If you’ve already read my beginner’s guide to DSLR photography then you’ll be aware that’s not how I capture my images. I thought I’d post a chat article on my set up to give you an insight.
So why all the equipment?
I’ve already demonstrated you can take pretty good pictures with a basic DSLR, some table lamps and a grey card in my tutorial. So why do I need all the extra equipment? Well the truth is I don’t need it. A good photographer doesn’t need to chase the latest expensive gadgets to improve their photography. I’ve seen amazing photography taken on an iPhone. So the reason I have remote triggers, flash heads and a tethered macbook is speed and convenience. The flash heads give me a lot of control over my light source and allows me to shoot a fast shutter speed. The tripod and triggers allow me to shoot hands free meaning I’m not constantly picking up and putting down the camera while changing models and the MacBook gives me an instant preview which is superior to the camera’s in built display. So not only is everything convenient, it also ensures consistent results.
Shooting Environment: I’m very lucky to have a spare room where I can permanently leave my mini studio set up. The back drop is an old white roller-blind which I can unroll depending on the length I require. The backdrop sits on a couple of 2ft x 4ft boards so I can create either a 2ft x 4ft area or a larger 4ft x 4ft area for army shots. These boards are supported by a small, inexpensive wheeled ikea cupboard which I can move around. The cupboard houses lots of equipment from batteries, chargers, spare bulbs to more elaborate items like the smoke machine or grey card.
Tripod: I actually own three tripods. My first was a cheap £10 one which is quite small and lightweight. It’s very flimsy and is only good as an extra pair of hands for holding reflectors or fill in lights. My second is an older one that use to belong to my father-in-law. It’s of sturdy construction and is very useful. My latest tripod is the Manfrotto one seen in the picture above. It is huge and solid but surprisingly not that heavy. It’s extension is impressive and when fully extended it’s over 6ft tall (closer to 7ft). I also bought a fluid head for it. The fluid head isn’t needed for photography but I’m getting into filming and it’s a must for that. The fluid head and tripod cost over £250. It would have been more but the tripod was second hand.
You don’t actually need a tripod for flash photography. The flash-sync speed tends to be 1/60th of a second which is fast enough to avoid camera shake.
Flashheads: This Instafit EX150 flashes are entry level, but extremely capable. Because all my shooting is small models with the odd product shot or portrait the 150w flash tubes are fine. I get so much light out of them I can shoot with quite small apertures like F22 and still have my ISO on 100. You can see my kit came with one umbrella and one soft box. I’ve never considered buying a second softball because the umbrella is like a soft box when the lamp is facing the subject. For really soft, reflective light you’re suppose to turn the head around and let the light bounce off the inside of the umbrella. I also own a professional bag to carry the heads, stands, cables and soft box and umbrella. Total cost of the heads and bag is around £330.
Camera: I shoot using a Canon EOS 7D. It’s a good camera. Very versatile with some fantastic features. The thing I love the most about this camera over my smaller 500D is the increased number of ISO options. It just means I tweek that exposure just right and get the minimal amount of grain by using 160ISO on the 7D, where the 500D might jump from 100ISO up to 400ISO. 500D new is about £550 where as the 7D body only new will cost £1200. I bought my 7D second hand for £550. The only downside is it isn’t a full-frame camera. Full frame cameras have a larger imaging sensor. The reason I’m putting off getting a full frame camera is because it will mean I will need to buy new lenses.
Lenses: Some people in the industry call their lenses “Glass”. I’m not a fan of jargon, so I’ll call them lenses. Zoom lenses are good if you’re out and about and shooting subjects at varying distances and don’t want to keep changing lenses. They’re not so good for studio work because there is a loss of quality. My zoom lenses are a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 (£270) and an 18-55mm (came with the 500D)
A lens that can’t zoom is called a ‘prime’ lens. These are superior for quality. My prime lenses are a 24mm f2.8 (£458), a 50mm f1.8 (£89) and a 60mm f2.8 macro lens (£400). You have to buy the best lenses you can afford. They’re more important than the camera in my opinion.
Computers and Software: Digital photography requires some sort of computer assistance to allow you to copy, save, manipulate and print your pictures. You can’t own a DSLR without owning a computer. I own a mid 2009 MacBook Pro (£1000) and a 2010 21″ iMac (£1000). Both have had the RAM maxed out and the only other maintenance work I’ve done is a new battery and a clean install of the operating system on the Macbook, which runs like new now.
You might have noticed I’ve ‘tethered’ the Macbook to the camera using a USB cable. Using Canon’s EOS utility software I can use the Macbook to shoot the camera remotely, show a quick preview and I can also save straight to the hard drive. I actually save the files to my iMac over the network. I prefer the iMac’s larger screen for image manipulation.
Software wise i’ve already mentioned Canon’s EOS utility but I also use Adobe Photoshop (Pay As You Go monthly from around £8). I use photoshop for no other reason than it’s what I’m trained on. I use it for my day to day job. There are many alternatives out their. Some are cheap or free and just as good. Check out GIMP for the PC (free) or Pixelmator from the Mac App Store (£22).
Extras: I like to use remote triggers. It’s quicker then waiting for the timer (especially if you’re trying to get through a long shoot of lots of miniatures) and it eliminates all camera shake that you can get from pressing the shutter button on the camera’s body. They’re also reasonably inexpensive. These are made by Yongnou and come as a pair for around £25. I did need to buy a pc sync cable on eBay for a couple of quid.
My 7D uses a Compact Flash memory card and My 500D takes an SD card. The more money you spend the faster the card. If you you’re into filming, a cheap, slow memory card will have problems.
The other invaluable item in my photography set up is the grey card (£10) for setting custom white balance. I use the same trick I mentioned in the tutorial for flash photography.
Totalling up that little lot comes to £4,912. Add in my memory cards, hotshoe flashes, sync cables, rechargeable batteries and the like and this is easily over £5000. I’ve spent years building up this kit bit by bit as my knowledge and experience improved,
I hope you enjoyed this insight.
Very nice setup. Hoping I'll have the square footage to set up a proper permanent studio someday soon.
I'll tell you that if you haven't tried it, Adobe Lightroom is fantastic software. I bought mine outright, but if you're already paying Adobe the monthly, you should download a trial and test it out. Makes batch image processing incredibly easy. I will say that I often have to go in to Photoshop afterwards and do little tweaks, but that's more due to my lack of skill as a photographer than with the software. It's really improved my photography workflow (and my images!).
I shoot in RAW so I use photoshop's raw editing software to batch process the files. It's pretty quick. Or sometimes I'll set up an action in photoshop to process lots of files (like resizing for web and the like).
I will get round to trying Lightroom. I'm pretty fast and efficient but anything that makes my life easier can only be a good thing. Thanks!
Super-cool setup! Thanks for the direction of knowing what is used for what and the associated costs. Your guidance is greatly appreciated!
- Colonel Winterborne
I'm loving these techy tutorials. I will have to give your suggestions a try. I imagine having a permanent space for doing it must make it so much easier!
Nice tutorial!! Now I'm one step closer to take better pictures of my miniatures 😀 Will it be a photoshop, or any other software, with basic tricks and techniques?
I have to stress how important lenses are. I have seen so many buy expensive DSLR and then pick a lens they can afford but is limiting the result they can get.
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This camera mini series has been fascinating and extremely useful.
I have a Canon 30D but really struggled to make the most of it. These articles are really helping me out – so thanks 🙂
If you're considering requests – Id love to see a Photoshop article on how you use it on your photos.