One things I get asked a lot is what gear I am shooting with. While I think it’s ultimately the photographer’s vision that gets the shots you see, knowing what they’re using and why can help you achieve a similar look in your own work. Writing this I’ve realized so much of why I do what I do is intuitive, but I’ll try to break it down step by step and explain why I’ve made the choices that I do.
In terms of gear I use mainly my Nikon D700D850, and as backup the Nikon D700. I hardly ever use the D700 though, so most of what you’re seeing is the D850. With lenses I use prime lenses for pretty much everything. I’m obsessed with primes. The clarity, quality, and the way they make me move around to see things differently is what I love. With a zoom it’s so easy to stand in one spot and just zoom in and out to get closer, but I think you miss out on a lot of opportunities to see a scene from a different angle.
Right now I’m mainly using the 50mm 1.8 and the 85 1.8mm. There’s a few other lenses kicking around in the bag too but I don’t really use them so I don’t think it’s worth mentioning here. For portraits for me, nothing beats the 85mm. I’m absolutely obsessed and I’d say it’s my favorite lens. If I’m shooting where I’m trying to get more of the surrounding area in I’ll use the 50mm. In terms of settings I’m pretty much always shooting between 1.8-2.3f. I rarely go past that if I’m shooting portraits, I want everything to look like I’m living in a magical dream world with the prettiest bokeh ever. My next lens purchase is going to be the 35mm and I can’t wait for that! 35mm is as close to how the human eye sees things, and I love that look for capturing people in their environment without having to stand super far away from them.
In terms of ISO it’s dependent where I’m shooting and the light that’s available, but I’ll generally keep it as low as possible because I like to add grain in later if I want it. Obviously if I’m shooting a wedding and the light is low that would change, but generally if I’m shooting portraits at a time and place of my choosing my ISO will be low.
When I shoot I try to shoot at sunrise or sunset, and never the middle of the day. Especially here in Australia where the sun is a big burning ball of fire in the middle of the day, and when it’s directly overhead it makes everything look really flat, and everyone gets weird shadows on them. If I have the ability to choose when I’m shooting, it’s going to be the beginning or the end of the day. When you’re shooting at those times, the light is much more directional and I like to use it in one of two ways. If it’s lower in the sky(so the light doesn’t blind your model), having them facing the sun creates this golden glow on the skin, and illuminates their features in the prettiest way. It’s a really flattering angle for light, and creates a nice contrast against the background. Either that or I like to place the light behind their head, and it creates this beautiful light that helps your subject pop out against the background. Depending where the light is, you can get this lovely light flare behind them, or if it’s on more of an angle it just lights up behind them to really help them pop off the background. Sometimes when the sun is behind your subject it can look a little flat, so I’d recommend shooting a bit underexposed(always in Raw. ALWAYS!!!!) and adding more contrast in post or lightening it up if you need to. Shooting with keeping in mind how you will edit makes a huge difference in your process.
If I’m shooting the sun behind my subject I generally underexpose on purpose. I want to keep the details in the highlights, or whatever is white in the photo, and I can lighten up the darker parts in post. It’s always easier to bring detail back in in post as opposed to shooting overexposed and then you lose all that information.
I like to keep my setup pretty simple when I shoot. I don’t usually use a lot of extra gear, as usually we’re in places on location and I don’t like carrying around a lot of stuff. Depending where you’re shooting, the beach makes a great reflector as it’s a big white expanse of sand which helps bring light back into your subject. Paying attention to your natural environment of where you’re shooting can give you a lot of tools as well. If the sun is behind your subject and giving too much flare, changing the angle of your subject or using a tree, or hill to flag the light can cut down glare. I think so much of photography is paying attention. Looking at light, and how it falls, even when you’re not shooting. Noticing how changing something a tiny angle can give a completely different effect. If you’re on a shoot and you feel like the light isn’t working for you, taking a time out to reassess and see if you can find a better spot where it looks better is never a bad thing. Art takes time and taking time on the shoot to think about more options usually pays off!
Hopefully that wasn’t too much of a brain dump and made a bit of sense, I think post processing is a topic for another post. Let me know if this helped you at all, or if you have any questions I didn’t cover here.