Photography Type Influences Gear Choices

long lens photo
Photojournalists and nature photographers are the most likely to invest in big glass

I get a lot of questions every week about what kind of camera to buy and what gear someone new to the business would want to have in their bag. I almost always have to answer those questions with another question of my own: What type of photography interests you the most?

For sure there will be quite a bit of overlap between fields. A photojournalist might find they have a lot of equipment in common with a wedding photographer. In fact, one style of wedding photography is sometimes referred to as “journalistic”. Other than the occasional overlap, most fields of photography will employ specialized equipment unique to that field. So your area of interest will influence how you spend your gear budget.

When it comes to cameras, that will be dictated more by your budget, but these days with modern DSLRs it’s far more likely a single camera can be used across different photography fields.

Portrait Photography

Portrait photographers are going to sink the most money into lighting and lenses. While portrait photographers are probably going to want a camera with a full frame sensor like the Canon 5D MK II or Nikon D700, it’s not a requirement. You can shoot perfectly good portraits with almost any camera, full frame or crop sensor.

For portraits lighting will be key and portrait photographers are more likely to invest big bucks in strobes and floor lighting.

Portrait photographers, along with DSLR video shooters, are also more likely to invest in prime lenses. Even though zoom lens quality is more than adequate for portraits today, shooting portraits is all about consistency, and for that primes are hard to beat.

Wedding Photography

Again, wedding photographers will likely employ a high end DSLR with either a full frame or crop sensor, the biggest differences will be the lenses and lighting.

A wedding photographer will almost certainly be using a high end zoom lens and, instead of floor lighting, will be investing their money in external portable lighting instead of studio lights.


PJs will need to be light and fast and they’ll favor lenses at both extremes. For working close in a crowd they’ll use the wide end of the scale and for sporting events and event coverage, they’ll have extremely long and very expensive glass.

If PJs carry a flash at all it will be compact, as they’re more likely to favor faster lenses and cameras with bigger sensors for shooting in low light than rely on flash units.

For PJs it’s all about the speed and the weight.

That’s one of the reasons photography questions are so hard to answer. The type of photography you choose will make a big difference in equipment selection.

Five Pro Tips For Better Candid Photos

shoot while walking
Shooting subjects while walking is a great way to catch candid moments - by flickr user loura

If you want to know who to ask about taking good candid photos, find yourself a photojournalist (PJ). When I first really noticed the difference in how a “PJ” shoots and a portrait photographer was spending time in one or two area photography studios. It was obvious we came from different worlds. From the selection of lenses, to camera settings, to framing, we were as far apart as people in the same profession could be. Portrait photographers are all about consistency, PJs are all about the moment in all its unstructured naturalness.

Whether you’re hoping to break into the ever-diminishing PJ ranks some day or are just looking for better candid photos, here some PJ tips for catching those world class candid moments.

Shoot From The Hip

Aiming and framing takes time and, as soon as you point a camera at someone, they react to it. Models, people in the media, and politicians all instantly adopt one of their automatic poses (or lunge at the camera) and people unused to being photographed looked startled and uncomfortable.

A good PJ gets used to aiming and shooting the first couple of shots before ever raising the camera to eye level.

Use A Fast Lens

Waiting for a flash to charge is out, you have to shoot fast! Shooting fast on the go means a fast lens and one more on the wide side.

You want to use a wide lens, but not so wide that it introduces wide angle compression into your pictures which becomes noticeable when doors seem to tilt toward the outside edges of images and it makes your subject’s head outsized compared to their feet. I wouldn’t go any wider than 50mm for candid photos, unless you’re shooting a crop sensor camera, then you can go as wide as 35mm.

Get In Close

In the old days reporters would use huge 4×5 cameras like the Busch Pressman Model C that would allow them to shoot a chaotic scene quickly and use that big negative to crop out the photo for the newspaper later. Today you can do something similar with a wide lens by shooting close in with a full frame sensor, a 50mm lens and zooming the cropped shot in post.

Take a Different Perspective

A PJ will either elevate their camera over the crowd and shoot at a slight downward angle or get low and shoot up which makes their subject look larger than life.

It’s okay to mix in a few eye-level shots, just mix it up with high and low angles.  This is especially important with a wide lens.  If you have a wide angle lens, either get low or get elevation because eye-level shots are going to show wide angle distortion.

Shoot While Walking

A great candid tip comes from something PJs do all the time: Shoot while walking. Let your subject start walking and shoot while you walk along next to them and backwards in front of them. You won’t be able to aim or time your shots, you’ll just have to blaze away and see what comes out later. Walking is a natural action and most people lose apprehension about the camera when they’re moving.

Try that and you’ll discover all the PJ tricks of not aiming, holding the camera up high shooting down and down low pointed up. You’ll discover Live View if your camera supports it and how convenient that can be for shooting on the go.

It may seem hard at first, but with enough practice you can do almost anything while walking backwards and shooting. The first thing you’ll learn is to sense obstacles and curbs, another reason PJs don’t always look while they’re framing. You may only get one or two good shots, but the ones that do come out will be fantastic.

Cameras For a Rough World

olympus tough
The Olympus Tough TG-810 is waterproof to 30 feet, shockproof from six feet and has built-in GPS support - by Olympus

It’s not easy being a small electronic device sometimes, the world can be a rough place. Some of you might be looking for a camera for the kids that can stand up to the rigors of the playground, the park and the back yard water slide. Others may need a camera that can get bounced around in the glove compartment and may be called upon to work in any weather conditions. Or perhaps a camera that can survive a bruising climb up a mountain trail in a backpack or road trip in bicycle panniers.

For those situations, you need a tough camera. No sissy electronics will do, you need something that can take it and still deliver decent photos.

Luckily there are cameras engineered for a rough world.

Olympus Tough TG-810

Capable of being dropped from a height of 6 feet, can survive underwater to a depth of 30 feet, and can even take being stashed in a snowbank.

The 13.8-megapixel CCD chip does yield great results underwater or in low light, but overall the camera will survive the rigors of being dragged around in the field. The Tough TG-810 has built-in GPS so you’ll know where the pictures were taken.

Video specs are okay, but not great. You’ll get 720p at 30 fps.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

This rugged compact not only sports built-in GPS, but also a compass, barometer, and altimeter. It’s dust proof, waterproof down to 40 feet, and shock resistant to falls up to 6 feet. And, oh yeah, it takes pictures.

Again this camera has a 12.1-megapixel CCD type sensor, which means you’re giving up a little in low light performance, but you gain full 1080 HD video at 60 fps.

Nikon Coolpix AW100

With the Nikon Coolpix AW100 you step up to a 15.9-megapixel CMOS sensor in a camera that still has an integrated GPS transceiver, but this time coupled with internal mapping software. Video is 1080p at 30 fps.

The Coolpix AW100 is shockproof to a height of 5 feet, waterproof to a depth of 33 feet and, like the Olympus, can survive an extended period in a snowbank. Which begs the question of how much time people are spending in snowbanks? Because that seems to be a big selling point for camera manufacturers.

Life is hard, but with one of these tough customers, you’ll at least be able to get good photos while buried in snowbanks.


Olympus Tough TG-810 to Nikon Coolpix AW100

Nikon Coolpix AW100 to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

Olympus Tough TG-810 to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

Fixed Lens or Interchangeable?

Point shoot cameras with built-in superzooms offer an alternative to long lenses

At this point in the development of digital photography, there is a camera for every buyer . In selecting which camera is right for you, one of the basic considerations will be whether to get a fixed lens or camera that lets you change lenses.

These days the question is not as clear cut as it was a few years ago. In the old days, you wouldn’t think of taking portraits with a zoom lens. You would have had a case of prime lenses and probably picked one in the 85mm-135mm range. Today zoom lenses are much better. Computer controlled milling machines, advanced optical coatings, and robot assembly means zoom lens quality is no longer an issue.

Now there are “superzooms”, also sometimes called “travel lenses” with incredible zoom ranges that make changing camera lenses a rare event. A few years ago you might have been carrying a small case full of lenses, today, even for a commercial shoot, you’ll likely only be packing two or three.

Modern consumer cameras with fixed lenses are still able to offer an impressive zoom range and most will work for 90 percent of the shots you will probably ever want to take. It’s that last 10 percent that separates photographers. Specialties that positively need to change lenses are serious bird watchers, sports, and wildlife photographers.

If you’re taking pictures for a living, or think you will, interchangeable lenses will be a capability you want. You may not have a lot of lenses at first, but you’ll pick them up over time.

Even if photography is just a serious hobby, I’d still get interchangeable lens capability if it’s in your budget.

But if you’re getting a camera to take pictures of the kids, for a family vacation, or occasional get together then the zoom range in most point and shoot cameras are just fine.

If you’re thinking about your kid’s soccer game, cameras like the Canon SX30 IS, the Nikon CoolPix 500, and Fujifilm Finepix HS20 with a built-in long zooms can put you right in the action, even from the sidelines at a price less than you’d pay for a decent long lens.

JVC Fields Video/Still Hybrid GC-PX10

The JVC GC-PX10 offers powerful hybrid functionality - by JVC

It’s hard to tell if the JVC GC-PX10 is a video camera with more convenient still image capability, or a still camera with video on steroids.

Either way JVC has loaded an interesting blend of features at a camera apparently aimed at the advanced consumer segment of the market.

The GC-PX10 features a 12.75-megapixel 1/2.3 BSI-CMOS sensor behind a Konica Minolta HD 19x dynamic zoom lens with optical image stabilization. The advanced chip technology gives it a stated ISO rating of 6,400.

The video features are impressive. Full 1080 HD at 24/30/60p backed up by JVC’s K2 sound system that allows for manual control. On the back it features a 3 inch touch panel tilt monitor.

Linked to the imaging hardware is JVC’s FALCONBIRD high speed imaging engine which is also found on their full HD 3D camcorder, the GS-TD1. The high-end electronics let the GC-PX10 do a lot of neat tricks like record full HD video while simultaneously shooting 12-megapixel stills without interrupting the video.

The most compelling features of the GC-PX10 may be the hybrid shooting capabilities. It can pump out 8.3-megapixel still at a rate of 60 shots per second in 130 shot bursts or 12-megapixel still at 30 shots per second. Impressive.

In VGA mode the GC-PX10 can shoot 300 frames per second for up to two hours. You could record your kid’s entire soccer game in super slow motion.

Prices at $799 the JVC GC-PX10 is an interesting hybrid video camera.