The Gear I Use: How And Why
What you pack in your camera bag at home or on the road will dictate the breadth of images you can capture. You don’t want to bring the kitchen sink but you do want to have the right tools to provide you with the flexibility to be as creative as your imagination.
Below are the essential components of my camera kit plus some equipment I’ve used and loved but don’t own. I don’t bring everything with me on every trip, I usually consider the situation (street, portrait, wildlife) and pack accordingly. For each item, I talk about why or how I use each item.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
(I have no paid relationships with these brands. However, if you buy something using the links below I will receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.)
When I first decided to purchase a full-frame DSLR, I made my decision between Nikon and Canon very simply: The one that felt better in my hand. I know that people will argue the virtues of their favorite brand for days, competitions abound, but that was it frankly. I held the two bodies and the Nikon felt wide for my palm. I figured it would be a strain to hold on to it for a long period of time. That was three years ago, and I love my Canon. I’ve put it through its paces. It’s scraped and worn ( I had a little issue with a stone wall during a storm in Cuba) and it’s been great. And I’ve loved the images I’ve taken since then so that’s pretty much the most important, right?View
I took this on my trip to the Sea of Cortez and loved it. I used it to take video throughout my trip–stabilizer is incredible–but I especially loved it to capture underwater video when I swam with sea lions and whale sharks, and AquaGlided with beluga whales in Manitoba. (The accessories I used are below)View
This baby is a wonderful lens. It has a beautiful bokeh that makes images really pop. The autofocus is fast and it has image stabilization, which rocks. It’s an f2.8 so it works well in low light situations. This is the original version, version 2 is even better I’m told (though a tad heavier, and this is not a light lens by any means), but I haven’t shot with it. I’m good with this until it falls apart. It’s great for portraits, street photography, nature and wildlife as well. Landscapes if the area you want is far away. Believe it or not, I’ve used it for some macro photography of flowers, though I admit, it wasn’t easy.
This was my *starter* lens, so to speak. I wanted something versatile and yet still give me great shots without breaking the bank. I still wasn’t clear how far I wanted to take this hobby, which is now a full-fledged passion. It’s an f4, so I have to watch it in low light. I use it a lot for street photography (it’s one of my lighter lenses) and portraits. I’ve used it for cityscapes and flowers as well.
You can never really go wrong with a prime lens. I was nervous about being limited at first—not have the flexibility of a telescopic lens—but I found that the limitation was a good one. It forced me to think about how to approach a shot and be more thoughtful with composition. The fact that it’s a f1.4 means I can be creative with depth of field. I use this a lot for street photography when I’m in more of a *photojournalistic* mood. I think it’s because I originally bought it on the recommendation of some photojournalists I admire. It’s a fast lens too, so, again, it’s great for low light situations.
I love this lens. It’s wonderful for big imposing landscapes like mountain ranges and astrophotography. I also used it a ton in Cuba. I found the 16mm was perfect for inside homes and down narrow alleyways, and the 35mm was perfect for classic street photography. The fact that it was a fast lens too, made it one of my favorites. I hear the updated version is phenomenal. My v2 had a little bit of warping and focus issues at the sides, I’m told the v3 (below) is flawless.
Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT Flash
I don’t use my flash much; I gravitate toward natural light. But sometimes, on a bright sunny day I use it for fill. Other times, I will lower the exposure compensation so it’s just enough to give a hint of light to brighten the image.
MagMod Starter Flash Kit
As I mention above, I don’t use flash much. I’m far from proficient. That said, when I do, I’m looking to create the most pleasant lighting possible, the Mag Mod (silly name) does that by diffusing the light so it’s not too harsh.
I also like that the diffuser is mashable so you can stick it in your pocket. It also adheres to the speedlite via magnate which is also flexible. I found it very easy to use. It’s relatively new in my arsenal so I’ve got to play with it more but so far I really like it.
This bag has is my best friend. I learned about it from another blogger and I know a few others that own it. It’s expandable, comfortable, and perfect when you’re bopping around and don’t want to use a backpack but need to have more than my gear with me. It has room for extra camera gear (batteries, memory cards, etc) but also for my wallet, sunscreen, tablet, and other *everyday* stuff. In the Great Bear Rainforest, for example, when on excursions, I also kept my rain pants, hat, gloves, GoPro, etc.) I like having everything near each hand like a cowboy’s holster.
FYI – This is made for a mirrorless or micro four-thirds body. My DSLR is a little large for it by a quarter inch. However, when I wear one camera across my body and have the other (usually the one with a wide angle) in the bag, I have both in easy reach for situations where the subject’s distance is changing rapidly.
Unfortunately, they don’t make a comparable bag for a DSLR.
Years ago I bought the original Kiboko 22L camera bag, but soon after I fell in love with the brand it was phased out when the owner acquired Tamrac. Photographers like myself bitched and moaned and I am happy to say Gura Gear is back with a new and improved Kiboko 2.0—now in three sizes: 16L, 22L, 30L.
It’s not cheap, I know. Consider it a splurge for that special person in your life (maybe yourself?) who is a real photography enthusiast. Its design features butterfly wings—two side-by-side compartments—which make it easier to organize your gear. It has plenty of room, it’s lightweight and very durable. Each side has a buckle and pocket to secure a tripod and/or a water bottle. There’s also a rain cover and a handy-dandy zippered side compartment for a 15″ laptop, plus interior and exterior zippered pockets to carry memory cards, batteries, lens cleaners and the like.
This post has a more detailed review of the Gura Gear Kiboko
Airport Tip: I wheel my Kiboko on an inexpensive folding trolley. If I don’t have to stand in a god awful security line for an hour with a heavy bag on my shoulders, why would I?
Benro Carbon Fiber Tripod
Carbon fiber tripods will inherently be more expensive. They’re also considerably lighter than other metal tripods and you’ll appreciate that when you’re lugging it around.
Get flip-locks, flip-locks, flip-locks! Don’t get the legs that you have to unscrew. What a pain. Especially if you’re not paying attention and the leg sections come apart (been there). Screwing them back together is a nightmare. Trust me.
My model is no longer available but I am happy with the brand.
Every camera comes with a shoulder strap and it’s free so I understand when people look at me as if I am crazy when I suggest buying a strap over $70.00, but I stick by my recommendation. It’s the best strap I’ve ever used. It’s comfortable and has a sliding ring that allows me to move my camera easily from my hip where it hangs up to my eyes in a flash.
BlackRapid Breathe Hybrid Camera Strap
This version of the BlackRapid strap enables you to carry two cameras easily at once. It’s surprisingly balanced and has worked well for me. If you don’t have two cameras, you can detach one of the components to use it with one body.
OP/TECH USA Rainsleeve – 2-Pack (Clear)
I’ve often gone DIY with a plastic bag and it works well but you have to do some fiddling. When I was in the Great Bear Rainforest, the rain was on and off throughout the week and having a sleeve “designed” for the purpose was far more convenient.
There’s three different sizes to fit multiple lenses.
Small (up to 8″)
Original (Up to 18″)
Large (Up to 25″)View
This is great for times when you want the versatility of a grip and a tripod but space is tight. I use this grip A LOT, especially when I’m walking around town and I want to put the who thing plus GoPro in a fanny pack. It’s very convenient.
I also use this foldable memory card holder when I’m also carrying along SD cards and I don’t feel like I need the ruggedness of the pelican case above.
If you’re on the road, having an external backup drive for your images is essential. A friend recommended this to me and I love it. It’s sleek, slim and durable and I’ve yet to need the 2TB of storage it comes with. Makes me feel good to know I have plenty of space. Don’t want to delete files to make room for others. I have a couple and keep one of them in my camera bag at all times.
Renting equipment is the best thing since… you know. I love renting because you it enables anyone to photography with fantastic equipment and not have to invest at full price. It’s also a smart way to try out something before you buy it.
I rented the Canon 200-400mm 1.4x lens to photograph wildlife on my first trip to Kenya. It’s not a lens I need any other time so I’m certainly not going to spend $11K on it. But rent it? Yes indeed. (I recommend adding the insurance coverage they offer. Heaven forbid you should drop something and have to buy it. That would really defeat the purpose.
Post processing and presentation
I edit and organize all my images with Lightroom Classic. I love it. There is a learning curve at first but not a crazy difficult one. Lightroom is one half of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. The other half is Photoshop. Together, they are $9.99/mo. You can’t get one without the other. I know how to do two things with Photoshop. I prefer Lightroom for everything I need in my post-production.
For my photographic portfolio, I use SmugMug. It was recommended by a few friends and I like it. I don’t use it to sell images via the site only as reference and request that interested parties contact me directly. I prefer to print images on different paper.
I use Smug Mug mostly for branding and to market myself to potential photography clients. I also use it to set up private client galleries.
If you want to give it a whirl you can try the site free for 14-days and save 15% for new accounts.
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