I’m often asked what type of camera equipment I use to create my images, unfortunately I struggle to answer these questions in the brief exchanges offered by the various social media platforms. See, there’s no quick answer; each piece of equipment I use is part of a whole. I think in terms of kits. Each kit has a set of components that are all mandatory to accomplish the job for which the kit is designed. My work ranges from large scale commercial advertising projects with RVs and moving vans to shooting technical ski mountaineering where toothbrush handles are sacrificed to save a few grams.
Through a lot of experimentation, I’ve landed on four different kits that I use to create my images. This will be the first of four posts in which I’ll outline the essential pieces of each of my kits. We’ll start with the largest, my Commercial Photography Kit. Each individual item, or the whole shooting match can be rented from BorrowLenses.com, which I recommend either as a solution to avoid the overhead of owning equipment, or as a means by which to experiment and test as you work to build your own perfect kit.
Nikon D4s - You may be a Nikon user, a Canon user, a Sony user, a Hasselblad user. I’m not prejudiced, each has its merits. For me, in my pursuit of capturing fleeting moments in rugged places, the Nikon D4s is the best still photography camera in the world. I trust this camera with my livelihood, and know it like the back of my hand. When stakes are high, this is my camera.
Nikon D4s Backup - But the world is an imperfect place, and you can’t stop a commercial production because your camera is on the fritz. Every veteran shooter carries a backup body. For my commercial projects where weight is not an issue, I always carry a second D4s.
Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 Lens - Some people love the special sauce that you can only get with a prime lens. I totally understand. But for my money, the space in my camera bag, and my style of shooting, I’m all about zoom lenses. My widest zoom is the amazing 14-24, a shockingly sharp, fast solution for broad scenes and close up action.
Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 Lens - This is the work horse. If I could only have one of my 2.8 lenses, it would be the 24-70. I’ve grown especially fond of this lens for action within large landscapes, and portraits with shallow depth of field.
Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 Lens – This long zoom lens does miracles. The image stabilization is shocking, the focus tracking is mind blowing, the sharpness is superfly. If you haven’t shot with this lens before, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Nikon 28-300mm 3.5-5.6 Lens – Just as a backup camera body is a mandatory piece of equipment for commercial shooting, I also like the security the comes with having a backup lens. This lens isn’t as fast, sharp or bombproof as the 24-70 and 70-200, but it’s a handy bit of insurance if you ever have one of the key lenses go kaput.
Nikon 2x Tele-Extender - I don’t often find myself needing anything longer than a 200mm lens for commercial applications, but for a small expense and a minor addition to the bulk of the kit, the 2x Tele-Extender makes my 200mm lens a 400mm lens. Just beware of the loss of light and sharpness that comes with using a tele-extender before you make this a permanent solution. It should also be said that if it appears that I’ll need a super long lens for a significant portion of an assignment, I’ll rent whichever super zoom seems the right tool for the job.
Nikon SB-910 Flash - I’m not a huge fan of shooting flash photography, as I prefer to work with the light that nature sees fit to give me. But, there are times when circumstances dictate that a bit of artificial light be introduced in order to make a shot viable. To this end, I include a Nikon SB-910 in my commercial kit every time I head out on location. It’s rarely used, but has saved my bacon on a few occasions. In the instances when I’m planning to shoot extensively with artificial light, I’ll put together an entire lighting kit tailored to the project, but that’s for another post…
EN-EL18a Batteries - Batteries, batteries, batteries. Running out of power for your camera is absolutely not an option. While these Nikon batteries have an amazing capacity, and generally last at least an entire day of heavy shooting, I carry four of them on all of my commercial assignments and recharge them every night.
Nikon MC-36 Multi-Function Remote/Intervalometer - For triggering long exposures with no camera shake, also great for setting up time lapses if you don’t like the intervalometer built into the camera’s menus. Connects to the 10-pin port in most higher end Nikon bodies.
PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver – As I said, I’ll usually default to natural light, but when I need to utilize artificial lighting, I use PocketWizards to remote trigger the lights via radio. These also come in very handy as remote camera triggers for shooting with multiple cameras at once, or for triggering a camera that for one reason or another is far away from my trigger finger.
Manfrotto 055MF3 Tripod with 468MG Hydrostatic Ball Head - This tripod is the perfect mix of burly and light. It’s a three segment carbon fiber tripod weighing in at under 5 pounds and designed to support 15 pounds, plenty of stature for any body/lens combo in my commercial kit. I really love the versatility of this tripod, allowing me to shoot from as low as 6 inches, and as high as nearly 6 feet. Paired with the simplicity of the Manfrotto ball-head, I find this a quick, intuitive and reliable system.
Impact 5 in 1 Oval Reflector 42×72 - While I’m not a huge fan of artificial lighting, doing a bit of tweaking of the natural light is very much to my liking. If I need to insert a bit of shade here, some warm light there, some soft light under the brim of a hat, etc. This 5 in 1 reflector is priceless.
Lexar Professional 1000x 128GB CompactFlash Cards - If you’re shooting a fast camera, you’ve gotta use fast cards. Some of the fastest currently available are the Lexar Professional 1000x cards. The capacities on these CF cards keep expanding, and I’m thrilled at being able to utilize 128GB cards, which require very infrequent card changes, allowing me to focus on shooting.
Giottos Rocket Air Blower - When shooting outdoors, there are challenges galore in keeping a camera and sensor clean. I always carry a Giottos air blower to blow dust and water off of the camera in challenging conditions, as well as blowing dust off of the sensor when I notice spots on the photos. One word of caution, only clean your sensor in a dust-free environment and after you’ve learned the proper techniques. Keep in mind, sometimes the blower isn’t enough, and you’ve got to use sensor swabs and cleaning fluid. Do your homework before touching your sensor, as a mistake can be extremely costly!
I hope you found this peek inside of my commercial kit a wealth of information. Now, before you freak out at the expense of this setup, keep in mind, this is only used in cases where there are significant dollars at play, and equipment failure is not an option. Please do not misconstrue this post to mean that this is the gear you NEED in order to shoot professional images. Quite the opposite is true. I’ve always been a vocal proponent for small camera systems and being in the right place at the right time; heck, I even shot for an Apple campaign with nothing more than my trusty iPhone.
If you’re thinking less is more, stay tuned for the upcoming ‘Kit’ posts in which I’ll share the paired down kits I use for Action Sports Photography, Adventure Photography, and Ultralight Photography. Feel free to comment below with questions/comments and I’ll do my best to keep the conversation going.
Full Disclosure: BorrowLenses supports select projects of mine with the necessary equipment, and I share the benefits of utilizing their services. I have been a customer of BorrowLenses in the past, and will continue to utilize them beyond the scope of this arrangement. I hope you will find them a great solution as you seek new and exciting ways to explore the world of photography and video.