When I began my career as a photographer, like any one new to the industry, I asked myself, “how can I be great like all these people whose work I admire?”. And my first thought, like everyone else was, “it must be the gear”.
Over the years, as I’ve learned the craft, failed countless times, dusted myself off and tried again, there are many things that I’ve come to appreciate and learn about what it takes to be a good photographer. Spoiler alert, it’s not the gear.
Of course, like many photographers, I still do get excited about new gear. And for myself, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on cameras, speedlites, stands, backdrops, you name it. I have been that person to lug ALL my gear with me to shoots, only to find, I only use a couple of items. I’ve stuffed my backpack filled with gear on a street shoot, only to find, my one camera and lens was all I needed.
As I enter year 11 being a professional photographer, I’ve come to appreciate the term “less is more” a whole lot more than even just a few years ago.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken a step back to look at my closet filled with bags I’ve only used once, gimbals that I thought would improve my videos, lots of little gimmicks that were advertised to make me a better photographer. I sold a huge chunk of it.
TRIAL AND ERROR
With all this being said, I can’t say that I regret the last 11 years of exploration when it comes to gear. I’m grateful to have had the means to test and try on my time and on my dime. And I’m grateful to have realized what worked for me and what didn’t.
I’m very happy with what I have now. And it’s because I’ve realized what I love to shoot, how I shoot and what I need in order to achieve this.
Looping back to the reason I’m writing this post. For anyone wondering how I’ve set up my home studio and what I have to achieve the portraits I take:
THE SINGLE LIGHT SET UP
My current go-to camera for most things is my Fuji XT3 with the 23mmF2 R WR however for my studio portraits I gravitate back to my Canon 5D MKIII with the Canon 24 – 70mmF2.8. Yes I use a Zoom lens. Ever since I picked up this lens, it’s been one of my favourites for pretty much everything. I know some photographers might scoff at this but I haven’t been able to justify getting a prime portrait lens for my Canon and the 24-70 is a dream.
I had thought about getting a full backdrop set up with the huge chains and one that I could hang multiple seamless rolls on. But the reality is that all I have is a tiny office in a condo. I had to make it work by using as little space as possible. So I bought a couple of brackets from IKEA and 3 sets of Tupplur Roller Blinds. IKEA sadly does not carry this model anymore but any black out blind or curtain will work. A support system with the metal chain costs anywhere from $50 – over $200. And seamless paper at around 6 feet is around $90 before taxes. My entire backdrop set up with 3 colours (White, Grey, Black) was around $200 before taxes. Black out blinds are great as light doesn’t come through and these have a slight texture to them so they don’t reflect any light from my flash.
My Mobile Backdrop Set Up
I’ve used Seamless Paper with a backdrop stand for a while now as it’s a pretty fail-safe set up. But with the thought of minimizing the amount of stuff I lug around, I recently picked up the Westcott X-Drop Sweep kit in the 5’x12′ so I can do full body shots as well.
When a sales rep at Leo’s Camera mentioned lithium batteries in flashes, I was sold. I had gone in to ask about why Sanyo wasn’t making their Eneloop batteries anymore – they were da bomb! Ever since I picked up the Godox V860II, I haven’t looked back. The recycle time on this flash is insane and the battery lasts a long time. I used to go through so many AAs shooting events. These last me at least a couple gigs before I have to change them.
When I was considering upgrading all my original budget light stands, I needed to consider where I was going to be using them. Going back to the fact that my office is not big at all, I had to think small. I picked up a 3 pack of the Manfrotto 1051 BAC Light Stands.
Diffusion and Fill
I’ve spent a great deal of time assisting other photographers. On the plus side, I get a chance to learn how to set up all sorts of softboxes. The downside is some of them are insanely challenging to set up! For this reason, I went with the Westcott Apollo Orb 43″.
- Umbrella style set up (SO easy)
- The orb is round so your catchlights will be round (not square)
I love high contrast portraits but with a single light kit, you sometimes may want a little more fill so I keep a reflector in my kit. I use this 35″x47″ 5 in 1 Reflector from Amazon.
For a mobile set up, I have the Godox S7 Beauty Dish. This folds up into a tiny bag and when I ran a couple test shots between this and the Apollo Orb, you could hardly tell the difference. So if you’re in a tight space, this works!
IKEA doesn’t have this anymore but anything similar will work. It’s a foldable step ladder style stool that I use as a chair for when I work at my computer but also doubles as a posing stool.
Matthews Apple Box
It took me many years before I decided I could justify spending $50 on a solid wooden box but since I’ve had it it’s been great to be used as a posing stool, leg rest and stool for helping me reach tall places.
Tether Tools Mini USB to USB
When I’m in studio I like to tether to my computer so my portraits pop right up into Lightroom. This allows me to make sure my shots are sharp and exposed correctly before I move forward. Sometimes this also helps your subject figure out what they might want to do differently in between poses.
There are different ways to hold a reflector and this is what I currently use though I probably will be looking for a better way soon.
You don’t need much to create a beautiful portrait. But what’s most important is that you have the tools that you need to create the work that you want to create. For me, the less I can bring with me to achieve what I want, the better. It’s less stress for me which means less stress on my client.
IN USE AND PORTRAITS
JAMIE POH | BURNABY PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER
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