What’s inside my camera bag? The essentials I love, use and recommend

 

I love photography. It’s my main gig as a freelancer and I absolutely adore meeting incredible people behind amazing businesses and helping them to present their brand in a way that best reflects them.

However, photography can be a pretty pricey career (or hobby) when you look at just how expensive the equipment can be and the myriad of props, tools and software it seems you need.

But I’m here to shout loudly and clearly about two important things:

  1. You don’t need to purchase all of your equipment in a day. It’s taken me years to accumulate the below set up and I didn’t add an item until I knew I really needed it or had learned how and why I might use it.

  2. Keep your set up as simple as possible. Quite frankly, it’s doubtful that you need six different lenses and multiple different types of artificial light. Anything you don’t have, you can rent.

We live in London and as any Londoner will know, space is tight. That means I’ve had to be clever about how much I bring into our home. In this post you’ll find all of the tools I use to shoot images for the magazine and in my career as a freelance photographer.

Camera


Canon EOS 6D

I’ve only ever used Canon and I can honestly say I’ve had no complaints. I’ve also always bought my camera bodies secondhand, never brand new. I would also stress that if you’re on a budget, don’t get caught up in needing the best possible camera body on the market at that time. Throughout your lifetime, you’ll upgrade your camera body depending on how much wear and tear it’s subjected to. Instead, focus on researching which lenses will best serve you for the type of photography you specialise in (or want to specialise in) as this will really level up your photography.

The Canon 6D is a full frame camera meaning you can capture more within the frame of a fixed lens like a 35mm or a 50mm than you would on a camera that isn’t full frame. It captures well in lower light and handles a higher ISO well.


Lenses

When I first first first started taking photographs I was really confused about why I couldn’t capture the kind of image I wanted to take. I would see images online and think wow, the light there looks amazing, how do I do that? Because I’m a self-taught photographer I didn’t have a teacher to tell me, so it took a lot of hands-on trial and error and a lot of reading around online to find out what was up. Well, it took me a little while to realise the power of the lens, but once I’d figured that out it was a huge step forward.


Canon 50mm 1.8

This lens rarely comes off my camera! I love shooting with prime lenses. (A prime lens is one that has one focal point, so you can’t zoom in and out. In order to ‘zoom’ you must physically move yourself closer to the subject.) The 50mm is ideal for food and portrait photography.

There is another version with a 1.4 f stop, but it is a little more pricey. It has a metal body so it’s more enduring, whereas the 1.8 is a plastic body. If you have the budget, perhaps invest in the 1.4, but if you’re a little more restricted on your spend I can say with certainty that the 1.8 lens is incredible!

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Both shot with 50mm 1.8

Canon 24-70mm 2.8

It really depends on what you shoot as to whether you’d need this lens. I like to have it in my kit as a safety lens for when I need to shoot with a greater degree of flexibility and at multiple focal points. This is a great piece of kit for events (or if you shoot weddings, it would be great in that instance too.) The only downside is that it makes your camera much heavier and bulkier because it’s a big old lens!

These are the only two lenses I own, but I have also rented out certain lenses for specific shoots. I was doing a portrait shoot for a client and I rented a Canon 35mm 1.4 because it gives a bit more space in the frame than the 50mm and it shoots a nice, sharp image.

Tech

Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC

We use the Adobe Creative Suite as part of our business because between Ben and myself we use a lot of the programmes such as Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop as well. I use Lightroom to organise images in folders and albums and edit my imagery too.

Hard drive  

This sounds obvious, but at the very start of my photography career I didn’t back up any of my images - eek! Can you imagine if my laptop had broken or got stolen? I would have lost so much valuable work, not to mention I was rapidly using up space on my laptop. If you’re just starting out, get your processes right from the beginning because then you don’t have to unravel everything at a later date. Buy yourself a hard drive and store all of your RAW files and all of your edited files right from the get go.

Tether wire

Using a tether wire transformed my photography. This is the wire that goes from your camera to your laptop so the images you’re shooting are delivered directly to Lightroom in real time. It’s enormously helpful to see the images on the screen as you’re shooting because it means you can spot mistakes with greater ease. Prior to using this cable I might think I had the perfect shot, only to pack down and load my images onto the computer and realise that an object wasn’t as sharp as I needed it to be, or the colours weren’t exactly as I thought they had been. Tether up, people!


-Multiple batteries

-Multiple SD cards

-Macbook Pro

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Accessories

Tripod - I recently upgraded my Tripod to a Neewer Camera Tripod which is amazing. It has a rotatable head so I can position the camera for a flatlay/overhead set up. This frees up my hands to style the scene and manipulate light while being able to see everything in the frame. It also folds down really neatly so that I can transport it easily if I need to take it on location.

White foam boards - super useful to bounce light onto a subject on a gloomy day. These are really cheap and if you buy a larger size you can cut them up into small pieces too.

Reflector set - I use a set from Craphy that was around £20 and it’s served me wonders. It comes in a dark fill, silver, gold and neutral. Each reflector serves a different purpose depending on what mood and light you want to create for the scene, but this always comes with me on every single shoot no matter whether I need it or not.

Photographic clamps - For hanging linens, holding up foam boards and the like. Simple simple.

Light stands - As I mentioned, we’re really tight on space in our house so I have a cheap, collapsible stand. This doubles up as a stand on which to clip linens and photography backgrounds as well as something I pin reflectors to. When we move into a bigger space, I’ll most probably upgrade to something a little sturdier and one that I don’t need to always collapse down for storage.

Blue tack - Have you tried shooting soda cans without blue tack to hold them down to the scene? Enough said.

Photoboards  - Okay, I really have to exercise self control when it comes to photoboards. I have a couple at home but I’m always browsing more. My favourite places to buy photoboards from are Capture by Lucy and Photoboards HQ. The different textures and colours can dramatically change the mood of a scene so if you’re thinking of setting yourself up with a few to get started, think about what kinds of scenes you’ll be shooting and whether you want them to feel vintage, modern, industrial etc.

If you’d rather not buy photoboards, try coloured card. It’s cheap and can be recycled after use. You can also hunt for scrap from skips in your area like used tiles and scaffolding.

Apple boxes / low table / trestle legs - Due to space restrictions in our house I actually use our coffee table (which conveniently has detachable legs) but if you have a dedicated room or studio, you can buy apple boxes on which to style your scenes. Alternatively any low table will do, or buy trestle legs and then rest your photoboards on top. It needs to be low so that you can comfortably shoot overhead scenes as well as 45 degree angles.

Camera Bag - For a while, I was ferrying all of my equipment around in dribs and drabs. I had a tiny Canon camera bag that fit the camera body and one lens and then I’d stuff everything else in handbags, tote bags or whatever else I had lying around. It was fine for a while, but I believe there’s a season for everything and I hit the point last year when I’d had enough of that season! Ben very kindly bought me a beautiful camera bag for my birthday from abeautifulmess.com and I’m in love with it. It has velcro compartments inside so that you can customise your own sections for lenses and camera bodies. It has various zippers and pouches to store things like blue tack, batteries, pens, SD cards.

And that’s pretty much the run of it! I understand investing in equipment can be a little scary, so if you have any questions I’m here to help!

 
Helena Murphy