Choosing Your Gear
At the end of the day we're still photographers, right? And we need to have gear that is gonna allow us to make the pictures that we need to make. What I wanna talk about a little bit today is not just my gear, okay, 'cause my gear is probably very similar to any other food photographer in the industry in what we use to get the shot. We're gonna talk about my gear. But I also wanna talk about what's your gear about? And not just you here in the audience but also the people on the internet, because I think there's some essential questions you need to ask yourself when you're embarking on a photography career as to what's possible and what's appropriate for your particular situation. So one of the questions I want you to ask yourself, and the first thing, 'cause I get this question all the time. I am constantly getting flooded with the question, whether it be at workshops or even just friends and people that know me and people on the internet, what camera should I buy? And I have the fir...
st question is, what can you afford? I think understanding your budget is the first and primary question to that question, that query. You need to know what you can afford. From there, then you start to craft your kit from what you can afford. Now, if you have unlimited money, well, thanks, I'm hoping that I can get there one day. (audience laughs) But if you don't have unlimited funds, there are definitely different avenues as to how to go about building a kit that's appropriate for your budget. And some of the things that you wanna own are not budget issues. Okay? When it comes to light redirection or something else. But we're gonna talk about camera bodies first. Now this is my camera body. This thing right here. This is a 5D Mark III. A couple years back a professional level DSLR camera was about $8,000. These cameras now, which are highly more functional than the ones that used to be that expensive, are only about $3,500 for the camera body, like what you see here. Without a lens. Still pretty expensive. Now, if you're a professional, it's a business expense. It's something you need to embark on. If you are not a professional, that's a very high price tag to go out and buy just the camera body, and obviously that thing doesn't take any pictures. Because you need one of these to put on it. So the idea of your budget is really important before we even get into it what gear you're gonna buy. The second question is, how much space do you have? Because the amount of equipment you own is gonna take up space, and the other things that you can buy and use in food photography can run you right out of your house. It's happened to me. My studio, which is now my studio, is the place where I used to live. And the work just enveloped me, and I had to get out. Because between the equipment and the propping, it overran me, so you need to also understand what you have space for, because if you wanna have a camera stand like this thing, or like the one I own, that you saw in the picture, you've gotta have space for it. Because it's a big ticket item and if you wanna use it you're gonna need a lot of space to move it around. The other thing is what's your level of knowledge? If you're a beginner, and you've never done more than take pictures with your camera phone or a point and shoot on auto, going out and spending $4,000 on a camera is a little foolhardy in my estimation. I think you need to gradually work up to a piece of equipment like that. Unless of course you're gonna take a class, or you're gonna have somebody really teach you how to use it right off the bat. But otherwise, I know so many people that have bought really expensive cameras, put them on auto mode, bought the kit, right, that came with the lens that came on it, put it on auto mode and treated it like a point and shoot camera. That's not really helpful. That's not gonna help you develop your skills as a photographer. It doesn't do anything differently than your point and shoot camera in that mode. You wanna learn how to use it as a tool. And the other thing is the style of shooting that you intend to undertake. Now, if you're food photographer, that can be a lot of things. It could be a lifestyle travel photographer who's traveling around the world, or going around your region, and using a lot of different equipment. Or you could be somebody like me whose primary function is to take studio photography. And in a lot of ways, macro photography. So understanding what it is you're going to be shooting and how you intend to shoot, and what the range of things you wanna capture in your camera is absolutely essential to ask yourself before you go out and start buying gear. Because if you start buying gear that you don't need, or you're not gonna use, because someone told you that it's a good piece of equipment or it's a great lens or whatever but it's not appropriate for your workflow, then you just wasted some money. So let's go through some of the things I keep in my bag, 'cause I think a lot of people are curious about equipment, and particularly about what professionals use, because I think there's some kind of mystery about, ooh, professional equipment. It's no different. It's just that it's about the hand selecting pieces that are appropriate for what I'm going to be doing. So, again, that's my camera body. Mine looks a little different 'cause I have a battery grip on the bottom, because I have really big hands, and I am really uncomfortable holding a camera that way 'cause my bottom three fingers are falling off the camera, plus with a battery grip I get a longer life and I can shoot this way and still have controls. 'Cause this has another set of controls on the battery grip. Both my cameras, the 5D Mark II, which is not here today, and this is the upgraded version, the 5D Mark III, both are equipped with battery grips. So they mimic the square that was the old Canon model that I had, which was the 1Ds Mark II. Which is now sold. Again, I bought this because it fits the way I like to shoot, not just the technology in it, but also physically how it feels. It's heavy, I like the weight of it. I like to brace the camera against my body like a tripod, and this gives me an opportunity to hold the camera with both hands, brace it against my body, when I'm down and running around with the camera, that's kinda how I like to work. Okay. The lenses I use. This is that little cheapy 50 that I have on here now. I say cheapy, I don't mean to be like, oh, $300 is nothing, but for professional photographers not very expensive for a lens. And I'll explain to you with the next one. This one is not a L series lens, which most professional photographers use. But Canon doesn't make an L series lens in macro. They do now for 100. Their 100 millimeter lens is now, which I have the old version, but the new 100 millimeter macro is an L series lens, and it's really nice. It's about, those lenses run around $1,600. 16 to 1,800 dollars, they're pretty expensive. This one is a great bargain. And quite honestly, it's one of the best lenses I own. Its just, for whatever reason it's like that little miracle. It's a great lens. It's kinda funny and noisy when it focuses 'cause it actually has a motor in it that moves it back and forth, it's really weird, but it's a cool lens. The other lens that I use is the gold standard of macro lenses. This is a Zeiss. Manual focus, 50 millimeter macro. Remember the peach shot, with that little teardop on it? That was the first picture I ever took with this thing. This is a beautiful lens. It's also really difficult to work with, because it's manual focus. So if you're not comfortable or you're not in a position to work manual focus, it's not always ideal. Plus it's super expensive. It's a great, great piece of equipment if you can afford it, and if it's appropriate for your workflow. But it's also expensive, and it's delicate, 'cause there's a lot more glass in it than this little guy. And if you break it you're gonna cry. This one you'll cry a little, that one you'll cry a lot. Okay. A light meter. We're gonna talk a little bit more about light meters tomorrow, this one kinda resembles mine. Mine is ancient. But it still does the trick. The idea is that just because you're shooting digital and you're able to look at the back of your camera and decide whether it's too dark or too light is not an excuse. Because the idea is sometimes your camera's not calibrated properly, sometimes you're looking at it in your screen and your screen isn't calibrated properly, the idea is getting your meter correct. And to be able to do that in a professional way, you need to learn how to use a light meter. And if you learn how to use a light meter, then you also understand the triangle between ISO and aperture and shutter speed, because this and that are the same. You take your meter reading and you set your camera settings. The other thing is that if you're not quite sure about the camera settings yet, this is a really good tutor. Because I go up to the window and I set it to where I want it. And I take the click, and it says, oh, I have to be at that setting to take this picture. And then I put it in manual mode and I shoot it. So this is a really good tutor as well as a tool. Okay. Media. Now, some of you are shooting SD cards, which are great 'cause you can plug them in to a lot of the new machines. These cameras shoot both. This camera shoots both SD, and this is a CF card. The reason I talk about media is because you see this one here, 32 gigs? I own a 32 gig card. The only time I stick it in my camera is when I'm shooting video. I wanna talk about media because it's important that, media can be really trustworthy. In that, I haven't had that many cards crash on me over the years, it's solid state technology, there's no moving parts, and they're really reliable. But you don't take any chances. So if you shoot your whole job on one card, and something happens to that card, that is the ultimate photographic nightmare. Because if you lose an entire job because you didn't back it up, because it was still in the camera, or crashed but you dropped it and you dropped it inside the bowl of soup. I've done that. (audience laughs) And you lose your images, you're gonna be heartbroken. So, choose your media well. Spend a little bit more on the better cards, the faster cards, because this is your film. You know? Okay. This is, it's sort of, you can't really tell what it is. To tell you the truth, so I'll show you what it is, 'cause I have it right here. This is a smaller version of these flags. We call 'em flags, but they're really, and I bring this because it was easy for me to carry out here. I stuffed it in my backpack, and it's really great. It comes with a frame. And essentially what we're doing is recreating that thing over there, which is a studio flag, that you'll see in any television studio or in a big photo studio you'll see those. But these are mobile ones. They're inexpensive and they're easy to set up. And they're great. And this is the one I use every day. Actually mine is twice this size 'cause it fits in my window. And you put it together. Or something like that. Like this. I won't swear, I promise. So like I said, it's still pretty easy to put together. (audience laughs) It's like putting together a kite. It's usually not this hard, but this is not one I use very often, so it's kind of stiff. Okay. You know I planned this, right, for comic relief, late in the day? Okay. So, here's our flag. And it's put together, and it just kinda straps in. And this comes with, this one here that's really for light diffusion, and this is the one that I use most often, but the other ones are good as well. And obviously you don't have to have these, but this is a really great way, like you're at a picnic, whatever, you put it right up, right on the tabletop, and it kinda blocks out the sun. And this thickness and this kind of opacity is really the one I like the most. But it also comes with like solid black, and then ones that are like mesh to kinda knock down the light a little bit differently. But these are terrific, they're inexpensive. And I use them all the time. Hey! (audience laughs) Light disks. Might as well talk about those. I don't know where they are in my slideshow presentation, but let's see. I don't think I have them. So this is kind of like, the same thing. Nice plug for the camera craft. But you can also do that with these little ones, big ones, I have them in all different sizes. Including little guys. When you're on a tabletop. I'll keep doing that all day, 'cause it's fun. (Audience laughs) Yeah, it's a great magic trick. But I keep a lot of these around because pretty much you can set them up on a clamp and kinda set them up on the table, you could also have somebody hold it for you. It's also, you can diffuse light a little further. Let's say you're already diffused, and you feel like it's still a little too sharp then you can slide another one in there. When you're on a television set, you ever see a movie being filmed and you see those big giant lights, and in front of them there's these grids. And they throw the grids in them to knock down the light another stop, another stop, another stop. Well that's essentially what this can do for you too. You already diffused your light and then you can stick another one in there to kinda diffuse it even further if you find it. Or, obviously, you can reflect back silver, you can reflect back white, or you can reflect black where you wanna get a little bit more shadows. Or gold, even. And there are certain applications where gold really works nicely. With that golden hour light is really cool. That's a bigger version. Those things can range like, see the way that thing's framed? Those things range to the size of like 10 by 10. And they sometimes they'll tent them up over like a whole picnic table when you're shooting outdoors on a big set. I have a china silk that I use for a different setup that can be put on a frame like that, that's about 15 by 15. I could pin it up, or put it up and diffuse an entire backyard. So that's kind of, you know, with photography what we do on the tabletop can be expanded out as big as you want, and they have equipment that will accommodate that. So, then there's this low budget stuff. We're gonna go over a little bit more low budget stuff, but for the most part, this is this ratty piece of reflective foil. And honestly, a good portion of these all come from the same source. Thank you, Uniqlo, for your t shirts. 'Cause when the t shirt comes out of the bag, I take this, and I put it right in my camera bag. Because I ruin them all the time with food, and everything else, but they're really cool because you can just fold them, and put them up and use them as reflectors on a small item to kind of push back a little bit of light. You got your little window here to shoot. Or, if you wanna add one little highlight. That's why I keep these. And that's why they're kind of beat up and they're all full of food and everything else, is because if I want one little highlight, and I wanna accentuate that a little more, I can push with the reflective surface, and you can even do it with a small mirror. Or even this kind of silver, where you're kind of pushing. And you can see it even here, how much light these things push. So you have different kind of things. Different cards, black. Stiff is good, 'cause then you can put a clamp on it. And it'll just stand up next to what you're doing and you can kind of move it around. This card is actually meant for white balance correction. But I use it both ways. I kinda use it to bounce light and whatever. And also, you know, you start to build these things. Like little tents, and I have this big one, it's one I use all the time. And I wrap it around stuff. So I mean, this is like kinda just ratty paper and beat up old pieces of cardboard, but the reality is that whatever tool works, you use. And these are really kind of inexpensive things, but every food photographer has a bag of these little white cards, black cards, gray cards. This is a shot of the rolls of sheeting and paper that we use, it's sort of like this thin film of plastic. And I sometimes tape it in the window, cover the whole window with it. And the other thing I do with it is I'll cover a light with it. So if I have like a studio light that needs to be diffused a little bit, rather than pulling out a soft box like we have in the studio here, I would wrap the light with this plastic sheeting. And you can get it at like a craft store. But quite honestly, anything that's opaque can be used to diffuse light. So it's one of those kind of things. Okay. Light stands. Most light stands like this are fairly inexpensive, and they're good to have in a studio setting. Over here we have C stands, which are a little bit more expensive but they're heavier duty. And they're great to have on set because they will do everything for you, they're an extra set of hands, they can become a wall support, they can do lots of things. You can have things hanging from them, they can hold your diffusion panel. You can do a lot with a few stands and clamps in your studio. These are called auto poles. These are what I have in my studio. Auto poles are these adjustable poles that go from the floor to the ceiling, and then lock. And you can put them in and create false walls, or you can have them again, like the C stand, holding your cards up, you can clamp things to them, they make these things called super clamps that hold on to them, they're like this big thick looking hand, and it holds the bar, and then you can plug stuff into it. So you can have, the way this is sticking out here, you can put one of these on there. And you can clamp it on. So basically it's just like a studio stand, except it's a little bit more sleek. It holds some stuff and can get a lot higher. So those are really cool. Tripod. We all kinda need a tripod in food photography, and if you're not using a tripod, or some other kind of stabilization, then you need to find a way to keep your camera from shaking, and that usually means you've gotta get faster shutter speed. But that's not always possible because we like to shoot at a shallow depth of field. So having a good tripod, something solid, one of the things that people always neglect to tell you when they sell you a tripod is they should sell you a sandbag to go with it. Because if you put your camera on a tripod and you don't weight it down, and it tips over, it's gonna destroy your camera. So I have two small five pound sandbags, they're kind of connected by a little strap. So I wrap the strap around the neck and I hold it and that kind of keeps anybody from bumping it. I mean obviously if you push it over, it's gonna fall. But just the accidental bump and fall, that could be a problem. Okay. This is a really big piece of equipment, this is a studio stand, this is the one that I have in my studio, it's called Foba. That's the brand name. They're rather expensive, but they're really, if you can afford one, and if you can put one into your workflow because you're working professionally, it's an essential piece of equipment. Because it's like a tripod on steroids. It's an amazing piece of equipment because it's so solid. It holds your camera so still, and it can elevate your camera up to eight or 10 feet, depending on how much ceiling height you have. If you buy a 10 footer you can really get to the top, and that top down shot, you can do a whole, I've done like an entire dining room table on a Foba stand. And been able to put the whole thing in the shot. So, it's a very cool piece of equipment. It's, like I said, it's not for everybody. But if you have the resources and if you're working and earning money, it's definitely something you can put in your studio. This is a picture of two large white foam core panels. So the foam core that we use as light diffusion, they make them as big as a piece of sheetrock. Right, eight feet by four feet. And what we do in studios, and we're gonna use them tomorrow, they're kinda big to bring out here, but the idea is that tomorrow when we're shooting, these things, they tape them together. With white tape on one side, and hopefully the other side of that has black. And black tape on the other side, and they use gaffer's tape. Gaffer's tape is a standard in studios, and for art. It's basically duct tape. Except that it's not shiny, it's matte. And it's easy to tear. So it's a little different. Yeah, I can grab some gaffer's. And I can catch too. Okay, this is gaffer's. And this is, you know, when you're on a studio set and you get some gaffer's, people protect it with their lives. But you see how it tears really easily? And then, a lot of times you kinda tear it into shreds, kinda thing, you can tack things up with it, the great thing about gaffer's tape is it's reusable. You don't just use it once. So I keep this stuff like stuck all over the studio and I'm grabbing pieces of it and taping stuff off all the time. So you make these big things and you call them V flats. So like in studio terminology you would talk about these big big white and black cards as V flats. And then you bring them out, and you can create false walls with them, but you also can diffuse or bounce large amounts of light with them. An entire table full of light, an entire room full of light. So they're really helpful to have in your studio. Now, if you don't have a lot of space, and you expect that you're only gonna be working on a tabletop, you don't have to build one that's 10 feet wide when expanded. You can cut that stuff down with a razor knife really easily, and size it down to what's appropriate for you. But making these things really helps to give you more of the opportunity when you're working with a single light source, to push light back at your subject. So whether it be this tall, or all the way up, you're at least kind of pushing more light into the area. Okay. And that's, again, the whole idea of how it looks. Gaffer's. Clamps. These clamps, which I think are lying around here too somewhere, like I said earlier, I'm gonna use a clamp like this to kind of put this like this, and hold it up, or we can use them, they actually clamp on to the auto pole, or they'll clamp on to. Yeah, throw me stuff, man. Alright. So here's a small one. And I do use small ones like this. Because this is great for this kind of a treatment, right? So you kinda like just like that and you can move it around. And then the big ones to hold things in place but having a bunch of these, you get them at Home Depot, they're perfect, every studio has them. And you collect them in many colors. What?
So then the round diffuser, which I use a lot.
Which rolls around. 'Cause I haven't been using a clamp.
Yeah, 'cause then-
Yeah, well I can show you with a small one.
I have a large one.
Yeah, this actually helps a lot. 'cause you can kinda do like that. And make it stand up, it's a little tricky but it works. That kinda helps. That's why the clamps are great, terrific. These little nubs always fall off though. Tape them on, that's what I do. Okay. Saw horses. Now, my studio table is basically created by putting the two saw horses in front of the window, and I have a permanent piece of wood that goes on top of it, and then I can add whatever surfaces like the ones we had over here before on top of it and change it out to make new table surfaces. I use three of them in a row, because the one thing I put on top of my table is this giant piece of granite that's black. You probably saw it in a lot of the pictures. And it's not movable, it's about 400 pounds. So it sits right on top but the idea is having this too, is if you wanna climb up on the table, it's really sturdy. So if you have a really sturdy surface, sure, we can bring a sawhorse out. Why not? And we have a really cool like older version of a sawhorse. But the thing that's great about these is you set 'em up, and you put the table out, and then you also can kinda put stuff underneath while you're working. You know I keep stuff underneath so that it is accessible. So we set 'em up. And then this creates the nice tabletop opportunity. And then I keep equipment on the under side. And they're sturdy and stable, and they're light to move around, and you can take 'em with you too. So if you're working on location, and the studio or wherever you're working doesn't have them, they're easy enough to fold up and throw in the car and bring with you. So, these are a really good piece of equipment to own. Okay. We're gonna talk about that tomorrow. But I'll tease it right now. This is part of our cheapy at home light kit. But I won't give it all away. Okay, let's talk more about the rest of this gear. I have a couple more pieces here I wanna go over. This, you know, having cards, you wanna keep them in a safe place, so being able to kinda have a little wallet for them. You should have many, many cards. Because it's always better to have extra. 'Cause if you get into a situation where you're working a lot, you don't wanna have to always rewrite cards and format them, before you're backed up on it, or whatever. This is a trigger release. This is the reason I can get a lot of shots where I'm working alone. Between the timer and a trigger release, this is a really great piece of equipment. These are kinda specific to the camera you buy, usually. This is for Canon. But you can buy them for any camera, and it's really a key piece of equipment when you're using a tripod. Also when you're working at slow shutter speeds, you wanna get away from the camera or the stand or the tripod so that you don't have any camera shake. And then trigger the camera that way. So, I also keep a little eyeglass rag in my bag so I can clean my lenses. 'Cause they get dusty. You could also use lens papers or some other thing to clean your lenses out. My stuff gets kinda dirty, 'cause I'm always with food, so I try to keep them clean. And we talked about the 250s, the macro lenses, but I also keep 100, which we talked briefly about. This is the 100 millimeter. This is the old version of the Canon. 100 millimeter macro lens, and it's two point eight aperture. And then this is a 35 millimeter 1.4 L series lens. This is a great camera lens to carry around when you're doing lifestyle stuff, and when you're doing travel stuff. It shoots at a very low aperture, one point four. Which means you can shoot it in almost darkness and still get some detail. And depending on how powerful your camera is, you can push the camera pretty far, shoot it at a really wide open aperture and shoot in almost darkness. So, that's essentially kind of the gear that I work with on a regular basis. I mean, there are other pieces in my kit for different things, but for the most part this is a basic kit for a food photographer like me to do things I do. These are the things I carry around in my bag. I do wanna talk about a bag. Because if you don't have something you can carry your gear around in, what I do with my bag is I have a couple of different bags. And then I have all this stuff that goes in here where you can kind of create all the different pockets and whatever. I also have these wraps. Because I don't travel with my lenses unless I wrap them. So I'll take a lens, and I'll wrap it up like a present. Not that anybody's getting this present. (audience laughs) And then I'll put it in the bag after that, so multiple layers of kind of cushioning to protect your stuff. Don't ever ever check camera equipment on a plane. No matter how much of a pain it is, don't check your equipment on a plane, because they will destroy your equipment. Or steal it. Camera equipment's really valuable, it's easy to re-sell. And you've gotta protect it all the time, don't leave your camera bag laying around, people know what they look like. This is all kind of common sense stuff but I had a photographer friend of mine lose a camera bag on a trip, just recently. Walked away for 10 minutes. 10 seconds, turned around, gone.