Professional photography: Gear to get started

Professional photography: Gear to get started

| Accompanying song: Bon Iver- Holocene |

BON IVER “Holocene” from nabil elderkin on Vimeo.

 I got into photography when I was a kid and fill of awe of the beauty around me, learnt the basics, experimented and dreamed of owning a high quality camera, one day, when I was old and rich.

Producing professional looking photographs requires a foundation of three things creativity, technical skill of the photographer (invest in learning about photography and how to edit images, then experiment, a lot – i’ll help you out with this part in future posts), and high-quality camera equipment, no compromises, enough said. With that behind us, I’m going to fill you in on how I managed to produce professional looking images well before I was old and rich, on the cheap. 


When I finally purchased my first good DSLR camera I was still a student on a very strict budget. A budget = trade-offs. You’ll have to think about what you want to shoot for, and figure out what’s important to you.

For me, I wanted to photograph people and hopefully in a studio setting. I didn’t care about speed, I didn’t care about video. I wanted great skin tones and high quality images. I read 100s of reviews (as I suggest you do, please please don’t ask me for advice, this is not my specialty. With so many options out there, it’s super tough, but there is a lot of information available online to help you decide), and I chose the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro. At the time, this was arguably the best camera for my goals.

Where to buy

I used a site called and purchased my camera at a lowest cost in the New Zealand from an Asian import business. I purchased new. Simply put, I just wouldn’t want to invest any money into a camera that someone might not have cared for properly, not to mention that the camera price second-hand wasn’t much better than the Asian Import price I found. Note however, I had to wait a very long time for my camera to arrive and had to deal with terrible, seriously, terrible customer support.


I think that this is the secret weapon of photography. I know so many photographers, and the difference between the photos of those who have okay images and those with stunning sharp perfect images is often as simple as the lenses they use.

Don’t buy cheap lens, period. You’re wasting your money! Cheap lenses look cheap, cloudy, dull. If you don’t have much money available then just save and buy one really good lens with the lowest f.stop possible. The bonus of a low f.stop include being able to make your subject sharp, but everything around it blurry and out of focus (depth of field), as well as shoot clean photos in low light conditions. One way to do this on a budget is by buying a prime lens (this is the type of lens that doesn’t zoom, you literally have to walk forward if you want a closer look at your image).Although this is a cheaper way to have a great quality lens for cheaper it can be pretty frustrating not being able to zoom in however, so note, it’s a trade-off alright.

Suggested lens

I use the following lens 90% of the time – particularly when I’m travelling and just don’t have space for more equipment. It’s wonderful, for everything and for its quality and versatility it’s a bargain. I would suggest buying something similar to this.

  • Sigma 24-70mm, 2.8 f.stop.


All you really need to get started making high-quality images is one good DSLR camera (my current favourite is a Canon EOS 5D Mark II  – good for so many reasons, plus it has video. Video is the future) and even more importantly a great lens with a small f.stop (plus memory cards of course). From here you can start adding on equipment as you go, which will make things more interesting and give greater variety. Here are my suggestions:

  • More lenses (high quality of course). Try a Tilt shift lens and a fish-eye/wide angle lens
  • Flash (I use Nikon SB-900) – the built-in flash on top of the camera isn’t going to take you very far.
  • Flash trigger – so you don’t have to use the flash on the camera’s hot shoe (but have the flash off camera instead), this makes all the difference to good flash photography.
  • Tripod – useful for such things as slow shutter speed photos and HDR images
  • Remote shutter trigger – so you can do slow shutter speed photos, or even be in a photo yourself – obviously you can use the camera’s built in timer as a way around this.
  • Reflector
  • Shoot through umbrella and stand – I suggest an umbrella as opposed to a soft box because it is a fraction of the price.
  • Good photo editing software (I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.2 and Adobe Photoshop CS5)

Examples of pro photos done on the cheap

I shot these photos at my apartment in May using an avaliable white wall – luckily my male flatmate didn’t mind us taking up the lounge to do this shoot, how nice ;). I used the first camera and lens I purchased (mentioned above – FinePix S5 Pro, Sigma 24-70mm, 2.8 f.stop), one $12 shoot through umbrella mounted onto a tripod, and a cheap Asian radio transmitter flash trigger I purchased online for less than $50. Model: Anna Hildred.

So it is possible to do pro photography on the cheap – but it’s just our little secret!
Your thoughts?


  1. yay a photography post! I was hoping you would do one since your photos are so amazing. Great tips! So true about it being more about the lens than the camera.

    • Thanks Catherine!!
      I really have been meaning to do more photography posts, but after doing sooo much photography before I left New Zealand I was keen to have a break. Now I’ve had a break and I’m ready to jump in and talk photography again! haha. My only regret is not bringing more gear with me to Chile! Oh well! 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!



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