Gear for a Serious Portrait Photographer

In photography class this week, one of my students wanted to discuss what a solid upgrade for a serious portrait photographer might entail. Here’s what we came up with for a Nikon user:

* Nikon D810 DSLR Camera (Body Only): A serious DSLR with full frame sensor and excellent low-light performance. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

* Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED: An excellent “walkabout lens” for everyday shooting and wider shots incorporating the subject’s environment. I use the Canon equivalent of this about 75% of the time on my DSLR. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

* Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8G ED VR ll: This rugged telephoto lens is for when you’re farther away from the subject or you want to shoot in much tighter and with the pleasing effect of lens compression. I use the Canon equivalent of this lens a lot as a second lens when covering events. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

* Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm F/1.4G: It’s always useful to have a fast prime lens with a wide aperture to create beautiful portraits and background blur (bokeh). Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

* Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight: Flashes are not merely for providing a fill light. The ability to add light to a scene means you can shape the light to create a mood that matches your own creative vision. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

* Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander Unit: You’ll need this as branch out in flash photography and want to have more control over your lighting setups. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

Gosh, what a fun shopping list! =] Additionally, if a photographer wanted to get into nice strobe kits at some point, this is the one I’ve been daydreaming about:

* Profoto D1 Air 500 w/s 2 monolight studio kit: This is a portable lighting solution with some serious power and solid construction. Order yours from B&H or Amazon.

Anyway, please let me know if you can think of anything else that a serious photographer might want to consider when upgrading their main portrait kit!

Finally, here are the Amazon Holiday Deals in Electronics and B&H Holiday Gifts & Deals pages to check daily for deals this season.

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

The World of Blind Photographers

Someone recently joked about taking my photography classes even though he is completely blind. Even though it was initially meant as a joke, I wanted to let him know that this is not actually as impossible as it may sound! In recent years, there have been a number of photographers gaining recognition in the world for pursuing their art despite being blind. In some cases, the photographer has low-vision or is color blind; other individuals are legally-blind and have even been completely blind from birth, having never experienced the world in the same way as a seeing person. Nonetheless, the artistic spirit is strong with many such individuals and photography is their chosen medium. Below are a number of links I have found to various galleries and articles about blind photographers.

Sight Unseen: The California Museum of Photography at UC Riverside put on the first major museum exhibition of work by the most accomplished blind photographers in the world. Some of the biggest names in the industry exhibited at this 2009 event. TIME Magazine also ran a feature article about this exhibit.

Visions of a Blind Photographer: A New York Times article celebrating the work of Sonia Soberats.

Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers: An HBO documentary featuring several blind photographers who transcend their physical limitations.

Pete Eckert: One of the most well-known blind photographers. His website features his stunning photographic work and also describes his experience and process.

Completely Blind and Deaf Photographer Can Now ‘See’ His Own Work, Thanks to 3D Printing: Australian-based photographer Brendon Borellini experiences 3D representations of his photos. Check out the video at this link.

The Blind Photographers Flickr Pool: An open group for blind and otherwise visually-impaired photographers to share their work via the Flickr photo website.

Blind Photographers Documentary Crowdfunding Campaign: Fundraising effort for a new documentary on blind photographers across the globe.

Have another web resource about blind photographers? Please leave it in the comments and I will add them to the list as I can!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Gear Recommendations for a Photography Student

Many people have a basic camera phone or point-and-shoot camera these days, but if you are going to take a photography class or otherwise get more serious about improving the craft of photography, you may want to consider the kinds of equipment you will need to be able to experiment more in-depth with the technical and creative sides of photography. There are an overwhelming number of camera models on the market to choose from, but in this guide I have tried to boil it down to a select few for those who have never shopped for a more advanced camera before. The approximate prices listed are current as of September 1, 2014.

Whether we are looking at the models below or considering other options of your own, my criteria for evaluating cameras starts with some very important requirements:

* The camera must allow Manual control of aperture and shutter speed. This is most easily confirmed by the presence of an “M” mode on the main shooting mode dial.

* The camera should have an interchangeable lens system. Basically, you want the option to switch out lenses (wide angle, telephoto, macro, etc) for different photography subjects.

* If you are planning to use an older or used camera, make sure the battery is reliable or get additional backup batteries. There’s nothing worse than everything and everyone being ready for a shoot and your camera running out of batteries!

Budget Cameras ($350 or less)

Cameras in this section are going to allow much more creative control than camera phones and most point-and-shoot cameras, and will be adequate for many basic photography classes. But they will be more limited in functionality than more expensive cameras, making you want to replace them sooner with an upgrade as you get serious about photography. The units I have listed belong to the compact mirrorless class of cameras, which allow for interchangeable lenses while still remaining very portable and affordable. The tradeoff is usually that they will be slower than more expensive cameras, and they will also tend to be noisier or grainier than higher-end cameras due to the size of the image sensor.

Nikon 1 J1 with 10-30mm lens: $250
This is one of the most basic digital cameras with an interchangeable lens system, and probably the least expensive option at the time of this writing. However, even though the price is very attractive, keep in mind that the image quality will suffer in low-light situations, and it’s fairly possible that you will outgrow this camera sooner as you delve deeper into photography and desire greater control and lens selection.

Olympus PEN E-P1 with 14-42mm lens: $269
This is a capable camera that conforms to the Micro Four-Thirds standard, which means that you will easily be able to acquire additional lenses from a number of manufacturers when you are ready to expand your craft. In my opinion, the versatility offered by this model over the Nikon 1 J1 is well worth it if you are shopping in the sub-$300 range.

Canon EOS M with 18-55mm lens: $305
This is a very interesting camera offering by Canon that uses the same image sensor as many of their higher-end DSLR cameras, but in a very compact form factor and low price. You can also purchase an additional lens mount adapter in order to use standard Canon lenses with this camera. If you think you’d ever like to upgrade to a more serious Canon DSLR, this is a great way to get started at a low cost of admission.

Entry-Level Digital SLRs ($550 or less)

Cameras in this section are true digital SLR (DSLR) cameras will be very good for many photography applications, have lots of lens and accessory options, and will last for a long time if you take care of them. It’s astounding to see how a $500 camera today can outperform even $2000 cameras from just a few years ago!

Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens: $409
This is Nikon’s entry-level DSLR, and it offers great performance for the price. It is a very capable camera that will offer everything an aspiring photographer needs to create exciting images. One bonus feature is that in the video recording mode, the camera can continuously refocus on your subject, just like a camcorder.

Canon T3i with 18-55mm lens: $549 (I’ve seen much better prices than this during sales!)
Canon has since replaced the T3i with newer models, but this camera still offers amazing performance. It is easily the camera I have most often recommended to budding photographers, and for good reason. Of the models listed on this page, I have the most personal experience using this camera, which has proven to be a winner in terms of image quality, features, and price. One bonus feature is the flip-out LCD screen which will allow you to shoot from extremely high or low angles to get unique perspectives.

For more recommendations on entry-level DSLR cameras, check out this video by B&H Photo:

Worthwhile Accessories

Consider adding the following equipment to your photography supplies:

A very good tripod at the $50 range is this Dolica tripod. It’s reasonably lightweight for travel, while having enough stability for most consumer DSLR and smaller cameras.

Blow dust and other particles off of your lenses and gear with this Giottos air blower for less than $10. This is much better than blowing with your mouth and getting spit on your lenses! I rarely bother to wipe my lenses with cleaning solution, but I frequently use the air blower as a simple and effective part of camera maintenance.

I have many different backpacks and camera bags over the years, but the one that I have continued to use all these years as a travel pack is the $60 Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW (technically I had the 100 which was the older version). It’s just enough for me to hold a camera with lens attached and two or three other lenses and a few small accessories. The main design innovation is that you do not have to take off the backpack to get to your gear, so it’s great for traveling. It also has straps for securing your tripod to it, but I’ve never used that feature before. If I have a very important professional shoot, I will of course use my bigger case, the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, but for basic photo trips, I turn to the Lowepro Slingshot.

Finally, if you’re looking for an external flash, please see my Basic Flash recommendations page!

Higher-End Cameras and Additional Gear

There are a whole lot more options out there in terms of cameras, especially if you are willing to spend more than $500 for a camera and lens combo. For example, you can see what I use in my professional photography work on my Gear Page.

If you are looking for a camera that is even more powerful or has even more advanced features than what is discussed in this article, please send me a note at kenneth@kennethphotography.com so I can get a better idea of your requirements and make a custom recommendation for you! I can also provide suggestions for many other kinds of camera gear.

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Scam Alert: Google Free Listings

SCAM ALERT! Does anyone else get calls where the automated recording always says this same thing when you pick up? “Our records show that you have not updated your free Google listing. Press 1 to verify or press 9 to be removed from this list.” I’ve automatically hung up so many times on this auto-dialer robo-call service that I hardly hear what they say after the first phrase. The first time I received the call years ago, I listened with some interest, since I was just starting my photography and computer repair business. However, something about the call sounded like a scam, so instead of following their instructions, I went ahead and just got my “free Google listing” on my own. You can view it at https://www.google.com/+Kennethphotography and if you’re interested in creating one for your business, you can visit Google Places for Business. You should never have to pay anything to update this listing!

Anyway, now that I know for sure that my free Google listing is up, it’s all the more suspicious that this other company keeps calling me, especially when it doesn’t appear to be even affiliated with Google. I’ve tried blocking them, but the worst part is that it’s ineffective because they seem to have a huge pool of phone numbers to call from. Here is a partial list of all of the numbers from which they have called me over the years to try to get me to sign up for my “free Google listing” through them:

425-320-5138 (Bellevue, Everett, Renton, WA)
206-397-1159 (Seattle, WA)
417-800-2538 (Springfield, MO)
360-633-9322 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
631-904-6109 (Babylon, Brentwood, Brookhaven, NY)
310-299-0131 (Los Angeles, CA)
323-844-8184 (Los Angeles, CA)
951-221-6113 (Corona, Hemet, Riverside, CA)
541-257-1328 (Bend, Eugene, Pendleton, OR)
323-844-8185 (Los Angeles, CA)
213-603-9078 (Los Angeles, CA)
360-322-6166 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
458-201-1318 (Eugene, OR)

Since “pressing 9″ only seems to confirm that you are a human on the phone, and blocking a number only gets you so far, I’ve changed my strategy, and decided to keep adding these new numbers to the address book on my phone as yet another number belonging to the “Google Creeps”, and setting the ring tone to Silent. That way I can still get a sense of how often they’re calling (at least once a month).

Have this robo-dialer called you? Do you have additional numbers to report? Please leave a comment!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Removing Camera Dust

We met at Lower Antelope Canyon last month and both got the photographer’s pass in the morning. What was the blower you were talking about for removing dust? Also, how do you clean your sensor?

I had a great time meeting a fellow photographer during my adventures last month in Page, Arizona, and while we were exploring Antelope Canyon, our camera gear naturally got covered with a fine layer of sand and dust. Not only did I hate that gritty feel of the particles in my lens when I turned the zoom ring, but it can do some serious damage to your gear if left in there. So one of the first tasks I attended to when I returned to my car was to perform a quick cleaning, followed by a more thorough cleaning once I got back to the hotel, since it was so incredibly dusty.

To remove typical amounts of dust and other foreign matter that lands on my camera and lenses, I usually use the Giottos rocket air blower, which is a simple but effective hand-powered blower that shoots puffs of air with a good amount of pressure. The rocket blower comes in different sizes, but I just use the large one. I will use the puffs of air very liberally across the outer surfaces of the camera and the lens to cast off dust. I’ll often do this for a lens before I put the lens cap back on.

To answer my new friend’s second question, I’ve never had the occasion to actually clean my sensor, other than to let the camera go through its automatic sensor cleaning routine when I turn the camera on and off. For the most part, I’m guessing I would do more harm than good when trying to clean my sensor manually. Instead, I try to practice the art of keeping dust out of the sensor chamber in the first place, which involves being careful to point the face of the camera downward when changing lenses, so that loose dust and particles will not just drift into the sensor chamber. If I truly suspected something was wrong with the sensor surface (such as noticing the same blemishes or dead pixels on every photo I take, even after cleaning or switching lenses, I’d probably send it in to Canon for a cleaning. Here’s a link to Canon Professional Services, which offers several levels of membership: http://www.cps.usa.canon.com/repairs/repairs.shtml

Finally, check out the photos I took at Lower Antelope Canyon. Dust or no dust, the trip was well worth it!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!