My love for photography was born from a desire to capture the beautiful landscapes that I saw both around my Virginia home and as I traveled to other parts of the world. I began with a Canon 10D and my first big lens purchase was the 100-400mm f4.5 which could get me up close and personal with the beautiful things I wanted to capture, like deer in Shenandoah National Forest or distant waves on an island in the Caribbean, without actually being up close and personal with them. I soon craved the challenge of photographing people and my interests evolved to portraiture. As my love for photography grew, so did my collection of lenses and equipment.
When you’re getting started with photography, the equipment needs can be daunting. The technology is always advancing, with new cameras and lenses released all the time; the terminology is confusing with jargon that takes both time and experience to master; and the price tags aren’t cheap, so you want to feel confident that what you’re buying is of good quality and meets your needs.
Perhaps you’re not an aspiring photographer. As a client having your portrait taken, you want to invest in someone who has invested in their own work by having quality equipment and knowing how to use it. Whether you’re wondering how to get started in your own photography or you’re curious about the tools I use to make my images, here’s a rundown of what I’m working with.
Canon 5D Mark III
My partner in business is the Canon 5D Mark III. It’s a high-quality professional camera that is high-resolution, full-frame, and shoots beautifully even in low light. In case you’re wondering where the labeling and buttons are, I keep a custom-fit rubber casing on this camera to protect it from bumps and dirt.
Canon EOS 7D
I keep my Canon EOS 7D around as a backup and although the 5D is top-dog, this one is a great camera, too. It isn’t full-frame and has just a slightly lower resolution, but it produces beautiful images, is used by many professionals, and is a bit more affordable than the 5D.
As far as lenses go, I work with Canon’s L-Series (Canon Luxury Lenses) which, easily-stated, are the best of the best. They are marked by the red stripe around the end of each lens and they offer better contrast, sharpness, color, bokeh, and flare. They focus faster, offer wide maximum apertures, and often have a rugged build. I chose to invest in these because I wanted higher quality equipment to provide the best quality images.
Canon 100-400 f4.5 – This was my first big lens investment and, as mentioned above, was my vehicle to capture scenes further away. It is great for wildlife and sports photography, has excellent image stabilization, and although it is slower than my other lenses (it’s largest aperture being 4.5), it’s still quite good considering it’s zoom length. This lens is solidly built and this is definitely noticeable in its weight.
Canon 24-70mm f2.8 – This one is my workhorse and I use it majority of my time shooting. It has a great range for both portraits and landscapes and I can use it for both individuals or groups as well. It’s considered one of the best performing Canon full-frame compatible zoom lenses on the market, both in image quality and in AF speed and accuracy.
Canon 85mm f1.2 – This lens is known for making great portraits. It has an extremely low f-stop, providing for opportunities to give that really shallow depth of field look. It’s a prime lens, meaning that it’s fixed and any zooming in or out must be done with your feet rather than the turn of your wrist. For this reason, I tend to lean more towards my telephoto lenses which allow for manual zooming so that I can stay closer to my clients and be there to fix any wardrobe or hair issues.
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 – This lens is great for family portraiture. It allows me to separate the background from the people and makes it so that I don’t have to be up in their faces.
Canon 50mm f1.2 – Commonly referred to as a “nifty fifty,” this lens is at the top of my many photographers’ “must-have” lists. It’s a prime lens, which just like the 85mm, must be zoomed by moving yourself closer or further away. This requires a little more time composing your shot, which is excellent practice for both new and experienced photographers. This lens is also very popular because of it’s extremely shallow depth of field (f1.2). This gives you a beautifully blurred background and/or foreground and is perfect for portraits.
Canon 100mm f2.8 – This is another lens known for it’s use in portraiture. It still has a nice and low aperture, but is slightly more narrow. It’s also a great lens for macro photography, so I find myself using it more for fun and less for portraiture.
Canon 24-105mm f4 – This lens was one of my first. It’s a great “walkaround lens,” or a lens that will cover various ranges and subjects. It’s great for events and it’s great for groups of people, avoiding the common issue with low f-stop lenses — throwing important points of the image out of focus.
Lensbaby – These are my fun lenses. I can get creative with them, carry them on trips, and make mundane scenes more interesting. With a Lensbaby you have control of the focus spot, giving way to endless artistic possibilities.
Extra Bag – In addition to camera bodies and lenses, there are cords, memory cards, batteries, and a multitude of other miscellaneous items you’ll need to keep track of. I keep this bag handy to hold these various items and it doesn’t hurt to have a positive message displayed as a nice reminder!
Purchasing, Renting, & Service
When it comes to purchasing lenses, I’ve used adorama.com and bhphotovideo.com. I’ve also rented from lensrentals.com for those times that I’ve needed a certain lens that’s not in my toolbox. For service, I recommend Canon Professional Services. There are varying levels of membership, each offering more or less support including repairs, annual services, discounts, and gifts such as extra lens caps and camera straps.
Now It’s Your Turn!
Have fun with your lenses and challenge yourself. Sometimes I’ll take out and use only a certain lens to force myself to become comfortable with it, to compose accordingly, and to work with what I’ve got. Don’t stress about having a library of the highest-quality equipment. Instead, begin with the basics and master those. As your experience grows and your interests develop, you’ll know which lenses, camera bodies, and equipment to invest in next.
Whether you’re a novice photographer interested in growing your passion or you’re looking to have your portrait taken and want to know what kind of equipment is used, I hope this rundown of my toolbox has been useful. If you have any favorite pieces of equipment or pieces of advice, please share below in the comment section!