Why Camera gear creates a good foundation but not necessarily a good photographer
Image 1: Nikon 85mm 1.4D (taken with the Nikon Z6)
Image 2: Nikon 85mm 1.4D (taken with iPhone 11 Pro)
The question of camera gear is always exiting, as is the prospect of a new shiny lens or better still the tantalising proposition of a new body! (perhaps limited to photography but nevertheless it's a knee wobbling prospect).
Camera Gear and flower varieties are in the top 10 questions. I'm often asked, "what camera do I shoot with?" And, "what's my go-to lens?"
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 you get it wrong! Which I've done on several occasions!
Let’s start with what’s in my 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 baby, it lives on my camera and pretty much stays there 99% of the time. I have a back up Nikon 50mm 1.4D that I seldom use (not quiet sure why) and an Nikon 85mm 1.4D that produces stunning image sharpness and get used whenever I have a little more space in which to set up and work. In my opinion Nikon glass (lenses) produce amazing results. Every photographer is looking for that one thing, and for me it’s the balance between sharpness (the sweet spot) and blur (bokeh), and my choice of lenses never fails.
But I didn’t start out with Nikon! Oh no! I started out with bag of Canon gear.
I started my photography career with a Canon EOS 5D II and struggled with heavy oversaturated blacks and high contrast. Let's not forget I studied photography at college back in 1994 with an Olympus OM40 SRL, so switching from film to digital was always going to present a quality challenge, and true enough I found digital, in contrast to film, to be heavy and wanting in a type of quality I just couldn’t pin down.
Then in 2012 I did the unimaginable — I 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 digital cameras or the brand. I'd read good reviews about the quality of the Nikon lenses and I knew I had to find out for myself. It was an expensive transition (thank goodness for Ebay) but one that I've never looked back from.
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)
So I'm a Nikon shooter! Now, lets not get hung-up on the Canon verses Nikon debate because it's seriously not important. Yep, thats right, it's not! It's personal preference that's important, individual choice, talent, skill, not the brand of camera you choose to buy or work with.
But if you are looking to buy a new camera try and 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.
Buy the best you can afford
When I'm asked for recommendations and it's hard to know how to answer such a question without knowing anything about a persons 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 the start. I like to think of camera gear as foundations, like those created when building a structure, they will ensure a level of success, but they cannot determine what's build above them! — Get it?
So now you know what body I shoot with let me show you my lenses. I adore my Primes (fixed depth non-zoom lenses) because they're slightly sharper than zooms and I like to move about as I don't work with a tripod. I also like the quality of their engineered glass that allows for a shallower depth-of-field (or lower f/stops).
I'm not going to get technical (mainly because I have a huge disliking of maths, fractions and science stuff) but I am going to share that I always shoot between 2.8f and 1.8f so I've filled my bag with these fabulous Prime lenses that allow me to go that low! (Or that wide).
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.
Tip: When I shoot portraits I still opt for a low 2.8f aperture so as to anchor primary focus on my subjects eyes. You can see more of my portrait work here
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 pricy). 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)
iPhone Camera is in the mix too
I'm going to be super transparent 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 works 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 second piece of advice:
It's not the camera that makes the photographer, it's the photographer that makes a good photograph".
A caveat to my earlier advice is a cautionary tale, that a better camera doesn't make a better photographer! Expensive gear cannot make-up for the lack of imagination, artistic vision, storytelling and the ability to capture those moments people 'feel' rather than see.
As a photographer you are a storyteller above all, and be aware that seeking only technical excellence can be the proverbial dangling carrot.
The thing is — a camera at the end of the day is just a tool, it's how you use that tool that really counts.....
The real secret to success is learning how to become more intuitive with your compositions, your lighting choices, your subject and create harmony that looks effortless. When that effort melts away grace follows and you'll start to create work that resonates with its audience.
How you learn this skill is through practise, not just any random practise, but one that allows you to become proactive in what you seek instead of reactive. Chasing our tales snapping away randomly hoping we get a half decent shot isn't a practise.
A solid photographic practise gives you that essential skill in finding the stillness in any moment. A stillness from which to breath, be conscious, slow down and focus, so that you can see, engage and capture.
Learning alone is hard, learning in a community is supportive and will progress you further. So if you'd like to join a community of like-minded creative photographers you're in luck!
From September I'll be opening the doors to my private Facebook group. In order to receive your personal invitation please sign up here: click here to subscribe.