6 Pieces of Gear That Never Leave My Professional Photography Setup

As a professional fashion photographer, I rely on a myriad of different equipment to enable me to create my work. Anything from a light to a super-clamp is useful at some point. However, what gear is always with me? Hint: the camera is not item one. 

Let me explain my workflow first. As a fashion photographer, I often shoot in studio and on location with a decent crew on set. Anyone from first to third assistants helps me with everything, including gear. When it comes to cameras and lenses, I own and use my own equipment for most work, but that doesn’t mean I never rent one in for the day. When traveling for an assignment, it often becomes cheaper to rent in grip, lights, and tripods. The same applies to backdrops, v-flats, and other bits and bobs. Overall, as far as gear goes, my shoots are always a mix of rented and owned gear. However, with that said, there is gear I think every photographer should have in their camera bag at all times. 

1. 15” 2019 MacBook Pro and Apple Mouse

This is the base of all operations. I practically live off the Apple MacBook 15" (superseded by 16" model) and the Apple Mouse. Anything from this exact article to my portfolio book is stored on it. It comes on every trip and every shoot. This is the machine I tether my shoots to. USB-C ports allow for fast file transfer: something paramount with 50-megapixel photos. The 15” screen is large enough to be used as the backbone of a tethering station, and should I need to go bigger, I can connect a monitor using the USB-C port. When at the office, I connect this laptop to a large monitor and use it as a sort of PC. This is comfortable, as my workflow is the same no matter the situation. I personally dislike having an office computer such as the Mac Mini, as I often end up sorting work on the plane or train. One drawback of this particular computer is the lack of ports. Six USB-C ports would be much better. 

2. LaCie Rugged 4 TB Drive

These are probably the best hard drives I’ve ever owned in the past three years. Previously, I used a different brand; however, there were problems with one of them crashing after a minor fall. My frustration was amplified by the fact that I only used it for a few months. So far, the LaCie 4 TB rugged drive has stored my work securely and without fault. Although these are not archive drives, only "shoot" drives, I use them for tethering and on-site backup. Although these are not as fast as an SSD, they still do a decent job. I have no problem with editing from these drives when I’m traveling. I found that 4 TB is the perfect size for drives. As far as stills go, it can store around a year's worth of work (unless you're working on a 5DS). 

3. SD Cards 

This is a backup option. I use a SanDisk 128 GB. The last time I shot on an SD card was when I went on holiday or did a BTS of my shoots. As a fashion photographer, my work is a giant team effort, so it is only polite to tether so that everyone can see what’s going on. However, since I am not fully redundant in my setup, as I don’t bring two laptops on set, I take SD cards to cover for the unlikely event that a laptop fails. While it will be much more uncomfortable for everyone around, the key task of still captures can still be done. That said, I take two for each camera I have. It is strongly suggested to own a camera with dual card slots to make sure that the images are securely backed up on two physically separate media. 

4. Canon 5D Mark IV

I have a strange relationship with the Canon 5D Mark IV. On one hand, it is my main workhorse that I use to shoot a large portion of my work, but on the other hand, it is inferior to the 5DS. The reason I work a lot with the 5D Mark IV is because of its versatility. It is a great stills camera that delivers images for most applications, and if I need to do a video, it can do that too. 

5. Canon 5Ds

This is the DSLR I bought in 2021. In short, the Canon 5DS (on sale for $1,499 now) offers the best image quality in the Canon DSLR ecosystem. Anything better is a medium format system, which is a different league altogether. The files allow me to crop in as much as I need or produce images with uncompromising detail. This is the camera primarily used on commercial jobs or any other assignments with high importance. 

6. A 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens

I like to say that this is the most boring lens I own. And it is, so much so that when I first got it, I questioned where exactly my money went, as it didn’t give anything special in terms of focal length or background blur. However, much of my portfolio is done with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. Oddly enough, in the 45-55mm range. If I take one lens, it is this one. I can get fairly close with it to do beauty and fairly wide for more environmental and full body shots. It is also fairly compact for what it offers. I must confess, I am investigating I can replace the 24-70mm f/2.8 with a 50mm f/1.2

Closing Thoughts 

This is just some of the equipment that I use to create images. Besides, there is a lot more to being a fashion photographer than just owning lots of kit. Knowing fashion history, material characteristics, and how they interact with light is crucial to being a successful fashion photographer. Gear makes images possible, but it doesn’t define the end result. A Gucci logo doesn’t make a boring white shirt more fashionable; it’s still a boring white shirt. Applied to photography, even if you say shot with “expensive camera” under a boring picture, it’s still a boring picture. Putting yourself to work, educating yourself, and always upgrading your knowledge as a professional photographer is what will lead to progress and career boosts.  

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40 Comments

Kelvin Smith's picture

Good article. Priorities of others is always good for consideration.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

8 pieces

Illya Ovchar's picture

If you insist...

Alexander Petrenko's picture

just counting...

Illya Ovchar's picture

Perhaps the 28-70 has to go? haha

Stuart C's picture

Not wanting to start another PC vs Mac debate (so anyone wanting to start one, don’t bother replying) as I use both heavily, but I’ve just recently bought the new M1 MacBook Pro 13”…. For me it’s a complete game changer, it’s ridiculously fast and eats editing tasks with ease. I’ve not felt it get even warm, let alone hot yet, and the fans still haven’t come on, even using a Wacom and a 24” 4K monitor with Capture One Pro on uncompressed 50mb RAW files. If this is the future of relatively affordable laptops then there is some exciting times ahead.

Mike Ditz's picture

May be time to replace the 4 vintage laptops I have now LOL

Stuart C's picture

This has replaced my 2015 MacBook Pro with 8gb of RAM and the higher spec dual processor (can’t recall the exact numbers) and it’s like I’ve been punishing myself for the last 2 years now I’m seeing such performance.

To give an example, you know adjusting the luma range when using masks in capture one? It would egg timer for about 15 seconds on my old machine, this M1 actually updates the mask in real time, masking and unmasking as you move the slider…l didnt even know that was a thing.

Mike Ditz's picture

I would need to update my C1 and I am not on the pay to play plan... :(
What did yours cost?

Stuart C's picture

Oh sorry, I forgot to add I’m still running C1 20 on Rosetta and it’s still that quick Mike. I can only imagine what the native M1 version is like (I’ll upgrade when it’s cheap)

Illya Ovchar's picture

Oh no, not the Mac vs PC. I've tested the M1 air, it's incredible. Waiting for the m1 16" one.

Stuart C's picture

I was hanging on Illya but you know what, I decided I actually wanted the smaller computer and an unpopular opinion here, the Touch Bar, I’ve mapped a load of buttons on Capture One using the better touch tool and love it, plus Affinity has full integration.

I use mine for DJing too and I think the 13” is handy for travelling, but the new larger ones will be epic when they arrive.

GianMarco Tavazzani's picture

Yes… I read too an amazing article about the Air M1 by a professional photographer, astonished by its superiority compared with a 15" P ro top specifications and this … practically without using fans and with a surprising reasonable price and at last an also reasonable keyboard. Lack of ports… definitively, and a proper 16" would be for sure also welcome!
I do miss my little brother Steve; the M1 was in its plans and Apple is by time not more lead by inspired visionaries, just greedy money bulimic sharks but this time, after many shamefully disasters, seems that something at least coherent with the history and on the path of the Macintoshes came 'back to the future' 😉

Mike Ditz's picture

I'd rent that 50mm 1.2 a few times before buying it to replace the 24-70. Back in the day real fashion photographers all had the 300mm f2.8

Illya Ovchar's picture

300mm f/2.8? Oh wow! When was that? I don't think I've seen too many pictures that used that lens.

Mike Ditz's picture

The 80s and 90s.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Any examples? I struggle to come across them.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for the honest comment, Dan. I hope owning that lens and knowing people used it to take great images has helped you be a better fashion photographer. Clearly, I am lagging behind here.
There is certainly an appeal to the 300mm f/2.8. However, fashion images are shot at anything from 8mm to 300mm. Fashion photography is about fashion, not the lens the photogrpah was done with.

Illya Ovchar's picture

I suggest looking at Tim Walker, Wanda Martin, and Valentin Herfray. The last one recently did a 2021 Fendi campaign.

Mike Ditz's picture

Then there were people like Guy Bourdin, where the photography is more about his interpretation than showing the merchandise accurately. I can see him using crazy wide lenses like one of the folks you referred to.

Mike Ditz's picture

If you are a studio shooter then the wide open long lens look won;t really mean a whole lot, but it's part of the history of your chosen specialty

The 300mm 2.8 was the original bokeh monster before people called it bokeh, along with the Canon 200mm 1.8 , It was/ is a popular look.
The 50mm 1.2 can do blurry bg but not like the longer lenses that "bring the bg closer"
What is hip changes, the 70-90s had a lot of innovation in fashion and portrait photography. The popular look that used to soft and dreamy might now be crisp and sharp.

GianMarco Tavazzani's picture

…well, Illya… Ok, fashion is not portraits but… is also not so far from it and you must admit that a portrait taken with a long focal gives a much better result, not to mention an 8 mm 😊
About the bokeh… nowadays we can easier obtain/enhance it through proper software, isn't it?🤔

Mike Ditz's picture

Thanks for that input Dan, you saved me hours of looking for Christy Brinkley SI swimsuit long lens photos...sigh

Pedro Pulido's picture

this was a good read. thank you

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading, Pedro!

art meripol's picture

my list would be nearly identical. One through five except I've replaced #4 with the R5. Couldn't agree more about the MacBook for every shoot. But I've never bought the 24-70. Rented it once and it was never wide enough or long enough. But that 50 1.2...yes! I seem to use primes more except for the 70-200 2.8 which is my most used lens. Great for portrait work.

Chad L's picture

I'm curious why you have taped over the brand & model on your canon camera?

Illya Ovchar's picture

Haha, that's to save it from unwanted eyes of people interested in unlawful possession of it.

Chad L's picture

Ah, that's what I suspected. :)

Mike Ditz's picture

I am not sure that thieves are brand specific, they take what they can and try to sell it later. They usually aren't photographers looking to add another body to their kit ;^)

Ed Sanford's picture

Of course, I like it because it’s pretty much my rig except the Mac and the 5DIV. I have two 5DSRs. Yes, the 24-70 seems boring, but I just can’t seem to do without it.

Matt Edwards's picture

Nicely composed article. Fstoppers really needs more content like this. I tire of all the youtube links, a quick informative read with your morning coffee is so much more pleasant in my opinion.

I picked up a macbook air m1 and am loving it for the fairly conservative cataloging and editing I do in lightroom, perfect for my usage. Its replaced my 2010 macbook pro, so an upgrade was a long time coming

GianMarco Tavazzani's picture

Yes… reading is often much better than watching; READ Emmanuelle Arsan's books and compare them with the boring movies… discouraging! 😂

darrell miller's picture

time to swap that 4tb spinning drive out for an external SSD. they are getting more economical and are far far more rugged and reliable.

Illya Ovchar's picture

ah i wish! My projects get too big sometimes, but I'll probably get a Samsung t5 SSD for shooting and editing.

GianMarco Tavazzani's picture

I do like wisdom, experience, direct simplicity in communicating them… I do like Illya 😉