If you're reading this its probably Wednesday, so happy hump day! If that's even a thing anymore?
Curious as to how we capture and create the photographs you love?
This week we wanted to share with you guys a little something for both our clients and for our fellow photographers. We're going to take you through some of the gear we keep in our rucksacks for weddings, adventures, macro shots, etc. We think its important for our clients to know what were using to capture those moments that you'll cherish for generations and how we value the importance of quality. On the other hand we are frequently asked what kind of gear we use for our travel & landscape shots so we want to include any photographers that want to geek out over gear a little.
Dan is the king of gear and the person I turn too for ANY questions involving lenses, flashes, and tech in general. Like always you're hearing from both sides of DNA (Dan and Al) because two is better than one - duh. Most of the info you'll be hearing today is from experience and sleepless nights of research, yeah he's that devoted.
I suppose the first thing we should start with is the bread and butter; our camera bodies. We have devoted ourselves to Sony and will never look back. We know this is a polarizing debate betwixt the photography community but whether you shoot with a Canon, Nikon, Sony or anything else the most important thing to remember is you must be comfortable with your tool. Your camera should feel like an extension of your hand and your creativity, which is why we favor Sony. We rock mirrorless Sony A7III's as our main bodies with an A6500 in the holster. The design of a mirrorless camera is lightweight and suitable for travel (more later on mirrorless vs. traditional cameras). When it comes to Sony cameras and lenses, they are branded toward nature and portrait photography. This along with the simple usability of the cameras and the wide selection of glass made Sony the right choice for us and our business.
Side Note: All gear information here is based on a professional level of photography with the intent to take the best quality photo. Photography in general is very subjective and just because we favor a certain brand does not necessarily mean its going to be your cup of tea, we absolutely stress being comfortable with your gear.
NOW FOR THE FUN STUFF
While I don’t like to get too much G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) I have to say that having an array of lenses can really change the way you shoot. They are tools and there are different ones for different situations. Some have a niche, and some cover a broad range of applications. Here are the lenses in our quiver when we’re out on a shoot.
Zeiss 85mm f/1.8
A portrait photographer’s best friend. The longer focal length gets you in close without having to invade the subjects personal space. And that wide open f/1.8 aperture produces some absolutely incredible bokeh along with the ability to shoot in very low light situations. It’s a prime lens, like most of our lenses, so it is simple. It only has one focal length - there’s no zooming - but this unembellished design lends to it’s artistic ability. This is one of our go-to lenses for bridal portraits, stylized shoots and all throughout weddings.
90mm f/2.0 Macro
Here is one of those niche lenses. A macro lens produces beautiful and interesting close-up shots - perfect for wedding rings and other small treasures. It really only has the one job, but it does it well.
photographer’s tip - a macro lens produces a 1:1 image, meaning that the size of the object in front of lens is the same size as on the sensor. This is what gives it the ability to take “magnified” photos.
Zeiss 55mm f/1.8
Here is the 85mm’s little brother. It’s a very similar lens with a little less zoom. That same wide aperture of f/1.8 and small form factor means that either Al or I have this one handy at all times. Great for shooting formals and couples - even street photography.
photographer’s tip - the 55mm lens produces a field of view similar to that which we see through our own eyes, so it is a very easy lens to get used to.
24-70mm f/2.8 GM
One of our two zoom lenses, the 24-70mm focal range is considered a must-have for any type of photographer. The key word here is versatility. It has the ability to shoot rather wide at 24mm all the way to short-telephoto at 70mm - all while keeping the same constant aperture. This lens is great for run & gun situations where changing lenses just isn’t an option - like when you're in a small hotel sweet and its full blown bridal chaos. You're going to need a variety of focal lengths at your finger tips for those intimate family moments and the impromptu group shots.
photographer’s tip - having a wide focal range to play with on a single lens is great, but it does come at a cost. Lenses that have an aperture that stays the same throughout the range (such as this lens) come at a hefty price! Not to mention they’re heavier than the primes.
20mm f/1.8 G
Our widest and newest addition to our quiver. The exact opposite of having plenty of zoom, the 20mm focal length gives you a huge field of view, meaning you can get the entire wedding party in the shot! But that’s not all - this guy has become our best friend for sweeping landscapes and vast astro shots of starry nights.
70-200mm f/4.0 G
We actually owned the big brother of this lens - the 70-200 f/2.0 GM. About $1000 more expensive and gorgeous, but heavy. This one has a slightly more closed aperture, meaning that it doesn’t have the low-light ability of its superior, but it is honestly worth it given its considerably smaller and lighter size. After carrying this one around all day we never have missed the extra stop of light from the f/2.0. This lens is still perfect for super close up shots and getting in close to the alter without being anywhere in sight.
Here are some example shots taken with each of the different lenses. Notice the difference in field of view, background blur and overall feeling between the images.
photographer’s tip - while it may seem like the obvious choice to pick a lens with a focal range from wide to telephoto, it is important to recognize the trade offs. These lenses are larger and have more moving parts that lend to their weight. Also the aperture becomes a problem. If you chose a lens without a constant aperture (something like f/4.5-5.6) be aware that you will not have the same low light ability and bokeh throughout the focal range. The zoom lenses with constant apertures are fantastic, but they’re gonna cost you an arm and a leg. Primes are lighter, typically have wider apertures and are perfect for keeping your kit compact. Who’s to say that you can’t have both!
Light is the name of the game with photography (it’s even in the name) so bringing your own source of light with you is never a bad idea. When it comes to on and off-camera flash, the key is really integration. You need your camera to talk seamlessly with your flash and other off-camera units that you may have set up. The Flashpoint system is what we chose, and everything from our on-camera units to our strobe and command center is all in the Flashpoint ecosystem.
Flashpoint Li-on X R2 TTL - these are the flashes that we typically use mounted right on top of our cameras. It works similar to a pop-up flash, except approximately 1000x better. The pinpoint modulation of the flash power allows you to essentially store a small sun on top of your camera and completely change the feel of a photo. Just like with your camera, mastering your flash is of paramount importance. Sure you can leave it on TTL (basically a flash’s “auto” mode) but you cannot get the full benefits of a flash without learning how to tweak its output and blast just the right amount of light you need. Furthermore, the head on these flashes can articulate in all kinds of directions, allowing us to bounce light where we need to. This right here can be the difference between a good and spectacularly lit shot. We love shooting natural light whenever we can, but when we need something extra like during a dark reception or outside on a yacht at night, our flashes will be mounted. Not to mention these guys can just as easily be mounted off the camera and used as a strobe setup, cool!
Flashpoint eVolv 200 - this is our off-camera strobe. We bring in the big guns with this one when we need some serious light. It can only be mounted off the camera and our method of choice is bouncing into a white umbrella for a beautifully soft, diffused light. This is typically a more deliberate setup, like during engagement shoots or the like. The fast pace of a wedding or an elopement usually doesn’t permit us setting up a stand and an umbrella, but we sure do love the results when we do.
Flashpoint R2 Pro Mark II - here is our command center. When using off-camera lighting, this device plugs into the hot shoe as a flash would and acts as the transmitter to however many lights you may have hooked up. All of the flashes are adjustable via this device, so you never have to jump around changing them manually. This guy truly transforms anywhere into a studio setup.
Although we do not typically take our tripods to weddings or portrait shoots, they still remain an essential part of our kit when we go out on our adventures in nature. The tripod allows you to slow down and be more thoughtful about the photo taking process. When I first got into photography, the tripod changed my game completely. I went from taking “tourist” shots out the window of my car in Yosemite to sitting down, setting up and taking my time composing an artful image. If I only knew then what I know now...I digress. Having a tripod means that you are no longer a slave to keeping your shutter speed at handholding minimums. This means long exposures, flowy waterfalls and star trails. I would also be lying if I said I didn’t use it for self-timer family photos!
Peak Design Travel Tripod - we are huge fans of Peak Design. Much of what we own from our photo bags, to our camera straps and even packing cubes are from this wonderfully innovative company. And just like any good ecosystem of gear, all of PD’s stuff integrates perfectly. I have been looking forward to the release of this tripod for over a year and it was totally worth the weight. Its main selling point is the form factor - seeing a trend here? It is smaller and lighter than any other full size tripod I have ever - or ever will use. It is extremely simple and the new innovative ball head design is nothing short of genius. I cannot recommend this stuff enough.
photographer’s tip - one of the first things we learned in photography school was that if your shots aren’t coming out good, use a tripod! This is because most people don’t realize the detrimental effect a low shutter speed can have on your images. Handholding a camera is always going to introduce a degree of camera shake which can totally ruin an image. Mount your camera on a tripod, set its drive mode to 2 second timer to avoid any residual vibrations from hitting the shutter button and shoot clearer images. Simple as that.
Choosing a backpack is quite similar to choosing a camera, its all about your comfortability. We have gone through many backpacks, messenger bags, fanny packs and pretty much any other rucksack you can think of for camera gear. Im happy to say we finally found our great white buffalo of backpacks. Dan, being the pack mule that he is, sports the 45L Peak Design Travel Backpack while I sport the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. Can you tell we love Peak Design yet?
These bags are extremely versatile and customizable making them perfect for travel and every day use. We are big carry-on people when we fly and both of our packs crush it on optimizing space. Peak Design offers so many styles of photography bags so do yourself a favor and check them out.
Honorable mentions - camera bodies, lenses, lighting, tripods and bags are definitely the meat and potatoes of a photographer’s quiver, but there is so much more that makes the magic happen. Here is some of our favorite gear that we couldn’t live without.
iPad Pro 12.9” - this is our work horse. We have been long time iPad Pro users, but now is really a great time to own one of these tablets. I think Apple is finally starting to realize that more and more pros are turning to an iPad-only workflow, and they have begun to really support us with pro level apps and accessories. Being able to draw on the screen to edit photos is extremely precise and tactile and I don’t think I could ever go back to the old mouse. Editing on an iPad Pro also fits perfectly into our lightweight and portable ethos.
Reflector/Diffuser - here is a very underrated piece of gear when it comes to portrait shoots. Sunny days may be fantastic for kayak picnics, but it is not our preferred weather for shoots. This is why we always keep a reflector & diffuser combo at the ready. Putting a soft diffuser between your subject and the sun will make a world of difference. No more harsh shadows and the resulting image is beautifully lit as if taken in a studio. On the other hand when the light is too little, the reflector of white, gold or silver can bounce what little light is available onto your subject, sometimes eliminating the need for any kind of supplemental flash. A perfectly easy and cheap tool for your kit, why not!
Mindshift Filter Nest - I love using filters and I have tried several different methods of storing them. If theres one thing I’ve learned, it’s that they have to be kept sealed tight! Previously I have stored filters in open cases that were quickly accessible. Whenever I needed to screw ‘em on I couldn’t, because they were filthy of dust and debris. This kind of stuff can potentially ruin a shot, so treat your filters like you do your lenses and keep ‘em clean! This particular “nest” holds 8 filters and keeps them out of harms way with a zipper closure. Love it. Typically we do not use filters for weddings or portraits, but they are our best friends when it comes to being in nature. Our favorites are the neutral density, circular polarizing and graduated neutral density filters.
Peak Design Camera Straps & Cuffs - keep your investment safe! Al prefers the classic neck strap while I use a small wrist cuff, but either way it is always a good idea to have a safety net. Peak Design was the perfect choice because everything just works together so well. They are easy on and off and strong enough to withstand a heavy drop. We never leave home without one of these guys attached.
Mirrorless vs. DSLR Cameras
Without getting too scientific, the main difference between these two types of cameras is, well, the mirror! In a traditional DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera there is a mirror that reflects light from the lens up into a prism that sends the light through a viewfinder. This is where you view your image, which is literally a reflection of what is right in front of your lens. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips out of the way, exposing your sensor (or film!) to the light and therefore taking the photo. The mirrorless design, as you may have guessed it, forgoes the mirror all together. Instead, it takes a more digital approach. The light coming through the lens goes right to the sensor of the camera (no film here!) and is projected onto the screen and electronic viewfinder (EVF). This means that the image you are seeing on the back of your camera represents the exact image you’re about to take. Essentially, it is always in “live view”. This is fantastic for a few reasons. As a beginner, it takes a lot of the guess work out of determining the look of your final image. The depth of field and overall exposure of the shot is all there even before you take the photo, making it easy to see how the different settings take affect in real time. Secondly, the lack of a mirror and less moving parts in general make it a more compact design, which is why mirrorless cameras are typically lighter and smaller than their DSLR counterparts. This is what initially drew us into the world of Sony mirrorless. Like many others, I started my photography journey with a DSLR camera (an old Nikon D3300). The body of the camera was clunky and the lenses were huge and while I loved the photos it took, I never found myself wanting to lug it around on hikes or travels. This is definitely the biggest consideration when choosing between mirrorless and DSLR because the best camera is the one that you have with you.
We said it once and we'll say it again - photography gear is so subjective - something that works for us may not work for you and that's totally cool. There are so many amazing companies so take your time and explore what fits you. We are constantly learning and improving on our craft and we want to share what we've picked up along the way. Of course this isn't ALL of our gear but this is the equipment we rely on for a majority of our shoots and adventures. If you're curious about any of these products or want a little more information feel free to drop us a message, Dan will be your sherpa.
Thank you so much for reading! Get outside and enjoy the rest of your week, we'll catch you next Wednesday.