Way back in high school and college, when I began falling in love with photography, I didn’t go much past taking pictures and having them developed at Eckerd’s photo lab and maybe having a few pictures enlarged. Just buying the film and having them developed were expensive enough, there was no way I could afford to learn how to develop my own film… or even think about buying a more expensive camera! So, when digital photography began to become more and more accessible, I realized that with the ability to edit my own photos, that I might be able to afford to pursue this a little more! Well, I quickly realized that it was still going to be expensive. But, as I learned and grew and began charging to photograph families and seniors and then weddings, I was able to start saving money to begin building my arsenal!
But oh my word, it’s addictive. There are so many amazing cameras and lenses out there and with as fast as technology is improving these days, new and fun lenses and cameras and flashes and lighting and and and… are coming out left and right. So, how do we do it? How do we manage what is in our camera bags and how do we keep from spending ALL of our money on camera gear? Well, it’s not always easy. BUT, all I can say is that it’s been a process. And with that comes figuring out WHAT we need for the way we shoot and how much we shoot with it.
I started out with a Nikon D90, which is now our backup camera (which also took the shot below of the two cameras we currently use). The more I grew with my work, the more I realized I needed a tougher and beefier camera – one that could handle darker lit spaces and could shoot faster and longer. So, I upgraded to the Nikon D300s and I QUICKLY fell in love! It’s a really good camera! So, as I was shooting with that and Ben began shooting with me, he was using my D90 at weddings and all was well and good. Until I realized that the images Ben was getting with the D90 weren’t as great of quality as the ones I was getting with the D300s (it was NOT his ability, just the equipment he was using!). So, I knew it was time to upgrade again. Since I was still working full time last year, we were able to use most of the business money for upgrades and lens purchases. So, when the Nikon D4 and D800 came out, we weighed the two cameras and the price and finally landed on the D800. The only downfall with my new baby (seriously, y’all. This camera is AMAZING) is that the RAW files are massive. Like, 45MB per image massive. But, I’ve adjusted my hard drive and external hard drive space and we’re rolling with no trouble now.
The D800 can handle much higher ISOs than the D90 could ever dream of. The first time I used the camera, I had to go up to 1600 and 2000 ISO because of the lighting for a baptism at church, but the camera barely even blinked. I remember taking a few test shots and zooming in to look at the detail and I could hardly see any noise (grainy-ness) in the images. Wow.
This little guy below, the 35mm/1.8 was my first prime lens. It was perfect to start my venture into prime lenses because 1) it was under $200 and 2) it’s so versatile!
The aperture only goes to 1.8, but that’s still wide enough to give you PLENTY of that beautiful blurry bokeh in the background of images. And it’s wide enough to shoot in smaller spaces, like hotel rooms where brides and grooms are getting ready! It took me a little while to get used to this lens (I didn’t realize at first that just because it WAS a 1.8, that I didn’t HAVE to shoot at 1.8 all the time… rookie mistake!). But once I did, I fell in love with it. The only sad thing is that it’s made for DX (cropped – not full frame) camera sensors. So, while the lens fits onto my D800, it wasn’t made to work well with a full frame sensor. So, I’ll let you guess what lens is next on my wish list!
Ben primarily shoots with this lens and the 24-70, which I’ll talk about below.
This is my baby… my 50/1.4. This lens stays on my camera about 90% of the time. For some family and engagement sessions, this lens might not come off my camera! It’s such a versatile lens that can be used in just about ANY situation. One of the reasons it’s so popular among photographers is that it’s the most “true to life” lens out there, meaning, what you see through this lens is what you’ll see with your eyes and with extremely minimal (if any) distortion. Some lenses, like the 14-24 below, cause some distortion with images. But the 50mm is as true as they come!
This 85mm/1.4 is the newest addition to the family! And I love it! It allows me to be a little farther away from my clients, while still getting up close and personal shots.
I’m SO excited to use this for the upcoming wedding season!
This 24-70/2.8 is a great lens. Ben uses is mostly during ceremonies and receptions and I’ll use it for larger family portraits before or after wedding ceremonies. The 2.8 aperture allows for lower light situations while also giving a little bit of a zoom. So, while Ben is usually sitting up front during a wedding ceremony, he’s able to get some wide and closer shots without moving an inch. We don’t like to move around much (or at all, if we can help it!) during weddings, so this is perfect for his vantage point.
This lens is the 14-24mm/2.8 and oh my heavens. To say I love the wide angles that this lens can handle would be a drastic understatement! But, because of the distortion that it has – even when it’s zoomed into 24mm – I don’t use it for portraits. But it’s perfect for getting the overall shot of the church from the back or the balcony, landscape shots, shots of reception rooms/locations and even of the dance floor when people are out dancing.
I can’t remember when exactly I purchased my first speed light, but it was right after Nikon came out with the SB-900. I’m still not a pro at lighting – on OR off camera – but these are so very necessary for shooting receptions. The built-in flash on the cameras just aren’t able to get the look I want, so having more control over the direction of the light and even taking the light off the top of my camera is huge. We now have three of these so that Ben and I can each have one on our cameras at the reception and I can have one that’s off camera to get back-lit photos of the first dance and toasts. There are only two in the picture below because the day I took these photos it was cloudy and rainy so there was almost zero natural light coming into my office… which means I needed one on top of my camera so you could see what was in the photos!
If you’ll notice on the flash to the left in the image above, you’ll see a strip of velcro. That’s there so it can hold one of the Pocket Wizards in the image below.
These guys let me use off-camera flash. I’ve had two of them for a while, which means I can have a flash off of my camera and on a stand and either a flash on my camera or not (just depending on the look I’m going for). They basically radio to each other and fire the flash when I click the shutter button. If I have a flash on top of my camera AND an off-camera flash, both flashes will go off at the same time. Three Pocket Wizards allow me to have two or three flashes going off at once, but that’s more for group portraits inside or for more dramatic and/or full lighting.
Finally, we have this egg-shaped thing. The first person I ever second shot a wedding with had one of these for her rechargeable batteries that she used in her speed lights. It seemed like a good idea and it has saved me SO MUCH money from buying AA batteries, especially for 3 flashes!
Some may be skeptical of this, but for as long as I’ve had this and have been shooting weddings, I have only had my batteries die on my once… and that’s when I didn’t know how to use a flash and was shooting at FULL POWER the entire time. Gosh, that was awful. But since then, even though I have and take an extra charged set of batteries with us, we have yet needed to change the batteries for any of the speed lights during a reception.
So… there it is! Aside from renting a 70-200mm/2.8 and using a new video light we purchased at the end of last wedding season (which I’ll do a blog post on after using it for a few more weddings), this is all that we carry with us for weddings! For family sessions and engagement sessions, I usually fly solo and only take my D800 with the 50mm and 85mm lenses, but that all depends on where I’m going and what I know ahead of time with what the session will be like.
Hopefully this was helpful to someone out there and if you have ANY questions about anything, please let me know by leaving a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you!