As our busy season is winding down, we have a goal to blog more about our business and answer questions that other photographers have for us. We always preface these FAQ posts by stating that we are speaking from our own experiences and shouldn’t necessarily be your only resource (especially if you’re a Canon shooter). We shoot Nikon … so we blog about Nikon gear! Please be sure to send any questions our way … You can comment here, or send us an email to hello: at jimandravyn dot com.

The two questions today come from Lydia:

Q) What camera did you use to start your business and how did you manage to use it for such a long time?

A) Our first camera body was the Nikon D90. I have a post on my portrait photography site about this specific camera. It was written awhile ago, but still has useful information. I bought this camera as opposed to the Nikon D300 because of the research I had done. The D300 was quite a bit more expensive, but it’s performance wasn’t any better than the D90. I opted to go with the D90 and use the money I saved on the body to buy a telephoto lens. Now that I’m over a year into my business, I feel comfortable saying that they Nikon D90 is a good camera, but it’s not great. The color saturation isn’t quite there, and even when shooting with a high-end lens, there are focusing issues. We decided to upgrade to the D700 in May. This camera is amazing. The images that come straight from the camera are beautiful. The colors are amazing, and the fact that it’s a full frame sensor gives so much more to each photo. Jim still uses the D90, and we both agreed that we’d upgrade once the camera started holding him back. Well, that time has come. He’s nailing the exposure in his photos … his photos are composed beautifully … but there’s something missing when using the D90. The cropped frame takes away from some of the images, and the quality just isn’t quite there. We’ve made this camera work this long because we know how to work it. We use the camera on full manual. I cannot express enough how important it is to use your camera in manual mode. You need to know what controls to change in bright, backlit situations and how to compensate in low light. Even using aperture mode doesn’t give you the control that you need for proper exposure in all lighting situations.I advise reading the user guide from front to back and back to front. An expensive camera body doesn’t make the photographer. You need to be sure you understand how your camera works, and then push it as much as it will allow you. Don’t get me wrong, the D90 makes great images, but it’s not a professional grade camera. Sure, clients will probably never notice the difference between the images taken on the D90 versus the D700, but we hold ourselves to a higher standard of quality with each consecutive session and wedding we shoot. I can promise that almost every photographer will look back on their first few sessions at some point and think, “Yikes!” … What’s important is that you improve and learn. As long as you’re always investing your time in learning your craft, you can’t go wrong. We all have to start somewhere. One more thought: Learn about utilizing your environment. Using natural reflectors, open shade, locations with amazing visual interest are key factors. If you take a photo of a baby at home in a dark living room, with a TV on in the background, it won’t look professional. Opt for an outdoor location (without cars in the background), with even light (preferably shade) and then rock it out. Learn how to interact with your clients no matter their age. Your job is to capture your subject when they are 100% themselves, which includes going out of your way to be sure they are comfortable and trust you and your abilities. Lastly, Nikon just released the D7000. This is a step up from the D90, and even though it has a cropped sensor, I’ve seen some really amazing results from this camera. It’s definitely worth looking into. If you’re a portrait photographer, I think this is a great option. If you’re a wedding photographer, the D700 is a wonderful option. Your clients will appreciate you using a quality camera body no matter what type of photography you specialize in.

Q) If you had to fill your camera bag with three lenses, what would they be?

A) J and I both carry a Shootsac while we’re photographing our engagement sessions and weddings. We each carry 2 or 3 lenses in our Shootsac’s and one lens on our cameras. Both of our bags have essentially the same lenses (his lenses have different focal lengths since he’s been shooting with a cropped sensor camera). We love shooting with both prime and zoom lenses. Both are great for different scenarios.

My favorite lens is the 50mm f/1.4. Both Nikon and Canon make this lens. It’s a prime lens (meaning it doesn’t zoom). I typically use it on f/1.6 or 1.8 when taking portraits of individuals and 2.8 when taking photos of a couple. The photos are rich and it does amazing things for skin tone. The focal length doesn’t create any distortion at the edges. It’s just a beautiful lens. If you aren’t quite ready for the investment in this lens, try a 50mm 1.8. It’s priced around $100-$120 and is great for portraits.

Our other favorite lens is a semi wide angle zoom lens like a 24-70 2.8 or a lens with similar focal length lens. People who prefer zoom lenses would probably use this lens 85% of the time, leaving the other 15% to a telephoto and/or macro lens. J shoots with the Nikkor 17-55 2.8 lens, but since he’s shooting with a cropped sensor, it end up shooting like a 25-85mm. We use these lenses for most of the wedding party photos and for many of the detail shots. You can get in super close, and this lens focuses very fast and accurately. We love the look of wide angle photos, so these lenses are great.

The third lens I would suggest is a telephoto lens. The 70-200 2.8 is an essential lens for a wedding photographer. When you’re in a dark church, you need a fast lens. The aperture is 2.8 through the whole focal range, which means it will let in so much light. While we don’t use this lens for much other than the ceremony and some formal photos, it’s definitely worth buying. For portraits, it’s wonderful to give your clients a little bit of space and let them interact with each other. The long focal distance will give you a beautiful bokeh in the background, and this lens is tack sharp when you lock that focus in on your subject.

Good lenses are expensive, and can be more important than the camera itself. A kit lens that comes on a camera will not be enough if you’re marketing yourself as a professional. Do yourself a favor and rent the lenses before buying. You can rent lenses for a few days or a month, and the price is still a fraction of buying the lens. Be sure to test the lens before buying, so you can be sure you’re investing your money in the equipment you’ll actually use. 

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