To me, what is most appealing about photography is that it allows you to explore a lot of genres and ideas with immediate results and then quickly move on to the next thing. I don’t think I’d have the patience to work on a masterpiece painting for months or even years. That painting would never be finished. I want to shoot everything and so everyday I’m shooting something different than the day before. But since leaving my day job last year to do photography full-time, I’ve been focusing primarily on people. Whether it’s shooting a fashion editorial, photographing musicians, or even just taking actor headshots, I really enjoy having a human subject. Which is really a weird realization for me because I’m kind of a huge introvert.
Whenever I shoot, in that moment, I’m totally in love with what’s in front of my lens. It’s a great feeling. Sometimes it’s a bit of a let down when you look at the photos the next day and they don’t live up to the feeling you had when you were shooting. Thankfully, that happens less and less as you grow as a photographer. I’ve always enjoyed silence and emptiness, which is something I try to convey in my work.
I started as a Nikon guy – mostly because of the legacy of the F mount. First the Nikon FM-2, then the Nikon N90, then finally the Nikon F100. I bought my first digital camera (Nikon D70) back in college while working at the local camera store. It was the second one we sold. I remember that camera being such a game changer thanks to its massive 6mp sensor, fast autofocus, and costing only $1,000. I loved that camera so much, but I remember how horrible editing those files in Photoshop was. If you didn’t get the exposure perfect you were screwed. In a way, though, I’m thankful for that camera’s shortcomings because it taught me to not be lazy when I shoot.
I think anyone who loves photography has a trophy shelf at home with all their favorite cameras. Mine includes a variety of old 35mm and MF cameras I collected during my early years. My pride and joy is my Fuji GX680. Some of my favorite portraits were shot with this camera and its razor sharp 100mm lens. I also have a very beautiful Graflex Super D that is tons of fun to shoot with.
Even though I love all my cameras, I try not to be a gear junky because, at the end of the day, the camera doesn’t really matter. Some of my favorite photos were taken with my iPhone. I also don’t buy into the idea that you need to look like a pro in order to be respected as a photographer. Most clients don’t care what you show up with, they just expect that you know what you’re doing. Occasionally you’ll get that annoying “Canon or Nikon?” question but it’s not as often as you think. It’s actually kind of fun to answer now because these days I get to say “Sony.”
What’s in the bag:
The job really dictates what I bring with me to a shoot, but the fundamentals are basically the same. I’d call this my ‘go-to’ kit whenever I’m traveling, shooting a personal project, or small editorial job.
I traded in my Canon 5D II for a Sony a7R, but kept my favorite Canon lenses to use with the Metabones III adapter. Yes, I wish Sony had more FE lenses to use on my Sony A7R, but to be honest, I truly love manually focusing my Canon glass using Sony’s focus peaking.
When I was shooting with a Canon body, my Canon 24-105mm f/4 was my workhorse. Now I mostly use the Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6. It’s not a spectacular lens, but it’s fairly sharp, focuses fast, and I got it virtually for free from the camera store I bought my Sony a7R from. When I don’t need autofocus, I love using my Canon 50mm f/1.4 for fashion work and my Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro for product, food, and headshots. My Canon T-SE 45mm f/2.8 is a really fun lens to use for portraits but I’m actually trying to sell it to buy the Canon T-SE 90mm f/2.8. But for now, I’m saving my money for whenever Sony releases a fast FE 85mm.
The Fuji x100 is probably the world’s coolest camera. Aside from the somewhat lousy af, it’s just brilliant to use. If someone wanted to give me the x100s I wouldn’t say no but I don’t see any real reason to upgrade.
My MeFoto Backpacker tripod goes everywhere with me. It’s short and pretty useless when it’s windy out but gets the job done 90% of the time, and it’s better than carrying my heavy Manfrotto everywhere. It packs down so small it actually fits inside my bag rather than having to carry it on the outside.
I know using a light meter is kind of old school, but my Sekonic L-508 has been my trusty companion for years. Taking ambient readings is actually really helpful for a lot of situations. The spot meter less so, but it’s nice to have.
I use the X-Rite Colorchecker Passport whenever getting accurate colors is a must – mostly fashion, but also when shooting people in challenging light.
My iPhone 5s is my Instagram weapon of choice (I’m actually kinda proud of the fact that all my instagram photos are iphone only). I used to be one of those people who didn’t need a smartphone, but once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit there’s no going back. It’s essential for my day-to-day now. My fiancée just bought me an Olloclip for my birthday and it’s pretty fun to play with.
The Sony a7R uses SD cards which is awesome because I can carry a dozen of them in my Pelican card case and my 13” Retina Macbook Pro has n SD slot built in. SO much faster and more convenient than an external card reader.
I also carry a Moleskine storyboard notebook. It’s a great way to sketch out photo ideas as they pop into your head. My handwriting has only gotten worse since we type everything these days, so I jot down most notes on my iphone, but sketching is still the best way to visualize a concept.
The pack is just what I’m using for now. I have a ton of different packs depending on where I’m going and what I need, but I love using this canvas bag fitted with a Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Insert. It has just enough pockets, was super cheap on ebay, and doesn’t scream photographer. If I had to do it again, I’d probably get one that already included a divided camera section, but this gets the job done for me. It doesn’t include a dedicated laptop sleeve, so eventually I’m sure I’ll buy a laptop case.
I’m just starting out as a “professional” photographer. I say “professional” because I have mixed feelings about what it means to be a professional. Most people would agree it means you make your living taking photos, but I think that’s an incomplete description. There are plenty of people making money in this business who are lousy photographers. I want to be a good photographer who also makes a living at it. I’m getting closer and closer to being both everyday.
Inside John’s camera bag: