Over the years, I’ve found myself purchasing, trading, selling, tactfully acquiring, or otherwise receiving and getting rid of lenses. I’ve journeyed through pages and pages of reviews and online forums, spoke to many wonderful skilled photographers and dissected people’s images to find out what I wanted and what I needed in terms of glass.
Well, gosh. I’ve earned, hustled, found and borrowed money to get my grubby hands on some of the best consumer and professional throughout my career all after spending a tremendous amount of time doing ridiculous amounts of research. Most of my research was done by reading reviews, but searching through sites like Flickr and 500px and sorting through images by the model of lenses used helped me see how certain lenses were used. Nothing wrong with that, but when I was younger, I ended up adding what was seen with what I’d read in the reviews and dividing it all by how empty my pockets were at the time… and then still made the crazy purchases.
Instead of renting anything, I sure did spend most of my lunch money, my hard earned paycheck, and lots of Capital One’s money, just to satisfy the craving for the instant gratification that I knew would come with the gear I wanted. Smart? Not exactly… But heck, I was fresh into photography and obscenely obsessed with acquiring the best of the best technology—otherwise known as bragging rights. I ended up buying a lot of gear that didn’t exactly do what I wanted and sometimes needed it to do. Those needs and wants changed according to what I was shooting– and I had no idea what I wanted to shoot.
Here’s a few things I wish I followed:
- Know what you want to shoot.
Knowing is at least one-third the battle. What you want to shoot will greatly influence what you lenses you’ll most likely end up with. The gear set for landscapes and architectural photography are really expensive and quite different than most portrait and wedding gear sets. So, know what you want to shoot—believe me, it’ll save you some precious time… and perhaps money.
- Be a copycat.
Imitation is a form of flattery for those being imitated. Imitation is also a lesson of learning for those doing the imitating! Find some photographers whose work you admire. Then, find out where they live, what they eat for breakfast, and maybe perhaps something actually useful like what equipment they have. Notice that I didn’t use any form of the word “stalk”. That being said, many photographers will gladly answer questions or otherwise freely give out information about what they use and what their favorite lens is and on what pictures they used it on, but only if you’re not stalking them. After gaining your newly acquired knowledge, get in their skin and try all you can to be exactly like them—figuratively of course. Try to imitate a photographer of your choice, this’ll give you some a decent idea as to what lenses to purchase.
- Don’t burn holes in your pockets.
Here’s a true story—I once invested in a Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS for $850, but found that even after the research I did, it didn’t fit my style. I sold that lens at a minimal loss and bought a different lens for $1100, but didn’t like that either. So I traded that lens for a different lens… and then that lens for another lens that was cheaper than $850… So yeah, I lost a lot of money overall (I blame the dang penny pinchers on Craigslist and other places of getting used gear). The point is… don’t get stuck with an investment that you won’t like—You’ll waste money and time… and gas… and time, which is money. Am I still bitter? No. Well, possibly. Anyway, borrow or rent the gear to see if you’ll like it before setting your pockets ablaze.
Really, I’m not that bitter about how much time I spent learning about the lenses I had purchased. It made me realize the value and limits of each lens that I had. It was an amazing and expensive journey that helped me build the gear set that I have today. That doesn’t mean that you have to do what I did and spend months with each lens, although you are more than welcome to do so.
So after shooting and exhausting myself doing a bunch of weddings—indoors, outdoors and in between doors—I learned what I wanted to do, did my research and narrowed my gear down to a small list of 3 lenses that work for me as a simple and basic portrait photographer both in and out of studio.
Bagged Lenses (pun intended)
Canon EF 17-35mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS
Canon EF 28-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS
Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L
Canon EF 70-200mm F/4.0L
Canon EF 70-200mm F/4.0L IS
Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L II
Canon EF 135mm F/2L
Canon EF 100mm F/2.8L IS Macro
Canon EF 85mm F/1.8
Canon EF-S 60mm F/2.8 Macro
Canon EF 50mm F/1.4
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8
I’ve included that long list of lenses I’ve tried, just to help illustrate how crazy the process can be. I sort of guessed at what I wanted when I started, but surely didn’t know. After all, it is a process. As I mentioned earlier, it is good to see what gear people are using.
On that note, there are many creatives out there that have great sites that inspire and inform readers what type of gear is used, like InMyBag.net. The man behind the site, Simon Ellingworth, also a photographer, educator, and all around creative, has created that site as not only a resource for gearheads, but also as a glimpse into photographer’s minds, visions and experiences. You’re able to scroll through hundreds of photographers and kits—from the most minimal to the most complex! There you can find the likes of Joel Grimes, Daimen Lovegrove and even yours truly! His site takes submissions, so you can go and share whats in your mind as well as your bag! It’s pretty rad, check it out!
If you have any questions about any of the lenses that I’ve bagged or am currently using, please don’t hesitate to ask!
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About Mykii LiuThis portrait photographer is named "Mykii Liu". Yeah, that is a weird/crazy awesome spelling, isn't it? Well, that kind of goes with his personality. Liu is a technological geek that has drifted in and out of full-time portrait and wedding photography as well as the IT world. As a youth, he was raised with computers and exuded an inherit ability to explore and understand other bits of technology, which included a 35mm Canon FTb film camera that he was gifted. Fast forward 20 years, add a couple other cameras, computers, lights and lenses, then find Mykii Liu shoot for love as he explores the portrait world.
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