Why camera gear creates a solid foundation, onto which you can build creative success
Image 1: Nikon 85mm 1.4D (taken with the Nikon Z6)
Image 2: Nikon 85mm 1.4D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
Talking about camera gear is always exciting and I'm often asked about my lenses and what my preferences are when I shoot florals.
As photographers we're fascinated with equipment, which isn't surprising when you consider the vast ocean of choice available and how expensive it can be if we get it wrong! I remember the anxiety when I set about buying my first professional DSLR in 2007! I had to figure out which camera and lenses to buy from a mix of online reviews and magazine articles. How I wished I'd had a fellow enthusiast to ask, but sadly, like many I didn't know anyone else who shared my passion or who'd invested in the kind of camera gear I was considering. I was alone and it was scary making such an expensive decision. (At the end of this post I'm going to invite you to join my Facebook group, with over 1k members you can be part of a supportive community that has lots of experience and advice to share). about camera gear is always exciting and I'm often asked about my lenses and what my preferences are when I shoot florals.
Now, before you join, let me take you through what’s in my camera bag.
Although I'm a professional photographer my gear isn't extensive, on the contrary. Over the years I've tried different lenses and have narrowed it down to a couple of favourites. As a floral still-life photographer my choice is simple. My Nikon 50mm 1.8D is my lens of choice. It stays attached to my camera and pretty much stays there 99% of the time. I have a backup Nikon 50mm 1.4D and a Nikon 85mm 1.4D that produces stunning image sharpness and gets used whenever I have a little more space in my studio to work.
Photographers are people, and as people were all different! We have differing tastes needs and budgets. You'll have your preferences and I have mine. That's why there's such a wide variety of choice. But, for me it’s always been a question of how a camera (body) handles light and colour. Then for the lenses it's the balance between sharpness (the sweet spot) and blur (bokeh).
It's worth pointing out that a camera body and the camera lens should be considered separately. A camera houses a digital sensor through which it responds to light (ISO setting). The cameras sensor will also determine colour replication, contrast, saturation and tone. Whilst a lens effectively determines, sharpness, depth of field (dof), blur distortion and framing. Therefore, it's worth noting that an exceptional camera can be hindered by a poor lens, and vice versa, a poor camera cannot be improved with a top-quality lens.
It's a marriage between the two that will give you the best results.
It all started with an Olympus OM40
When I first learnt photography back at college in 1994, I shot with an Olympus OM40 SRL! This camera was all that I knew and by the time I decided to jump back into my photography a digital revolution had occurred. I knew switching from film to digital was going to present a challenge! And true enough I found digital images, in contrast to film, to be wanting in a type of quality I just couldn’t replicate.
I persevered and initially decided to buy a Canon EOS 5DII. This camera stayed with me for the next five years as I worked on client portraits and weddings. But it wasn't until I decided to go solo with my floral work that I started to question my choice of camera. I found my Canon to be heavy on its contrast for my delicate florals so I started to look around. I even toyed with the idea of returning to film, or shooting with a medium format camera! At the time wedding photographers Jose Villa and Elizabeth Messina where creating waves with their outstanding film images and I wanted to create the same aesthetic with a DSLR.
Then in 2012 I did the unimaginable, I sold all my Canon gear and switched to Nikon!
In 2012 Canon launched the D5 Mark III, in the same year Nikon bought to market their new D800. I did the unthinkable — I switched brands! Why? Because I just had to know! I had to know if the elusive quality I sort was an issue with DSLR's in general or with the manufacturer. I'd read good reviews about the new Nikon camera and knew I had to find out for myself. It was an expensive transition (thank goodness for Ebay!) The move paid off, immediately the difference was noticeable. The Nikon D800 produced images much lighter in saturation and dark tones. I was happy. I'd listened to that niggling feeling, and although it was an expensive move, I was glad I'd been brave and taken action.
Image 3: Nikon D800 with 50mm 1.8D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
Image 4: Nikon D800 with 50mm 1.4D (taken with Nikon Z6)
Today, I shoot with a Nikon camera. I find Nikon images to be less severe on contrast and saturated blacks. It's a personal preference that suits my style of work - nothing more.
Experiencing both brands means I understand first hand that there is a difference in the images produced by different manufacturers. I've also learnt that a camera can only take me half way towards the results I seek. Understanding the power of processing, good lighting and experience also plays a vital role in the quality of images I'm able to produce.
Regardless of how expensive a camera is, it doesn't take a picture by itself - remember that!
So, if you are looking to buy a new camera I highly recommend you get your hands on one, explore the buttons and the grip, as well as its weight and how it handles. Or if you're considering upgrading to a professional grade camera then I'd most certainly recommend hiring one before making a big purchasing decision. Use a memory card and take a good look at the image quality including attributes such as how the camera handles contrast, colour reproduction and white balance. Remember to test a body with different lenses if you can.
Buy the best you can afford
When I'm asked for recommendations it's hard to know how to answer without knowing anything about a person’s budget, intended use, or stage of professionalism. So I always give the same answer, buy the most expensive camera your budget will allow. Simply put, this will provide you with the best foundation from which to start. It will stop you second guessing your purchasing decision. And will give you confidence to focus of building up your skill level. There is nothing worse than being let down by your equipment. I'm not suggesting you break the bank and use all your savings. I'm suggesting you don't opt for a cheaper option based on cash back offers, package bundles and freebies that brands use to draw you into making an inferior purchase. Stick with a buying plan and buy the best you can.
Let’s take a closer look at my Lenses
Now, let me show you my lenses. I prefer to shoot with primes (fixed depth - non-zoom lenses). Firstly, because they create slightly sharper images, and secondly, because they open wider than zooms. A wide-open lens allows for a shallower depth-of-field (or lower f/stops) and creates the bokeh distortions I seek in my work.
Image 5: Right: 85mm 1.4D | 50mm 1.4D | 50mm 1.8D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro
Image 6: 50mm 1.8D and 50mm 1.4D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
These three lenses are perfect for florals and I'd recommend them to anyone wanting to achieve beautiful blurry gradients in their work. Shooting with higher f/stops widens the depth of field (the section of measured focus) and reduces blur.
Hello, Mirrorless Beauty. She is an utter darling and her image quality is exceptional.
A little over a year ago I purchased a Nikon Z6 as an alternative, lighter camera, for my daughter to learn with at college. I didn't want to purchase an entry level DSRL as they're often not compatible with my more expensive Prime lenses (and although I purchased this camera for her, I wanted to make use of it too). It was the addition of the FTZ Adaptor Mount that had me sold on this camera. (Although I was a little frustrated that it didn't take a SD card and that I had to purchase a new XQD card - which was pretty expensive). That set aside this camera did not disappoint, its image quality and colour management is utterly exceptional (and dare I say it better than my D800). This is a perfect travel camera too, as its significantly lighter and even with its 24-70mm kit lens on it drops into a cross-body bag perfectly.
Image 7: Nikon Z6 Mirrorless camera (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
Image 8: FTZ Adaptor Mount with 50mm 1.4D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
Image 9: 50mm 1.4D Mounted on Nikon Z6. (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
I have my iPhone Camera is in the mix too
I'm going to be honest with you here, it's not always my big cameras that I'll reach for. All but two of the images in this post have been captured with my iPhone 11 Pro, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that a fair few of my licensed images are also iPhone images! So I think it's safe to say, that it's not always about size, build and glass that makes for a good photograph.
That leads me perfectly onto my final thought
With all the wishing in the world a better camera doesn't make a better photographer! Expensive gear cannot magically make you more imaginative, artistic, or bring out your inner storyteller. It simply can't! Those things all sit firmly with you my friend.
As a photographer you are an artist, a storyteller, so be aware that seeking only technical excellence can be an expensive distraction.
The thing is — a camera at the end of the day is just a tool, it's how you use that tool that counts.
The real secret to success is learning how to become more intuitive with your compositions, your lighting choices, your subject and how you create harmony that looks effortless. When that effort melts away grace follows and you'll start to create work that resonates with your audience.
How you learn this skill is through practise. However, this doesn't mean you have to endure years and years of it though! Practise, combined with planning, will get you to your goal faster. Being mindful of your intent right from the start is key to moving forward with your skill, randomly snapping away, hoping for a half decent shot, will only lead to underwhelm and frustration.
As a floral photographer I have to be able to see, in my mind’s eye, the vision I want to create before I start. Otherwise, I'm just reacting to what's in front of me. I style all my own arrangements and build my own set ups. I work for myself, creating a vision I can already see. I bring that vision to life through my choices, my actions and my intent. Planning is essential and understanding all of the components is also critical. My camera, my lens choice, my lighting, my props, my flowers and my vision.
It's not the camera that makes the photographer, it's the photographer that makes a good photograph
If you're looking to invest in new gear or are considering upgrading and you don’t know where to start, I invite you to join my Facebook group where you can ask over 1k members for their experience and advice. Learning together is always better.
Join for free here Bloom, Let's grow together