My Gear & How I Use it to Create Emotion

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Photography is a game of emotions. Think about some of the most powerful images that you’ve ever seen. The ones that have left a lasting impression on you. Sure, they might have gorgeous tones, light, or composition, but the reason they have stuck with you for so long is probably the emotion or mood that the image evokes. Our job as a photographer is to control those moods and to decide which emotion we want our viewer to feel.

I know, that last sentence sounds like I want you to go out and craft these fake moments just for the sake of emotion. Don’t worry, I’m not into that but but if I see a happy energetic moment happening in front of me, you better believe I’ll be shooting it with a lens that I know will emphasize that mood. Why in the heck wouldn’t I? That’s what this article is all about. Scroll on to read all about my gear, and why I make the choices I do when I’m using it.

(Published in Aglow Magazine)

Contax 645 kodak portra 400

FILM OR DIGITAL

This is the question for the ages. Over the past 5 or so years, there has been a huge resurgence of film shooters in the market and I think that freaking rocks. Not because I think film is better than digital, but because I love variety. I love seeing people using whatever medium they love the most to create things they’re proud of and that others can enjoy. Some of us love shooting our respective medium for its aesthetics, others for the price, and some of us may have just chose one and stuck with it. My suggestion for all of you is to not feel locked down to one or the other. The truth is that film and digital are both awesome and if we learn a bit about them both, we can use each of them to benefit our shoots in different ways. Hammers and screwdrivers are both great tools but you use them for completely different things. Both mediums (film and digital) can be great tools but each of them has it’s own strengths.

Film or Digital

FILM

When shot well, film is just gorgeous. Everybody knows it and almost everybody loves it, but is that enough? Should we just learn that little fact and move on? Film deserves much more than we give it credit for. In conveying certain moods, film can give your images that little something that digital just can’t (unless you’re willing to put in some extra work in post, which even then it’s tough to make it look right). For example, if you are looking for a serene, intimate mood, film can take you there. Film tends to be a bit softer and less “glossy” or “polished” than digital which is why it lends itself so beautifully to those more subtle, calm moments. In addition to being a bit softer, film also has natural flaws (light leaks, scratches, dust, grain, etc) and that texture can also play into that less polished look. Lastly (and arguably most important) is the feeling of nostalgia that film can bring out in a viewer. Most of us grew up in the film age. We grew up in a time where not everybody and their sister had a digital camera. This means that when we look through our old vacation photos or family photo albums, we’re most likely looking at film. We’re seeing our favorite memories of mom and dad, that summer when we learned how to swim, or a shot of us and our best friends before we hit middle school captured on film. Because of this, the tones that we see in film subconsciously make us feel nostalgic because we’re so used to seeing it in association with our old family and vacation photos. This can be a huge asset to bring into a shoot if that’s the emotional response that you want your viewer to feel. In a nutshell, film is my go to when I am looking for a bit more of a calm, or nostalgic image. That doesn’t mean you can’t hit the opposite side of the emotional spectrum on film, I just find it suits the other side better for my own work.

Film vs Digital Contax 645 Kodak Portra 400

5D III + 35L // Contax 645 + Kodak Portra 400
Here’s a good comparison of digital and film. The digital frame on the left looks a bit more polished while the film frame on the right has a bit more of that soft, gritty, nostalgic look. Same shoot, same spot, same light but sometimes film can capture that little “umph” right out of camera that digital would need some post work to get to.

As for the more technical side of things, film tends to retain a WAY more details in the highlights. In fact, most photographers you who shoot film (especially with certain stocks like Fuji 400H) tend to overexpose their images by up to 3 or so stops. Doing so produces a more airy, pastel look as the film soaks in the colors and contrast without loosing much detail. On the other end of the spectrum, underexposure is where digital has a bit more of an advantage because film tends to lose detail in the shadows.

Contax 645 Kodak Portra 400

Contax 645 + Kodak Portra 400
Most photographers who shoot both digital and film edit their digital work to match the tones of their film work. I actually do the opposite. When I get my film scans in, I introduce similar tones (also in LR) so they mesh well with my digital work. Is one way better than the other? Absolutely not. Do you.

WHAT I USE: Contax 645 +  80mm, Kodak Portra 160 & 800

I love the images I make with with my Contax and I love how it feels in my hand (that’s what she said). I’ve shot with a few over the years (Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya 7II, and some others), but the Contax 645 feels like the one that I wish all of the others were.

UPDATE: I’ve sold my Contax system. I loved it but am trying to be a bit more minimal.

Contax 645 Kodak Portra 400Contax 645 Kodak Portra 400Contax 645 Kodak Portra 400

DIGITAL

It’s nuts when you think about it. Digital cameras were just some guy’s lofty idea at some point, and now they’re a MASSIVELY important tool. I shoot digitally for 90% of my work. In fact, I usually only shoot film for personal work or unless it’s requested specifically for a project. I’m a huge fan of experimenting and sometimes, the immediate feedback that digital can give me is a crucial part of that. Other than the more obvious aspects (no film/processing costs, instant feedback, etc), digital can be a huge asset to to a shoot. If you are looking for something a bit more polished (less grain, no imperfections, etc), or at least the option to keep it polished or add in the imperfections later, digital may be your tool of choice.

Film or Digital

From a technical stand point, shooting digitally will open up more possibilities for low light shooting, shooting faster (no switching rolls or winding film), and will give you a bit more latitude in post with color adjustments. Digital is also a bit more forgiving with underexposed images (as long as you’re shooting RAW, which you should be), since it retains details in the shadows better than film does. If the mood calls for it, I’ll actually shoot a stop or two underexposed on purpose and push it back up in post to introduce a bit of subtle grit to an image. Examples below:

Push Processing DigitalPush Processing Digital

WHAT I USE: Canon 5D III / Canon 5D IV (I’ve updated from the 5D III  to the 5D IV)

The 5D III has been everything I need for the past few years. I haven’t even thought about switching cameras once since I got it. The low light capability is perfect for what I use it for, the files look great, and it’s never really given me any issues. Another small (but also huge) reason I love it is because it records images to two cards at once. Ahhhh, peace of mind.

In addition to all of that, the 5D III has a full frame sensor. DSLR’s have two different types of sensors, one is a “full frame sensor” and the other is a “crop sensor.” The crop sensor means that the actual sensor that the image is being recorded on, is smaller. That turns a 35mm lens into the equivalent of a 50mm(ish) lens. To be honest, it’s all technical mumbo jumbo that I don’t want to weigh this post down with but luckily there are TONS of great articles about this. If you want to understand it further, here is a great one! The reason that this matters to me, is that a full frame sensor allows me to be closer to my subject (which means the depth of field is shallower because the closer you are to your subject, the shallower the focal plane will be) while still capturing a good bit of space around them. This means I can shoot a wider shot, with a shallower depth of field on a full frame sensor than a crop sensor. I know, all boring stuff, but it’s important to know.

Full Frame vs. Crop Sensor

5D III + 50L
It’s confusing if you’ve never heard of it before and visuals always help me so here you go! If this shot was taken with the same lens, at the same distance, etc the whole image is what the Full Frame sensor would capture and the cropped rectangle is what the Crop Sensor would capture. This means that if I backed up while I using the Crop Sensor to capture the same framing as the Full Frame, the depth of field would end up being deeper since I’m further away. Full Frame is where it’s at for me since I love the soft, blurred backgrounds.

UPDATE: I’ve upgraded to the 5D IV! I’m a huge fan of the 5D III still but I prefer the dynamic range, low light capability, and the grain texture (finer, and with less color variation) of the 5D IV.

LENSES

Imagine a scene with a a huge desert landscape and a runner. The sun is behind you leaving nothing but the desert sand, a well lit athlete and the deep blue sky. The question now is what emotion do we want our images to convey. Do we want to show off the dynamic energy of the athlete? Maybe a more relaxed, calm mood? What about something that looks a bit more cinematic? We could even draw out a bit of drama to show the concept of the runner’s battle between his mind and his body. We can steer our images in any of these directions through the lens that we decide to use. This is exactly why your lens choice is one of the most important choices that you need to make when it comes to your equipment. If you don’t believe me, go watch some movies. Focus on the moods conveyed in different scenes and how their lens choices emphasize those moods. Don’t only think about which lenses they used, but think about how different the scene would feel if they used something different. For example, if they used a longer lens to draw in close to their subject, how different would the scene feel if they used a wide lens instead? Would it lose it’s power? Would the mood change at all? These are all things that directors consider and lens choice holds just as much weight for photographers. It’s beyond important to not only know the technical aspects of your lenses, but to know how each lens affects the mood in your images and how to use that to your advantage.

WIDE LENSES

Wide angle lenses typically range from 16mm-35mm but there are a few more extreme lenses out there. Okay good, now the boring technical stuff is out of the way. Back to the good stuff. If we insert these lenses into the scene with the runner in the desert that I mentioned earlier we can accomplish a few different moods depending on how we compose the shot and how close we are to the runner. Let’s imagine that we want to create an epic scene showing of the drama of the landscape and the solitude of the runner within it. Using a wide lens to shoot from a distance will do just that. It will make the athlete into a tiny part of this grand landscape and will emphasize his solitude by showing the vast emptiness around him. Go ahead, imagine the shot. Blue sky, seemingly miles of desert dunes, and a tiny dot of a runner in the middle of the frame. Shooting a wedding in a mountain range (well aren’t you lucky)? This is a perfect way to show off the magnitude of where you are! That distance between you and the subject can often create a stronger emotion in your viewer because they are looking into a scene instead of feeling like they’re a part of it (I know, it seems counter productive). If the feel like they are looking at a scene that shows the struggle of a lone runner with nothing but miles of sand around him, they start to feel for him. They see and feel his solitude from the outside. In another example, imagine the wedding image in the mountains. A vast sweeping shot of cliffs and mountains with nobody around except for a newly wed couple embracing each other with closed eyes right at the bottom of the frame. Since the viewer is removed from the scene (because of the distance between you and the couple), they are looking into an intimate moment. They see the quiet and powerful connection shared between two people who need nothing around but each other. I’m not saying that this is the only way you should be shooting, but having shots like these mixed in with closer shots, its a great way to give emotional variety to a set of images.

Imperial Sand Dunes Engagement Session

5D III + 35L
When shooting wide shots like this, it’s always important to think about the separation. What makes your subject different from their surroundings. That difference will help them pop out instead of getting lost in the frame. In this image it’s pretty clear. Their shapes and dark colors pop against the sky, drawing the viewers eye right into them.

Wide Angle Lens Variety

5D III + 35L
If you know my work, you know that I don’t typically showcase the wider “tiny people” images on their own but I do LOVE the variety they can give to a set. When your viewer is scrolling through your blog post, it’s important to give them different types of images so their eyes can move around and their minds can stay entertained.

On the other hand, if you get in close with a wide angle it can inject the feeling that the viewer is right there in the scene and create a dynamic sense of energy. Because of the perspective you get with a wider lens, when you step in close it can make a small stride look like a giant leap by stretching out the limbs. The wide angle of the glass literally elongates the edges of the frame. I typically use that bit of perspective for fun, energetic lifestyle shots although it can be used beautifully in things like fashion editorials as well for a more dramatic look.

Canon 24L II

5D IV + 24L II

 

Creating Energy with Lens Choice

5D III + 35L
For happy, summer, lifestyle vibes like this my 35L rocks. The stretched perspective adds a bit of life and energy into the frame without any extreme distortion.

I know what some of you might be thinking: “I heard you’re not supposed to shoot up close with a wide lens.” From here on out, take every photography “rule” you hear with a grain of salt. Sure, there are reasons that it’s a “rule” in the first place (and it’s important to know those reasons), but F rules. You do you. The reason for the rule of not shooting up close portraits with a wider lens is because it can cause distortion that might elongate certain parts of the frame (towards the corners). This elongation is the exact reason that it can create a more dynamic frame but it can look funky up close. If you want to fight the distortion, you can correct it in LR with the click of a button. All you need to do is click on the “Enable Profile Corrections” in the Lens Corrections panel of Lightroom. Easy as heck.

Canon 35L // Ben Sasso

5D III + Canon 35L
It’s close. It’s intimate. It’s wide. It’s slightly distorted, who freaking cares?

WHAT I USE: Canon 24L II / Canon 35L

Hot dang. That sucker is a hell of a lens. This was the first L-series lens that I owned and it became an instant favorite. For the look I love, it’s perfect. Wide perspective without being too extreme. This is my bread and butter lens at weddings. I love the “in the moment” documentary look that it gives and the energetic feeling it can evoke when the couple is running by me holding hands, dancing together, etc. This has been glued on one of my 5D III’s at every shoot I’ve done since I’ve owned it.

Colorado Garden of the Gods Engagement Session

5D III + 35L
Since I hike with the couples I work with so often, I’m lucky enough to end up on rad lookout spots pretty often. This is another huge benefit of my 35L. I’ll let the couple relax and enjoy the view while I capture them on one side of the frame, and (with the wide perspective) I’ll capture the view on the other so the viewer can feel the full scene.

Ben Sasso // 35L

5D III + 35L
Shooting close up here with a wider lens gave me that more dynamic look that puts a bit of energetic tension in the frame.

Wide Angle Lens Canon 35L

5D III + 35L
Here’s another perfect example of how wider lenses can stretch out limbs to make things look more dynamic. On a longer lens, Ashley’s limbs would look slightly shorter than they do here. It’s subtle, but knowing your gear well is about knowing how to use those subtleties.

MEDIUM LENSES

The most popular lengths for medium length lenses are 50mm and 85mm. Okay, boring numbers, done. These lenses don’t portray any noticeable distortion of perspective like some wide angles and they tend to be most used in portraits. These lengths (my favorite is 50mm) are spectacular for moments that are calm and still. A soft portrait of a bride before she walks down the aisle, a close shot of a couple kissing, even an editorial shot of a model wrapped in glowing light and peering into the camera. Not only can they bring out a beautifully cinematic feeling (thanks to the shallower depth of field blurring the background), their angle of view is closest to how they human eye sees so it can make the viewer feel as if they are in the frame with the subject as opposed to noticing the influence the camera has cast on the on the frame. If we were to use this lens in the scene with the runner in the desert, it would be a great lens to isolate the runner in a full body portrait, or a closer head shot (by blurring out the background) while still keeping the context of where the runner is. What we would be left with is a shoot that looks like we are looking at the subject with our own eyes as opposed to through a camera. That introduces a bit of intimacy and a stronger personal connection to whatever is in front of us.

Canon 50L Wedding Portrait

5D III + 50L
Awwww yes. This is why I love my 50. It’s simple, clean, and gorgeous. With backlit light light this, I’ll put some spotty trees behind my subject to give the background a warm, soft glow. On the closer shots I’ll move my focus point to focus on my subjects eye, trying not to sway back in forth as I’m shooting to avoid missing focus.

Canon 50L Kissing Shot

WHAT I USE: Canon 50L / 85L II

My Canon 50L is by far, my most used lens. If I could only have one, this would be it. It’s the first one I pick up when its time for a calm, intimate portrait but that’s not all I use it for. Since it doesn’t distort the perspective at all, it acts like a chameleon and lets whatever is in front of it do the talking. What I love most about it visually is the separation that it gives me between my subject and the background. Since I shoot at 1.8 just about all the time, this gives me a crisp area of focus with everything in front of, and behind the focal plane in a soft creamy blur. I also own the Canon 85L II which is an amazing lens as well but I would use the 50L over it anytime I could. I actually only use my 85L at weddings when I need the extra reach.

Laguna Beach Anniversary Session Canon 50LRialto Beach Couple Session Canon 50L

TELEPHOTO

Telephoto lenses for use in the lifestyle, editorial, and wedding worlds typically range from 100mm-200mm and serve two purposes. One of them is obvious, if your subject is far away and you need to get in close without getting physically closer, these lenses will help you do that. Aside from that, telephoto lenses can help you isolate your subject from the background by throwing everything else so far out of focus that it becomes unrecognizable (this is because longer lenses will have a shallower depth of field). This can be a great option if you’re shooting an a less than photogenic location but to be completely honest, telephoto lenses aren’t really my thing. The longest lens I ever use is my 85L.

If we brought one of these lenses into the runner in the desert scene that we mentioned earlier, we would likely end up with a portrait of a runner against an unrecognizable blue background or if we shot from a good distance away we would see something called “compression” that happens with longer lenses. This is when everything in the frame seems to be flattened out as if it is all on the same plane. Again, it’s not really my thing as I would rather be physically close to my subjects to create the intimate mood that I love but there are some amazing images to be shot with longer lenses like these.

WHAT I WOULD USE: Canon 135L / 200L

If I used telephoto lenses, these are the two I would. I actually own the 200L and have used it maybe twice in the past 5 years. It’s a great lens for what it is!

MACRO

Macro lenses range in length but share one common trait, they can focus so close it makes your brain hurt. Need to see your reflection in that grain of sand? No problem! While these are definitely considered a specialty lens, they can bring out some really great moods. In the runner in the desert scene, these could create a bit of drama by focusing close up on the hot sun shining on the beads of sweat rolling down the athletes skin as he looks up the dune in front of him. This shows the struggle that he’s already exerted and the determination in his eyes as he wills himself to carry on. Coming in close can draw your viewer into an extremely focused and dramatic moment. These can also be killer for things like detail shots of rings, nature, etc.

If I have ever used one, I’d give you a recommendation but, just like telephotos, these aren’t really my thing. If you have one you love, feel free to let me know in the comments in case someone else is looking for one!

OTHER TOOLS

Sure, the camera gear is important (to an extent), but there are some other bits of gear I use that play just as much of a role in my shooting and in bringing out certain moods. I listed some of my most crucial ones below!

MUSIC

Say hello to your new best friend. If I could only give you one tip to loosen up a couple or model on set, it would be to play music. It’s really that powerful. I have a few different bluetooth speakers that I use (some portable, some are bigger, etc) depending on the shoot, and how light I need to pack.

There are two huge reasons that I play music on set and the first one is to help bring out a mood. If I’m expecting a model to give me an energetic happy vibe, why not play something faster that she can dance around to? Why not play some fun, loud music to flood the room with the mood you want her to bring out? On the other side of the spectrum, if you are trying to hit a quieter, more serene mood it may be helpful to play something soft and soothing so your subject can easily fall into that mood. I actually have a few different playlists on my phone that are ready to go depending on which mood I’m trying to hit. Reason number two, it kills the awkward. Silence can be awkward. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite traits in a person is being able to be quiet with someone without feeling like the have to say something, but the truth is that not everyone is as comfortable with silence. Music helps fill that gap. Aside from that, if you ask them to laugh out loud, the music drowns out the laugh that they might think sounds awkward. It even allows your couple to talk to each other and be cute without the fear of you hearing it. Music has some sort of magical power to bring out the natural in people and I love it.

Photo Shoot Music

5D III + 50L
Seriously people, music. Just try it once. Looking for energy? Fast music. Looking for something peacful? Soft tunes. I often switch up my playlists through out couples shoots like this so I can work through a variety of different moods to give the shoot some depth.

WHAT I USE: HAVIT Portable Bluetooth Speaker

This thing packs a punch. It’s loud, its waterproof, it clips on to my strap or belt, I can change songs/volume right on the speaker, etc. It’s exactly what I need and it’s cheap as heck.

PIECES OF MAGIC

Yep, I call these my little pieces of magic. In reality, they aren’t anything more than ziploc bags, broken cups, or little crystals but when I shoot with them, they do magical things for me. About 7 years ago when I was shooting portraits of a friend under a tree, a leaf fell in front of my lens and started my love affair with shooting through things. The leaf left a soft blur over a portion of the frame that created this gorgeously soft, dreamy mood. I still use leaves every now and then but now I prefer to use clear or translucent things (like the items pictured below) to get funky reflections, catch light in a different way, or just to create a dreamy blur. To use these, I literally hold them right up against my lens hood and peaking into the frame. This creates a soft washed out blur, perfect for adding to the dreamy mood of an image or just adding a bit of visual interest.

Shooting through Leaves

5D III + 85L II
Typically nowadays I shoot through glass or plastic pieces (below) instead of leaves because those create a soft, translucent blur instead of adding any color in. Every now and then I’ll still shoot through plants or branches like this. Whenever I do, I make sure that I have some light on the plant (instead of having the shadowed side of the plant aiming towards me). That light gives a softer look than it would if I had a dark, shadowed shape over my frame. That doesn’t mean it won’t fit your style, I just prefer the light!

Shooting through glass pieces

Here it is. The magic kit. A ziploc bag, a broken cup, a convex lens (works well as a makeshift macro lens when held right against my 50L), a piece of a plastic light cover, and a hippie crystal. All of them capture light differently and all of them rock.

The fun of shooting through things like this is that it’s always different and there are so many variables that can change the look completely. What I’m saying here, is to experiment. Each lens will capture this in a different way. Shooting through something on a wider lens (like my 35L) will leave a more defined shape in the frame while a longer lens like my 85L will leave more of a haze in that portion of the image. The longer the lens, the less recognizable the shape becomes. Personally, I love how it looks the most on my 50L because it’s still a clear shape, but it has a bit of that soft, hazy blur to it.

Shooting through ziploc bags

5D III + 50L
This is what I love about shooting through things, the variety. In each of these frames, I have a ziploc bag covering my lens with a 2-3 inch slit in the bag that I can stretch open and shoot through. On the right, there is no hard light hitting the bag which gives it a soft and subtle blur around the edges of the image. On the left frame, there is direct sunlight hitting the bag which gives it that funky texture. If you want to shoot this way, make sure you expose for the highlights in the bag. If I was to expose for Monique in this shot, I would have blown out that texture and the detail would be lost.

Aside from adding to the mood of an image with this trick, there is another HUGE reason I use these for. Imagine that you’re shooting a bride getting ready, but right behind her is a table full of clutter. Starbucks cups, old food, etc. Ideally, I’d clean the table but if time doesn’t allow that, frame up your shot, place your glass piece over the cluttered area, and watch it fade away into a soft blur. Win! I use this pretty often in situations like that, or even if I’m shooting portraits and need to simplify a busy part of the image. It’s honestly a lifesaver for people who crave minimalism.

Shooting through plants 85LShooting through glass 50L

WHAT I CARRY

What I have in my gear bag and what I actually carry with me on the average shoot are very different things. I wanted to give a quick break down of what I actually have on me at shoots and weddings as well. I always carry two bodies (yay backups!) on my trusty Holdfast Moneymaker straps one with a wide lens, and one longer. At weddings, I have my 35L and 85L. That’s it, all day. I’m a big fan of simplicity so I never switch lenses and I just carry what I need. At pretty much every other shoot (engagements, lifestyle, editorial, etc) I have the same setup but with my 35L and 50L. If I’m shooting film as well, I’ll bring that along in a little satchel bag. Yay simplicity.


Ben Sasso Gear

THE GEAR LIST

Something you may have noticed in this article is that I’m not a gear nut. Not even a little bit. That’s why my equipment choices aren’t based on numbers, which lens is ever so slightly sharper than another, etc. Instead, they are based on emotions, moods, etc. Either way, I know some of you are here to see what I use (since I get so many questions about it), so I listed it out below:

CANON 5D III (x2)
Full frame, great tones, great in low light, etc. It’s everything I need. I have two bodies so I don’t have to worry about switching lenses at all during shoots or weddings. Yay simplicity!

CANON 5D IV (x2)
Updated to these from the 5D III’s. Same camera but with better AF, low light capabilities, dynamic range, and grain texture!

CONTAX 645 (w/ Portra 400 or Portra 800)
I’ve had a few film cameras before picking this one up but my biggest hang up on all of the others was how it felt in my hand. As soon as I shot with a Contax, I knew it was my camera. It feels so familiar to me and that’s hugely important to the way I create. I want to fidget with the scene, not with my camera. Having a body so similar to my 5D III’s meant I didn’t have to get used to something new.

UPDATE: I recently sold my Contax system in favor of only keeping a minimal amount of gear.

POLAROID LAND CAMERA 195 (with Fuji 3000B or Fuji 100C)
I recently picked this one up (a day before the film was discontinued) after having someone shoot me with one while I was speaking in Spain. I’ve only shot a few frames with it so far but it’s so fun to create on something so instant and tactile.

UPDATE: I recently sold my Land Camera in favor of only keeping a minimal amount of gear.

CANON 24L II
Dynamic, elongating, quirky. This is my most recent lens and I’m LOVING it.

CANON 35L
Hello, gorgeous. This was the first lens I fell in love with. Something about this length feels so real, and lively to me. It pretty much never comes off of my camera.

CANON 50L
This one has been slowly edging out the 35L over the past few years.  I’ve heard that there are less sharp copies out there (google will help you figure out what to look for), but I didn’t get one and I couldn’t be happier with this lens. This one only comes off of my camera when I need more length (in which case I’ll grab the next lens).

CANON 85L II
Love it, but I rarely shoot it. In fact I only shoot it when I need the length (wedding ceremony, etc). Other than that, the 35L + 50L are glued to my cameras.

UPDATE: Sold this one because I just don’t need the extra length anymore.

HAVIT SPEAKER
Loud, small, and let’s me change things without digging into my bag for my phone. Win!

RAIN COVER
If rain ever stopped me from shooting when a couple was up to brave the elements, I’d feel like an idiot. This thing is simple, but perfect for what I need.

PIECES OF MAGIC
Glass, plastic and ziploc bags. If you’re into creating weird blurs/light artifacts, apparently shooting through trash is the way to do it.

THAT’S ALL!


That’s it, friends. I hope this was helpful for you all. Equipment is absolutely not the most important part of creating beautiful things but it can play a huge roll in helping you draw out certain emotions or moods in an image. Play with your gear, do some research (AKA, watch movies and see how they use certain lenses), and learn how you can use what you have to your advantage. If you want to dig into some more education there is plenty of free education on my blog and there are classes/etc in the Education section of my site! Knowledge is power.

Lastly, be good to each other. We’re all in this together.

  1. Reply

    This is the most helpful gear article I’ve ever seen.

  2. Reply

    So good!!! Thanks for all of the info Ben! =) (I especially love the ‘Pieces of magic’…I’m totally trying those on my next shoot!)

  3. Reply

    thanks for sharing :) Looking forward to learn more !

  4. Reply

    Tamron makes a super sharp 90mm macro that I love. I’m not sure if they make that model for every camera, but I’ve always been happy with it. Also, if you haven’t tried a small bit of copper pipe for a shoot-through bit of magic, that’ll give you some gorgeous tones while blocking out CLUTTEr. I thought I’d use it just to hold up for a coppery Color, but then figured out I could actually shoot down the pipe opening, and now it’s a favorite.

  5. Reply

    hey ben!
    This blog rocks. my favorite to date. question, I love the music suggestion. do you have any suggestions on how you break in the music during a shoot? (per say engagement) without awkwardly /randomly bringing playing music? I’ve wanted to do this for forever, but didn’t know how to break it in! I’d love to see your playlists!

    <3

    • Hi Rebekah! Complete honest, I think you’re over thinking it. I just bring out my speaker and turn it on. That’s it! People love music, just bring it out and get it playing!

      My playlists are filled with everything from Bob Dylan to Shad to Jay Z to Bright Eyes to Postal Service.

  6. Reply

    Thanks for this post, it’s awesome! Do you have an opinion about purchasing a 35mm 1.4 vs the newer 1.4 II? Conflicted on which to get and if the extra $900 is worth the lens update!

    • Thanks Cori! I haven’t tested out the new 35L and honestly I don’t have a reason to. I love the original and I’ve used it for years. Sorry I can’t help you compare!

  7. Reply

    Your honesty is extremely rewarding on many levels! (Sorry, you’ve probably seen me leave queries on IG!) I had one more question about cropping – and I’ll stop bugging you :D As it’s a general rule of thumb to “get it right” in the camera, do you also give yourself room to crop in post? Reason is, for printing, not everything is 4×6 – I use 6D’s. But let’s say you also crop “in”. Do you still keep the 4×6 crop dimensions? (Although, for portraits, I crop 4×3 for the medium-format look). your thoughts would be mostly appreciated, as always!

    • Not a bother at all, Michael! I typically do my best to get the crop right in camera but if I need to crop, I’ll either keep things at 4×6 or switch to the 645 format!

  8. Reply

    Thank you so much for this. Most helpful article I have read in a while! I have recently gotten a Moneymaker strap, and it sure has been a game-changer. I did have a question about shooting at 1.8. I have been noticing when I shoot around that F-stop, if the subject is not close to my camera, They are not Crisp in focus. Do you use Manual Focus in this situation, or do you normally bump the F-stop if the subject is further away? I shoot with a Mark III and normally use my 50 1.4. Thank you!!

    • You’re welcome, Breanna! I typically don’t bump up the aperture when my subject is farther away (I know some do) but I never really see a problem with it. It’s not super crisp, but still in focus. You could always try sending your lens in to have it calibrated.

  9. Reply

    You are a rockstar!

  10. Reply

    Wowww… just wow. Ben, huge thank you!! So informative. Never ever thought about different lenses creating different moods to THAT extent. Paradigm shift right here!

    And while checking out your ‘what I carry’ pic – I’m doing the exact opposite and it’s so much worrrk.. I’ve got extra batteries, lens, speedlite + safety pins, pen, even SCISSORS, among other things, all on me during weddings. Sure I’ve run into needing those and I like being prepared, but heck.. it also makes me feel cluttered and anxious.

    A question – do you ever use a speedlite? Dark getting-ready rooms, chapels, reception halls? Do you just make it work without it? I have only cropped sensors at the moment, I can’t wait to own a 5D for its (much much much better) low light handling!!
    Thanks again!! This is GOOD stuff!!
    xxx

  11. Reply

    Wow, one of the best and most useful articles about photography I have ever read :). Thank you so much Ben for sharing your knowledge & for keeping it real (and fun with your little videos – they always make me giggle :)) Tereza

  12. Reply

    This is something I was starting to research and just popped up in my newsfeed! Thank you so much for sharing!
    Including music to get people to relax is a great idea. Do you have links to your Playlists you wouldn’t mind sharing?

  13. Reply

    Thank you Ben for sharing! This is a big help. I’m always STRUGGLING with weather or not I should be caring that HEFTY 70-200 around. I may try to start leaving it behind and shoot more with the 85 when it’s needed.

  14. Reply

    holy hell, you are a legend. thanks, ben.

  15. Reply

    Thanks for sharing! My 50mm is my absolute favourite lens.

    I always look forward to reading your informative (And inspiring) blog posts!!

  16. Reply

    This is so helpful! thanks Ben! If you are ever in PA, I would love to meet and learn from you! Cheers!

  17. Reply

    Love this post Ben! Thank you. Quick question for you re: the mkiii…

    Do you notice a difference in color/wB in the mkiii compared to the Mark 2? I just bought a mk3 and All the images look Quite a bit different out of the 3 vs tHe 2. (More green/blue) in the 3. I had my look dialed in with the 2 and now it seems that i need to start over with the 3. Did yOu experience this?

    Thanks!

    • Hey Pete!

      It was a while ago that I switched but I do think I noticed a slight difference. I spent a few days playing with the files to figure out what was different and how to edit consistently with the new files.

  18. Reply

    Hi, Ben! Thank you so much for sharing this insightful post! It’s so fun to see what other photographers shoot with. I’m a mark iii girl myself and absolutely love that camera. My photography completely changed for the better once I upgraded to full frame.

    As far as lenses go, I completely agree with the 35, it NEVER leaves my camera body! I have the Sigma Art. I also recently upgraded my 50 to the Sigma Art 50 and must admit that it is becoming a favorite, too.

    Thanks again for sharing! I’m a new fan here as I just found you and joined the journey. I bought your posing guide and cannot wait to start implementing what I’ve learned into my sessions.

    -Emma Rose

  19. Reply

    DO you ever feel like you can’t get a great shot of the ceremony with only your 85? I love the same lenses you do and use them all the time, but when shooting a wedding i always fear that I will need the 135 or 70-200 so I am not IN the ceremony trying to capture shots…would love to hear how you close you are able to get with the 85.

    • Susie, I never really find it to be much of a problem. I just walk a bit closer (while still staying out of the way) to get the shot!

  20. Reply

    Thanks so much for this article! So many great tips!

  21. Reply

    hi ben! Thank you so much for this information! i feel like i’m sitting in a college class when i read your information. super thorough and informative. Question – you mentioned putting up one of your pieces of magic to your lens hood. i haven’t been able to find a good explanation for why lens hoods are used and feel like you would do a good job. Can you help me out with that?

  22. Reply

    Such a wealth of knowledge, loads of USEFUL info right here! Thanks man;)

  23. Reply

    Always love your blog posts, Ben! I normally find myself “skimming” through articles like this, but yours are always so engaging. I’m looking forward to using your tips for an upcoming shoot – especially music and storyboarding. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Reply

    Hey ben! Great post! ThanK you!

    I love my 35l too but i have issues with fringing at times if i shoot wide open (i also shoot around 1.8) against a bright background or when backlit. Sometimes i cant totally fix it in lightroom. Any recommendations for this? Thats been the only reason i have thought of switching to the new 35.

    Also, do you just bring on camera flash or do you have a whole oFf cam flash set up for the darker evenings at weddings?

    Thank you!!

  25. Reply

    rock on!! thanks for the insight.

  26. Reply

    Hey Ben! Great article. I know that you travel a lot and I’m headed to Europe for four months this fall. I’d love to pare down which lenses I bring. what lenses do you travel with?

    • Lynnsey, so exciting! When I travel, I only shoot on my iPhone actually! The only time I bring other gear is if I have an actual shoot lined up. If there are no weddings I’m shooting, I would bring along the 35L and 50L, my two favorites!

  27. Reply

    GREAT article and examples!

  28. Reply

    Incredible Ben, thank you so much for sharing! CAn’t wait for your keynote address at Photonative next year!

  29. Reply

    Ben…. I’ll be honest, there are few articles out there this long that hold my attention, but this one…. man, what an awesome read!! I’m working my way through some of your classes right now, but is still going to help me out big time with my wedding photography, thanks buddy!

  30. Reply

    Ben! Awesome post! Loved the read. Where did you get your rain cover?

  31. Reply

    Thanks for sharing the tip on the ziplock bag! I’ve been messing around with prisms and other glass things like that for a bit, but they usually stay at home for weddings because I already have so much to keep my bag full. I’m definitely adding that to my bag!

  32. Reply

    Ben…this is legitimately the most helpful article i’ve read when it comes to gear and working with clients. thank you for being so honest and open about your process. I’m just starting out, and you’ve given me some serious knowledge and inspiration. keep on keepin’ on! <3

  33. Reply

    this is so Helpful! Thanks so much for sharing!
    AbSolutley loving all your lessons! Cheers legend x

  34. Reply

    Best, most HELPFUL article iVe ever read! And im sad to miss Photo native and hear you speak! Will be nothing short of perfect, im sure.

    Best,
    C

  35. Reply

    Thank you bIg time for alWays sharing all your tips and goodies about photography – i loVe when your eamils pop Up in my email box! I get my cup of coffee and then i sit down and just enJoy because its a treat reading your posts! :)

    Have a nice day!

    Greetings from Varberg, sweden

  36. Reply

    Hey Ben, thank you for this inspiring article, your website is really changing the way i see photography. I am a wedding photographer and i was wondering how you decided that you don’t need any flash in your equipment? I am actually trying to use a flash light as less as possible, but there are some situations where the setting is really dark and i have to choose between dark photos and the unnatural flash light. Do you feel like there’s a big ‘feeling’ difference between a photo with flash and one with natural light, even if it’s dark? I would love to know what you think about it. Best, Oana

    • Hey Oana!
      I do think there is a huge difference in the feeling of an image with flash vs. natural light. I like to shoot in natural light as much as I can and I’m okay cranking up the ISO as much as I needed. The only time I really use flash is on the dance floor at the end of the night!

  37. Reply

    you are the best, ben! thank you for everything you’ve shared.

  38. Reply

    AMAZING, So many secrets given Away! thank you so much xxxxx

  39. Reply

    Ben, thanks for this info! This is so great. I cannot believe you shoot weddings with just a 35 and an 85. And by ‘can’t believe’, I mean I am completely ENAMORED of this idea! When I read that, I felt my stomach unclench. The ease and simplicity! What a thought.
    My first love is my 50 L, and I don’t know if I could give it up for a 35, but for this idea of simplicity, I just might.
    Thank you again! Your work and your site are wonderful.

  40. Reply

    Ben this article is killer. Thank you so much for being so open/candid about your process and gear! It’s really refreshing to see someone be so willing to share what they’ve learned. I’m definitely going to start building my own ‘magic’ toolkit! Question – I’m looking to upgrade my 50MM from the 1.4 to the 1.2 but i’ve heard mixed reviews. Do you recommend making the jump? thanks again xx

  41. Reply

    I just have to say that I appreciate the “free” education you have provided. it most definitely helps me in my decision to purchase your posing and directing. I have been given an insight into your knowledge and who you are as a person (totally relate to you!) Thank you!

  42. Reply

    I’d love to know what film lab you use!

  43. Reply

    Oh my gosh the music thing! That is absolutely genius. I am a musician as well as photographer, so I know the magic that music can bring, but I never even thought about combining the two. I can’t wait to try this. Thank you!

  44. Reply

    Hi Ben, Thanks for all the tips. I’m also a great lover of 50 mm. It’s my all time favorite focal length. I’ll be looking into introducing music to my shoots :)

  45. Reply

    Gosh dang! I have never read such an incredible article! I absolutely love it! My FAVORITE part is when you say “Do you!” I also belive it’s so important for photographers to remember there’s no right way and to not get stuck on the rules!

    One of my favorite macro Lenses is the 100Macro! It’s fabulous and I love it for portraits and ring shots! It doesn’t leave my bag!

  46. Reply

    You are my new hero, ben sasso! Thank you for sharing so openly!

  47. Reply

    Great article Ben! Love it! Thanks so much for Sharing. Being a fellow van dweller it was great to read what you carry.

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