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Great gear, or a great eye?

How much should an artist rely on their tools?

Do we really need to be investing in the latest kit every few years to make great images?

Scroll down to find out what 3 lenses I take to every shoot, and what 5 questions to ask yourself before you invest in new camera gear.

You can spend thousands of your hard-earned cash on cameras, lenses and lighting gear, but I you don’t know how to compose a good shot, light your subject well or process the image afterwards, you’ll still end up with a photograph you’re not happy with.

Getting the right kit will help you to generate the visuals you imagine in your head, but this doesn’t guarantee you’ll still be able to make them. Make sure that the tools you have align with your concepts, visual language and style of working. 

Here's my favourite 3 lenses and why 👇🏽

Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4

This beauty hardly ever leaves my side.

This wide focal length helps me capture environmental portraits where my subjects surroundings tell a huge part of the story. This is especially helpful when I’m working in a smaller space like an artist studio, but I also love how it supports any outdoor environment to become it’s own character, rather than just a background.

One of my favourite things about this lens is its very wide aperture, which is extremely sharp and reliable compared to most of my other lenses.

When I started learning about Photography as a teenager, I was told to shoot portraits with a longer focal length of 85mm and above because it’ll be the most flattering. I’ve since learned that’s utter rubbish! 

Although I hate the terms ‘flattering’ and ‘photogenic’, in this case I’ll use them to state that the kit is not what makes someone look better in a portrait. It’s all about the relationship you have with your subject and how well you can capture their personality. 

Sigma Art 35mm f.1.4

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

This is the first non-kit lens I ever bought so it holds a special place in my heart.

Dubbed as at the ‘nifty fifty’ it’s well loved by amateur and professional photographers alike, due to its versatility and low price point of less than £150 brand new. 

It’s super small and light weight, making it an ideal choice for taking on days out where I want to take my ‘big’ camera, but fill my bag with big lenses. 

This is also handy when I’m working with people who are nervous in front of the camera. By starting out with smaller kit, there seems to be more room to connect and get used to the experience of being photographed. 

The only downfall of this lens is that it’s not super reliable wide open (using the lowest aperture of f/1.8), so I generally prefer to use f2.5 and above for portraits to ensure the eyes are in focus. 

I use this lens for portraits and lifestyle sessions that benefit from a more personal and expressive quality within the images - which to be honest, is most of them! 

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

Canon EF 85mm f.18

This is probably my least used lens, but I still bring it along to most shoots. It just doesn’t excite me as much as my other options because sometimes it can feel a little too clean and commercial. I generally balance this by processing the images with a little extra grain and a cooler shadow colour hue. 

This longer focal length which is really useful for event photography where there’s more distance between myself and the subject, or capturing details on products or within larger spaces. 

It has more reliability at certain distances, and learning what these are comes from experience in using it. I was caught out a few times when I first got it, so made sure to practice on non-paid shoots before using it too frequently for client work. 

The very best thing about this lens is that beautiful bokeh. To the non-photographers reading this, that's those round blurry pops of light you can see in the background in the image of Lee below.

Chefs kiss!

Canon EF 85mm f1.8

If you’re looking at buying new gear - here’s 5 questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge.

1.What is your personal style and shooting preferences?

Do you like to be close to the subject or shoot from further away? How often will you use this lens in your day-to-day life and work?

2. What’s the purpose?

Events or newborn photographers often require different tools, but even if they use the same gear, it’ll be in very different ways. 

3. Do you actually like using it?

I’d always suggest hiring gear from Wex or the supplier directly before investing in your own item.

4. Why do you want it?

Don't just presume it’ll make your pictures look better. If you're upgrading from a cheaper version of the same item, do you really need the features and functionality it offers?

5. Are you better off investing in your creative practice or business instead?

Maybe it would be more worthwhile to spend your money on technical education, conceptualising ideas or communicating with clients. It could be that instead of buying a new lens to gain more clients, you actually need to market yourself and your services better. Maybe you have plenty of great clients, are amazing at helping them to relax and the images you make are already awesome, but you’re just not personally happy with how they look. It could be time to level up your editing and post-processing skills so the final images look and feel exactly how you want them to.

In conclusion, it’s not all about the kit.

I cannot stress enough how important to build a trusting relationship with your sitter. Supporting them to be relaxed by offering guidance and gentle direction, as well as getting to know them as a human first, rather than a business person, or merely a model, will no doubt improve your portraits.

If you've found this post helpful or have any further technical questions about image making, please get in touch - I would love to hear from you!


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