Assumed Audience: People interested in photography, photography gear, and/or web workflows for publishing photography.
A friend recently messaged me:
Hi Chris! Your photos are amazing. Please tell me how you do it. Your cameras. Your lens. Your editing software. Your blogs.
Myself, I know just how many photos I delete and how many more even of those I keep I don’t share, but I don’t mind sharing what I am using and the relatively little expertise I have in the space!
Before diving into the answers I wrote up, the big and all-important qualifier: gear and workflows do not good photography make. There are photographers out there who can pull of shots with an iPhone 12 camera that I cannot pull off with gear that costs many times as much. Gear is fun, and it definitely helps. But good photography is far more the product of a good photographer, and becoming a good photographer is all about practice.
My blog is a super-technical terrible-for-anyone-but-me setup that no one but me (and maybe not even me1) should use. There are great setups on WordPress, Ghost, and SquareSpace for that are way better. Also: Adobe provides hosted portfolio sites if you subscribe to any photo-oriented tier of Creative Cloud. Here is my friend Tim’s portfolio hosted that way, for example.
Which leads me to editing software: I’m just using Lightroom CC — I spend the $10/month on it because it’s very good and very easy to use, including on iPad, which is where I actually do most of my editing. iPad Pro + Apple Pencil is a phenomenal editing experience. I occasionally do editing on my computer but… mostly just on my iPad. (Note that to make that work you need one with a lot of storage: I have the 512GB model and that does just fine.)
Camera: my normal camera is the Sony α7R IV. It is a phenomenal camera body with two features that are both upsides and downsides:
It is large: which makes it a great fit for my (fairly large) hands, and well-balanced with big lenses, but also makes it heavy and bulky.
It has an incredibly high-megapixel sensor: which means I can often get a usable photo even after cropping out , but (a) takes up a ridiculous amount of storage space per-picture — shooting RAW I end up taking about 1GB of storage from 10 pictures 🤯 and (b) means it can end up having more noise in low-light conditions.
That is not the camera that [prompted this writeup, the person in question having seen me with said different camera]. For our little family trip to Dinosaur National Monument this weekend, I am renting the Sony α7C as well as a telephoto lens.2 It is a really nice little camera, which is very, very different from the α7R IV. It weighs about as much with the (not tiny!) lens I was shooting with in that goofy picture as the α7R IV does with no lens attached. 😅 It’s way friendlier for smaller hands than mine. It also has a much lower-resolution sensor, which means it isn’t quite as amazing for cropping as mine is, but it performs way better in low light.
(That said, if I were recommending a camera in that range, I would recommend the α7 III — not the α7R III — which is basically the same as the α7C, but in a somewhat larger body, but not as large the α7R IV. [Or, possibly, if you can hold out that long, wait for the α7 IV, most recently rumored to be coming in September — ed.])
Lenses! I have lots. My most-used lens is the Sony FE 35mm 𝑓/1.8, which is the lens I took that picture with. It is a phenomenal all-around lens, and if I had to get rid of all my lenses but one, that’s the one I would keep.
I also have three others:
- Sony FE 85mm 𝑓/1.8: an incredible portrait lens — a bunch of the portrait-style pictures Jaimie sent along came from that.
- Sony FE 20mm 𝑓/1.8 G: a really, really amazing lens for landscape shots
- Sony FE
24 – 70mm 𝑓/2.8 GM: a really good zoom lens which can do everything from landscape to portrait quite well — but it’s large and heavy; if I were buying again I might get the Tamron 28 – 75mm 𝑓/2.8 lens instead
For our trip, I’m renting Sony’s FE
The last thing I’ll say [ed: in my note to my friend; see below for more in this post!] is that renting lenses and cameras is a really great way of figuring out what you like/want/etc. I have been using LensRentals for a couple years now and their rental (and purchase!3) prices are really reasonable, and their customer service is PHENOMENAL.4 That link = $25 off (for both of us!) if you try them.
Two additional things my friend didn’t ask about but I’ll cover anyway:
For a camera bag, I use the Everyday Messenger by Peak Design — the original, not their v2 revision, which is still good but doesn’t come in the 15L size. That matters to me not just for camera gear but because I also use it as my bag for laptops, notebooks and pens, etc. on a day-to-day basis, and I need the extra size for my work-supplied 15″ MacBook Pro. Also, to be perfectly honest, I just don’t like the design of the new one quite as well! You can’t get the original new from Peak Design, but you can still find it a few other places online.
For a tripod, I use the Peak Design Travel Tripod, specifically the carbon fiber variant. It is delightfully small and light — I carried it around for hours today (along with a lot of other stuff) and it was totally fine. It’s the only tripod I have contemporary experience with (and the only other tripod I had any experience with was a $20 piece of cheap and heavy nonsense from a decade ago), so I can’t compare it to anything else… but so far I also haven’t had cause to, because it’s fantastic.
Now, you might wonder whether this is what I would recommend. The answer there is a bit more complicated. On the one hand, I definitely don’t not recommend the gear I’ve chosen. I’m quite happy with all of it. On the other hand, it is a very pricey setup, which I have been able to afford through a combination of saving well and being paid a Silicon Valley salary. And as I noted at the outset: gear won’t make your photography great. For a good starting-out setup, I would recommend the Sony α7 III for the body — which has frequently been described as one of the best value for money camera bodies ever made, and which you can often find for a few hundred dollars less than its list price; and the Sony FE 35mm 𝑓/1.8 lens — which as noted above a great all-around lens which I’ve used happily for everything from portraits to landscapes.
Expect to see a bunch of photos from this trip in the next week, and perhaps even the first one today or tomorrow, along with some thoughts on the α7C. ↩︎
That’s where I got the
24 – 70mm I use. ↩︎
I don’t normally do all caps but they deserve it. ↩︎