Photographers : My Gear

Next week I’m going to roll out a new series talking about the gear I use for weddings and portraits!  I just finished a major gear overhaul so in that series I will cover what lenses I used in the past and what I’m using going forward and more importantly why.  I believe in most cases hearing the why behind something will teach you more in the long run.  Just an example but every time I see a photo posted with the camera settings I always think that’s great but why did you choose 1 or all of those settings.  What were you trying to achieve?  If you understand the why then you can apply that knowledge on your own!

So here is my grand philosophy on camera gear…….use what you have until it limits you. Seriously.  Even going further then that I believe you should know why it is limiting you and your choice of new gear should include knowing why that would be a better fit then what you have.  An example of this would be my flash setup last year for receptions.  I couldn’t afford nor was I willing to go out and drop $500-600 on Pocket Wizards or Radio Poppers to make my flashes talk to each other.  So I utilized the built in Canon line of site system.  To be honest it worked great for me!  As I got towards the last weddings of the year though I was frustrated that I had to be line of site and that I couldn’t lessen the power of my 430 beyond 1/64.  I figured Radio Poppers would be in the budget this year for an upgrade to solve the line of site problem and possibly purchasing another 580EX to solve the power issue.  I was looking at around $1000 to upgrade! (Anyone that thinks wedding photographers are rolling in dough should take at look at gear prices and you might soon realize that that dough goes right into very expensive equipment that has to be maintained and upgraded every couple years to keep up.)  I want to point out here the key points are that I used what I had to fullest extent and understood why they weren’t doing what I needed and identified what I would need to resolve those issues.  I shot a full season of weddings last year using the Canon line of site system and I highly recommend it to anyone starting out.  I think the more pieces of gear you start to add in the more issues you could find yourself troubleshooting on a wedding night.  Start off basic and learn how to use it!  At some point in this series I will talk about what I upgraded to and turns out it wasn’t Radio Poppers or Pocket Wizards :)

Let’s talk about lens quality now.  Canon seems to have in my opinion three major lines for their EF series lenses.  The non L series, the L series and the upgraded L series.  I joke around that if you pick a non L series lens and then want to go to the L series you need to add about $1000 to that price tag for the fancy red line and if you want to get the latest version you want to add another $1000 to that price tag!!!  Now I do understand the differences between the lenses and the costs associated with that but geez I need a second job just for gear updates it feels like!  Most newcomers to the business start off with a kit from Best Buy possibly and spend maybe $1500 for their camera and two lenses.  Not knocking them, I’m pretty sure my first film camera setup was that way too.  What they soon realize is that their kit lenses limit them to an aperture of f/4 which is great on a sunny day but starts to cause issues at other times, plus they don’t have that fancy bokeh they are drooling over in everyone else’s photos.  So they start looking at gear and that is the point where they throw up a little in their mouth!  Yes people really do spend 1-2k on just one lens.  Have no fear Canon has a great line of non L lenses that are under 1k.  They are exactly what you need to start with and learn your craft.  You should be able to produce beautiful images on these lenses!  Last year I used two L and two non L lenses for my weddings and in some cases I’m guessing you can’t tell there is a difference.  Heck in some cases unless I zoom in a lot I can’t tell.  So when you see someones work you admire and they are shooting all high end lenses don’t think you can’t create work just as beautiful as theirs because you definitely can.  In fact I’ve seen a lot of well known photographers that use both L and non L lenses throughout their weddings.

One other important thing I want to mention is rent before you buy!  A lot of my lens upgrades came after I applied my philosophy and then tried out other versions of lenses to see what would work for me.  I tried to schedule my rental in such a way that I used it for two weddings and a portrait session in between.  That gave me a broad range of examples to review and see what worked!

So over the next 6 weeks or so you will learn what is in my bag and why, you will learn what I upgraded and what I downgraded!  Shocker I know but yes I did sell a $1300 lens to purchase one around $550.  Heck I even got emails from people asking me why the downgrade on that lens.  So start off with what you can afford and frankly if you can afford an L lens that is great but maybe instead of purchasing just one L lens you could get two non L lenses and add a different look to your images.  Please feel free to leave me any questions in the comments section as I talk about gear, I’m happy to answer them!  Over the years I’ve had to fine tune my gear and workshop philosophy because the first year I wasted money in both of those columns and I regret it now!  Which reminds me anyone want to buy a Lensbaby Composer?  I’ve got a Canon mount that I have used maybe 5 times total.  Wish I had put more thought into that purchase!

So check back next week where I talk about my baby my 50 1.2L!!

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  • StacyMay 1, 2012 - 8:14 pm

    I agree with you 100%… use until you outgrow. I went SLOWLY in my upgrading… Currently, I have 50 1.2L, 100 2.8L Macro, and 24-70L. I really have NO OTHER lens needs right now.. since I am a portrait photographer more than a wedding photographer. It has taken me almost EIGHT years to have these 3 fantastic lenes.

Melissa is currently on maternity leave herself until 4/1/2019! She will be checking email sporadically so there might be a delay in her response.