Behind the Scenes – Photography Equipment

We recently gave a peek behind the scenes of a travel blogger’s life, sparking numerous requests for a deeper dive into our equipment, so here you go!  In this post we discuss cameras, lenses, lighting, tripods, travel gear and accessories we use on a daily basis for our shoots.  Please note this is not a sponsored post, all opinions are our own.

Cameras 

As our interest in photography developed, we knew that a DSLR camera would be a worthwhile investment.  For our first DSLR camera, we looked at crop sensor bodies that had impressive specs for an enthusiast while offering room to grow.  Now there is always the debate on which manufacturer holds the crown for best camera.  Our experience with previous DSLR bodies, the availability of lenses, and the current cameras out at the time influenced our choice to work with Canon gear.  That being said, the brand new Nikon D850 released September 2017 is a phenomenal camera which makes it tempting to build a Nikon set!

  • Canon EOS 80D – Canon released the 80D in March 2016, complete with a new 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor (cropped) with a great 45-point autofocus system.  The body is sealed, protecting it against dust and moisture (which is perfect for the traveler).  One of the main advantages we love about the 80D is its articulating rear touchscreen, offering the ability to vlog or shoot at unique angles.  This camera has truly been a workhorse for us.  With approximately 80,000 shots on the clock, the Canon EOS 80D may soon be retired completely (it’s expected shutter life is 100,000 pictures).
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (newest addition) – Released after the 80D (September 2016) and replacing its predecessor (the Mark III), the Canon 5D Mark IV is one of the best full frame DSLR cameras for the enthusiast or the the professional.  The camera features a new 30.4MP CMOS sensor, Digic 6+ processor, 61 AF points (41 cross-type), and can shoot video in 4K.  The rear features a touch screen, although unlike the 80D it doesn’t articulate.  In addition to shooting full frame, having the comfort of dual memory cards is a great plus in the case of a card failure.

Lenses

Although the dream is to have every Canon professional “L” series lens, that dream certainly comes at a price!  It is important when building your base of equipment, to focus on what is paramount to you getting that perfect shot.  There are several criteria to consider when acquiring lenses:

  • EF-S vs EF – Canon’s EF-S lenses are designed to be used solely on Canon APS-C DSLR bodies (cropped sensors) while Canon EF lenses work with any Canon DSLR body (full frame or cropped).  Generally Canon EF-S lenses are lighter/smaller than EF lenses, while also being more affordable.  If you only have a full-frame DSLR, the choice is simple.  Although we started with a cropped sensor body, being able to use lenses we purchased on future bodies was important.  This combined with the fact Canon only manufactures professional lenses (“L”) for the EF mount, meant we tried to buy the best EF mount lenses within a reasonable price point whenever possible.
  • Zoom vs Prime – Zoom lenses offer the ability to change how your shot is cropped (zooming in or out, thus varying the focal length) while prime lenses offer fixed focal length (no zoom thereby forcing you to move yourself and camera to change the shot).  While being able to zoom offers an advantage for a quick shot (“walk-around lens”), they sacrifice quality and aperture as compared to their prime counterparts.  For example, our 80D zoom lens (a Canon EF‑S 18‑135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens) has an aperture of f/5.0 at 50mm as compared to f/1.8 on the “Nifty Fifty” prime lens (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens).  Although both shots will technically be cropped the same, the 50mm prime lens can shoot a faster photo with more clarity, while offering much greater “bokeh” and background blur.
  • Filters – Camera lens filters offer a range additional levers for a photographer to pull when constructing a shot.  Filters can help control lighting, reduce glare/reflections, enhance or highlight colors, all while protecting the lens.  The two main types of filters include UV Haze and Polarized filters.  UV Haze filters absorb ultraviolet light while protecting the the lens from the dust, moisture and anything that might scratch the glass.  Polarizing filters remove polarized light, thereby reducing reflections and enhancing colors (similar to wearing polarized sunglasses) while also offering protection to the end of the lens.  We love use polarized filters for shooting cars because of glare and the highly reflective surfaces.  Generally, you can’t go wrong with B+W filters!
  • Hoods – Hoods help block out light that might otherwise reflect off the lens.  Depending on the lens (zoom vs prime), hood designs will vary offering different levels of protection.  We have found that it is always great to have the option to use one if necessary, and Vello offers cost effective hoods.

Lens List

  • 35mm – We love our 35mm lens (Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens) for its quality, size, versatility (landscapes, portraits, travelling shots, etc.) all at a great price.
  • 50mm – One of our first lenses, and a fan favorite, the “Nifty Fifty” (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens) offers incredible quality for $125 (not to mention great bokeh)!
  • 85mm –  Another great utilitarian lens (Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens), the 85mm is relatively inexpensive and great for getting fabulous depth of field shots when shooting outdoors.
  • 80D Wide Angle Zoom – (Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens) We love this lens for taking interior shots at hotels or inside our cars. You get a nice wide angle shot that isn’t a bubble like you see on GoPros. This is also the lens we use when shooting rolling car shots as well since it is able to get large parts of the subject car in range. For example, we used this lens with a polarizing filter to get this cover shot on our way to Higgins Beach Maine.
  • 80D Zoom Lens – (Canon EF‑S 18‑135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens) Another one of our first lens, this is a great grab and go choice. The wide range on the zoom will make it easy to get decent shots while walking through a new city or while shooting landscapes. However, you do sacrifice aperture, so do not expect to get perfect depth of field shots with this one.
  • 5D Zoom Lens – Although we currently only use prime lenses with the 5D, our next purchase will be a Canon professional series zoom lens.  The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens is one of, if not, the best performing Canon full frame zoom lens available, offering great image quality and aperture/AF speed.  Often offered in a kit with the 5D Mark IV, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens (released August 2016) is another great option offering greater zooming and image stabilization missing in the 24-70mm, although with a slower f/4 aperture.

Lighting 

Lighting is a critical part of composing a shot.  Having a perfect sunny day or an abundance of light in a restaurant isn’t always possible.  Luckily, we have several great alternatives when lighting is less than ideal.

  • Travel – When traveling, we always bring the Savage Edge Light Mini. This little guy packs a punch, perfect for lighting a detail of a room or a dish at a restaurant without being too distracting or overpowering.
  • Studio – During our studio shoots, we use the Savage Luminous Pro 19″ Ringlight Plus. With the ability to fine tune the brightness and temperature of the light, it is a big part of getting the perfect shot.  Mountable to a variety of lighting stands and tripod arms, we use this frequently for professional food and fashion shoots.
  • Macro – Macro photography is when you are shooting something very tiny and really need all the details to be clear and vibrant. To help us with this, we chose the Savage Product Pro LED Light Table.

Tripods 

As with all of our equipment, the tripod collection has grown over time and varies depending on the application and composure of the shots we’re taking.

  • Travel – The newest addition (and our current favorite) is the Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Tripod.  With three independent legs, the tripod offers versatility to shoot in all environments.  The Befree also features Manfrotto’s “Easy Link”, which allows for accessories listed below to be mounted and added to the tripod.  
  • Standard – Our larger Manfrotto tripod, the Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 055 Aluminium 3-Section Tripod, provides an incredibly stable foundation.  For a majority of our shoots, the tripod is paired with a fully-articulating ball head mount (Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ2 XPRO Ball Head).  For the perfect overhead shot, replace the ball mount with the 131D Side Arm paired with some weights!
  • Tripod Accessories – We love adding lights, reflectors, and extension arms to our tripods to get the best capture.  These articulating arms (Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm) allow for additional lights to be mounted to the “Easy Link” system.  Additionally, weights (Manfrotto Counter Weights) provide the counterbalance for when shooting overhead.
Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Tripod

Travel Gear 

Just as important as the camera equipment itself is the gear used to transport everything with you when traveling.  Whenever we leave the house, even for a daytrip, the Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II is our go-to backpack.  It carries both DSLR bodies, our lenses, chargers, ring lights, laptops, tablets, and memory card accessories.  Fitting even the strictest European airlines’ carry-on requirements, the BP 350 ensures we are never separated from our gear and that it is protected wherever we go!

Our LowePro Bag

Software/Storage/Accessories

Last but not least, here is a quick summary of some of the hard drives, memory cards and other supporting accessories that make our setup complete:

  • Software – Adobe’s Creative Cloud Lightroom and Photoshop are crucial for library management and photo development.
  • Hard Drives – For an up and coming photographer, the one thing that you will need the most, but probably won’t address until it is a necessity, is a quality data storage solution. DSLR cameras produce huge files, especially if you shoot dual RAW and JPEG.  While storage methods and library organization methods deserve a post unto themselves, a professional solution for local storage is the G-Technology G-RAID 12TB 2-Bay Thunderbolt 2 RAID Array.
  • Battery Grips – Battery grips offer the ability to shoot longer as they contain two standard camera batteries.  In addition, battery grips (such as the Canon BG-E20 designed for the 5D) offer greater control in portrait orientation with vertically-positioned controls (shutter, AF selection, etc.).
  • Memory Cards – Not all memory cards are created equal. Invest in professional memory cards with proper read/write speeds. If you go with a cheaper option, you’ll be waiting around for your memory card to catch up to your shutter. We have found SanDisk Extreme PRO series to be extremely reliable and quick.
  • Card Readers – Even if you computer or laptop has a built in card reader, we recommend using an external card reader to ensure fast transfers.  We love our Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader in both our studio and when traveling!
  • Remotes / Triggers – In the studio or in the field, having a remote shutter can reduce camera movement as well as allow you to arrange a difficult to reach shot.  The main example of this is macro photography overhead shots.  With the camera out of reach or if tethered directly to Lightroom, a trigger is a huge help.  There are many options from corded remotes to wireless remotes.

As food and travel photographers, we do a wide range of shoots, everything from macro food photography, to cityscapes to fashion editorials, so we have chosen a very utilitarian set of gear that suits all of our needs.  If you are just getting started with blogging or photography, remember you don’t need a full setup all at once, grow into your gear. That’s exactly what we did. Start with a good camera and some utilitarian lenses that offer room to grow and learn, then strategically add extras as you find your niche and photography style.  We hope this is helpful!  To check out all this gear and more, visit our Amazon Wishlist: Amazon.com/Shop/JQLouise.

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