When I'm photographing Weddings, I often get asked by those with a keen interest in photography about the equipment I use and what they should invest their money into first.
It’s hard to know the difference between wanting new gear and truly needing it. As a photographer, there are an endless amount of options when it comes to equipment. New models are released every 6 months, and new gadgets come out every few weeks. All claiming the same thing: you need this new thing to be a better photographer! Well, the truth is, you don’t. Equipment doesn’t define you as a photographer, but there does come a time when upgrading, or adding to your gear list is necessary. If you’re trying to transition from an amateur to a pro, and focus on shooting more often and/or for a living, these are some upgrades that will help elevate your photography career to the next level.
Camera & Lenses
Upgrading your camera body is not a regular occurrence. There are new versions released all the time, and keeping up with the Jones’ would be difficult and futile. Having a back-up camera is, however, a good idea. So when purchasing a new camera body, don’t just buy the newest model. Focus on added features you lack in your original. If you only shoot sports, find a new camera body with a high frames per second rate. Hone in on your goal, and find a new camera that will make your photography life easier.
Most DSLRs are bought with a kit lens, as you can’t use a DSLR body without a lens. It’s usually an 18mm to 55mm zoom lens, which is a real work-horse, but can only get you so far, before you need some other options. Upgrading your lens will probably be the first big upgrade you make too. Because there are a ton of options and many have a variety of applications, a new lens is a great place to start. A Prime Lens or a Nifty 50 is most photographers’ next step. It has a fixed focal length, so there’s no zoom, but it’s faster than a zoom and you’re able to achieve an amazing soft focus with it, and increase the depth of field as well.
Another option for an upgrade is finding a good “walk-around lens.” A walk-around lens is simply the lens that’s always on your camera. The kit lens works fine, but if you’re shooting constantly and trying to increase revenue or quality of work, finding a better walk-around lens is a must.
Lastly, finding a specialized lens that really suits your specific needs makes a lot of sense when you’re thinking about upgrading. If you need clear long shots, or incredibly wide angles, buying a specialized lens made just for that specific application will really benefit your arsenal.
Filters & Reflectors
The more you know as a photographer, the more you’ll experiment with new and different ideas. Filters are a tool that will save you money, because you won’t need to buy a super specialized lens, and for a fraction of the cost you can use them to create a variety of visual effects. Filters can block out some light, making the camera adjust differently, or filter out glass reflections through polarization. A diffusion filters create a soft, dream-like quality in your images, which I love. There are different shapes and materials that all provide a different effect, and for basic filters, you can DIY and make them at home using some basic household goods, before you buy a few.
Another basic tool that has the potential to change your composition is a reflector. Light means everything in photography and a reflector is something that will manipulate your setting, and help to create better shots. It provides a way to modify the lighting in your shots without adding artificial light. If you shoot in natural light a lot, a reflector will help fill in shadows or reduce the brightness. They can also be used as a backdrop. The five-in-one reflector is the most common and works in almost every situation.
A flash or speedlite is another first big purchase photographers frequently make, and unfortunately often overpay for. The popular frontrunners are jam packed with features and options most of us won’t need, but the price definitely reflects their gadgetry. There are, however, many other, cheaper, manual powered flashes available. Auto-exposure is an awesome perk, but mastering the manual isn’t difficult and the money saved will allow you to pay for other upgrades to your rig.
If you already use a flash, you should know that they break pretty often. They suffer through a lot of wear and tear and are delicate pieces of mechanical equipment. So, if yours has broken or you just need to upgrade from the base model you bought years ago, find a flash that swivels, tilts, twists and is very powerful. They add versatility when you’re stuck shooting in low light, but they really transform photos when they’re used off camera, and that’s where you need that extra umph.
Remote controls are essential for long-exposure and multiple exposure photographs, low-light images, and self-portraits. A remote control allows you to shoot your camera without touching it. This means you won’t accidentally bump it or move it when you press or release the shutter. They also come in handy when you can’t place the camera in the desired position, and also physically press the button. So anything from a high angle, to being stuck in the forest or taking a self-portrait requires a remote control.
A flash trigger and a lighting trigger are also both great gadgets. They’re not necessarily the first upgrade you would make, but these types of tools will really free you up when shooting adventurous shots, or the need to manipulate your setting is high.
Accessories are my favourite thing, and that’s why they take up most of my camera bag. They’re often lifesavers, and seemingly random. But when that perfect storm hits, and you’ve got the gear to weather it, there’s no better feeling. Things like extra batteries and extra memory cards are no-brainers; carry four. But tools like a multi-tool, band aids, a maglite or headlamp, bungees, rope or cable ties, always come in handy. A sturdy tripod, maybe with a pan tilt head, or even a gorilla pod are almost must-haves these days.. And having an extra towel, a pen and paper, and business cards is always a good idea.
When upgrading your photography gear, the most important thing to consider is your overall purpose. Will you be shooting mostly weddings, or landscapes for print? Action and sporting events, walking through cityscapes, or spending your time deep in nature. Your accessories, lenses and extras will all depend on your photography focus. But make sure you have the right gear for the job, and make sure you can justify the cost of that gear.
This article was written for Herts Wedding Photography by Kate Conlon of ProAM USA.
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