What equipment do professional photographers use? I get this question a lot. It usually comes from my students, workshop participants or from Q&A sessions when I present my work. It’s a fair question and one that I am always happy to answer as it often gives people an insight into how I create my work and the types of equipment I like to use. I thought I would share my answer to this common question for visitors here on my website’s blog which will hopefully serve as a useful resource for anyone curious about what a professional photographer uses.
Firstly, we must be very clear that there are many different types of photographers and they each require different types of equipment. I am a photojournalist primarily, working on news and long-form feature articles for international media. This niche of photography often requires me to work with minimal equipment, taking with me only what I can carry on my own. This can often be a challenge in itself. The equipment below therefore are the main pieces I take when I am travelling solo, working in sometimes difficult conditions where the primary aim is often to get to the location in one piece, with all equipment intact.
This list is just mine of course and every photographer has their own preferences for brands, lenses, add ons. etc. This set-up work for me however and might work for you too.
STILL CAMERA BODY AND LENSES
For photos, my main camera body is the Canon 5D III. It is an absolute workhorse of camera and extremely popular with photojournalists across the world. This is for good reason as it is sturdy, reliable and can take a beating in the field and still keep plugging away. It also has the advantage of shooting HD video, giving you the option of easily quickly switching to capturing great quality video. You may need to buy one or two add-ons e.g. microphone, to fully utilise it for video, but for stills, you only need your lenses to get going.
In terms of lenses, my ideal choices are prime lenses. Specifically the 35mm f/1.4L II USM and 50mm f/1.2 L USM. They are by far my favourite lenses and produce super-sharp images that produce rich and vivid colours in your images. The only downside to these is that there is no zoom. So, if you want to get closer to your subjects you’ll just have to move closer. The other option is to go for a zoom which I often do. My go to lense is the 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM which provides a great range with which to work and be creative, from wide shots to tighten ones. For day to day assignments, this is the lense I go to 90% of the time.
For focal distances longer than 70mm, I will use the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM which gives me a good long range. If I need to go even further, I will put a 2.0X III Telephoto Extender between the body and lenses. There is compromise to this approach as you lose a little quality through using the converter and less light passes through, so you normally end up having to use a tripod which limits your mobility. If mobility isn’t an issue, then this isn’t a huge problem.
VIDEO CAMERA & AUDIO
I’ve gone through a couple of different video cameras in recent years but the one I am currently using is the SONY FS5. It’s a really powerful small video camera that shoots beautiful HD footage, has the option of super slow motion in HD and even shoots pretty decent 4K. It’s a very small and lightweight camera that easily fits into your camera bag along with other equipment. It requires a few add-ons to really get the most out of it but it’s worth the effort for the quality of video. It also has the added bonus of accepting Canon lenses through the use of a Metabones IV adapter, allowing me to retain the quality of Canon glass.
When shooting video, it’s often essential to use a tripod. Many video shooters just starting out try handheld shooting but this often ends with poor quality, shaky footage. Unless you have an image stabilised lenses, or other form of stabiliser, then go for a trusty tripod. If you’re shooting on your own though, as I often am, go for one with carbon legs. They are much much lighter and much easier to carry for hours on end.
In terms of audio, which is just as important for storytelling when shooting video, I am currently using a SONY UWPD11/42 Lavalier Microphone which connects easily to the SONY FS5. For external recording, I’ll switch to the ZOOM H6 Six-track Portable Recorder. This is a slightly bulky audio recorder but is sturdy and offers a great range of options for audio recording.
When shooting stills, I will often only work with a single Canon Speedlite. I’ll take a Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter too so that I can move the flash off camera for more creative lighting. This lets me keep things simple but also allows for plenty of creativity.
For video, I will use a simple LED panel light that can either slip into the hotshoe on the Canon or on top of the SONY FS5. This can be used for simple lighting during interviews, or you can move it off camera for more creative effects. The one I use is the size of a small book, is very light and can be charged by USB. All convenient features for the solo shooter.
Without doubt, there are lots of little extras that have to go into the camera bag to compliment the above kit. From memory cards, to batteries, to lense cleaning kits. The add ons add up!
Every shoot is different and requires and adjustment to what pieces of kit you choose to take with you on any given assignment. The main aim however is for me to comfortably squeeze all the equipment I need into one backpack that I can comfortably carry all day long. This is a difficult task and I often end up having to make compromises depending on the shoot and the logistical requirements. When I have an assistant working with me, I can change what I choose to take with me and this often makes things much easier. I don’t always have that luxury however, so I pack to stay light weight as much as possible.
If you are a an aspiring photojournalist and/or solo-shooter, the aim is to keep things simple and as light as possible. How you do that is up to you and the more shoots and assignment you do, the more experience you gain and you learn what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re an amateur, then I hope this brief article gives a glimpse into the camera bag of a working professional photojournalist and film maker. Just remember, it isn’t the equipment that makes a good photographer, it’s the eye behind the viewfinder. Improve that first and your photography will improve dramatically no matter what type of equipment you are using.
[DISCLOSURE – I recently became an Amazon Associate and the links above will send you to the highlighted equipment on Amazon. If you happen to make a purchase, a small percentage of the proceeds will go back to me. This helps contribute to funding my editorial work and allows me to continue working on the social and environmental issues you see on my site.]