In this blog entry I want to talk about the gear I have, what I have used in the past, and the reasoning behind the choices I've made gear wise. Oftentimes when I tell people I do photography professionally the first question that comes up is “what camera do you have?”. I have no problem with this question, when I was starting out I was obsessed with knowing what gear people used because I thought that the gear was the secret to incredible images. I’ll save you the trouble of reading this whole blog to let you in on a little secret. It’s not the camera, it’s the person behind the camera.
Now that being said it is obviously easier to get certain shots with a higher end camera and you can do more with higher resolution images. But for learning or starting out with photography you do not need to break the bank when buying a camera and other gear. I too got lost in the idea that I had to have the best gear to be good at photography, fortunately my parents held me back from rushing into buying something too expensive. This gave me time to develop my skills as a photographer using gear that was nothing special but still allowed me to practice and become better.
I started with a Sony A6000, it was my parents camera and it is what started all of this. The A6000 is a crop sensor camera with a resolution of 24.3 megapixels and a max shutter speed of 11 frames per second. It is also a mirrorless camera which meant it was very small and light. All of which are great features and certainly nothing to complain about. It has been updated over the years but the principle of a small lightweight crop sensor camera has remained the same and continues to be a phenomenal back up camera for professional photographers or for those who want the most minimalistic kit.
The two lenses I had for this camera were the 16-50mm 3.5-6.6 and the 55-210mm 4.5-6.3. This was the kit lens set up for that camera. Kit lenses are never the best but not the worst either because I was still able to get some of my favorite shots with that set up. The great thing about that camera is that it has the same lens mount as the camera I use now and any other high end Sony lenses. Which is why I was able to rent a 100-400 for my trip to Alaska which was on that camera most of the time. If you read one of my other blogs you’d know that was a significant trip for me.
For the first year of really doing photography consistently that was the setup I used. There were times where I definitely wished I had a nicer camera or faster lenses for certain situations. But I think that by waiting to upgrade it forced me to work even harder and make the most out of my gear and really push the boundaries of it. Whether that meant shooting a surf competition, or getting a water housing for it that wasn’t the most dry (not something you usually look for in a water housing) or using it for long exposures on the beach trying to capture the perfect sunrise shot.
The point of me saying all of that is that regardless of what gear you start with you can always get better and should not let yourself be distracted by what others are using and just put that energy into developing yourself as a photographer. The more you practice and the better you get, the bigger the payout will be and then you will know you are ready to upgrade your gear.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way we can move onto the reason why you’re reading this blog. To find out what gear I use.
Since I started with Sony, it made sense to keep using their gear. I was also very motivated by one of my favorite photographers of all time, Chris Burkard. He has been a lifelong Sony user and a strong advocate for the superb image quality and overall performance of the cameras and lenses. Over the years it has been interesting to see a huge shift of photographers moving to the Sony platform for a number of reasons.
Adventure and outdoors photography is probably my favorite style and to succeed in the conditions required to get the shots that really pop you need to be fast, efficient, light, and be good in bad lighting conditions. These are all categories Sony cameras perform highly in. Part of the speed and efficiency of these cameras is due to the fact that they are mirrorless which is the future of photography. This is very clear when you look at all of the major camera brands following in sony’s lead and making their own mirrorless line. It is still clear though that Sony was at the forefront of this change.
At the time when I was looking to upgrade Chris Burkard was using the Sony A7RIII. So after some long and diligent research I came to the conclusion that it was the camera for me. Who’s to say how much I was being influenced by one of my favorite photographers but that is something we are all susceptible to.
My reasoning behind getting the A7RIII was simple. It is a full frame (much better image quality and larger sensor), it had a resolution of 42.4 megapixels (yeah that’s enough for a billboard), could shoot about 10 frames per second, and it was more still image focused which at the time was a much bigger priority to me than video.
At the time it was a monumental step forward for still photography because of its high resolution and low weight, making it great for adventure, landscape and even travel photographers. Which is exactly the category I wanted to be in. I should also mention that this high resolution makes it also great for studio and portrait work which is something I have done in the past but not something I am nearly as passionate about.
I have always been someone who appreciates quality gear and I can honestly say that my photography bumped up a few levels once I bought that camera. That could also have to do with the fact that I moved back to Florida and started doing photography more full time, but that's a story for another time.
I made a decision that if I was going to buy lenses that I would use in a professional setting then they should be of the highest quality because they in a sense were a business tool and I wanted to be able to produce the best for clients or my own personal work. This is why all my lenses are at a constant aperture of 2.8 or wider because these allow me to shoot in lower lighting and also perform much faster which is essential for capturing moments that you might only get one shot at.
This is not something you have to do by any means but it is something I think is important because good lenses can easily outlast a camera body so it makes sense to me to make the investment early on. I have made the majority of my gear purchases under the philosophy of “buy nice instead of buying twice”. I’d like to think that I came up with that principle but I am sure someone else has said it before, and someone before them as well.
The first high end lens I got for that camera was the 24-70 2.8. If you know anything about photography you know that the 24-70 is arguably the best all around lens on the planet and if you were only allowed to have one lens it would be that one.
It is a great lens for landscapes, portraits, travel, and just in general an all purpose lens. Over the years I have used it for more shoots than I could ever recall. Wherever I go, I always have my 24-70 because I know I can always rely on it. I have used it in some of the worst conditions, whether it be freezing cold, boiling hot, low light, harsh lighting, you name it I’ve done it, and it always seems to get the job done. That being said I still can manage to produce some shit pictures in those conditions.
The next lens I bought was the 55mm 1.8. This is a prime lens, meaning it does not zoom and it stays at 55mm. A “nifty fifty” is a classic lens because of its natural focal length which is similar to the human eye, making it a very flattering lens and one of the best for portrait photography. My use for it though was for a much different reason.
The 55 is one of the best in water surf photography lenses because of the focal length not being too compressed or too wide, making it a good range for shooting images in the water of surfers. This lens is especially good for Florida waves which do not get very big. If you were to use a wider angle lens for surf photography here than the waves would look much smaller and the surfer would be too far away. Those lenses are better for places like Hawaii or Tahiti where there are huge barrels which are perfect for using a wide angle lens.
Another great thing about the 55 is that it is extremely fast and razor sharp. Meaning that if I did my job right the images would be crisp and in focus which is something that is pretty damn important for sports photography. Unless you're doing some motion blur shots, which is a whole other topic.
I got hired as a portrait photographer for the Ritz-Carlton at Amelia Island. It was a solid job that helped me develop as a photographer and gave me the ability to practice communicating with different clients on a daily basis and adapting to new situations, which is an important part of the job.
The lens was a 70-200mm 2.8. This was one that I had wanted for a while because I knew that it was one of the best lenses ever made because of its versatility and absurd image quality. It is still one of my most favorite lenses that I have ever used. For portrait photography it, in my opinion, is the best. That’s not to say an 85mm prime isn't amazing but the fact that you have a range of 70-200 to work with where any focal length you land on is very flattering and great for people is hard to beat.
Being that it has an aperture of 2.8 it is extremely fast and great for low light. Making it perfect for windy sunsets on the beach when you are trying to just get one picture where everyone is smiling and hair isn't covering anyones faces while the sun is setting.
The 70-200 is also a great lens for more close up action shots because of its internal zoom and fast speeds. I have a friend, Adam King, who actually uses it in a surf housing in the water because of its speed and versatility. Some of his best shots have been taken with that lens, which just goes to show the range of that lens.
The final lens that I have bought is the 16-35mm 2.8. This lens is perfect for underwater photography and wide open landscape shots which are two types of photography that I absolutely love. I have used this lens many times shooting epic landscapes and have loved the ability to go as wide as 16mm without having a distorted image. This focal length is great for being underwater when using a dome port and allows me to get crisp images underwater which can be tricky sometimes due to varying conditions.
The “trinity” of lenses is the 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, which I have been fortunate enough to be able to purchase and can definitely cover pretty much any shoot with this setup. The only time I am needing to rent a lens is if I need to do some longer shots where I would need a super telephoto, the sony 200-600 for example is on the list of lenses I want next.
In terms of other photo/video gear that I own I have a Dji Mavic Air 2 drone which I have used all over and have found to be very capable for video and photo. I have a DJI RS2 gimbal which I like a lot but do not use a ton because I am more focused on still images. I have a peak design travel tripod (aluminum edition) which I absolutely love and can take anywhere. It is truly the best travel tripod I have ever used and wouldn't travel without it.
For my dive housing I have an Aquatica housing, it is made in Canada and it is incredible. I have tried other brands but have not found them to be as solid or sturdy as this one. I have complete control over the camera and can maximize my ability to shoot because of that. I have it configured to fit my 16-35 with an 8 inch dome. Which I have found is the right size for over under shots while also not being too buoyant for freediving.
I hope you were able to get some useful information out of this blog, and if you have any questions please feel free to send me an email! I know how challenging it can be to make the decision of what gear to get, especially when you are talking about thousands of dollars so it is important to get as much information as possible.