27 Jun 19
The Shutterstock Blog
Take a look inside the studios and camera bags of creative photographers from around the world and see what tools of the trade they always keep on hand.
Peek into any photographer’s camera bag, and you’re sure to learn a thing or two about her process. A landscape photographer’s equipment will look vastly different from a portrait photographer’s, which will differ in turn from a product photographer’s. Gear doesn’t define a photographer—and in this day and age, you can take stellar photos using all sorts of cameras—but it does help to have the right tools in your kit.
We love analyzing how great images are made, so we asked a select group of Shutterstock Contributors and Offset Artists to tell us a bit about the items they rely on every day. The tools on this list range from the expected to the surprising, but regardless of your area of expertise, there’s something in here for everyone.
1. For portrait photos, try:
A fixed lens.
Image by Manuel Ruiz Alba
Manuel Ruiz Alba, a photographer based in Santander, Spain, places an emphasis on beautiful, natural portraits. “I always carry my 50mm lens with me,” he says. “It is my favorite for capturing details, without a doubt.”
Image by DisobeyArt
Niccolò Pontigia, an Italian photographer who goes by the moniker DisobeyArt, shares a similar perspective. “When it comes to lifestyle photography, I can’t work without a 50/55mm fixed focal length lens,” he admits. “Telephoto and wide-angle lenses come in handy too, but in many cases, my 55mm Zeiss fixed lens makes all the difference.”
These 50mm prime lenses are sometimes called “nifty fifties” because of their popularity amongst portrait photographers.
A reliable camera strap.
The NYC photographer Darcy Rogers can never be found without a sturdy camera strap. “When I was in art school, I had an instructor who called a camera strap ‘the best and cheapest form of insurance,’ and he was right,” she tells us. “The strap obviously prevents dropped (broken) cameras. But I also think it helps create a rapport with the subject. With the strap around my neck, I can easily move between shooting and talking with my subject.”
Image by Katie Rain
Fellow Offset Artist Katie Rain agrees. “My HoldFast camera straps are a lifesaver,” she explains. “It’s crazy to think that I used to pick up and put down my cameras throughout sessions in order to change bodies. Now, I keep my two bodies on my straps and shoot away. So easy!”
Image by Liz Cooper
Alfred Eisenstaedt famously said, “It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” On a portrait shoot, you want your subject to feel comfortable and at ease. Perhaps that means they bring along a favorite item from home, or maybe playing some music could be all it takes to create the right atmosphere.
Offset Artist Liz Cooper tells us, “I am copying this 100% from another photographer (Ben Sasso), but he always has a small Bluetooth speaker at his shoots with music. It’s a really great way to get people in the groove you want them to be in and just have a good time.”
2. For family photos, try:
Image by Nicole Sanchez
A wireless remote shutter.
Offset Artist Nicole Sanchez is a family documentary photographer based in Fairfax, VA. Because she’s usually photographing others, she sometimes forgets that the most valuable moments are the ones where she’s involved. For that reason, a remote shutter is a must-have.
“Using one of these makes it fun and easy to get in the picture with my kids,” she tells us. “I use the RFN-4s set from Amazon. It’s tough and has even survived a run through the laundry!”
An off-camera speedlight trigger system.
Image by Laura Froese
Take it from Laura Froese, a lifestyle and portrait photographer from British Columbia. “Honestly, this is one of my favorite pieces of gear,” she admits. “I use a Canon 580exII flash and an affordable Yongnuo trigger system. These allow me to bring beautiful light into any situation.
“In addition to using these for client shoots, I also have them sitting beside my desk at all times, so I can grab them at a moment’s notice when my kids are doing something cute that I want to remember but the lighting is less than ideal. I call it my portable window, and I love that people often cannot tell whether there really was a window in the room or not with the finished product!”
A mobile phone.
You might not end up publishing the photos you take with your phone, but having it on hand will help you capture moments you might otherwise have missed. Plus, for children, a small phone can be less intimidating than a DSLR, so some family photographers we’ve spoken to prefer taking “practice shots” using a mobile device before switching to their professional camera. As an added bonus, your kids can learn to use the phone as well, see how the process works, and get involved creatively.
3. For product photos, try:
Image by Andrew Balcombe
A set of clamps.
This deceptively simple photo from Andrew Balcombe required a great deal of work behind-the-scenes. With help from his daughter, he set up some miniature chairs, a white card, a flash, and a reflector in the living room. But the real lifesaver turned out to be a set of clamps he purchased from a knick-knack shop.
“I thought they would be handy for holding a photo subject still,” he remembers. “And I was right—I ended up using three of them in this photo to connect the spoon to a chair and hold it still. The shoot took me around an hour in total and cost me half a bottle of honey, three euros for the clamps, and a chocolate strawberry ice cream for my daughter as thanks for being my assistant.”
Image by July Prokopiv
Whether you’re using natural or artificial light, product photography comes down to getting all those shadows and reflections just right. In addition to a reflector, keep different diffusion papers on hand.
A cleaning cloth.
For any product shoot, it’s important your subject remains completely spotless. Whether you’re shooting a shampoo bottle or an icy cocktail, remember to avoid any grease marks or fingerprints. Keep a cloth on hand, and don’t be afraid to use it frequently!
Image by paullynn
Okay, this might not qualify as “gear,” but it’s just as important as the camera you choose. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to make a photo that looks like a million bucks. Most studios use white seamless paper, but you can also mix it up with aged wood or textured metals.
4. For travel photos, try:
Image by evenfh
In addition to their main cameras and lenses, several of the photographers we spoke to opt for a handy GoPro. Even Hulleberg (evenfh), a Norwegian photographer who travels the world documenting nature, wildlife, and landscapes, is rarely without his. “I particularly enjoy getting action shots, different wide angles, and cool settings with the GoPro Black 7,” he says. “It’s so much fun to play around with, and I like to break the pattern of what you can call your ‘standard shots.’”
As a bonus, a GoPro is easy to carry, providing a welcome relief from heavy, cumbersome gear. Cinematographer Tetsuya Irisawa from Gemini Create prefers the GoPro Hero 7. “It’s small and lightweight, and it helps me to shoot faster,” he explains. “Sometimes, I carry it around in my pocket.”
Image by Laurens Hoddenbagh
A power bank.
In addition to your batteries, you’ll need a power bank for easy charging when you’re out in the field. Shutterstock Contributor Laurens Hoddenbagh once got lost in the desert, and ever since that terrifying moment, he’s made sure always to bring an external power bank wherever he goes, just in case he needs to charge his phone.
A sturdy camera bag.
Image by Robyn Gwilt
For situations where lugging around a ton of gear is inevitable, a good bag is your best friend. Robyn Gwilt, a photographer and Shutterstock Contributor based in South Africa, spends much of her time exploring the mountains and seashore, so she usually has a heavy load of equipment in her car. “All my gear lives in my Lowepro Slingshot 2AW,” she tells us. “This bag packs it all in (including a 100-400 lens!) and is always in my trunk.”
5. For landscape photos, try:
A weather-sealed camera.
Landscape photographers encounter all sorts of conditions, from rain to snow to scorching heat. Invest in a weather-sealed camera, and if you want to go the extra mile, consider keeping a plastic bag in your backpack and bringing along a lens hood for bright days.
Image by Photo_DDD
Your choice in tripod matters, so go for quality. You’ll need a reliable tripod while navigating uneven terrain, especially if you want some starry night skies in your photos. You can choose a heavy, solid model or a compact travel tripod, as long as it does the job.
Image by Creative Travel Projects
ND filters will limit the amount of light hitting your lens, meaning you can keep your aperture wider than you normally would without fear of overexposing. Still photographers and cinematographers like Colin Greenall rely on them to capture striking images. “The one piece of gear I could never live without is an ND filter,” Greenall tells us. “I love shooting with an open wide aperture to get that depth of field.”
Top Image by Photo_DDD.
Want to know more about working like a pro? Check out these articles:
The Ultimate Guide to Composition in Photography
The Morning Routines That Inspire Our Photographers
Top Ten Best Practices for Styling Any Photoshoot
The Ultimate Guide to Artificial, Natural, and Mixed Lighting
Composition Tricks That Are Perfect for Social Media