I began in weddings and moved into commercial work when I started working for a major resort company as a staff advertising photographer. In the four years doing that I found a love for producing outdoor/travel lifestyle images that sell experiences and get people outside. I also have a personal love of fashion and fashion photography and love shooting it when I can.
Being a total technology nerd, I’ve always enjoyed all of the gear that a photographer has access to and I’m constantly trying out new things. To me, choosing equipment is based on a couple of questions: Does it let me be more creative or does it do a job more efficiently and consistently?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about photography gear over the years is that cheap is cheap but inexpensive isn’t necessarily cheap. There are tons of great tools that aren’t the most expensive out there but do a great job. Conversely, there are things that are definitely worth the money if people are paying you to create photographs.
I really wish I had known this from the beginning and not gone through the time and money of buying and selling continuously nicer gear. Start by buying one light and one modifier you can afford, rent everything else, and wait until you can afford the good stuff before jumping into a system.
For me, the good stuff is Profoto lights, and I’ve switched almost everything to their system. Something that isn’t discussed by everyone when talking about why they use a certain light is the availability of rental equipment.
Sure, a bunch of Chinese companies make solid lighting products that can do the job but when you’re on location away from home, good luck renting additional lights and modifiers for them. With Profoto (and Broncolor to an extent), you are pretty much guaranteed to find rental houses carrying gear for your system all over the world.
The photo of my kit was just what I had in my bags on a recent fashion shoot but I’m going to list most of my gear that I can remember.
Nikon D810 – This thing is amazing. I had a Nikon D800 but I sold it because it was slow and I felt like I had trouble focusing with it. The Nikon D810 fixed all that and produces incredible files. To this day, I am always blown away by the sharpness and range when I zoom to 100% on a file from this body. Excellent studio camera with its super high resolution.
Nikon D750 – Small, fast, incredible low-light focusing and high-iso performance, and the sweet spot of resolution and file size.
Sony A6000 – I take this when I travel and don’t want a DSLR with me. Very capable little mirrorless camera that shoots great behind the scenes video as well. I have an adaptor that lets me use Nikon glass with it too. It’s an incredibly good action camera with its 10 fps and excellent autofocus.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED Lens – These 1.8G primes are truly great. Affordable, faster focusing than the 1.4 models, sharp, and light weight.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Lens – Probably my most used lens for portraits and fashion. So sharp. Great focal length for making people look good.
Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8D Lens – I’ve had this all-metal macro lens forever and it’s still kicking. Good for product photography.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR Lens – Primarily used for action photography. I still have V1 of this lens. I’ve used VII and it’s a little sharper but I actually like the way mine handles better and it is more metal.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR Lens – Great focal length for outdoor lifestyle and action setups.
Profoto Acuteb 600r – Tons of consistent, beautiful power in a battery pack and head system. Profoto gear just works and you never have to worry about it. The pack is somewhat heavy (when compared to the new Profoto B2) but I use it as an extra sandbag with a little strap I attached to it.
Having 600 watts and a head that can take all of Profoto’s zoomable light modifiers in a package that fits in my Think Tank Airport Commuter backpack is awesome. I also use these in the studio because you can charge it while shooting.
Profoto B2 – Very compact and portable battery powered light system that has the power output of about 5 speedlights combined. The size of the head and lack of protruding flash tube allows you to do things you wouldn’t want to with traditional strobe heads.
I can use a Magic Arm attached to my camera to mount the B2 with a small modifier and have a beautiful light when shooting without an assistant and be more mobile than if I had it on a stand. With the Air-TTL remote, the high speed sync above 1/250th of a second works flawlessly and lets you just set ambient exposure without worrying about ND filters.
Profoto B1 – I currently rent these as needed but hope to own 2-3 soon. These are basically the new and improved version of the Acuteb system, adding features like TTL and high speed sync. They are phenomenal workhorse lights that do almost everything very well. Short flash durations in Freeze mode make them great for action.
The one downside is that it does not allow any AC input which is frustrating in studio situations. Also, when I have to mount a light up high on a boom, I prefer the Acuteb 600 because it is a much lighter head than the B1.
CheetahStand Cheetah Light CL 360 – This thing is great and has been a trusty sidekick for a few years. Puts out about 300 watts of barebulb flash from a battery pack that lasts approximately 30 years. Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I honestly couldn’t tell you what the battery life is because I maybe charge it every 6 months; it just doesn’t die.
The form factor is that of an overbuilt speedlight with a swiveling head, similar to Quantum Q-Flashes that many wedding photographers used to use.
Color temperature, power consistency, and flash duration are definitely a step below the Profotos but the refresh rate is really good and the system is very durable. I like using it with a grid as an accent light and I also have a little 1.5 ft softbox/beauty dish modifier that deploys like an umbrella and connects straight to the head without any additional mounting.
It’s an awesome super portable and durable kit to throw in a suitcase wrapped in a sweatshirt for personal shoots. It will even do high speed sync with a couple of different trigger options.
CheetahStand Cheetah Light CL-V860 Speedlights – Durable, inexpensive speed lights that offer wireless power control and super long lasting lithium batteries. Bye bye AAs.
Lowell GL-1 Gun light – I love this thing for cinematic lighting, even though it is basically a really overpriced flashlight with a focusing and power adjustable head. Put a cooling gel on it to bring it into a more usable color temperature.
Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand – 6.2′ – Part of that super portable kit I throw in my suitcase with the Cheetah Light for personal work. Also seeing a resurgence in use with the B2.
CheeahStand Cheetah Boom – A great 13′ light stand that also converts to a boom that can be used with lighter modifiers.
CheetahStand c12 – Automatic deploying legs on a standard 12′ stand.
Impact C-Stand with Sliding Leg Kit (Black, 11′) – Big lights and modifiers require heavy duty stands and c-stands are where it’s at. I like the ones with the sliding leg because it adjusts to uneven terrain.
Chimera Video Pro Plus Small Softbox 24″ x 32″ – My favorite softbox. Great size for 1 or 2 people when used in close. Chimera makes incredibly high quality softboxes with top notch materials. This one is silver lined and has triple diffusion for both efficiency and softness.
Profoto Deep Umbrella White XL – Gorgeous big modifier. Has a great balance between soft and directional light. If you put the diffusion front on it, you have a massive softbox that will make anyone look amazing. I also use it as a general fill light for ambient.
Profoto Magnum Reflector – Adds about a stop of light output to whatever strobe it is put on so it is a great combo with the B2 when you need more power. Works well to emulate sunlight.
Photex Softlighter – A great do everything softbox umbrella. Faster to setup than a softbox.
Westcott Omega Reflector – This thing solves a problem that I’ve always had and I’m thankful to Jerry Ghionis for making it with Westcott. Essentially, it’s a 7-in-1 collapsible reflector with a removable rectangle in the center.
There are so many uses for this in so many conditions. If you are shooting in tight on a subject on an overcast day with minimum light, it is hard to get a reflector close enough without it being in frame. Well, just remove the center panel, put on the silver reflector and shoot right through it.
Another cool setup is putting a flash behind your subject as a hairlight/backlight and shooting through the Omega reflector in a way that fills in the front of the subject as well. Honestly, this is the one portable reflector you could ever need.
Lastolite Large Standard Skylite Rapid Kit – 6.6’x6.6′ scrim/reflector that breaks down into a portable bag. The reason I like this one over the Westcott Scrim Jim is that it is way faster and easier to assemble because of the design. I can tell any assistant to set it up and they can figure it out without any help from me. They make smaller ones too that are useful.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – My first Windows computer in many years and overall, it’s a great machine with a few livable quirks. I use it as both my travel computer and entertainment tablet as well as for tethering to Capture One on location. The i7 model has enough power to manage 36 mp D810 files competently. The screen is also one of the best on any machine I’ve ever seen.
15″ Macbook Pro – My home computer and edit workstation. Macs just work…
Eizo CS240 monitor – Great monitor for the price point that calibrates really well and shows all the colors you could need.
Wacom tablet – A must for retouching.
Lexar workflow 512gb SSD drive – These things are great. They are part of a system that lets you swap them into a Thunderbolt 4 bay hub but I use them with their included USB 3 cable as super portable and very fast storage drives. I take them with me when I travel because they are tiny and have enough storage for almost every shoot and the transfer speeds are way better than non SSD drives. Also, flash storage is more durable.
Think Tank Airport Commuter backpack – Great backpack that holds my lighting kit and Surface Pro and fits under the seat on an airplane. I put an Acuteb 600, radio triggers, Profoto OCF softbox, and either the Lowell Gun Light or 3 speedlights in it.
Think Tank Airport Roller Derby rolling case – I’m a total Think Tank guy after trying every bag on the market. I just find them to be well thought out and super durable. I like this one for my camera bodies, lenses, and a Profoto B2. I’m also a huge fan of the 4 wheeler design because it takes the weight off of you when you’re on a relatively flat surface.
SKB Golf bag hard sided travel case – I have yet to find a bag made by a photography company that comes close to being as good as this golf case for carrying stands and grip gear. I’ve tried a bunch of 2-400 dollar cases that couldn’t fit a 13′ stand and when I found this guy for way less than that, I gave it a try and haven’t looked back. Swallows a bunch of stands and modifiers and has wheels and is safe to ship with.
Inside Jesse’s camera bag: