How important the camera and lens for a photographer? This is our bread and butter, all our work depends from it. A good camera and high quality lens can do wonders in a good hands.
In this post I would like to talk about camera for those of you who just entering a photography field, working on the portfolio and wondering what to spend that never-deep-enough budget on.
As usual, I’ll be talking about things I know: the studio photography.
Here, in the studio, the lights is the most important things to know: if you’ll know how to work with the light, you’ll be able to shoot product. If not, there is no way you can convince the client that the crappy photo you did is your unique “vision” of the subject: There are very distinctive requirements for the lighting for a product photography.
In my opinion, most important thing to do for a beginner is to build a good portfolio: solid, cleaned and distinctive from the rest of the crowd. Without real assignments you can only fill your portfolio with images created for self-promotion: this is what I had 6 years ago in my portfolio, most pieces were done with Sony Cybershot, my first digital camera.
The only “technical” requirement for the quality (not talking about the actual content of the photo) of the portfolio image is to be good at web size, about 1200×1024 pixels max. Which means the camera/lens combination can be very inexpensive… continue reading and you’ll see my point:-)
Let me show you what can be done with some knowledge, 3 strobe monolights and an empty room (read: studio) and little 10Mpx point-and-shoot Canon G11 camera. Everyone, virtually every family has this kind of camera. But how many of us use the maximum of it?
Here is our hero:
This camera has everything you need as a studio shooter: manual focus, manual exposure control, RAW, and macro shooting mode.
I was simply re-doing our recent photo shots, composing the same or similar photos we did lately. All the shot were done with 1/2500 sec ( the max x-sync I was able to set on the camera.) and F6.3 (similar DOF on 35mm will be achieved at F22). We spend about 20 minutes for each shot, including setup time.
I’ve included 100% crops to show the real quality, but remember: here I am talking about web-size images for portfolio, Flickr, etc..
Product macro photography.
The same watch we had on the latest masterclass. Similar lighting setup, 1/2500 sec F6.3:
This is only 20 minutes effort, and what you see is almost as-is image.
100% camera RAW crop:
Sharpness was the worst (among all 3 shot described in this article), probably I was not good setting manual focus here. However, if we look at web-size photo, the result is quite acceptable for a portfolio. It is not as refined as the one I have on a masterclass announcement, but on this one we did not spend even 10% of a post production we had on the “real” one.
Similar to what we did for our recent Kids fashion photoshoot.
Does anyone can say what camera it was shot with? No way: I’ve seen on web so many great photos done on $8K cameras looking even less sharper only because people were not good enough at optimizing their hi-res images for web.
100% crop of the similar one form the same set:
This is where little G11 is really shining: X-sync of 1/2500 of a second (this is what I was able to set, 1/4000 was not available for unknown reason) made possible to use standard Paul C Buff monolights for this shot: extreme fast shutter speed freeze the action. Something what I was not able to accomplish with my Canon 1Ds MKIII.
Looks pretty good, isn’t it? We spent 20 minute total for this shoot, including setup time. Would you put something like this in your portfolio?
100% crop of the camera RAW:
For the comparison, here is the similar type of shoot done with the same Paul C Buff lights at the same power level, done by 1DsMKIII at 1/250 sec (more about this shot here):
What a difference!? There is a huge advantage of point-and shoot electronic shutter, which made possible to work with non-expensive long duration monolights with water splash this way. Also, working with high-power monolights is much easier then trying to get something similar with hot-shoe dedicated speedlites.
The video, as promised:
The bottom line:
I am not arguing that good camera is a must-have for a professional photographer. All DSLR are much faster and most of them more convenient to work with then point-and-shoot ones. However, do you really need new expensive DSLR to learn how to shoot, to build your portfolio?
I have hard time answering my amateur but wanted-to-be-a-photographer friends when they ask me about what camera (canon 7D or 5D ? as example) or lens to buy to “start from”.
Usually they do not understand what I am saying, thinking I am kidding or playing stupid…:-)
Here is my thoughts:
Unless you have $5000 to start with, the camera is the last thing you should consider to buy. For in-studio photography there are so many other things to spend money on…
Lighting. 3-5 monolights (or heads with power pack or even like these screw-in poppers), and various light modifiers (honeycombs, different sizes soft-boxes, snoots, diffuser panels, gels, etc…). Shooting table and accessories, such as flex and articulated arms, clamps, tripod, remote, laptop to shoot tethered…
You can use this list I’ve build to get most of the stuff needed for very few $$: Studio equipment buying guide for beginners
And, you can buy new Canon PowerShot G12
Get the lights and start to shoot!
Learn the lighting, invest your time and energy to build something unique, something which will catch eye of every portfolio viewer. Keep money to get better camera WHEN you’ll really need it: owning pro gear does not make you a pro:-) We all know this, right? But that excitement when you hold a big expensive SLR body is so tempting… I know:-))
Ok, I may exaggerate it a little, point and shoot may be too much for some of us to start working with… However, I still hope you’ll get the main idea of the article
Want to learn more about how to use equipment to get 110% out of it’s possibilities? Check out my upcoming online course:
Good luck for you and your photography!