Professional photographers are supposed to have oodles of lenses, giant flashes, a full fledged studio, and the kitchen sink. At least that’s the stereotype. Personally, I try to work with as little equipment as possible. My personal shooting style is very fast, varied, and focused on capturing a lot in a short amount of time. Having minimal equipment allows me to work and not feel bogged down. Here is a list of the equipment I use and why. As a heads up, it does get a little technical! I'll try to explain everything as simply as possible, but there may be some terms that are unfamiliar.
This guy is straight up my work-horse. The Nikon d610 is my camera body and the first full-frame I've ever purchased. After about a year of use, there have been no issues. The 24mp sensor keeps file sizes manageable, but retains all of that detail you need. If you've used a DSLR before, the button placement is logical and flexible for customization, but the only settings I really toggle are shutter, aperture, and ISO.
Price wise, the d610 is currently a steal. On Amazon for Prime users, the cost is about $1500. While that price tag is daunting for some amateurs, it is really a great deal if you are ready to jump into the professional realm.
If Nikon is not your style, a good alternative would be the Canon 6D. I personally chose Nikon because I like their higher end camera bodies, but Canon has more versatility lens wise in my opinion. Either way, you can't go wrong.
You can purchase the Nikon d610 here.
Sigma 50mm 1.4 ART
When beginners start getting interested in taking the next step, they look for a good lens. For portraits, I think the best is the 50mm. On a crop-sensor body (the lower end DSLRs), the length is perfect for portraits. Whether it’s a headshot or large group, the distortion is minimal.
I started with the Nikon 50mm 1.8 and it never left my camera until I got my 85mm. I took thousands of photos and was impressed with the results. The drawback was the sharpness wasn't on par with the Sigma. Luckily, Sigma launched their new ultra-sharp Art series.
The "Art" in the title doesn't disappoint. It is ULTRA sharp and the focal length on my d610 (full-frame body) is perfect. The Sigma captures light flares significantly well and the autofocus is accurate. The difference between the 1.8 and 1.4 aperture is also noticeable and is great for that soft dreamy look as well as low-light situations.
My only critique is the size. The 50mm 1.8 is very small and light, while the Art is huge. Don't get me wrong, the weight matches the quality, but it may feel heavy for some.
The price is also something to consider. At $850, you really are getting one of the best 50mm lenses. Compared to the entry level 50mm 1.8 at around $100, that is a significant dollar gap. Alternatively, Sigma has a 50mm 1.4 (not in the Art series) for $499 for both Canon and Nikon cameras.
You can purchase the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art here.
Sigma 85mm 1.4
Compared to the 50mm, the 85mm is much longer in focal length meaning you have to stand further away from your subject. However, there is little to no distortion on the face so this is my ideal pick for a headshot lens. The background compression at wider apertures (f/2.8-1.4) is just beautiful. Don't worry, I'm going to have a blog post on depth of field so I will explain all of the technical jargon much more simply.
Besides headshots, the 85mm is one of my go-to lenses for senior portraits. The minimal compression and the way it captures color is unparalleled. While I think it washes out some sunflare, the sharpness more than makes up for it. Plus, editing can help to increase some of that loss of color.
Despite not being in the Art series, the price is around $960. Unfortunately, the longer the lens the bigger the price. Since it has a longer lens and a wide 1.4 aperture, it is more expensive. Fortunately, the Nikon and Canon series of 85mm 1.8 lenses are in the $500 range. If you absolutely do not need the two stops of light in the aperture, the 1.8 series will be enough to do the job.
You can purchase the Sigma 85mm 1.4 here.
5-in-1 42x72" Oval Reflector
I talked a little bit about reflectors in my post on natural light, so I won't be explaining too much on the actual use and more why I use such a big reflector.
I use the 48"x72" 5-in-1 Oval Reflector. Lemme say one thing. It is MONSTROUS. My new assistants are always so shocked when I unfold it to its full size. However, the amount of light this reflects is amazing. When shooting, I only really use the white or silver sides because they have the most realistic looks, but the flexibility is really nice.
When using this reflector, I would require someone else holding it while you shoot. Believe me from experience, balancing a 6' white sheet on your knee is not worth the trouble.
Alternatively, there are so many options for reflectors it is ridiculous. For beginners, a 40" 5-in-1 circle reflector will get the job done. If you want something larger or are on a strict budget, run into a local craft or office store and find a large piece of white foamcore. As long as it’s white or silver, the foam will act just like a fancy pants reflector. My oval reflector was only around $80 on Amazon and the 40" is a steal at $30. I find reflectors vital for natural light photography when you just need that extra pop of light and at the price, there’s no reason to hold back.
You can purchase the 5-in-1 Oval Reflector here.