I used to buy so much rubbish! I think many of us do (at least, I hope many of us do). Thankfully, my habit was broken many years ago, but being a photographer, the temptation is always there. Oooooh, look at this shiny new thing. Is it prohibitively expensive? I must have it! To assist you in avoiding the “ooooh it’s shiny and new” mentality, here’s a list of my ten favorite photographic buys of all time (so far). Some are shiny and prohibitively expensive, but most are not. You can thank me later for lightening your wallets.
The Nikon D750
Let’s start off with a bang, shall we? I jumped ship to Nikon not too long ago. That’s right, not mirrorless. I like to go against the grain as often as possible – I previously had a Canon 5D Mark II so, in all honesty, any camera made in the last few years was going to be a drastic improvement, but the D750 blows most things clear out of the water. If it were a whale, it would be a massive white one with angry, borderline psychotic, tendencies which was the master of the seas. (Can anyone guess what film I saw recently)?
My only issue with the D750 so far is that its Live View video output (in photography mode) is far worse than Canon. This won’t be an issue for 99% of people out there, but it is quite annoying for me. I shoot products a lot and often use the Live View function in Capture One to focus and light. It can be worked around, but it is a little annoying. Other than that, this camera is perfection. I love it.
You can purchase one for yourself here.
A 70-200mm Lens
I’m going to get the expensive ones out of the way early. Trust me, most are below $100. After all, the majority of us don’t have bank balances comparable to Rupert Murdoch.
A 70-200mm lens was one of my first purchases, and I don’t ever foresee a time when I would be without one. I began using the cheaper f/4 version of this lens (both Canon and Nikon have one) but soon my gear envy took over and I ran head first toward the f/2.8 version. I have never regretted it.
A 70-200 is such a versatile lens. I use it for wildlife photography, it’s a little short but perfectly capable; take a look at my Deer Hunter articles if you don’t believe me. For portraits, it is just outstanding. At 200mm, f/2.8 and headshot distance, the depth of field is razor thin. Couple that with an ability to quickly go from 70mm to 200mm and you can drastically change your whole image in a couple of seconds. That ability is invaluable, especially if you’re shooting children. I also use this lens for product photography; why not? If you’re not shooting macro, then it’s perfectly capable and very sharp. You will not regret purchasing this lens.
Yongnuo Flashes Of All Kinds
From the day I bought my first ever Yongnuo flash, a YN 560 II (I think), I’ve been worried they would break mid-shoot. Even now, having had the MK III and IV versions of that flash, I’m still worried it will stop working on me. Why? Because they cost $69! How could they be reliable? Well, they are. I have never had a single problem. The YN 560 IV are manual flashes but for most of my purposes, that’s fine. If you want something a little more advanced, the YN 600 EX RT’s have also never failed me.
Full disclosure: I don’t shoot weddings. Most of the time I’m in my home studio, and they’re not getting what you’d call a “heavy workout.” That being said, I’ve not heard an abundance of reports from people saying theirs have broken. Once budget allows, I will replace them with something like a Phottix Mitros+. However, given they have never failed me, I may not be replacing them for some time.
The Most Versatile Flag Ever
Adding light is good and all, but flagging that light, using a scrim or adding negative fill, is where it’s really at. The Westcott Fast Flag is an empty metal frame. Exciting I know. But, before you dismiss this addition, let me tell you that I use this on almost every single product photo I create. It is an indispensable tool.
Using the correct boom, the metal frame is sturdy enough to be positioned anywhere and at any angle. I can’t tell you how valuable that flexibility is. And, to cap it all off, it’s cheap. If you get the accompanying scrims, it’s not, but you can always create your own.
Find the Westcott Fast Flag here.
SLR Lounge Tutorials
I value education above all else. There is absolutely no point in having the best of the best (gear) if you don’t have the first clue about how to use it. I’ve written many articles about the value of education, so I’m not going to hammer that point home now. However, I will say that the content SLR Lounge produces is some of the best I have ever seen (I may be a little biased, but it’s true).
For certain genres of photography, you may find yourself better suited to other courses. But for those of you just starting out and for portrait photographers of all kinds (be that Wedding, Family, whatever) SLR Lounge cannot be beaten.
Head over to the SLR Lounge Store and find something to suit you here.
A Membership To Photigy.com
We’ll call these two the education portion of this list. While SLR Lounge is amazing for the majority of photographers out there, Photigy cannot be beaten when it comes to product photography. As some of you may know, this year my focus is heavily targeted toward this avenue. Photigy.com and the Photigy community have become a crucial ingredient to my product photography progression.
Depending on your level of competency, there are two Photigy memberships to choose from: Basic and Pro. Each one comes with a couple of comprehensive tutorials, but the real value comes in the assignments and challenges. By completing these, your skills will rapidly progress.
Head over to the Photigy.com site to find more information here.
Boom / Extension Arm
I’m about to take delivery on my 4th one of these, and I foresee myself wanting more in the future. A Boom or Extension arm will allow you to do many things; the most common of which is to place your light at the end of the Extension arm. By doing so, you can light things from the top and place your light directly in front of someone (think clamshell lighting). For portraits, this ability opens up many possibilities.
Other than placing your light on the extension arm, you could use it in conjunction with the Westcott Fast Flag, as I do, and then be able to place it wherever you want. You could use them to make a quick and easy Backdrop Stand or a portable clamshell lighting kit; see this article. If you do a lot of lighting, these babies are wonderful. Although they are a little heavy and, depending on what you intend to place on them, you will need a suitable light stand.
Find them here. Make sure you get two knuckles and a spare spigot.
The Underappreciated Softbox
For product photography, the Strip box is my most used softbox. However, it can also be used for portraits. Surround your camera on all angles with four Strip Boxes and you’ve just imitated a very popular headshot lighting setup. Words like ‘Shabang!’ and ‘squinch’ may be springing to mind. If you’ve not already guessed, I’m referring to Peter Hurley. Most of us cannot afford Kino’s, but four Strip Boxes are much more achievable.
I have four of these. Two are the longer 4-foot versions, which are good for portraits, and two are the 2-foot versions, which are perfect for products. Whichever tickles your fancy, don’t overlook the Strip Box. It’s an incredibly useful modifier.
You can find a selection of Strip Boxes here.
The Godfather Of Light Stands
If light stands were gangsters, the C-stand would be Michael Corleone, or Vito (whoever floats your boat). Throw those cheap stands you get bundled with strobes out the window and buy some of these now.
In all seriousness, every stand has its place. Yes, even those cheap ones; they belong in the bin. C-stands are the Godfather of light stands because of their strength, reliability and versatility. It’s not all roses, though. C-stands are expensive and heavy. As such, they’re not the most portable of stands. However, as studio stands go, the C-stand can’t be beaten. There’s a reason that in every professional studio and film set across the world, you will find C-stands.
You can purchase your own here.
The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport
Calibrating your monitors and maintaining an accurate color workflow is an essential skill that every photographer MUST learn. The ColorChecker Passport is the perfect tool to assist you in this. I use it constantly in my product photography to assure that I am reproducing accurate colors. I also use it for portraits to quickly gain white balance.
Color accuracy might not be the most interesting of topics, but please don’t let its dull demeanor fool you. It is such an important thing to learn.
I hope you’ve found some useful things on this list. I use every one of these on a daily basis and would find it difficult to achieve the results I get without them. But enough from me! What tools do you find indispensable? Tell me in the comments below.
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