You’re shopping for camera equipment and thinking, “Millimeters and f-stops and focal lengths, Oh my! What does all of that mean? What gear do I really need? I’m so grateful for the helpful information other photographers gave to me when I was first starting out, so I want to return the favor! Reading geeky blogs about gear and specs is not my idea of fun, so I’m hoping this will be easier and more enjoyable for you. This should help you prioritize which lenses you need that will fit your style and subject. I still have a bunch of gear from my wedding days so I can speak to wedding, family, maternity, engagement, and newborn sessions. Quick disclaimer though – the majority of an image quality actually comes from the photographer (their knowledge of lighting, composition, and camera settings) not the gear, BUT having good gear with better capabilities (sharper focus, lower aperture, higher ISO, etc) does help. A good comparison would be thinking that a delicious meal must have been good because the chef had nice pots & pans. Of course the chef’s knowledge and talents have a huge impact on the meal’s success. I started off with a Canon Rebel and kit lens. Once I learned how to operate basic camera settings I began upgrading when I fell in love with photography and knew I wanted to be able to do more. So come take a peek into my toolbox! I have this broken down into a 4 part series, so stay tuned for more. I also have everything listed in a one-stop Amazon shop here.
Canon 5D Mark III – Why do I use Canon? No great reason – it’s just the brand that I started with and stuck with. If I was to switch brands I would have to sell every piece of gear and buy it all again, soooo no thanks. This is a full frame camera body and I find it to be sharp and fast. It has a great range of focal point selections. No complaints here. I have been eying the newer model, Canon 5D Mark IV and might be upgrading soon. I also keep the Canon 5D Mark II as a backup because I’m terrified one will break.
Canon 50mm 1.2 – The “nifty fifty” is my jam! It’s seriously on my camera 90% of the time. This thing is magic! It takes amazing portraits which is what I primarily shoot. I like to shoot pretty wide open so the fact that I can open up to f1.2 is insane. The beautiful, soft backgrounds are so yummy. The 50mm focal length allows me be close to young kids to get their attention. I can also quickly step back to get more scenery/people in view. It is a fixed lens which means it only has one focal length, YOU are the zoom. The only reasons I take it off my camera is when I can’t step back any further, or when I need to stay farther away. For example in a tight space like a nursery, or during a wedding when I need to stay in the back of the church. If the price is too much for you, some pros rave about the Sigma Art 50mm 1.4, it’s very sharp and half the price. Some even more budget friendly 50mm lenses that still create beautiful portraits are the Canon 50mm 1.4. I used to have this one and loved it! My work got insanely better when I added this to my toolbox. It was like a whole other world opened up. There’s also the Canon 50mm 1.8 for an even cheaper price. I recommend everyone in my beginner photography classes to get a 50mm lens and they are always blown away with how much better it is than their standard kit lenses. Anyone taking portraits MUST have a 50mm!
Canon 35mm 1.4 – Wide angle lens good for small spaces indoors like a baby nursery or getting a wide view of scenery, landscapes, and architecture. You can be really close to your subjects and still see their surroundings with this lens. I also use this for the overhead shots where I’m looking down on the kids.
Canon 85mm 1.2 – Beautiful portrait lens! Creates stunning blurry backgrounds. Great for use outdoors when you have more space to stand a little farther away from your subjects than the 50mm.
Canon 100mm 2.8 – Macro lens mainly used for tiny details like baby toes, lips, eyelashes, and ring shots. Could also be used for portraits though. I don’t use it very often since it’s so specific. I’m considering trying a macro filter for the baby features instead.
Canon 24-70mm 2.8 – Versatile lens that goes from wide angle to zoom. I personally don’t use this during portrait sessions anymore because I prefer my fixed lenses. I have kept it for personal trips when I just want to carry one lens like at a kids event or traveling. This was a great lens for weddings when things are changing so quickly and you might not have time to change from a wide angle to zoom lens, this can capture both!
Canon 70-200mm 2.8 – This is my paparazzi lens. The 200mm zoom allows you to be really far away. It’s great to use outdoors when I have space to be farther away from my subjects. Since you are far away, it really isolates the subjects and blurs the background. I mainly used this during wedding ceremonies so I could stand in the back of the ceremony. I like to be closer to my families with young children to get their attention, but I like to bring this out during maternity sessions or engagement sessions where there’s only adults. It’s very big and heavy so I only bring it when I know I need to be farther away. Although, it has saved me a few times when some toddlers just want to run. I can stand back and get some action shots without being all up in their face. I have also hidden in the bushes and captured a few surprise engagements with this bad boy.
This flash hooks into your hot shoe mount on top of your camera. I use these external flashes when I’m indoors on location (lifestyle sessions) when there isn’t much available window light. The flash head tilts and rotates so you can point it in different directions (no one want’s the “deer in the headlights” look.) It’s much more flattering when you bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling so it hits the subject at an angle instead of straight on. The more budget friendly version is the Canon 430Ex. I had these before and they were great! The only reason I upgraded was to get the radio transmit feature at weddings when I was farther away/not in direct sight of the slave flash. The bonus of having two 600’s is that they can radio transmit to each other. I really only need one of these now, but I just keep the second as a backup.
Well, those are all of the big items – cameras, lenses, and flash. You’re probably beginning to see why photography is such an expensive hobby which a lot of people charge for to offset the costs, and why you pay your photographer good money. There’s more than just cameras and lenses though. Stay tuned for peeks at the rest of my gear! Just remember, it’s the photographer who really has the biggest impact on the quality of the photo, not the gear. I do believe in keeping my gear light. I usually only bring one camera, and 2 lenses to a session. The flash only comes if I’ll be indoors.
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