Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore» Blog Archive » Gear up for what you love to shoot

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    February 18th, 2011

    Gear up for what you love to shoot

    Gear for sale - one careful owner

    As I noted recently, my ideal portrait shoot set up with probably be something like 2 5d Mk IIs sporting L-series primes of various lengths.

    Which got me looking at my current lens set up. Here’s what I had:



    Of those, all the zooms cost more than either of the primes – the 24-105mm is around $1000, while the primes are around $400. (I’ve also got a plastic fantastic Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II that I put on my old Rebel XT as a light knockaround camera when I don’t want to bring the 5D).

    So you might think I’d do my professional shoots with the more expensive lenses. But I very rarely do. The 24-105mm I’ve used for school group shots and for a recent party session which was more like a studio shoot under controlled conditions. In other words, I’ll use it at times when I know I’ll have good light and need a pretty wide depth of field to make sure everyone’s in focus. Then the convenience of the zoom is handy, and it doesn’t compromise another element of the work.

    But for the shots of individual children or their families, I always use one or other of the primes (normally I’ll start with the 85mm for the tighter shots and then stick on the 50mm for the wider and family shots).

    Image quality is one reason for this choice (my medium level primes beat my more expensive zooms for sharpness and contrast), and low-light capability indoors is another factor – f/4 indoors doesn’t often give you a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the movement of a scampering child. The primes are also lighter than the zooms – a consideration if I’m shooting one-handed with the camera away from my face to keep the interaction with the subject.

    But the creative reasons for using fast primes are the more compelling for me – not being able to zoom makes me think more about composition, and being able to blur the background using a narrow depth of field produces (to me anyway) more pleasing end results.

    From Treat to Tool

    With all this in mind, it struck me that it makes little sense to have a bunch of my money tied up in lenses that seldom earn me any money.

    The reason for this is partly historical, and it also underlines one key difference between amateurs and pros when it comes to photo gear.

    I bought all the zoom lenses before I really started taking my photography seriously as a career. Since I didn’t really know what sort of photography I was going to concentrate on, and it was just a hobby, it made sense to have lenses that covered a pretty wide range of focal lengths (from 17mm up to 200mm in my case).

    And I didn’t have to show any return on investment for my lenses because I wasn’t doing photography for money. Just as when an amateur cyclist spends $3000 on a new bike, they don’t have to work out how quickly they’ll earn it back – it’s discretionary expenditure. Amateur photogs can spend whatever they can afford on whatever they like.

    Pros, on the other hand, need their gear to put food on the table and can’t justify splashing out on something they’d merely quite fancy (not that it doesn’t happen, of course). Which is why many amateurs have much better and more up to date kit than some pros I know (myself included).

    But now I know what I love to shoot – people – and that’s also what I get paid to shoot. I have enough experience to know that I live between f/1.4 and f/3, love the limits that primes impose, and also want great lenses I can use one-handed.

    A Lens Cull

    So I’ve just had a clear out of these excellent but (for me) unsuitable lenses. The 17-40mm and 70-200mm have gone, with the funds going towards a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L.

    I’ll keep the 24-105mm for now, but will only add new lenses if they’re my part of my ideal stable. Fortunately, it’s not a long list: in addition to the 35mm f/1.4 L, there’s the Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM (at a cool $2000 it’ll be a while before I get that puppy), and the Canon EF 135mm f/2L (which I rented a while ago and loved).


    The upshot is that I can only make these decisions because (after nearly five years of shooting a lot) I know what I want to shoot. If I was still an amateur (and had a bunch of disposable income) I’d probably keep the zooms just for the once or twice a year when I broke them out.

    So try all kinds of photography – landscapes, architecture, sports, wildlife, street, portraits, studio-style fashion, whatever – with whatever gear you’ve got. Then you’ll get a feel for what you really like, and where you should invest. There’s no such thing as the perfect lens, or even the perfect set of lenses (unless you had the whole B and H catalog) – it all depends on what type of work you do.

    And only buy something if you keep running up against a genuine limitation in your current gear.


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    One Response to “Gear up for what you love to shoot”

    1. Shooting with two cameras at once | Santa Fe, New Mexico Children and Family Portrait Photographer - David Moore Says:

      […] readers will remember I recently had a clear out of some of my lenses that I wasn’t using […]

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