One of the first things that I am asked when posting images on social media, are questions regarding camera gear. “What lens did you use?”, “What camera do you own?”, “Did you use off-camera flash or artificial lighting in this image?”, and the list goes on! This blog post will go into detail of all of my equipment that one will find when looking into my camera bag. First and foremost, let's get down to the most important question of all. I am solely a natural light photographer and only use artificial lighting (speedlights, studio lighting) when needed.
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Some examples of when I use this type of lighting include when I photograph a wedding inside a church or venue, where natural light is not abundant. Typically, I use my speedlights that mount to the hot-shoe on the camera, and manually adjust the lighting as needed. I currently own three speedlights. I have two Nikon SB-700 speedlights and one Godox V850 speedlight. The difference between these two items is the Godox significantly cheaper at $139 compared to approximately $325 for the SB-700. One disadvantage to the Godox is lack of a swivel function like the Nikon - making the angle of coverage limited. One advantage of the Godox is the lithium rechargeable battery, rather than four AA batteries that the Nikon SB-700 takes. The rechargeable battery will last through a ceremony and wedding reception on a single charge.therefore, if you are just starting out or are looking for a cheaper version, I would highly suggest the Godox!
To make the light a bit softer I have added a diffuser to my collection of gear. The diffuser is own is called the TopOne Universal Cloud Lambency Flash Diffuser (whew!). To use, you place the dome diffuser on your flash resulting in softening the light, and making shadows less harsh.
Moving on, to the studio lighting portion of my collection. I will be completely honest when I say that studio lighting kicks my butt. I know about the basics of it, and that is it. I mainly use studio lighting for headshots in the studio, or I bring my portable flash to weddings. I own one studio flash and that is my AlienBee’s B400 Studio Head. The cost is $175, and it is more of a beginner flash (so I’ve read) but it does the trick! The light paired with the right softbox produces a beautiful and even light. I don’t use it very often, but it works perfectly for my studio headshots. To get the studio head to communicate with my camera I use a flash controller, my Yongnuo YN622 N Kit, which has one transceiver and one transmitter. These are about $79 for the pair and are a more affordable option than buying a Pocket Wizard setup. Again (friendly reminder), I do not know a lot about studio lighting so, I opted for more budget-friendly options. The transmitter slides onto the hot-shoe of my camera and then I plug the transceiver into the AlienBee by using a Flash Sync Cord.
I decided two years ago that I wanted to try bringing a studio head with me to weddings. I loved images of the couple back-lit during the dance. I went and purchased my FlashPoint XPLOR 600PRO Monolight. It also comes with its own transmitter that you attach to the hot-shoe of your camera and allows you to wirelessly communicate with the monolight. This setup was more expensive - around $968, but I have gotten some beautiful shots with it. It is wireless and cordless running on a battery. It is also perfect for indoor senior sports shots because it is cordless and portable. I use it for locker room photos, gymnasiums, weight rooms, and hockey rinks. The set-up I have isn’t the greatest for small spaces. I use a NEWER Stand and NEWER Softbox for all of my shots. The XPLOR Monolight is a heavier head, so I the Newer Stand I purchased was heavier and more sturdy. It does an amazing job, and I never have to worry about it being tipped over. It is budget friendly, and gets the job done! When purchasing transmitters, be sure that it is compatible with your brand of camera. In the past, I have made the mistake of not reading closely, and having to send it back because the Canon version was not compatible. As artificial lighting is not my strong suit, I am still learning more about is everyday.
You cannot have full control over natural lighting like you can artificial, but you can work with it. For me, I typically shoot about 2 hours before sunset or right away in the morning. I love the soft light that these times produce. The sun isn’t directly above in the sky, so I have more options to shoot. Your subject won’t have as many unflattering harsh shadows, and will be able to open up their eyes more. If the sun is still out and we aren’t under shade, I will turn my subjects back to the sun and use my NEWER 71” Reflector to bounce light back on the subject. This reflector is amazing and giant! I have my client’s parents or friends hold it for me and direct them on how to hold it/where to stand. It makes a huge difference for close-ups of the face, and putting a catch-light in the eyes. I have smaller reflectors as well for more intimate shots. If we are in a shaded spot, I typically still use the reflector to bounce a little more light on the subject.
Getting down to the good stuff, my camera bodies and lenses!
I am going to go into a separate blog post about starting out in photography, so I will cover good starter cameras and what I started with on that post. I started out shooting Nikon and stuck with it. Most photographers I meet are Canon users, so hopefully I have some Nikon users reading this! I tried using a Canon before, and it was like a different language to me. I couldn’t even use the Manual mode because I had NO idea how to change the aperture or shutter speed. They say most people use Canon because it’s more “user-friendly”, but I didn’t feel that way at all.
Currently I own three full frame cameras. I have two Nikon D810s and just purchased a Nikon D850 to upgrade, because my first D810 was getting old. I had to officially retire her from shooting professionally. Sad day… but forced me to upgrade! I only have great things to say about the D810s and they are a great full frame camera used by professionals. It creates stunning sharp images with 36 megapixels, and a dynamic range from ISO 64 to 12800. Another big reason why I love this camera is because it’s fast and captures up to 5 frames per second. One part of the camera that is really important to me is that is has dual card slots. This allows the camera to record images on both the primary CF card slot, and the secondary SD card slot. This is super important just in case a card fails. I have had this happen before, and you will be sick to your stomach until you are able to recover those files or offer a makeup session. It is EXTREMELY important to do this shooting a wedding. Those are moments and images you can’t get back.
I haven’t had a ton of experience shooting the D850 - I literally just bought it a few days ago. A few big differences is the D850 jumps up to 45.7 MP and is faster shooting up the 7 frames per second. One thing I didn’t know is that the D850 completely changes it’s cards from CF Cards to QXD Cards which are WAY more pricey. After further research on why these buggers are so dang spendy, it’s because they are much faster than the 160MB/s CF Cards jumping to 400MB/s on the QXD Cards. The faster speed cuts down the time transferring your images from camera to computer. Similar to a Canon, the Nikon D850 has a movable screen as well where the D810 does not. This helps with shooting above or below you. I’m very excited to use this feature shooting landscapes. Lastly, the D850 offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth which the D810 does not. Not sure if I will ever really use this feature, but it will be fun to try out!
Some tips for purchasing a camera…
The first full-frame camera I ever purchased was through Best Buy. I saved up cash all summer from photography jobs and put it in my safe so I wouldn’t touch it. After I made my $3,000 I went to Best Buy and opened a Rewards Store Card that day, put my D810 on the card, and chose 10% back with no financing, and paid the card off right there. That got me $300 in rewards to use towards the lens I wanted to buy. It was a win win for me!
Amazon offers 5% back in rewards. Purchase your camera and use the rewards for memory cards or a lens.
If you can’t afford a new camera there are always financing options through Amazon or stores like Best Buy. Typically a full-frame camera is over the dollar limit qualifying for 6-12 months of no-interest financing. Just get it paid off in a year so interest doesn’t hit you!
Also do your research! I honestly tried to bring back the D850 after I found out that it doesn’t take CF cards (I have a million of these!) but to bring it back there was a 15% restocking fee of the price of the camera. That came out to be $400… no thank you, I think I will keep it.
As a photographer you always hear people say, “These images are beautiful, you must have a nice camera!” No… no. Just stop. Please. The camera does not make a good picture, the photographer does...and also the lens. To me the lens is more important than the body of the camera. You just need to know what lens you should use in each situation. Currently I have 4 lenses that round out my photography. The only lens I am missing is a good telescopic lens for wildlife (coming soon!).
My Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 is my workhorse. This lens stays on my camera about 96% of the time. It is ideal for portraits and I love the creamy bokkeh it gives. It does a great job of isolating a subject from the background to make them the focal point of the image. I also don’t mind being farther away from the subject to get that bokkeh. Almost all of my images you see are taken with this lens. If there is one lens I think every portrait photographer should have, it's this one. The only downside to this lens is it is pretty heavy and you can’t be as close to your subject than if you were shooting with a prime lens. This lens is a bit spendier as well since it is a Nikon, but you can get off brand versions such as Sigma or Tamron if you want to save a grand or so. I’ve heard good things about both of those brands.
The next lens up is my Sigma 24-70mm 2.8. This is on my camera if I don’t have my 70-200 on. I purchased this lens because at the time, I couldn’t afford the Nikon version. I am super happy with the quality of this regardless of the brand. It is great for large group shots or small spaces since it is a wide-angle. I use it mainly for large family photos, or bridal party images. It's nice because I can be close to the group to tell them what they need to do, but can zoom in and out without having to walk closer or farther away from them. I can get many different shots from one position. Such as photographing bridesmaids, I will photograph the large group, zoom in to do a tighter crop shot with them leaning closer in, and then really zoom in to do pictures of just them holding their bouquets.
For detail shots I use my Nikon Micro 60mm 2.8. This is one of two prime lenses (prime meaning fixed focal length) I own. I mainly only use it for ring or up-close detail shots at weddings. Sometimes I take it with me when I go on adventures to take close-ups of nature. It’s a fun little lens to play around with and captures stunning detail!
The last lens I own is the most recent one I purchased. It is a Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art. I needed a walking around lens that allowed me to be closer to the subject. This a perfect adventure lens! It gives just enough bokkeh and is light to carry on trips. Professionally, I use the lens mainly used to catch up-close moments in family pictures, or night-time landscapes.
Other gear I use:
These are the flash drives I give to clients when they request one.
I back all of my photos on two WD drives and have Crash Plan Pro. Never can be too careful with someone's memories!
Best backdrops on a budget! They are 12 yards of background paper and come in a variety of colors. I mainly use the color grey.
Lithium Battery Cases (LOVE THESE!)
These are awesome to keep your lithium batteries safe and damage free. I also used them traveling since all batteries had to be in a container.
AA Battery Cases (LOVE THESE!)
These were also needed for air travel. All batteries needed to be in a container. They are handy to keep in your bag. My SB-700 takes 4 AA’s so I just grab a battery case with the new batteries, instead of fumbling around in my bag, not knowing which ones are out of juice or new.
Remote Shutter (for long exposure shots)
This is great to reduce camera shake, and allows you to set delay timer, exposure time, interval time, number of shoots, and more. It is so much fun to use with astrophotography.
Is a great tool to be creative! I love this crystal ball and how it puts a spin on an image. You can capture 180 degree views of your surroundings or invert them.
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