A peek inside my camera bag

I get a lot of questions about my photography gear, so here’s a quick peek at what I carry in my camera bag.

But first, I just want to say: Having the right gear is just one tiny piece of the puzzle. Other things, like storytelling, being mindful, connecting and composing are way more important when shooting. But I realize this is easy for me to say when I already have my equipment sorted. It’s there, it’s reliable, and it does what I need it to do whenever I need it to (if I remember to charge my batteries, that is).

So yes, of course it matters. As a basis that you build upon.

I’m not a gear-heavy photographer. I often work with just one camera and one lens through an entire shoot. (My focus is typically on the person in front of my camera rather then juggling equipment.) But I do have a few trusty favourites. Here’s what I’d typically bring to a shoot, whether it is a family shoot, a newborn shoot, or a wedding:

  • Camera bodies: Canon 5D mk IV, and (not pictured because I used it shoot this image) Canon R6.

    I’ve been using the 5D for years, but transitioning to the mirrorless R6 has been easy and effortless. I love the new eye AF, especially when taking pictures of kids that move around a lot, and I also love that I can use the R6 for video. As a result, the Canon 5D mk IV now mainly works as my backup camera.

  • Lenses (listed chronologically after how much I use them):
    Canon EF 50mm 1.2L: I use my 50mm for everything. It’s the lens that most closely resembles the natural perspective of the human eye, meaning it basically “sees” the same as we do with our eyes. I feel that this is well-reflected in the images I take with it, they feel natural and not distorted. I use my 50mm for portraits of individuals and small groups/families, both up close, and a distance away, both outside, in my natural light studio, and in in-home sessions when there is enough space to use it.

    Canon EF 35mm 1.4L: When I have less space at my disposal, like sometimes when I am doing my natural, in-home newborn shoots; I use the 35mm a lot. I use it for shooting individual portraits, babies, families. I use the 35mm for bigger groups/extended family shots as well. I also love getting in close with a family, and using the 35mm for details like hands holding and hugs ++. The 35mm is also great for flatlays and detail shots.

    Canon EF 85mm 1.2L: The 85mm is my favourite for portaits, they way it paints with light is incredible. But: It’s slow on the focus, and heavy, and you need enough space to be a distance away from what you are shooting – so often I find that using it while working with children and families (where there’s a lot of movement going on), can be tricky (and often result in blurry images). I Love using it when shooting bridal portraits though.

    Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART (not shown in picture because I used it for this image): I use the 24mm when I need even more space. As it’s quite wide-angled I don’t use it a lot with people (except if I’m backed up in a corner), but I use it sometimes when I’m high up (standing on a stool) to get images of the kids playing from up above. Mostly I use it for flatlays, though.

    – Canon TS 45mm 2.8, and
    – Sigma 150mm 2.8 macro

    These last two I use way less than the others. The TS is fun to play with every once in a while, and the macro is good for detail shoots (but often I just use the 50mm for that), so to be honest these two are not always in my bag, but I bring them sometimes, if I feel inspired.

I also use an adapter (Mount adapter EF-EOS R) for all these lenses when shooting with the Canon R6.

If you are starting out and need a good all-round lens, I heartily recommend a 50mm or 35mm prime (fixed focal) lens with f/1.8 or less. A prime lens will not give you the opportunity to zoom in and out, but it will give you the opportunity to play with light due to the wide open aperture (1.8). Also, having a fixed focal length forces you to think about composition every time you shoot.

  • Memory cards: I use Sandisk Extreme Pro, CF cards for the 5D mk IV, and SD’s for the R6 (typically 95 or 160 MB/s). I’ve (knock on wood) never lost images with these cards, but I always use dual memory cards when shooting as a precaution.
  • Batteries: A bunch of them. The R6 has a new kind of battery that lasts a little longer than the 5D-batteries, but luckily the 5D-ones still work in the R6.
  • Ostheimer animals: Because sometimes my little clients need something pretty to play with.
  • Tascam RD 10L (upper right corner): A tiny recorder for sound which I have not really started using yet, but as I plan to do more video in the future, I’m including it here anyway.
  • Sunglasses, because I don’t work well in bright sunlight.
  • A pretty little container for my business cards (bottom left corner).
  • And; my Remarkable. I use this for planning out shoots in advance, jotting down ideas and sometime drawing them (very badly).

    Not pictured, but also often in my camera bag: Soap bubbles (when nothing else works, soap bubbles are magic), my water bottle, a simple plastic, see-through “raincoat” for the cameras and snacks, as I don’t do very well on low blood sugar.

So there you have it, the content of my worn and beloved camera bag. Now, if you are interested in the other piece of the puzzle; like storytelling and how to use natural light to create beautiful images, have a look at my online course Painting with light, which will be starting shortly.

Visual storytelling: How to create strong narratives in your images

Taking pictures is storytelling; only instead of telling stories with your words or your voice, you paint them with light.
And even though there obviously is no single “correct” way of doing it; there are ways of making your story clearer and stronger.

Here’s how I tell my stories:

1: Prepare and plan the shoot
– Create a Pinterest board with inspiring images, make a shoot list; bring them with you in your minds eye (or easily accessible on your phone). (Often they will help you and guide you, but know that some times you’ll have to put them aside and forget all about them.)
– Find a location that allows for a bit of variation. Preferably one that offers shade if it’s the middle of the day and sunny. Also, some locations are simply swelling with storytelling potential; like roads and paths leading into the image/into the future; and basically anything that’s covered in fog.
– Help your clients choose clothes that work well with your aestethics, so the clothes don’t mess with the feeling of the shoot (avoid clothes that steal attention, e.g. sweaters with letters, words, big patterns or pictures on them).

2: Be mindful, but also playful
– Pay attention to what comes natural to the people you are shooting; it’s their story you are telling! Even if you’ve memorized a bunch of really nice poses; these will not help if they do not fit the people you have in front of your camera. Are the kids super shy? Steal emotional images of closeness as they seek comfort in their parents’ arms. Are the kids running around? Run after them, hide behind a tree with your camera.
– Plan an activity; just sitting around doesn’t usually interest the kids much. Invite them to do things together. Twirling, dancing, playing hide and seek, gather wildflowers, surprise attack-hug their parents.
– Always remember the moments in-between. That’s where the gold is.

3: Think like a director:
What images do you need to tell a story through this shoot?
– For variety I often try to shoot in three dimensions; far away (for big, epic pictures with lots of negative space), aproximately 2 metres away, and super close (for details).
– Remember you need “mood shots” too. These include pictures of the landscape without anyone in them; pictures of details, hand-holding, arms carrying, hair blowing in the wind, blurry shots (like e.g. a focused grass foreground and blurry legs running in the background), details of flowers etc. These will be essential for the “silent” parts of your story, the moments where those who are viewing it catch their breath.

4: Beware of distractions
– When you are trying to tell a story, stick to the story. Be careful with including a bunch of props, be careful with using a lot of different colours at once (unless that is part of the story you want to tell):
Less is always more.

5: Emotions over perfection
– Nothing tells a story like images filled with genuine emotion. Do not leave an image unused because it’s not entirely in focus, or because it’s not “technically perfect”. Come grain, blur, bad lighting and lousy compositions; raw emotions will always save the day.

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The burning pen

Way back in 1999, I started blogging (although I wasn’t familiar with the term back then) at a members-only forum, together with a handful of other mildly-disturbed adolescents. I’m not sure we had a very good impact on each other, but nevertheless; we had a gentle kind of kinship. And I was starving for connection with people who felt more like myself, people I could relate to.

We did not yet have an internet connection in my home, so in the very beginning I only got to write and read at this forum when I was visiting my grandparents. – I remember so clearly the room on their second floor, with the squeaky floors, and the smell of old wood. My grandfather’s neatly piled Rotary catalogues, the dark red floral wallpaper. The sound of the modem as it dialed me into the world. My grandmother would make me a cup of steaming hot rosehip tea, and I’d sit there for hours, hiding from my physical world, while discovering my very first online friends and their beautiful minds.

And so I discovered there were other people out there who didn’t fit into small-town boxes. There were people who created, boldly; with words and light and tones. And they grew to be my tribe.

I remember someone saying, at my local school, that a friend is not a friend unless she is with you physically. Because over the internet you can pretend to be whoever you want to be. – This, to me, – just did not make any sense. And so I argued, heatedly, that the opposite was the case: That exactly because the internet offers you the chance to be whoever you want to be, the people you meet there will be truer to their own potential. (This of course has a great many sad exceptions, especially the ones where some one says they are somebody else for exploiting purposes.)

I can’t remember if I lost the argument, but I do remember it birthed this thought in my mind: Maybe, to some people, relating to other people comes more naturally without all the distractions of the physical world.

I was amazed at how easy it was to convey my actual thoughts and opinions, without losing them in the labyrint of worries that is my mind. Writing was a short-cut that allowed me to express myself in ways that I could rarely do when talking.

Today I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve been missing that sensation; the burning pen, the feeling of being written. And so I’m carving out this tiny piece of the web to be my personal playground. And although I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about just yet, all these possibilities are such a sweet breath of air in my lungs. And like Williams Wordsworth once said; “to begin, begin.”