5am wake up call to get to the pier in Pacific Beach, San Diego to make sure we caught the first light. I’m not much of a fan of alarms but I wish I woke up that early more often. Quiet. The city is like a movie set. The highway old and abandoned. And the PB pier completely our own. Which means the ocean was ours as well.
One by one they showed up with their outfits and props. We were going for yoga-ish, or as Carolina called it, “loose yoga.” And fashion-ish – which meant boho summer shots living the life in California. And active-ish – some casual stretches and activities outside of yoga, because let’s be honest, who only does yoga anymore?
There was only one gentleman, Jonathan Old-Rowe. I had seen pictures and heard of him but never met him in person. I heard he was an interesting guy, I figured that meant bizarre. He was a gem.
And Amanda, who is by far the funniest person I’ve ever worked with…and still knows how to channel her inner Kate Moss. I’m not going to share the ‘heroine-chic’ pic that we caught mostly by accident, but I look at it every day.
Goldie. Goldie was magic. It’s not easy to feel comfortable in front of the camera, let alone look like maybe you belong there full-time. Every direction out of my mouth was received mid-sentence and carried out 10 times better than I was imagining.
Carolina and I did a photoshoot together years ago “Yoga Superhero” that was a big hit. When she looks at the camera, you pay attention.
I didn’t get to spend much time with Linda because she had to leave pretty much right away but she was really sweet. She told me it felt more natural if I took her pictures while we had a nice conversation. So we did. And then we looked at the ocean.
“Alright, do you want me to do a back flip?” – Marissa
Some of my favorites below. Same day turnaround.
Dancersaurus: Urban Dance Photography with Sarah Navarrete
Dancersaurus (Sarah Navarrete) – An Urban Dance Photography Shoot
Last week Sarah and I got together to talk about a photo project. Sarah is a BRILLIANT dancer but also a resident trouble maker. I have a soft spot in my heart for trouble makers and wanted to see if we could drop the whole beautiful ballerina style and create something a little more, dare I say this barfy word, edgy.
Sarah was so good in front of the camera that I thought perhaps I had become the world’s greatest photographer for a minute. The shoot was efficient and extremely versatile.
I snapped 3000 pics (poor camera) and got the first round of eliminations down to 298. From there it went to 157, then 75, then the final 53.
We shot about 5 looks in as many locations – one location being an abandoned building in East Village that we bribed our way into. We ended up sneaking a 30 foot ladder across a parking lot (after I used my face to keep it from falling over) in order to scale the last remaining wall of this decrepit building so she could pose in a 15’x15′ cut out. My heart raced just as it did when I was an uptight little kid afraid of my dad calling me into the living room to tell me I was being too noisy. But I’m glad we did it because it provided a much needed boost of adrenaline towards the end of a long shooting schedule.
Some real dandies are mixed throughout the blog but my favorite favorites are the last 3 – because they are stunning.
Sarah preferred any shot with hair going wild – referred to as “Hairtography” (SN circa 2014-ish) – so those are in there as well.
What are your favorite shots?
Oh the yelling, what was up with the yelling? Sometimes you gotta let it out. The frustration.
How To Become A Professional Photographer On A Budget + List Of Equipment You Need.
If you’ve ever wanted to become a professional photographer but felt limited by the lack of affordable equipment to create high quality art, here are a few tips and recommended products to help you do a great job, and not have to sell your soul (or completely empty your bank account) in the process. I hope you find this information useful, and don’t forget to check the bottom of this article for a full list of my products and resources you can use right away to become a professional photographer on a budget.
Being a professional photographer is one of the best jobs in the world. You get to be creative, have an excuse to interact with interesting people, and be your own boss.
As long as you take pictures in nice lighting and don’t give any brides-to-be a double chin, you’ll be on your way to finding your groove in the photography world.
Most professional photographers started with basic cameras and took pictures of their friends as a hobby. Then someone was getting married and you got the phone call,”Hey, John and Amanda are looking for a photographer for their wedding, do you want to do it?” And of course you said yes. And you even felt guilty about charging them $150.
Most of being a great photographer comes from being good with people and having a good “eye.” In the beginning, you’re often worried about people not believing that you’re legitimate so you rush through shoots, and don’t give many instructions. But as you progress, you realize that even at the highest level, there are no big secrets other than taking your time and instructing your subjects in order to get the shots that your talented eye wants to see.
Being a photographer is great for mobility, because your skills are useful anywhere in the world. Next time you have a freak out and decide you need to leave the country, you won’t be completely without a money maker. If you have a camera, you are useful.
I couldn’t afford that kind of equipment when I started, and I didn’t really know who could.
My mom gave me my first camera when I was 14, a silver Pentax 35mm film camera, it probably retailed around $100 at the time. And I slowly progressed up the ranks from there.
When I converted to digital, I chose Nikon over Canon because I liked the design and it felt better in my hands. I bought a Nikon D40 over 10 years ago and I’ve never shot with anything other than Nikon since.
Two years ago, I wanted to buy a new camera. I was using the D5100, which retailed around $600 at the time, and shooting mostly HD videos. I loved that camera because it had the flip screen that let me see what I was filming from awkward angles. I also shot some photography with it and it did the job just fine.
If I’m being completely honest, one of the main reasons I wanted a new camera was because I wanted something with a bigger body so people looking at me would know I wasn’t some tourist with a Nikon around my neck, but a real, professional photographer. I’ve always been pretty vain, but that’s not a bad thing when you’re the person behind the camera.
Then I remembered the work of Casey Neistat (Nike, Mercedes, NYC bike lane), one of the most talented and engaging filmmakers in the world, who just so happens to shoot all of his videos on a $100 handheld, point-and-shoot camera. And I realized, it really is more about the eye and the story you tell with the camera than the equipment you’re using.
I decided to be a professional photographer on a budget in an attempt to prove that my skills were good enough to work on less expensive equipment.
I bought a Nikon D7100 for $1200 (body only) (it’s now under $700!). It was the highest ranking camera on the market before they jumped up to full-frame dslr cameras. I preferred this camera over the Nikon D5200 ($650 body only) because the body was a little bigger (ha!) and even the top photography pros said it was a high-performing camera for the price.
NOTE: They’ve just release a newer version of the intermediate camera:
The D7200 is a little faster and a little stronger with autofocus. I don’t notice a huge difference in quality for the price difference between the older D7100.
I didn’t want the stock lens it came with because it’s not very quality. It has an f stop of 3.5 which provides almost no ‘bokeh‘ effect unless shooting with a zoom lens. I was looking for something with an f stop of 2.8 or lower.
Many great portraits shots, where the subject looks crisp and the background is blurry, are taken with “prime lenses” – meaning, they have a fixed mm zoom. The most common lenses are 35mm prime and 50mm prime. Because of the fixed focal length, and more opened aperture ring (f/1.8 – f/1.4), prime lenses create a more shallow depth of field (sharp subject with drastic blurring in foreground and background).
Some of the best prime lenses are at an f stop of 1.4, even 1.2 on occasion, but again, they are $500 or more ($1600 for this Nikon 35mm f 1.4!). I did some research and found out that Nikon makes prime lenses at an f stop of 1.8. While you will lose a slight amount of bokeh effect, the 35mm retails for under $200 and the 50mm can be found around $100! All you have to do is decide if you want a wider angled lens or a tighter zoom. The 50mm will give you a little bit more bokeh, while the 35mm will allow for more space within the frame. You can compensate and create more bokeh with the 35mm by simply getting closer to your subjects (move your body, not the lens!).
Quick tip: Putting a prime lens on almost any camera will give your photos a mega boost. It’s much more affordable and effective than buying a new camera.
Professional photographers will often also carry more of a ‘utility’ lens that has a focal range between 15 – 70mm. The stock lens Nikon ships with its cameras is an 18-55mm and again, it’s crap (no offense Nikon). But Tamron makes a really nice 17-50mm lens at a 2.8 f stop for around $500. This is the lens that can be found on my camera the most because I get tired of changing back and forth between prime lenses when out in the field. Tamron makes this same lens with image stabilization for around $650. I didn’t notice a difference. Maybe film makers would want the stabilization but with all the editing software available I’m not sure it’s very necessary.
Between the 35mm, 50mm, and 17-50mm, you’ll be able to take professional grade portraits and landscapes no problem.
If you want to explore fisheye lenses for unique effects, or even films, there are some affordable options as well.
Rokinon (a Korean company founded in the early 70s) has an older lens still being used in the film world quite seriously. It’s an 8mm manual focus fisheye lens that allows for full 180 degree views around $300.
And a lens that I just picked up, that might be my favorite lens I’ve ever owned, is made by Tokina.
I KID YOU NOT – BUY THIS LENS. IF YOU DO NOTHING ELSE, BUY THIS LENS.
It’s an 11-16mm f/2.8 lens that has near 180 degree views without any of the line bowing or peripheral distortion that come from most fisheye lenses. It lets me take photos with incredibly unique compositions because there is more space within the frame. I love it. The view is like that out of our own eyes, it’s beautifully voyeuristic. And that set me back $475.
Every time I show someone a picture I’ve taken with this lens they are completely speechless. If you want a true difference maker, a lens that makes the most ordinary scene look completely original, then make the decision and throw down on this lens. It’s one of those items that I think about every day and never regret the money spent.
I started with the basics and have accumulated more pieces as I’ve needed them. I’m fortunate enough to get gigs with individuals and larger companies. My work has opened a lot of doors, and not once, has someone asked if I was shooting on a full-frame camera. An important thing I’ve learned along the way is that the lenses have a greater impact on image quality than the cameras. Get yourself a 35mm or 50mm prime lens and you’ll take great pictures on just about any camera.
You don’t have to spend a shitload of money on gear to get started as a photographer, you just have to know what you’re looking for.
I’ve attached links to the best prices for what I consider to be the most valuable products for anyone looking to become a professional photographer on a budget. These online prices for lenses tend to be significantly cheaper than in stores. The cameras themselves are usually set at fixed prices, so there won’t be too much discrepancy there.
Please feel free to comment with any questions you may have. I hope you have an incredible photography career and don’t get taken to school by some nerdy photography salesman trying to talk you into spending your fortune on equipment.
I’ve accumulated more lenses as I’ve needed them. Often, when out doing a shoot, I’ve found myself wishing I was able to capture different angles. I’d then go home and research until I found something that was pro quality, but affordable.
You can hit the piggy bank hard over the next few months and find a way to come up with enough dough to get started. All it takes is a couple gigs to cover your start-up costs and this equipment will last you 5-10 years.
Be smart shoppers and don’t get suckered into buying the hype around camera equipment. Start with what you need and add on from there.
Happy shooting photographers!
For a list of professional DSLR cameras and photography equipment check out my other article HERE.
* Kirk Hensler is a professional photographer and film maker as well as the creator of ‘Organizing Inspiration – How to bring your brilliant ideas to the world,’ a course for entrepreneurs and creatives to identify their brand, create a work process, and implement an intuitive working schedule.
Nikon DSLR Camera Equipment Guide
If you’re brand loyal with your cameras then this is the best Nikon DSLR camera equipment guide for you. There is some 3rd party gear but even Nikon will admit that other companies do some things better than they can.
1) Nikon D810 36.3MP DSLR Camera
Nikon just came out with the update to the D800 and improved the video quality quite a bit and added a 16.1MP “small” file size for photographs. That means you can take and store smaller picture files without sacrificing a lot of pixel quality. This camera is a true piece of art and feels like a dream in your hand. Nikon has been making the best professional cameras in the world for years and this is better than anything that exists in this price range.
$2,500 (price reduced!)
That seems expensive right? Save for it. Or just buy it on a credit card. Or make a post online that you’re booking gigs for the year and use the deposits to buy this camera. It is absolutely worth it and it’s one of those things that you purchase and smile every time you see it. Ever buy something when you were a kid with your own money and want to sleep with it at night? This is one of those items.
2) Nikon 85mm f1/4G prime Nikkor lens for Nikon Digital DSLR cameras
If you shoot weddings, portraits, or lifestyle photographs this lens makes your pictures look different than others just on the fact that the zoom range is so unique. 85mm lens gives you such intense focus on the subject with blurring in the background. The pictures are so crisp through this lens it takes you from being a $500/wedding second shooter to a $2500 – $3500/wedding main photographer. Everything you photograph looks interesting and professional.
3) Nikon 24mm f/1.4G prime wide-angle Nikkor lens for Nikon digital SLR cameras
Another great lens because of the unique focal length. In order to stand out as a photographer it helps to have angles and compositions that other people don’t. It’s standard practice for people to buy a 35mm and a 50mm lens. This lens automatically make your work unique and memorable.
With the D810, 85mm 1.4, and 24mm 1.4 you’ll be set up to take brilliant photographs and up your hire rates.
There are a few other pieces of gear that I particularly love, especially if I’m working out in the field.
Think Tank Airport International V 2.0
I’ll start with my bag – the Think Tank Airport International V 2.0 changed my life. And for $390 it better have. I’ve gone through 5 camera equipment backpacks in the last 2 years and haven’t been happy with any of them. I swallowed my pride and threw the $390 down on the Think Tank and haven’t regretted it for a second. Not a moment goes by when I’m in the field or at the airport that I don’t think about how happy this bag makes me. It rolls smoothly and stores all my equipment – 2 camera bodies, mics, laptop, power chords, batteries, lenses, and other misc stuff. It also locks shut and locks to poles if I need to leave it for 2 minutes to get a shot in the middle of the street. Switching from a backpack to a roller bag has eliminated all of my back and neck pain from hauling 60 lbs of equipment around and made all day shoots a lot less stressful.
Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap
Not only are the stock camera straps horrendous to look at but they aren’t functional at all. If you’re shooting with multiple cameras or need to move freely it’s unpleasant to have the camera body dangling from your neck. The Black Rapid RS-7 camera strap has a messenger bag style strap that lies across your body diagonally. The camera sits down by your hip, off to the side of your body so the space in front of you is open. Even more amazing, there are clips that lock the camera down by the hip if you don’t want to worry about it moving up and down the strap. The metal screw that connects to the bottom of the camera is really solid – solid enough where I have run sprints with my camera on my hip to see if I could break the connection – I couldn’t.
Buy 2 of these if you shoot multiple cameras so you can cross them over your chest and hold your cameras like a 2 pistols.
Rode Directional Video Microphone
This is a pretty small investment for a big upgrade to sound quality. The best content can be lost if the audio is weak. The Rode directional video microphone picks up stereo quality audio quite a ways away. I can point the mic at someone having a conversation over 50 feet away and pick up pretty clear audio. I use it for everything I film with the exception of 1 on 1 interviews. I don’t record anything anymore without the Rode mic mounted to my Nikon’s hot shoe.
Benro A3580F Aluminum Tripod
I like the Benro A3580F aluminum tripod because it’s really strong and doesn’t cost too much. I paid full retail price for it because I didn’t know about Amazon Prime yet – lesson learned – but you can get this tripod through the link for $168 (half of what I paid). Still, I’m pleased with the quality even at $300+. It’s pretty light weight but still feels sturdy. You can easily mount sliders and shoot with zoom lenses without losing stability. Also, and pretty sweet, the tripod opens almost all the way out with a special clip near the head so the camera can be mounted just a few inches off the ground. That means you don’t have to use stacks of books or lens caps to stabilize the camera close to the floor.
If you’re liking the sounds of this equipment list you’re looking at something like this…
That’s a pretty juicy total. Maybe it’s not all possible now but it’s nice to start chipping away and have a wishlist. It’s really just a matter of 3 years (1 birthday and 1 Christmas each year) plus 1 random purchase for yourself.
If this is way out of your league but you still want nice gear, check out my other blog: