Let’s open with an obvious statement, just so we’re all on the same page: photography gear is expensive.
Wait, let me clarify: photography gear is crazy expensive. I bought my camera last year with my entire saving plus whatever I had in my checking account (talk about going all in).
This makes purchasing gear that much scarier. For most of us, we either fall into one of two categories: the “Forever Sticker Shocked” or the “Expensive Disappointments” (write those down for future slow-pitch softball team names).
For the sticker shockers, we are constantly buying the cheapest gear we can find. We buy the tripod made of plastic and duct tape and pray that it will stay standing in a light breeze. We glue pieces of our camera back together and hope it lasts through just one more senior shoot. I mean for crying out loud, I spent 3 months building my own underwater camera housing. And there is no fear on earth like putting your entire, not even remotely waterproof life savings, into a homemade device that looks remarkably similar to a pipe-bomb.
Yes, I have definitely played for the “Forever Sticker Shocked” team.
But I’ve also played on the other side. I’ve sucked it up and spent money on a piece of gear I figured I absolutely needed, and guess what, it didn’t do the job either. Turns out it doesn’t matter how amazing something is if it’s not the exact thing you’ll need it’ll still end up sitting in the corner, collecting dust.
So I’ve decided to make your lives a little easier. Included below is my entire preferred gear list, with all the specifics, that I use on virtually every shoot. I love these items so much they don’t even get checked on a plane. No seriously – I’ve had 20-minute arguments with flight attendants about the size of my bag and whether or not my tripod counts as a separate carry-on (it doesn’t, by the way, as long as it’s attached in some way to your other bag).
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
This was the first camera I bought, and honestly, the only reason I chose this one over the gazillion options was that it was the same camera my mentor used. I also bought the one that came with a kit lens (don’t get the one with the kit lens, you’ll never use it again). I think I even had her write it down because Canon 5D Mark II doesn’t roll off the tongue too easily when you’ve never heard of it before.
But here’s the thing – your camera is not exactly the most important item on this list. The specs are all going to improve the further up you go in price (you can bet your ass I’m counting down days for the Mark IV to come out so I can take advantage of the following price drop of the Mark III), but everyone is comfortable with something different. Hell Chris Keeney’s CK Holga 120N photos can make anyone want to go out and buy a toy camera.
Plain and simple I use Canon over Nikon, Sony, Leica, and many others because I like the menus better. I like how things are set up and organized. I like a full frame sensor because it’s a better fit for my photography, and I like the clarity it produces when I stick the thing underwater. So don’t worry, if you’re shooting with something else, feel free to keep it. This isn’t the part where I try to convince you to switch over to anything.
Tripod: ABEO Pro 283AT with GH-300T Pistol Grip Ball Head
This, however, is that aforementioned part.
Most of my conceptual photos require multiple shots – which means I need a steady platform to hold my camera. On a poor quality tripod, even a slight breeze will throw everything off. The setup I have now is absolutely perfect – I love it so much that it makes me sick to even look at another tripod that doesn’t have the swivel head. You mean you have to sit there and adjust every axis to finally get to the right angle? And then what if something changes, you have to do it all over again? Screw that, I just hold down the little handle do-hickey and swivel it into place. Bada-bing, bada-boom.
Plus the tripod itself is surprisingly durable, even for somebody like me that isn’t exactly…ahem…nice to their gear. I’ve used this thing in dust, dirt, mud, saltwater and some seriously impressive winds, and it’s still rockin’ it.
My current combination came to be with a little trial and error, but if you’re looking for something similar, your best bet is to purchase a kit. The ABEO Pro 284AGH is an awesome tripod with the exact same ball head, so you won’t have to worry about buying anything separately.
Remote Shutter Release: Opteka RFT-40 Wireless Remote and Flash Trigger
Why every photographer doesn’t have one of these I have no idea. The thing costs maybe $25 and is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It works up to 650′ away and even shoots through walls. Plus, not to mention, I’ve dropped the handheld trigger in water countless times and the thing still works great. Half the time I put it in my mouth and trigger it with my tongue so I can keep my hands free to fluff fabric, throw things in the air, and of course, keep an eye on whatever I’ve currently lit on fire.
Computer: 27″ iMac
Scoff all you want, but this is hands down, the best photography related purchase, besides my camera, that I have ever bought. My PC crapped out last year, and after a lot of prodding from my local group of photographers, I finally just bit the bullet and got a Mac. A big one. And I can’t thank them enough. Seriously, I easily owe them all 40 beers and my left kidney for steering me in the right direction.
I’m not going to get into too much technical stuff, but the bottom line is this screen lets me see every single tiny detail in my photos, and I like the workflow better. Everything is just easier. Doing anything on my laptop kills me now.
To give you an idea of how much I love this computer, I brought it on the plane with me when I was working in New York for a month. That’s right, I hauled this giant, 27″ sucker from Montana to New York. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Editing Software: Adobe Creative Cloud
Why pay several hundred dollars for Photoshop or Lightroom separately when you can $30/month (sometimes less, depending on the programs you use on a regular basis) for the always up-to-date, newest version of everything? Don’t answer that. Any argument you try to make here is futile. Switch to Creative Cloud and let’s move on.
Editing Equipment: Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
Now, for the longest time, I actually fought this one pretty hard. I just didn’t see the draw. It looked cool, but did I really need it? Was it absolutely essential to my photography business?
Turns out it is, and I feel like such an idiot for putting off a purchase as important as this one.
For those of you that aren’t quite sure what this is, let me explain. This is a tablet that comes with a “pen” that allows you to edit as if you were physically drawing on your photo. All that time spent outlining figures with your mouse (or god forbid, touchpad) is now gone. Just take your pen and trace along the edge of your photo – done.
Personally, what really convinced me to finally take the leap is how quickly obvious signs of carpal tunnel began setting in. I’d spend marathon sessions editing photos, only to find I couldn’t move my wrist the next day. My entire arm hurt, all the way up to my shoulder, and I had a hard time holding onto things with my right hand. All of this would go away in a day or two of course, but let’s be honest – these symptoms are not a good thing. If you’re going through something like this now, stop putting it off – you’re doing actual damage to yourself.
With this table, my editing time has easily been cut down but over 80%. What used to take me all week to edit now takes me one, very dedicated night.
Oh, and get the medium size. The large is too big to comprehend and I’m convinced the small size is just there to play the part of the adorable little baby bear.
Camera Bags: Heralder 38 Shoulder Bag and UP-Rise II 48 Backpack
Now I use these two pretty interchangeably. It’s safe to say for any client work, the smaller, more manageable Heralder is my go-to bag. It’s pretty compact but has a million pockets (I counted…1 million exactly) and they’ve all come in handy at one point or another.
The UP-Rise backpack, I’ll admit, is just flat out enormous. But it’s so light with so much storage, it’s pretty tough not to fall in love with it. I usually end up covering some serious ground to get to the landscape I’m looking for, plus who knows what crazy props and gear I’m towing along. This bag is light, comfortable, and holds whatever you can possibly throw at it.
Well, there is it is folks, my preferred equipment lineup. You’ll notice I’ve left off lenses – mainly because those are so specific to your individual photography style.
I hope this helps clarify any equipment questions you might have, and if you have any more feel free to leave a comment below!