Noel Read

Commercial | Last Updated: February 16, 2021

Hello Shotkit, I’m a commercial photographer based in Milton Keynes in the UK. I’ve been working professionally now for more than 20 years.

I’ve always had a fascination with photography and cameras and was lucky enough to grow up with a Dad with the same passion – so there was always a dark room built into the spare room, a Nikon or two and a fridge full of black and white film!

After taking a degree in Contemporary Media Practice at the University of Westminster, I joined a large commercial studio in Milton Keynes. The staple there was 5×4 transparency and Sinar P2 cameras; Rodenstock and Sinar lenses and Elinchrom lighting; and in-house E6 and C41 processing and printing.

Towards the end of my time there we finally took the plunge and became a fully digital studio after a very big client insisted we use the 3 shot Leaf Valare system for their work. This was a real jump into the deep end, but the system fitted well into the existing 5×4 workflow, the quality was staggering and easily compared to drum-scanned 5×4 transparency. The Leaf Cantare (the single shot back) soon followed that.

When I moved on to set up on my own, my first investment was the Nikon D1, quite a step down from what I was used to, but it did the job and was soon followed by bigger and better CCDs.

Now I shoot for some very well-known British and international brands, automotive manufacturers and blue chip companies, as well as marketing and design agencies – a varied mix of location and studio work.

I’ve listed here the equipment that I find indispensable as a general practice commercial photographer.

The Nikon D3 was the first 35mm camera that started to make images of a quality which was similar to the medium format sensors that preceded it, but the D3 had the added bonus that the sensor could easily be used at ISO 1000 or more – a real game changer! It’s still my favourite camera ever, though it’s not used much now.

Nikon D800 creates superb high-resolution files, with massive dynamic range, but I’m currently shooting most projects on the Nikon D810. The D810 is subtly better than the D800 in lots of little ways and is always a joy to use.

I take the little Fuji x100 everywhere; I’ve had it for years and it’s great fun for quick behind the scenes moments when the chance pops up.

The obvious 3 Nikon zooms and one prime.
Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8
Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8
Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8

With these four lenses, there has never been a situation where I didn’t have exactly what I needed to get the shot – whatever the shot was.

Studio lighting
I got most of these years ago and they’re still going strong. I recently picked up a couple of MLs.
6x Bowens Esprit 500s
2x Bowens ML 500s
Bowens Stands
Bowens light shaping tools, reflectors, soft boxes – all shapes and sizes.

Mobile flash
Nikon SB-900. There aren’t many times, when I’m on location and shooting without lighting, that a little extra boost from the SB-900 doesn’t come in very handy.

Phottix Odin II Flash Trigger – Off camera triggers. These very helpfully control flash settings from the transmitter on the camera – a great time saver!

Neewer LED308 – I got this thinking it would be useful to pop on top of the camera to add a little light to foreground subjects when I’m working with ambient light… In fact, it’s bright! Searchlight bright! I’ve found it’s great if the subject is far enough away from the camera – and of course it has a lot of uses off camera, for lighting those hard to reach places, like washing machine drums or car foot wells.

Gossen Variosix Light Meter – When you need to know what the light is doing when you’re not tethered.

Hoya Slim Polariser Filter – This lives on my working lens. Always useful under pretty much any circumstances.

Genus Variable ND Filter – Increases / decreases the amount of ND when you need to balance a bright day with a flash lit subject and an open aperture.

Colour balance Grey Card – Goes without saying, it’s always sensible to have a grey card in a shot for balancing later.

Shutter release – With the massive pixel count on 35mm sensors, there is no tolerance for a heavy-handed shutter finger!

3 Legged Thing Winston – My favourite travel tripod. It’s made from carbon fiber, it’s strong and stable but light-weight and it looks fantastic! I am lucky enough to shoot product photography for 3 Legged Thing and I’m privileged to be a member of their Pro Team so I get to see and use a lot of 3LT gear.

RockNRoller Multi-Cart R12 – This is an awesome cart! I can load up all my gear and get from A to B in one go – assuming there are no steps! It also makes an excellent work-station when you add the table top fixture.

Apple iMac Retina 5K, 27-inch – This is a great machine and fast enough to eat up the large file sizes I work with on a daily basis. Shooting tethered to it gives me the advantage of seeing every aspect of the captured image, and lets the client clearly see what I’m doing too.

Tethertools Cable – I tether to my Mac whenever possible, which is probably about 90% of the time.

Phase One, Capture One software – another game changer. Every image goes through capture one – it is simply indispensable.

DataVac Electric Duster – This gem has saved me a fortune on those little blue cans of compressed air that I had been buying for years and years! Everything is dustier than you can ever imagine when you photograph it and inspect the image at 300% magnification. This is a very powerful blower, with some great brush attachments that will remove all dust – but it is extremely loud!

Glue Gun – Stronger than blu-tack and removable from nearly any product.

Leatherman Wave – Don’t leave home without it! It can cope with most DIY emergencies that crop up.

Gaffer Tape – Essential for all manor of tasks… from de-fluffing carpets to holding models’ clothes in place to sticking down background Colourama…

Manfrotto Magic Arm and clamps – Used constantly to hold reflectors, props, flags – whatever is needed.

SMJ power cable reels – I’ve spent many years getting frustrated at reeling cables back in. These are closed with one opening so they reel back in quickly and never snag. Reeling in the cables is often one job helpful clients will do to lend a hand when we’re packing away after long shoot. These reels make that job a pleasure – not a pain!

I sometimes get involved with video work. The D800 / D810 are great for this, but the sound quality if you capture straight to the camera is simply not good enough.
The Tascam DR-60D Mk11 has made a huge difference. The DR-60 makes clean sound with no background noise.

Sennheiser K6 microphone – Perfect for my needs when paired with the DR-60.

Zacuto Z Finder Pro 2.5 – Really useful when hand-holding for video, checking focus and exposure, or for viewing the DLSR screen when out and about in bright sunlight.

DJI Mavic Pro – Just got this because an architectural client wanted to add aerial shots to a project. I am very impressed with image quality of both video and stills. I think it will be used increasingly; it’s a great add-on bonus to clients on location shoots.

To carry it all around safely – Peli 1600 case – Peli boast that their cases are near indestructible and I would have to agree! Complete protection – and a very handy step when you need a little extra height!

Lowepro Magnum Soft Bag (not pictured) – perfect for moving around locations when you don’t want to carry the full Peli case. It fits two bodies, 3 lenses.

NPC Soft iMac carry case (not pictured) – I used to use an NPC flight case, which weighed a tonne! Finally had enough of the hassle and got the soft case. Great protection if you pack the boot carefully – and makes the Mac very transportable.

Colourama Background Paper, various colours.

There are lots of other things that get used day to day, but these are the essentials.

Noel Read

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