“Pre-visualization (picturing a result days or months before shooting). Visualization (the moment around shooting) and Post-visualization (processing). A great photographer combines all three, understanding that they are now linked tightly together. For me, this helps to shoot images beyond snap shots and a high consistency of quality images. I am a big believer to achieve the best in camera first. I do not like to ‘over process’ my work.” – Darran Leal
I have been asked a lot lately about what camera equipment I use, so I thought what better time than now to share with my followers what’s in my camera bag! If you follow me on social media, you probably have an inkling that I am a Nikon enthusiast. Still, you may be surprised at some of the other goodies in my bag.
I have never been more in love with a DSLR than I am with my Nikon D5. You would be hard pressed to find a photographer that doesn’t swoon over the D5, but for me, it is the ISO range in a full-frame sensor that sets the D5 apart. As a documentary photographer, ISO capabilities are extremely critical for producing high-quality images in unpredictable lighting situations. Need tack sharp images consistently? The AF system on the D5 is mind blowing!
I started using the D3s in 2009, and it has remained in my camera bag ever since. The D3s was my first experience with a full-frame sensor. Talk about blown away! The D3s has been my longest, most loyal companion that remains my go-to back up after making the jump to the D5 as my primary camera.
I am a prime lens girls. Very rarely do I use a zoom lens. In my experience, the image quality on a prime lens outperforms zooms.
NIKON NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
This is my go to lens – I am talking like 90% of the time. When I teach, I always recommend this lens to portrait photographers since it is so amazing at what it does! I know this frame so well I can shoot from the hip and know exactly what I’m capturing. It dominates my portfolio. This 50mm has exceptionally wide aperture (depth-of-field) control and is my fastest prime lenses. Also, the bokeh (background blur) is the smoothest I have ever seen. This lens is so diverse and gives me the freedom to create whatever image I want whether I am shooting an Unscripted Life Session, working in the field, or creating headshots in the studio.
NIKON NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8D
Ah, my old friend. This medium-telephoto lens was one of the first portrait lenses I purchased. It has remained in my bag over the years. It may not possess all the bells and whistles of the newer 85mm primes, but I have never felt the need to kiss it goodbye and update. It is compact, fast, and still, produces absolutely beautiful images. The 85mm allows me to get a close up without invading my subject’s space.
NIKON NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G
This beast of a lens is the newest addition to my prime lenses collection. It is heavy but definitely worth the little extra back pain. I admired this lens from afar for years and finally added it to my collection a few years ago. This wide lens adds diversity to my portfolio and provides a real pop of change when I pull it out over the 50mm or 85mm. Without getting into a complete breakdown of various types of glass, the nano crystal coat on this 24mm produces truly gorgeous images that are unique from what I shoot with my other lenses.
NIKON ZOOM-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED
I sigh every time I try to find room in my camera bag for this lens, mainly because I cannot recall the last time I felt the need to use it. Maybe I should have thought of this as a rental lens considering the huge price tag, yet it is still on my Shoot Checklist for the occasions I need an optimal wide shoot. This lens is perfect for travel and environmental work. Before my career shift to more family documentary portraiture, I relied much more heavily on this lens. The 17-35mm is packed full of features and truly is the standard for wide-angle photojournalism.
NIKON SB-5000 AF Speedlight
Here is the DL on flash. I rarely use it. I personally do not like the look of flash directly on my subjects outside of studio strobes. I prefer a long shutter and tripod, or high ISO before reaching in my bag for a flash. Yet, there are times when I aim to create a more “fine art” image, and I will use this Speedlight off camera to create more dynamic light. The wireless capabilities and ease of syncing of this Speedlight are pretty killer. If you build Speedlights into your work often, do not cheap out. You will definitely notice a difference, and the SB-5000 is my top pick.
GITZO MOUNTAINEER SERIES 3 TRIPOD
LOVE! This carbon fiber tripod is so light and can hold upwards of 46 lbs. Put your heaviest lens and camera body on this bad boy, and it will stay rock solid.
Everyone has a personal preference on memory cards depending on your camera model. I will not go into too much detail here. I carry a lot of memory cards. For my D5, I prefer Lexar Professional XQD cards with maximum GB per card. I find the upload speed to be super-fast and for image and video storage you cannot go wrong with these cards. For my D3, I have been loyal to PNY Pro-Elite cards. Knock on wood, I have never experience card failure with either brand.
SAVAGE 43″ 5-1 ROUND PHOTO REFLECTOR
Because I am not too keen on flash, I rely heavily on reflectors for manipulating light. I’ll be posting soon on my secrets to creating great imagery with reflectors, so I will not go into details in this post, but the compact folding and lightweight style of Savage reflectors are perfect for keeping to my motto of packing as light and little as possible.
ROLLEIFLEX AUTOMAT 6×6 – MODEL K4
Nowadays everyone is a photographer, and I regularly find myself explaining the value of quality over quantity. We can blame this on DSLRs or the simple fact our phones can snap beautiful images. With that said, having the equipment to capture great images does not a photographer make. You have to learn the history of photography. How exposure works. The tip of the day is – PUT YOUR CAMERA ON MANUAL MODE!
I learned to shoot on film. I strongly encourage any professional or budding photographer to learn film. Learn how to load film (trickier than you may think). Learn how to develop film. Learn that before DSLRs you only had a limited opportunity per film roll to get “the shot.” Learn that by shooting film you will become a better photographer. For personal projects, I always try to pack my Rolleiflex. Even with all the technology built into editing software nowadays you cannot replicate the look of film. It is like a mp3 versus vinyl. The beautiful and unique sound of vinyl can’t quite be matched. The same goes for film. I pack Ilford film with my Rolleiflex because I love the images the combination of this camera and film create. As with digital photography, the use of a light meter is equally – possibly more – important. Before I shoot anything on film, I use my Sekonic Flashmaster to obtain the most accurate exposure.
KELLY MOORE COLLINS CAMERA BAG
We have discussed everything that I pack into my camera bag, but what about the actual bag? My newest obsession is my Kelly Moore bag. I have yet to find another shoulder bag that can pack as much as I need while remaining comfortable throughout the day. It is stylish and versatile. I will let you in on a little secret – my husband and I have also learned that this bag doubles as a diaper bag! Extra room for snacks as well! I adore my Collins, but I know I will purchase more Kelly Moore bags in the future.
One of the first tips I was given when I started as a photographer was always to replace the camera strap that came with my cameras. This is for comfort of course, but also because the straps that come with cameras are walking advertisements for your camera. Not to sound paranoid, but cameras are stolen all the time. If you are walking around with a black strap with bright yellow letters on it that read Nikon D5, you are basically saying this is a $6,000 piece of equipment (body alone) you might have the opportunity to lift off me. Given some of the locations and environments I have worked in, I simply rather play it safe than sorry. Below are links to two of my favorite straps.
Souldier – my all time favorite strap!
Link To Purchase
On occasion, for ‘point and shoot’ work, I use my iPhone 6s Plus with olloclips. Does a camera brand make you a better photographer? No. Can you capture an amazing shot on a phone? Yes. The lesson? Do not limit yourself to one brand, style, or type of photography.
That is enough for now. As my camera bag continues to evolve, I will provide updates. I would love to hear from you – questions or comments – as photography is a shared art culture!