what's in my bag?

Happy Friday everyone! The sun is finally shining here in Madison, I've just gotten over a brutal cold, and I'm feeling like a brand new woman!

Today's post is inspired by more of the awesome feedback I received from my blog survey. Several of my readers were curious about what's in my camera bag, and which pieces of gear I used most often. I'll walk you though the gear I use, explain how and when I use each piece, and also share some recommendations for slightly more affordable alternatives at the end of the post.

Gear is expensive, guys. Unless you're totally flush with cash, it takes a while to acquire professional gear, and so it should. It's important not to go crazy purchasing equipment until you know why you would like/need each and every piece. If you're a portrait photographer, the best gear in the world can't make your photos work. It's a combination of knowing how to use your equipment and make your subjects feel amazing that creates great photos.

My arsenal has grown very gradually over time, purchased one piece at a time in response to my needs.

I learned to take pictures using my parents' film cameras when I was a child. When I began taking photography classes in high school, I borrowed one of my mom's older cameras, which she had been given by her grandfather. I worked in the darkroom whenever I had the chance, and became almost addicted to the magic of watching photos develop in the chemicals. I'd only leave the room once the acrid fumes started burning my eyes.

I first started shooting digital when I became the high school yearbook photographer (nerd alert!) and used one of the first digital models that weighed about a pound and was made by AGFA. Yes, so old school that I don't even think the brand exists anymore. Thankfully, when I arrived at university and started working at the school paper, I had the opportunity to work with beautiful, professional grade digital cameras. After a year of using this awesome equipment, I was itching to make the switch to digital for my own work. I purchased the least expensive point-and-shoot camera that Canon sold, a Powershot, and (as my friend Gill would say) was as happy as a bumblebee.

I used that point-and-shoot camera for years, and got to know its settings so well that I was actually really proud of the photos I could produce with it. After a while, though, I realized it was getting awkward to show up with a point-and-shoot when working with a new model, even ones I met on Craigslist (more on that in a later post). I realized it was time to get my hands on a DSLR, if only for the street cred.

I received my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel XTi, as a birthday present/grad school graduation gift from my parents. It came with a whole kit of accoutrements  and I was so overwhelmed by their generosity that I was almost afraid to use it for a while. Once I started, however, I definitely appreciated the difference in quality between the Rebel and my point-and-shoot.

About three years and tens of thousands of photos later, I was beginning to notice the slight shortcomings of the camera. Please don't get me wrong - it's an incredible camera, but I needed something that could hold up in low light. I soon purchased the Canon 60 D, a fabulous camera that served me really well.

In the summer of 2011, I recognized that in order to get the full use out of my lenses, I would need a full frame camera, so I took the plunge and purchased my dream camera: a 5D Mark II. This is what I use to this day, and it's a wonderful piece of equipment. That brings me to now, so it's time to show you what's in my current kit!

Brian and I both shoot with the 5D Mark II:

My favourite lens, which is on my camera 80 per cent of the time, is the 50 mm 1.2. It's my favourite portrait lens, and I love its true to life perspective.

Second in line is my 100 mm 2.8 macro. This baby takes dreamy extreme close-up photos when I use the macro settings, and when in normal mode, it's an awesome portrait lens that I often use for wedding ceremonies.

The 70-200 2.8L IS II is the big mama. It is an incredible lens, and takes the dreamiest photos, but it's quite heavy and with my t-rex arms I find it hard to wield for more than 10 minutes. This is Brian's favourite lens, because he works out he loves the look it produces and doesn't mind its bulk.

The 24 mm 1.4 is a lovely wide angle lens. I'm not a big fan of the wide angle perspective, so I would never use it for portraits of individuals, but it's really great for large group photos and dance floor shots.

This is my flash, the Canon 580 EX II. We have two of these bad boys.

This is an LED light that my parents just got me for Christmas. I had been experimenting with my friend Tiffany's light that she uses for video, and realized it's a great tool to have on hand when shooting details such as rings or decor. You just screw it onto your camera's hot shoe (where the flash would normally go), turn it on to the desired brightness, and you have a beautiful soft light.

These are the memory cards I use--lots of them!

Here's our back-up camera: the Canon 60D, still a wonderful piece of machinery.

Here are our back-up lenses, both of which are really great. The Canon 85 mm 1.8 is on the left (dreamy portrait lens) and the 17-85 4-5.6, is on the right (a good basic lens for any beginning photographer).

And, my newest addition is this amazing Think Tank carry-on bag! I'll be doing a whole lot of travelling this year for weddings and portraits, so I needed a great quality bag that will protect my gear on the road. I'm so excited to pack it up for my first wedding of the year in April (hi, Johanna!) and arrive in style.

And now some recommendations:

I myself use Canon gear, but I am not a brand loyalist - this is just the kit I have! Nikon also makes lovely equipment that people swear by, so don't shy away from doing your own research. If you're just starting to get more serious about photography, here's what I would recommend based on my own experience:

Camera: Any of the Canon Rebel Series. The most current model is the T4i, but the previous models are great too, if you're looking into used equipment.

Lens: my favourite is the Canon 50 mm 1.8. It's very affordable (about $140) and it the best lens you can purchase if you want to improve your skills. It's a prime/fixed lens, which means it doesn't zoom, so you have to physically move closer to your subject to zoom,  but that's great for developing your eye and working on your framing skills anyways.

Any questions? Leave a comment!