This is the fourth part in a series of my favorite business (and personal) tools. Here is the lineup:
PART FOUR: WHAT IS IN MY CAMERA BAG
I will write another blog post on entry-level gear that I recommend for those wishing to buy a camera for their honeymoon, new baby, etc. This post will detail the gear I currently use and recommend for professionals.
Thank you, More, for the lovely portraits above.
CAMERA BODIES + ACCESSORIES
The two major competitors in the SLR market for wedding photographers over the past decade have been Canon and Nikon. Other companies are rising as mirrorless options become more available and affordable. I’ve shot with Canon my entire career, and it’s easy to say I’m a huge fan.
Canon’s color profiles, especially for skin, win me over time and time again. Their glass is phenomenal. I do think their earlier bodies were closer to film profiles (5D classic + 5D Mk II), but I’m still attached to my 5D Mk III and 5D Mk IV. Nikon has always been superior for low-light capabilities and fast focusing (especially for sports). However, I think Canon has caught up, especially if you’re primarily working as a wedding/portrait photographer.
The most important thing to me with CF cards is that they are first, reliable. Second, fast. I’ve had the most success with SanDisk, and their recovery program is great, if you ever have to go down that path. Until I purchased the Mk IV, I always shot on 16 GB cards. Cards fail, and I never want to have an entire wedding on one card in case this does happen. I recently upgraded to 32 GB only because the files on the MK IV are so much larger. I also shoot with backup SD card on both camera bodies.
This story is embarrassing, but it’s worth sharing to explain why I use this particular type of case. I used to have my CF cards attached to my camera body in a malleable plastic case. I was photographing a senior session on a huge stack of rocks in Lake Michigan. In slow motion, I saw my camera strap break, sending the CF card pouch flying in between rocks and into the lake. It was impossible to get it back. It was the end of the shoot.
I tried not to cry, but 50% of the session was gone. Thankfully, I shoot I with two bodies, so I had photos from the first half of the session on that camera, and the rest were on my other camera body. I was able to rescue the session, and the client was happy with the final result.
Since this experience, I upgraded to waterproof, shockproof cases. They are almost indestructible, waterproof, and obnoxiously bright. I also don’t attach anything to my cameras any more. I couldn’t find the exact model online, but this is similar.
I can’t sing enough praises for the HoldFast Money Maker camera strap. I used to have terrible back and shoulder pain, but this device has almost completely alleviated it. I recently purchased India Earl’s camera strap, as I admire the fact that you can clip cameras to your pants so they don’t swing when you’re hiking and such. So far, I like that my hair doesn’t get tangled in it, and the straps are custom-fitted. I’m still breaking in the leather, so I find myself switching back and forth between the two.
I consider this an essential piece of gear in my bag. This little light has saved me big time in tough lighting situations. There was one wedding years ago that was under Christmas lights with no other ambient light. It was so incredibly dark that my camera could not focus at all. I’ve been in similar situations since then, especially with outdoor weddings or dark churches. When this happens, I will have my second shooter hold this for me at a 45º to bring in some additional light. In a church situation, I will attach it to my camera at a low setting with just enough power to help me focus. You can also use the AF assist beam with Canon flashes, but I still find the video light more helpful in certain situations. A video light is also great for long exposures (trying to get everyone in focus before pressing the shutter) and for detail photos in dark reception spaces, especially if you don’t have time to set up OCF.
Tip: do not buy a cheap video light on Amazon. It will break. You will have to replace it, and it will end up costing more. I’m reporting this from experience ;)
I’m simple with my lighting set-up. I use two Canon 580 EXII Flashes. I haven’t upgraded to the newer flashes because these have suited me fine for the past seven years. When these go, I will probably upgrade to whatever is fresh on the market.
I sometimes like to play with long exposures if there is time during the reception. This is a handy tool to help prevent camera shake.
I was loyal to Kelly Moore bags for years, but they always broke or the faux-leather would peel. I’ve now had my Ona bag for four years, and it is holding strong. I have this one. I use this bag when I shoot locally.
It’s challenging to fly and hike with camera gear. I’ve experimented with many different systems, and the combo that seems to work best is bringing camera gear in a backpack and putting clothes in a roller bag. Since I almost always fly on a regional jet from Asheville, I don’t want to have to planeside check gear. The only way to get around this is to have a bag that fits under the seat. I also use my backpack when I have long hikes, as my shoulder bag can be awkward to climb with. After trying out a few different companies (Ona, Langly) and not loving their bags (usually for lack of comfort), I’ve found my favorite is converting a hiking backpack into a camera bag. I bought this bag from Osprey and fitted it with padding to custom-fit my gear. The waist belt is key, and my back is happier for it. I also like that it looks less like a camera bag.
I wrote more about traveling with gear in this blog post.
If you’re going to spend big money on any gear, spend it on lenses. A cheap lens on a $4000 camera body will make the images look cheap. My favorite lenses:
24 1.4 L
This is my favorite lens for family sessions, and it is glued to my camera for the dancing portion of the reception. I appreciate that for such a wide lens, the distortion is minimal. However, because there is some distortion, I really don’t use it except when I’m in tight spaces or want the capability to get super close to people.
35 1.4 L
If I had to choose one lens, it would be the 35. I use this lens for 70% of my wedding days and 100% during portrait sessions. I also use it the most for traveling and personal work.
45 2.8 TSE
I only use my tilt shift on occasion, mostly because it is a gamble to get people in focus (it’s a manual focus lens). I play with it more at portrait sessions, and I will occasionally pull it out if I have time on a wedding day. I really adore the flare and color that comes out of this lens on a sunny day. Tip: use live view to help focus when using this lens.
50 1.2 L or Sigma 50 1.4 Art
The other lens that is almost always on my camera is my 50. It’s on my second camera for the majority of portrait sessions and probably 50% of a wedding day. Even though I’m loyal to Canon glass, I recently purchased the Sigma Art to see if it would be sharper and faster at focusing than my Canon 50. So far, it is tack sharp, and I think I like it better. However, the color + bokeh on the Canon lens is butter.
This is a cheaper lens in the Canon lineup, but I like it because it is light. I purchased this for elopements because I was sick of lugging around my 70-200 2.8 up trails. The biggest negative is that the focusing is not the best. But, when you nail it, the photos are glorious. I also use this lens for macro shots (more info on those filters below).
This is probably my least favorite lens of everything in my kit, but I find it necessary as a wedding photographer. I never bring it to portrait sessions because I hate how compressed it makes the scene, and I don’t like being that far away from my subjects. However, it is wonderful for ceremonies and reception formalities when you don’t want to be noticed.
This is another great long lens to have for hiking elopements and destination weddings. It’s much lighter than the 70-200, although it is not as versatile. I recently brought this instead of my 70-200 to a destination elopement, and it was perfect. I didn’t need the full length of the zoom lens, and I loved that it lightened up my pack a little bit. The bokeh on this lens is also something to write love songs about.
40 2.8 (pancake lens)
I don’t use this lens for weddings, but I wanted to mention it because it is a phenomenal travel lens. When I want to pack light, it is perfect. It’s a wonderful mid-range lens that’s between a wide and medium focal length. Even with it’s cheap price tag, it is actually pretty great at nailing focus too.
I wanted to “up” my ring shot game, but I did not want to invest in a macro lens because it was the only part of the day that I was using that feature. These filters are perfect because they are cheap, they get the job done, and they work well. I pop these on my 85 1.8 when I photograph rings.
Another tip: buy lenses used if you are short on cash. In fact, most of my lenses I have purchased used. Good glass lasts a long time, as long as you take care of it, so you won’t see a huge difference in new glass vs. used glass. B&H, KEH, and Amazon are all great resources for used lenses. Make sure the condition is always 8+ and that they have a return policy if you find it is in worse condition than advertised.
I work off of a Macbook Pro when I travel, and I find myself using it more and more since having a kid (working remotely when I need a quieter space). Tip: keep your computer as empty as possible. I don’t store anything on my laptop, and I work off of hard drives to keep things running as efficiently as possible.
Early in my career, I worked exclusively off of a laptop. When I saved enough money, I purchased an iMac and have never looked back. The time I’ve saved by this investment is invaluable. As much as I would love to throw cash at some of the more efficient Macs, it’s never made sense financially. I just make sure to get the most ram and fastest processor available. As an old friend once advised, “buy the best computer you can afford, but don’t go into debt to purchase it.”
Hoodman Card Reader
Oh my. If I had a dollar for every card reader I’ve ever had…until I purchased a Hoodman reader. I can’t tell you how many times card readers have completely stopped working. But, I LOVE my Hoodman card reader. This thing is fast, reliable, and (knock on wood) has held up through a few wedding seasons.
These have become essential since having a baby. The bluetooth feature is clutch, and they are comfortable to wear for hours when I work late.
There are many, many different ways to back up photos. A lot of friends swear by a Drobo system, but I really love Lacie Rugged drives because I travel and work remotely so often. They’re super fast, which is wonderful for backing up terabytes of work. Once a wedding is finished, the images live on Pixieset, an off-site location, and on one of these drives.