Carla Coffing

Environmental Portrait Tips

In my opinion, your gear should feel like you. Maybe you are unassuming, but precise. Or like to be a little flashy. Or always have something fun up your sleeve. Whatever it is, your gear should reflect who you are. There are always at least two sides in any conversation about gear. Purists scoff at gear heads who seem blindly seduced by the latest, greatest gadget that is going to make their work that much better, sharper, crisper. That it is not the gear that matters. I get both sides.

My romantic side aches for the idea of a photographer’s entire body of work being shot through one lens, one focal length. I have experienced how your limitations end up shaping your vision and can wind up helping to define your style. I also see the appeal in being ultra prepared.

I love the Seneca quote: luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

So, don’t get me wrong, I love gear. I dork out about gear. Really. My husband, Andy, took me to Mole-Richardson for my birthday last year to flush out my grip bag. I got to stroll through the aisles with a shopping cart. Apple boxes, gaffers tape, A clamps. It was heaven. This is an appropriate place to insert:

Contents of my grip bag:

• 2 Manfrotto Super Clamps with studs
• 5 A clamps
• 10 clothespins
• Gaffers tape, paper tape, electrical tape
• An extension chord, a cube tap, a power strip
• Black duvateen (negative fill is one of my favorite ways to light a portrait!)
• Blackfoil
• Leatherman
• An ankle weight – like you buy at the gym
• A sharpie, pen, notebook

Since my trip down the aisle in Mole-Richardson was a gift, I felt the financial burden of being a photographer lifted for the first time. My relationship with money plays a big role in how I feel about gear. Some equipment is so insanely expensive, that it really becomes a challenge to justify investing in myself – yet I really need that investment and belief in myself in order to ride out the waves that accompany being an artist.

There is another voice in the conversation about gear – the perfectionist’s voice. Sometimes the photograph is so clear in my head that I don’t want to make it until I have all the right gear, and it’s the perfect time of day, and I am in the perfect mood… you see where I am going with this. It’s a trap! Just take the picture.

I can allow limitations to help me be resourceful. I can make a bounce out of cardboard or have a friend help me build a light out of a bicycle wheel. I can use the fact that my gear looks scrappy and pieced together as a tool, an advantage, another layer of my disarming personality – the part that lets people let me in.

Ultimately, if you want to be a photographer – take the picture. Find a way to invest in something that gets you started. Start shooting and build up as you go. Put a little money aside from each job so that you can invest it in yourself later. Have a wish list. Dream big. Ask a lot of questions of the people around you who shoot. Assist and learn new things. But most importantly, take the picture.

I was very fortunate to be awarded NESOP’s presidential scholarship. It was a lightning bolt that came out of thin air halfway through my second year and propelled me forward. I was pulled into the office and handed a check for $2,500, and told to keep going!

I bought the Canon 5D Mark 2, and yes, that camera body elevated my career, but it was the little boost of confidence that the keep going! gave me that really gave me power. So: keep going!

Camera bag:

Camera bodies:

Canon 5D mark 3
Canon 5D mark 2


Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
Canon 100mm f/2.8
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Canon 50mm f/1.8
Canon 17-40mm f/4
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon 14mm f/2.8

Current wish list:

Canon 50mm f/1.2
Canon 85mm f/1.2
Canon 35mm f/1.4

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1 Comment

  1. David on September 5, 2014 at 8:52 am

    What kind of c-stand is that?

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