What kind of camera do I need (or other gear)

I often hear people make comments about how expensive my camera gear is.  They are actually right and wrong, if I were to add up the cost of all the photography gear I have bought over the years it would be a fortune.  But if you buy smart, you won’t have to break the bank and can get some good gear.

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This is the most important part of your gear.  Frankly if you don’t have this, you aren’t taking photos.

You don’t need to drop over $5,000 on a Canon 1DX mk2, which retails just a hair under that price for just the body.  You don’t even need to plunk down $2500 on the 5D Mk iv. (Notice I am a Canon shooter.)  Frankly you can get by at the beginning with an older EOS Rebel series.  My first two cameras were the T3 and the T3i, both of which were older discontinued models when I bought them.  The T3 has a new home with a fellow photographer, having been replaced by a T5 for photobooth work.  After 6 years I bought a brand new T7i which is the latest Canon Rebel, which was $750 for the body alone.

Refurbished is not bad….. The T5 was a refurb that I bought directly from Canon online. Canon’s refurb gear comes with the same warranty that a brand new one has, you can get the CarePak extended protection, and you save a couple hundred  It came with a 18-55mm lens and a 75-300mm; both are what you would call “kit lenses” which brings us to our next topic.

Lenses AKA Glass

I’ll admit it, I used the 18-55 and the 55-250 lenses for a very long time.  For what they are, they are decent lenses.  I have upgraded to a Yongnuo 50mm f1.8 prime and a 24mm f2.8.  Recently I added a Tamron 28-75mm F2 lens.  The Yongnuo and the Tamron are both EF lenses, which mean that they will work on a full frame sensor camera body.  The rest are EF-S which means that they will only work on a APS-C or Crop sensor body

Again you don’t have to have the newest model or even brand name.  The Yongnuo is under $100 new, and the Tamron lens is an older model I bought used for under $300 (the current model is over $1000).  It does not have image stabilization, but when you are shooting at f2 your shutter speed is rather quick.

Another thing…. Get lens hoods for your lenses and spare lens caps.  These two things help protect your lenses the best way without harming your image.


Again you don’t have to buy expensive gear.  My primary speedlites are Yongnuo yn560 iv models ($69 ea) , with the matching transmitter ($40).  3 of these speedlites and the transmitter were about $220.  Add in 3 light stands, flash brackets, and umbrellas and you are right around $300 total.

A single brand name Canon 600EX II-RT is $479.

I also have AC powered studio strobes, which were bought used for $250 with stands and umbrellas.  Add in another $40 for 3 receivers and an transmitter.

The downside and upside to the cheaper flash gear.

The biggest “con” to these flashes are that they are not TTL/E-TTL.  TTL stands for Through The Lens.  This means that the camera communicates and tells the flash how bright to fire, which takes the guesswork of flash powe (and control).

Since the YN-560 is not a TTL flash, this means that you have to set your flash power on the YN-560 speedlites and the studio strobes manually by either buttons on the back of the flash or the controller, or a knob on the back of the studio strobes.

The “pro” is you learn how to use your gear and what you need to tweak with the settings to get what you want. You also get to save money and if you happen to drop a speedlite and it breaks… you’re out $70.  Trust me, when you are outside shooting and have a 24×24 softbox or a 48″ umbrella on a light stand and it tips over you can break gear. (You’ll need some sandbags too).


I am lucky to have acquired a large amount of studio backgrounds and props over the years.  Buying a good backdrop stand is a must.  You can get cheap ones, but you will notice the quality when they sag in the middle when you have them extended to the full width.  Honestly if you are setting up in a static place all the time, you are better to either make your own uprights out of wood, pvc or metal and then use a section of 1″ metal conduit.  If you need something portable and quick to setup – look for a portable backdrop set….. but read the reviews, ask questions…. Does it sag?

I have two sets of backdrop stands.  My first one was a cheap set from Cowboy Studio. Hanging a 10×20 muslin on it does cause sag and i often sandbag them at events. – The cost was about $65.  My second set is also Cowboy Studio but the construction is a lot better, the tubing is bigger, the stands themselves are stable.  The best thing is no more sliding top bar… you have 4 sections and you use as many as you need to get the width you need.  This set retails for $90, I was able to snag a damaged box on amazon for $33 (YAY ME!!)

For backdrops, I suggest buying  10×10 a White, Black, and Chroma Green backdrops.  You can get by with these smaller ones if you are taking little children, or 3/4 shots of families.  After you build up your finances you should invest in larger backdrops.

I have 10×10 in White, Black, Red, Chroma.  In 10×20 I have white, black, chroma, brown old world master, a blue/green/purple one,  and a smaller blue one that I tye-dyed.   The prices of backdrops make it worth it to just buy them rather than trying to go to the fabric store and make your own.

A hand steamer is really handy too for getting the folds out of a backdrop.  Wrinkles are usually ok because they are irregular, but a fold line will show up.

The alternative for cloth backdrops would be the small 5×7 pop up ones that fold up like your 5-in-1 reflectors.  These can be useful if you are doing just headshots.  You would just need 1 or 2 light stands and a clip or clamp to hold it up.

Where to shoot / Studio or outdoors.

I have not been so lucky at getting the studio space of my own.  During the warm months (not too warm) I can use the local parks and nature preserves to shoot clients on location.  When it gets cold or a client wants to be inside, I use a rental studio in Columbus.  I can either pay per hour ala-carte or pay a membership fee that gets me a set amount of hours a month at a very discounted rate… The downside to the membership is that you are locked into a certain number of months and are wasting hours when you aren’t there each month.

The main advantage of the rental studio is that I don’t really have to bring anything but my camera.  There are already studio strobes, backdrops, scenes built and tons of props at the studio.  I literally walk in, grab the flash transmitter, set my camera, set my lighting patterns for the side of the studio I am using… Pick a backdrop and start shooting.   There are about 7 different scenes in the one studio that are good for all basic photography needs like families and seniors.  The second studio is more of an urban themed studio with areas for more fashion oriented work.  The basement studio is more for  (I feel) a  boudoir or fashion style.

When I am done, I roll up the backdrops, set the lights back out of the way, turn them off, put the props back and  leave.

You can build your own studio in really any space that you have.  I always figure for 10′ ceiling height, then 20×20, but your area could be way smaller than that too; it just has to work for what you need.

Jay P Morgan (The Slanted Lens) has a great video about setting up a home studio.

Also Joe Edelman also has a video on his basement studio

Other gear you will want and possibly need.

Camera Bag(s) – Find one that fits your need, I go between a Amazon Basics large backpack style case to using a full-on rolling Pelican suitcase for on location shoots.

Sand Bags – You can buy empty sand bags on Amazon and then pickup a 50# bag of playground sand.  Tip: put the playground sand into double gallon freezer bags with the bags zippered on opposite ends and then put them into the cloth sand bags.

Computer – Yeah you would think this would be obvious, but many people simply shoot and upload to their phone and social media.  If you plan to be mobile all the time – get a laptop, otherwise get a desktop.  I used my laptop hooked to my 24″ desktop monitor and a wireless keyboard and mouse, but have since upgraded to a desktop. TIP: Get a SSD and regular hard drive.  the SSD will allow a quick boot, and the regular hard drive is for storing your programs and files.  I store all my photos on an external drive though.

Cables and cords – If you have a cable or cord, get a spare for it, because it will get lost at some point in time.

Software – The gold standard is Lightroom and Photoshop, both are less than $20 a month as a subscription on Adobe Creative Cloud.  Alternatives are CaptureOne and others

Memory Cards – I use Sandisk Extreme Pro cards in 32GB.  You don’t want to have a gigantic SD card that has all your photos on it and have it fail.

Lens cleaning cloths, lens pens, etc. – do not use a tissue, your shirt, etc on your expensive lenses.

Baggies – I keep my lens pens and lens cloths in plastic baggies to keep stray lint off them.

Batteries – I get the Amazon Basic high capacity or Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable batteries for my speedlites.  I have 2 to 3 sets for each flash.  You will also need spare batteries for your camera.  Tip: Camera makers are making it harder to use no-name camera batteries.  Save the aggravation and buy genuine.

Remote release – This is needed less and less with cameras having the built-in wifi connections, but a basic Canon RS60 E3 release is $21, or an Amazon Basics IR release – $8.49 or a wireless (radio) intervelometer (timer) release $28.00  – I’d get this one because it has both wired, wireless and the timer functions

A good camera strap – Don’t use the ones that are provided with your camera, here’s why:  They advertise too much.  While the lower end canon’s come with a generic Canon Rebel strap… The higher end bodies come with the model name on the strap.  Do you want to be on a trip and have a neck strap that advertises that your camera is a $2500 5D Mk IV?  Next reason is because they are torture on the neck and back.  Sure with the kit lenses and when you are not in a hot climate you don’t notice it, but get a heavier lens, battery grip or get hot a sweaty and the back of your neck breaks out, and the top of your back starts to hurt from the constant strain the camera is causing.

I use BlackRapid straps.  My go to is the Black Rapid Classic when i have 1 camera hanging, or the Double Breathe when I have two cameras or a lens bag.  The black rapid straps use a bolt that goes in your tripos socket, which I am not fond of at all!  So I use a BosStrap BosTail that goes in my top strap lug and has a seamless ring that I clip my camera strap onto.  The Black Rapid strap can go cross body and allows you the ability to adjust the length of the strap, and where the camera should stop.  My camera when not in my hand is just about where my belt would be and is a comfortable height where i can easily grab it to shoot and rest my hand to protect it.  The other advantage to not having it in front of you hanging from the neck is that if you are drinking something and drip water or the bottle of water is wet you are not dripping on your camera.

Tripod – If your tripod cost less than say $50, you probably did not get a good one.  Will it work….Eh maybe, but you take the risks.  I have bought the cheap Velbon and Targus tripods that wal-mart carries.  While they are good for one thing only… inside, stationary, nobody’s around situation.  They are not stable because they are light and cheap, any wind or bumping could sent your camera tumbling.  You don’t need to spend tons of money on a good tripod. What I use is a  Promaster XC525 Tripod ($170 – when i bought mine I thought he said $70, but it has been worth it).   This tripod has the things that I need.

  1. No center shaft / Center bracing- Some tripods have a center shaft that extends into a column that is attached to the legs.  This means that the legs are pushed out equally the same distance.  But it also means that if you need to straddle a railing or seat you are stuck.  The tripod I use has a long center column that when extended goes clear to the neck of the tripod.  It also comes with a spare that is just long enough to secure into the neck of the tripod eliminating the center shaft all together.
  2. Legs that have individual angle adjustments.  The storage on that tripod above is with the center shaft fully extended and the legs fold upside down.  There are stops that allow the legs to be flat out for that really down low shot.
  3. A ball head to provide precise adjustments and quick movements.
  4. Light weight and compact design.  The tripod weighs 3 lbs and folds up to about the size of a 2-liter of soda
  5. Built in Monopod. One of the legs unscrews and becomes a monopod.  While I tend to use this as a walking stick.
  6. Weight hook.  That hook on the bottom of your tripod’s center is so you can hang a weigh bag (or your camera bag so it doesn’t get dirty).  This further “cements” the tripod to the ground to reduce shake and the possibility of a tip-over
  7. Quick release plate – nothing sucks like having to line up your camera on a tripod that does not have a quick release plate.  I want to go from tripod to hand held in no time and not run the risk of dropping my camera.  Buy extra plates too for whatever you get so you don’t ever have to remove the plate.