrounds and subject isolation even in the upper aperture registers of f/3.5-f/4.0, which is amazing! For portrait/lifestyle shots, I have to stand a bit further back than with, say, a 50 or 35 (but not as far as a 135), but the deep, rich, creamy quality of images shot with this lens make it worth it a hundred times over! *My version of this lens is an L-class, which is Canon’s “luxury” line and that comes with a steeper price tag than others. If you would rather not drop almost $1k for this lens, check out the non-L version here. It is the exact same lens, just without Image Stabilization (which in my opinion doesn’t nearly make the price difference worth it).
Another great lens for any photographer to have is a 35mm. I use the Canon 35mm f/1.4L when I need to get a good amount of my scene in frame. This lens will capture an entire room, as opposed to a 50mm, which captures 2/3 of the same area. This is a sharp, light, prime lens and is the third most used in my collection. I wouldn’t recommend this lens for food or close up details, as any wide(ish) angle lens tends to warp at the edges when you get closer than a foot to your subject. This is an L-class lens, meaning it costs more than the standard line, and not budget friendly for those who aren’t serious about photography. If you want to save money, the 35mm f/2 is a great alternative that gives the same focal length. Another equally fabulous 35 is the Sigma 35mm – it has great sharpness, and minimal distortion.
Canon’s 135mm 2.0L is an incredible lens. It isn’ve used very much simply because it has very specific use occasions, but I keep it around because it has amazing bokeh, and unlike most lenses works perfectly when it is completely wide open at its lowest aperture. It stays tack sharp on a large area of an image all the way down to f/2.0, which is rare – most lenses need to be at least 2 stops above minimum aperture for their best performance, but not this one. It is creamy, dreamy, and gives the most gorgeous effect! It is a long barrel lens, and with a 135mm focal length has a great deal of compression which means it will give bokeh at almost any aperture. The downside is that you have to stand at least a few feet away from any subject, and with its focal length you also have to stand pretty much across the room to fit an entire child in frame. But, outside and wide open? Amazing!
My lighting of choice is of course the natural kind, but if for some reason I can’t use it, or if it isn’t enough, then I turn to my Canon 430ex iii speedlite. Artificial lighting is notoriously fickle and difficult to work with, and there are tons of crap lighting sets out there that shouldn’t even be on the market, but having a quality artificial light source can save you a lot of headache when it comes to capturing true-to-life colors and illuminating your scene. When it comes to lighting, there are so many options floating around out there that it can become an extremely daunting decision, and for all the bad choices there are way too many people out there recommending them because they don’t really know any better.
FYI: If anyone advises you to buy a cheap lighting kit with bulbs and umbrellas from Amazon, please, pleeease run away. Far, far away. Why? We’ll get into that later, but for now just know that these kits are not going to do you any favors. Sure, they will add light to your scene, but so will your cellphone flashlight, but that doesn’t mean you should use it as a photography light. Lighting is a huge subject, and one I will get into in another post, but for now just know this. Random brand bulb sets = no good. My goal is to inform and help people understand the mechanics of why certain items perform better or worse than others, and that is a very long discussion for another day. So back to why I choose to work with speedlites.
The Canon 430ex iii speedlight is a budget friendly, powerful light source that can be placed on top of your camera, on a table, a tripod, the floor, or in a softbox that floods your scene with bright, true-to-life light. With this baby skin tones stay skin toned, greens stay green, whites stay white, and there are no unsightly color casts that a lot of continuous bulbs give off. I have used both the 600ex-rt and the 580 versions from Canon, and each of them are great, but I have since downgraded to the 430 because I don’t use it enough to justify their almost $500 price tag. The 430 will only cost around $250, and if you can find certified refurb then you can save even more. I have also used and love the Westcott ICE Light, but that is another hefty price tag that you won’t find necessary unless you have a constant need for artificial light or want to go professional.
I use a 5-in-1 reflector for almost every single shoot I do. It never leaves my side, and at under $30 I consider it a must-have no matter what. My personal size preference is a 32-43 inch round version. This reflector is great for any lighting condition, and it does pretty much exactly what the name suggests – it has 5 different surfaces to bounce your light with. Here they are:
- White: Great all around light bounce. Perfect for multiplying your light, brightening your scene, eliminating shadows, and an all around “must” for general shooting no matter the environment.
- Gold: Great for warming up skin tones, adding a subtle golden hue to your scene, or any time you need to minimize blues.
- Silver: Bright reflection, good for cooling down your scene.
- Black: Absorbs light and helps create dramatic shadows.
- Transparent: This is the perfect light diffuser! Use when you are in direct sunlight, you need to tone down your light source, or to add an overall softness to your image.
I always keep a Lens Pen with me for the “just in case” times, because a clean lens is a necessity. It is compact, easy to use, and fits in my pocket. It has a liquid free carbon cleaning pad and a brush, which is a great combo for clean glass.
Extra lens caps are nice, because I seem to lose them quite often.
This list fluctuates from time to time, because I buy and sell gear depending on my needs and time of year, so I will keep this as a master list and add to it accordingly. Feel free to ask any questions about photography or gear below, and I will answer them as best I can!
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