As a professional photographer—or an aspiring professional photographer—one of the worst things that can happen is being in the right place, at the right time, without the right tools. Here’s a rundown of what we keep in our photography bags so you’re never caught empty-handed.
What’s the difference between a beautiful photograph and just another picture?
In the age of Instagram, Facebook, and smartphones, it’s never been easier to capture and share meaningful moments. That’s why, as a professional photographer, your work has to really stand out from the crowd.
So how do you set yourself apart from the iPhone army?
The first part of the answer is your equipment. Of course, trained eyes, knowledge of composition, and instincts for timing all go into taking amazing photographs. But the items you choose to use as a photographer will have a significant impact on the quality of your photos. That, in turn, will affect your business and your opportunities to take more great shots.
A photographer’s bag is like the perfect meal – it’s got to have the right ingredients to work. You don’t want to lack something at that crucial, spontaneous moment. On the other hand, if you cram it full of everything, it becomes unwieldy.
So what’s in our photography bags?
The Five Essential Ingredients in a Photography Bag
It’s no secret that as a photographer, your camera is your first and most important tool.
But there are so many options to choose from. Where do you even begin?
Both Charla and I recommend the Digital Canon EOS 5D Mark II, III, or IV and their Nikon counterparts. These models are our go-to when it comes to digital photography. They can simply do it all, delivering gorgeous full frame, high-resolution images in the studio, out in the field, at events, or in fast-moving scenes. They also deliver beautiful video.
If you’d like to bring film into your lineup, we’d urge you to consider the Pentax 645, Contax 645, Mamiya 645, or Canon EOS1V. The Contax boasts the highest quality lens and, as such, is the most expensive of these, but the others stand their ground without breaking the bank in quite the same way.
Lastly, if you’d like to bring some vintage flair to your lineup, we love unique and more obscure cameras too! I love my Rolleiflex and it’s 6×6 square format. This camera does require time and practice to master though, so I think of it as a fun addition to my gear family and do not lean on it as a workhorse on a wedding day. I think of my Rollei as the cool kid who only wants to come hang out when everything is just right, and I’m not mad about it one bit.
Choosing a camera is like choosing a partner. When you find true love, you know it. Feel free to compare and contrast each of these models, paying attention to the fine details, until you find the one. Don’t be afraid to rent or borrow gear until you find your groove too! There is no shame in trying things on for your shooting style.
2. A Selection of Lenses
Alright, time to focus up, because we’re talking about lenses (we only have two or three more of those puns, don’t worry).
Lenses are typically described by their focal length, which is measured in millimeters. The focal length indicates the distance between your camera’s sensor (where light is captured) and the convergence point of your lens. The longer your focal length, the more “zoomed in” your pictures will be.
The first lens Charla and I place in our bag is a 50mm 1.2 lens. This reliable lens essentially lives on our cameras. It’s perfect for capturing exquisite details against the perfect background blur. It will be just right for your needs 98% of the time.
For that extra 2% of the time, we’ve got you covered.
A 35mm lens is the lowest focal length you’ll need. Any lower, and you risk distorting the quality of your images. The 35mm lens is perfect for wide-capture shots such as large rooms, weddings, or parties.
On the other end of the spectrum, the 85mm lens is perfect for capturing intimate moments at a distance and precise details. This lens also provides a gorgeous compression of your background – smooth as butter.
When you really need to get up close and personal, it’s time to bust out the 100mm macro lens. I mainly use this to film detail shots.
Having the right lens will help you focus on what you want your audience to see.
3. A Perfect Light
Your success as a photographer will be directly related to your ability to highlight your clients in their perfect moment. But that perfect moment might need a little extra help from your flash.
A camera flash doesn’t cost a fortune and can be the difference-maker for shooting in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. Make sure you choose a flash with ETTL and manual mode options and can spin a full 360 degrees. It’s safe to trust older versions of flashes, I am still using my 8-year-old Canon Speedlite 580 EXII’s.
Charla and I are, also, both huge advocates of constant film lights. Film or video lights are sources of constant light—basically, high-quality portable spotlights for use when natural light is no longer an option. When the situation calls for it, I will even use these in tandem with flash. Try Neweer Dimmable Bi-Color 480 LED video lights, and opt for natural reflectors if you can get them.
Photography is all about capturing light. When you have the ability to control the light you are shooting in, when you can paint with it, that’s when you really become a professional photographer.
4. Film Stock
If you’re working with an analog camera (like the Pentax or EOS1V), then you’ll also need to keep some film stock handy.
We suggest Fuji 400H or Kodak Porta 400. Fuji 400H is best for cool tones—blues and greens—while Kodak Porta is more suited to warm tones, and that includes skin-tones.
Different photographers prefer different film stocks for shooting the same scene, so it’s really up to you. The good news is that you don’t have to choose! Throw a couple of each in your photography bag and play around with them.
5. The Tripod
You won’t always need a tripod, but, like a flash, when you need one, you need one.
Tripods are useful when you’re shooting in low light situations, video, panoramas, and with a telephoto lens. Or when you’re just waiting around (trying to snap a snow leopard or something).
The Promaster XC525 is a lightweight, stable, and easy to carry option. Though adjusting the legs just right does take some time, it gets the job done. We also hear great things about the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB, which offers useful features like three different leg angles and a multi-angle central column.
Then again, it’s always possible that you’ll find something else that works wonderfully – I inherited a tripod that was my father’s when he was in college and I still use it all the time!
You’re on vacation when you turn a corner, and the most beautiful sunset is dipping right behind the horizon.
Everyone around you lines the street, whips out their phones and starts snapping pictures. You want one, too. A stunning scenery shot could be a great addition to your portfolio, and you know a travel magazine that wants to promote the beauty of traveling to this particular city.
Instead of pulling your iPhone out of your pocket like everyone else, you swing your photography bag off your hip and start shooting. You grab a handful or two with the 50mm lens. Then you switch to your 35mm to take in more of the mountains and city below. Finally, you shoot with your 100mm, capturing the small house on the hill that only your camera can see.
As the sunset comes to an end, you grab the perfect shot of one of the locals starting to smile in the distance.
In the world of photography, you’ll spend a lot of your time being “on” for other people. Whether you’re catching vows at the altar or the unexpected sunset, do yourself a favor and be prepared.
The more you support yourself before the shoot, the more your photos will stand out from the rest. And that’s how you turn moments into memories.
Pack your bag now, and thank yourself later.
Are you an aspiring photographer or an established professional looking to step up your business?
Do you want to turn your love of photography and people-skills into a serious side-hustle?
We create a course just for people like you. It’s called Develope, and it will teach you everything you need to know about how to shoot, launch, and grow your business with the power of social media. Check it out!