If you go back in time on this blog, which is totally possible because I haven’t been wise enough to delete my archives yet, you will see I have always loved photos. I didn’t take a ton when I was pregnant but once I had a baby it was ON. For example, in October 2010 we had a really fun weekend. I would encourage you to go look at it, because I cannot bring myself to repost those pictures on my current front page because they’re too embarrassing, not to mention the AWESOME COLLAGES I made. Cringing forever.
I hope in five more years I won’t look back at my current blog posts and feel the same way I do about those, but it’s entirely possible. For now, I’m proud of how far I have come and I’m going to write some posts about how I got here. (The pictures of my equipment are terrible because they’re taken with my iPhone since all the camera equipment was IN the photo. Irony!)
First, let me tell you about what I shoot with. I’m a Nikon girl, although I started as a Canon girl back when people used film and dinosaurs roamed the earth. But when I was in the market for a digital camera I was a huge fan of The Pioneer Woman and she said she shot Nikon. So I bought a Nikon. There are die-hard fans on both sides but I’m not one – I like my Nikon, I have no plans to change, but I won’t swear you HAVE to buy Nikon forever. The brand matters a lot less than your camera style and your lenses, in my opinion.
Second, let me say that a big part of photography is you that you get what you pay for. As photographers, we get really insulted when people say “Wow, your fancy camera takes such great photos!” because it discounts our time, talent and skill in that equation. And it is true that talented photographers have taken breathtaking photos with less-than-impressive equipment. But there is a direct correlation between super-expensive equipment and amazing photos.
I own two full-frame camera bodies, a Nikon D610 as my main body and a Nikon D600 as my back-up. They are very, very similar – the 610 is just a slightly-updated version of the 600. “Full-frame” is a term that confused me a lot when I was shopping for a DSLR, but it means the camera has a bigger sensor so it can take sharper, less noisy/grainy photos. (This is a link to a better, longer explanation and it will also make you feel better about your camera if you have a crop-sensor.) Because they are a slightly fancier camera, they also let me do stuff your DSLR might not do, so if you’re reading a tutorial or taking a photography class and someone says “Set your white balance to 5880” and your camera doesn’t even have that option, that’s why. Some lenses also don’t work correctly with the different versions (they might not auto-focus on a crop sensor or they might not capture the whole image on a full frame) so it’s important to do a lot of reading before you buy anything.
The four lenses pictured are what I shoot with and carry to sessions. I own two other lenses but they’re currently on loan to a friend because I upgraded. As you can see, all my current lenses are off-brand clones instead of official Nikon/Nikkor lenses. I’m a big fan of these “other” brands, especially in this age where I can read 10,000 online reviews before I buy.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART – This is my newest and current favorite lens. 35mm is pretty wide on a full frame camera, wider than a 50mm, which is generally explained as about what your eye sees when you look straight ahead. It is very sharp and very fast. It is also pretty heavy, so carrying it around for everyday shooting can be a workout. But the photos are gorgeous straight from the camera – I save myself a lot of time and effort by not editing them. The 1.4 f-stop means I get lots of bokeh (fuzziness) in my backgrounds. Generally, the smaller the f-stop number on a lens, the better it is (and the more it costs). This was also something that confused me when I was just starting out – I was focused on the “mm” number and didn’t realize the f-stop was what really changed the look of a professional’s photos. I used to own a 35mm 1.8 and I loved that lens too, so if your budget is cringing at the ART look for that one.
Tamron SP 28-75mm f/2.8 – This is my best walking-around lens. If we’re going to the zoo or the aquarium or a ball game this is probably what I will bring. I love shooting at 28mm during sessions to get that big, wide space and then zooming in on a family to get the closer shot without having to switch lenses. It can take a picture of a big group or the whole beach as well as a face or someone blowing out a birthday candle. I used to have the f/3.5 version of this lens and didn’t love it at all, so if you want ONE nice lens for traveling, I would recommend springing for the f/2.8.
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro – I bought this lens because I was super interested in snowflake macro photography but wasn’t willing to spend a ton of money on what I thought would be a lens just for taking nature photos. Instead, this lens became one of my favorite portrait lenses and I use it all the time. Long lengths like 85mm and 100mm mean you have to stand far away from your subjects to get a lot of background in the frame, which isn’t always the best for kids since they lose interest in the person making funny faces and animal sounds when I’m standing waaaaaay over there. This is the next thing I’m going to upgrade, probably to an 85mm 1.4, but for now it’s working just fine. I don’t think everyone needs a macro lens but they’re definitely fun.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 – A 50mm is such a classic, I don’t think I’ll ever not have on in my bag. I especially love it for newborns and babies, so if you have one of those a 50mm should be on your Christmas list. It’s not nearly as bulky as my 35mm so it makes a great carry-it-everywhere lens. If you’ve skimmed most of this post with your eyes glazing over, this is the only part I want you to pay attention to. The kit lens that came with your camera body is not going to make you happy and you should buy either the 1.4 or a 50mm f/1.8 like this one.
The rest of the stuff in my bag is just-in-case equipment. I have a battery grip and extra batteries so my camera doesn’t unexpectedly die during a shoot or on a long day of adventures. I have the remotes (two; I lose things) because they are cheap and sometimes it’s nice to be in my own family photos. And the Expodisc and the grey card are to help me get correct white balance. I remember to use the Expodisc about 10% of the time, the grey card 20% of the time and just wing it the other 70% of the time.
Not pictured but ALWAYS in my camera bag: Smarties candy. They’re small, they don’t stain, and they dissolve quickly so they make excellent bribes when all else fails.
So there you go, that’s what I shoot with right now. Go ahead and ask me questions if you have them. I think for the next photography post I’ll talk about shooting in my house and how I work around what is truly a horrible disaster 99% of the time. Unless anyone has a request, because that would be better.
(Non-disclaimer disclaimers: links in this post are not affiliate links, but if an Adorama ad shows up in the sidebar anywhere that one probably is. I buy 90% of my equipment from them because their shipping is unbelievably fast and they have a great used program where I can sell my old lenses back to them. The photos in this post are unedited and from my 365 project, so it was the equipment and not Photoshop that made them look like that.)