Five Purchases That Changed My Photography Forever

Five Purchases That Changed My Photography Forever

Let's face it. We’re all gear-junkies and tech-geeks whether we choose to admit it or not. Chances are that many of us have made hundreds of purchases related to photography over the years, but I’d venture to say that not all of those purchases have been as impactful as others. Here are five purchases that I certainly don’t regret.

DX to FX

I’ll spare you the boredom that would soon follow reading the list of my first digital cameras – It’s just not impressive or special by any means. Instead, I’ll start at when I upgraded from DX format Nikon bodies to FX format; something that I certainly consider monumental in terms of the purchases I’ve made thus far.

I should note that there’s nothing wrong with DX format cameras. In fact, my D7000 still sees plenty of use by my son. The decision to purchase a FX format Nikon D600, which later became a D610 (thanks Nikon!) due to an issue with dust spots on the sensor, was largely influenced by my lust for a few FX Nikon lenses, particularly the holy trinity – the 14-24 mm, 24-70 mm, and 70-200 mm. I didn’t want to invest in high quality lenses for a DX format body when upgrading to FX felt inevitable.

I now shoot mostly with a Nikon D810, but my D610 remains a solid back-up.

70-200mm 2.8 VR II

It wasn’t long after purchasing my first FX format camera that I was able to justify spending a large chunk of cash on my first professional Nikon lens, the 70-200 f/2.8 VRII. I was in love with this lens before I ever even held it in my hands and had done a ton of research, which ultimately led to being able to mount one on my own cameras.

Since making the purchase, I’ve completed my collection of the holy trinity and I've added a few quality prime lenses to my kit as well, but none give me the feeling, or can quite produce the images that my beloved 70-200 does (Insert argument for the latest and greatest here).

Sample from a recent senior portrait session. Nikon D810, 70-200 f/2.8 VR2.

Flash

Sometime around 2013 I became really interested in images being created by photographers that were proficient in the use of off camera lighting. I fooled around with a few different, inexpensive constant lighting options, before concluding that they were obviously better suited to a studio photographer, and not quite what I was after.

After more research, it became evident that speedlights would fit my needs nicely. I chose to stick with Nikon, since I hadn’t been let down yet, and purchased my first Speedlight, a SB-700. There was a serious learning curve here for me, and looking back on things, I probably shouldn't have been so thrilled with the results I was getting. I was triggering the flash with my camera’s pop up flash, which if you’ve ever relied on, you quickly find the limits of that method. I was also using a bare flash, often over powered, and had zero understanding of the purpose of light modifiers such as my go-to, an 18” octabox.

Off camera lighting opened many creative doors for me. Nikon D810, SB-910, PhotoFlex 18" Octabox.

Pocket Wizards

I can remember my first shoot using a set of Pocket Wizards and the relief I felt once I realized I could now fire my speedlights from just about anywhere and didn’t need to depend on the location of the little, oddly placed, optical slave. It was then that I really began to dial in my off-camera lighting skill set.

There are many different options when it comes to radios. The PocketWizard Plus X has worked just fine for me.

Macbook Pro

Here’s where I might catch some flack, considering Apple fanboys are beginning to bite the hand that has fed them for the last 20 years or so. I was never an Apple fanboy. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I used their product’s high price point and the fact that I really didn’t know how to operate the OS, as a means to leverage my argument for PC’s. The fact was, I had never had a PC that just worked the way I needed it too, and if it did, the celebration was never long-lived.

After a Samsung laptop of mine decided to kick the bucket at a most inopportune time, I decided it was time to make the switch, only I did so hesitantly. I found a used 2015 13” Macbook Book Pro on craigslist for sale for seven hundred dollars from a guy with grey dreadlocks wearing a Hawaiian shirt, claiming to be revolting against technology. Upon inspecting the computer and seeing that he had just received it as a gift weeks before with gift receipt included, I figured I could do worse and made the purchase. I can’t say anything about the benefits of using a Macbook Pro for photo work that hasn’t already been written about a hundred times before. They just work – and that’s golden.

Closing

As you piece together your photography kit, you're bound to make purchases that are less than ideal. Hopefully sharing my most appreciated purchases with you may help steer you in a direction you're happy with. Have there been any photography related purchases that you've made over the years that you'd make again? Share in the comments below. 

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26 Comments

All solid purchases. Congrats on your journey. I have the same gear and love mine. I can't do without being able to change light ratios remotely. Take a look at the Pocket wizard system that lets you do that. I have the Profoto version which I use mostly now. Don't apologize for your choices. They are excellent. With the way the web is today, if you legitimately had the cure for cancer and world peace, folks would criticize it in the comments section. MacBook Pro is excellent. D810 is excellent. Cheers.

Garrett Reid's picture

Man, when I first skimmed through and saw that DX to FX was on this list I thought you'd be in for it in the comments haha. But I think your logic is sound: good glass and glass that is matched to your sensor size is what's important here. And if your sold on Nikon you really don't have much of a choice than an FX body. Congrats on navigating past the storm.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Mine are all educational materials. Photography 101 from SLR Lounge got me to the point where I was generating images way faster than I could post-process, so I bought Scott Kelby's Lightroom book and the SLR Lounge Lightroom course and cut down on shooting until I completed them both. Neil van Neikerk's On Camera Flash not only taught me what could be done with a speedlight in a hotshoe, it taught me why and how to shoot in Manual mode, which became my preferred shooting mode.

And last, but definitely not least is The Art Behind The Headshot here on Fstoppers. Peter Hurley's headshot technique is what enabled me to make money with my camera.

Rob Mynard's picture

An excellent list, and the next purchase that will change your photography again would be to replace your Plus X's with a system that allows you to adjust the power of your strobes independently from on camera so you can make adjustments without having to go over to your lights.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

When I'm feeling forced to replace my current pocketwizards, that's likely the route I'll take. Until then, I'll just have to rely on my fancy voice activated light stand and power adjuster, aka my wife, to do it for me ha

Please consider forever ditching the insulting and immature word fanboy. I am a fan until I am given reason not to be. I am also not a boy. Some Mac fans are also women.

My five purchases that changed my photography forever.

* My first AF SLR, the Minolta Maxxum 7000. A look into the future.

* My first and last enlarger, a Saunders D6700. For the pure joy of printing my own negatives.

* Medium format cameras. For the incredible resolution.

* Lightroom. A dream app for photographers. Such a pleasure to use, despite some flaws.

* Seeing Sigma Foveon X3 RAW images for the first time. A mouth open revelation of the ultimate in digital camera resolution. A shame the X3 sensor concept doesn't *yet* work at higher ISOs.

Bonus purchase: My 27" iMac 🖥. My idea of a near perfect computer. Still such a pleasure to use, despite the lower quality versions of the Mac OS post Steve Jobs.

"Here’s where I might catch some flack, considering Apple fanboys are beginning to bite the hand that has fed them for the last 20 years or so. I was never an Apple fanboy. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I used their product’s high price point and the fact that I really didn’t know how to operate the OS, as a means to leverage my argument for PC’s. The fact was, I had never had a PC that just worked the way I needed it too, and if it did, the celebration was never long-lived."

One more time my eyes is bleeding. Apple sell PC since a lot of years (take a look at IBM powerpc and intel x86). Can you guys stop use "PC" to talk about Windows.

Owain Shaw's picture

To be fair, Mac/Apple's own publicity (save the second one which details its ability to run Windows and Windows programmes) doesn't help with this confusion.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv6Ah_MVJU

However I agree with the general point that you're making, since both are Personal Computers, both are PCs and always have been.

A new 15" Mac Book Pro for $700??? On Craigslist? Was it 'warm' to the touch?

With the exception of already having been a Mac user for a long time, this is my same list. I picked up a D5500 in about May of last year and loved being back into photography and started taking it more seriously. After a while I picked up an SB-700 for on-camera (mostly bouncing it), then PocketWizards and getting into off-camera basics, then moved on to a D750 to start getting into better glass, then came the new 70-200 among others.

I find it funny, but for me the purchases which most influenced my photography did not evolve around gear, they were workshops with artists, books for inspiration, a trip to a foreign country, a museum subscription, and a fixed lens x100 (I consider it more a concept than 'gear') which took me back to basics.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

I don't think it's funny. People all learn in different ways, and workshops are a popular form of education in the photography world

Owain Shaw's picture

Mine are a mixture of books, trips, and things like my first camera and 50mm f/1.8. The most influential book, even though it has nothing to do with the Photography I do now was Rainer Schlegelmilch's Portraits of the 60s. At the time it influenced me a great deal in what I was doing, and that approach has remained more or less present since then. My first (film) SLR was when I knew it was serious, and also a major step from the family digital compact complete with early 2000s shutter lag you could actually time. Then the next and only other gear purchase that really changed my photography was a 50mm f/1.8 which I think now lives with a friend in Northern Ireland. It got me seeing things differently due to perspective and with the possibilities of wide apertures. Other gear purchases have been fairly inconsequential in terms of the photographs I take or seek to take. Many of my gear purchases, in hindsight, have probably got in the way of what I really like to do, distracting me and falling into the trap of doing what others want to do.

I think I've only said three things, so two others would be trips ... my first trip to Edinburgh which got me doing Theatre Photography for a long time; and my move to Spain.

Azael Martinez's picture

The best purchases for me were 1) Peter Hurley: Illuminating The Face. 2) Peter Hurley: The Art Behind The Headshot". Then 3) Canon 5D Mark III, 4) Canon 85MM 1.2, and 5) Canon 70-200mm 2.8

1) My first SLR (actually a Christmas present from my parents when i was about 10 with a decent prime, 2) upgrading to T-Max 100 from whatever bulk B&W film I had been using, 3) my first Pro DSLR (While my first DSLR helped my learning curve go through the roof once I was able to see the consequences of decisions in real time, it wasn't until I upgraded to a Pro DSLR that I truly felt unhindered by my camera, like it was an extension of myself and could keep up with me), 4) wireless triggers for my flash (getting that light off the camera makes all the difference, and not having a wire makes it convenient too), 5) my first light modifier really helped me direct, shape and soften the light.
Realized that I didn't include any particular lens on my list... interesting. I really don't think any lens "changed my photography forever" they certainly enabled me to do things I hadn't been able to do before (Macro, Telephoto, ultra wide), but that in itself didn't change my photography.

Nice article about some of the basic gear changes that are part of the natural progression from amateur to professional technique. When I saw "DX to FX", it made me think of how my photography changed as I progressed as a film photographer from 35mm to 645 to 6x6 to 4x5/8x10. - Medium format for depth separation and light balancing (high speed leaf shutter sync); square for individual and group portrait composition (I REALLY wish I could custom mask my digital finders for square composition), and large format for commercial resolution. Each step builds on the previous.

I'd like to add:
- ultra wide-angle lens - especially for weddings
- high-power round-reflector flash (for me, the Sunpak 120-J, then the Quantum Q-Flash)
- then of course, multi-light setups for both in-studio and on-location

Michael DeStefano's picture

Great article I think this could be done by a few other writers and still be interesting.

vid vorsic's picture

cheap 50mm lens

Mine are;

1. Lightroom - I don't go deep enough to need Photoshop very often, LR is setup beautifully for the level of changes I tend to make as well as providing a great database of all of my pics.

2. My MacBook Pro - I got the last pre-TouchBar MacBook Pro about 15 monthes ago and has been a godsend. It was the first time I was in a position to buy something so highend (This is very much a hobby for me). I've always been a Mac User I bought a plastic macbook about 8 years ago and was great but would hang on tougher tasks, and then had a Gen1 Intel MacPro as a hand me down but it was creaking(although still serves as a backup NAS and media server). But having LR on a decent machine I can take anywhere(but mostly my Sofa) was a godsend.

3. Meike Underwater Case - I bought one of these before my Honeymoon and have used it on every (wet) holiday over the last 5 years, plenty of good snorkelling shots as well as being able to shoot on the beach/in the sea with ease so lots of good shots of family/friends. This allows me to shoot with a better camera than a GoPro
Also a bargain at around £100 to fit my NEX C-3, I've upgraded to the A6000 so my recent holiday was the old cases last trip.

4. Sony NEX C-3; When I upgraded around 5 years ago, I opted for Sony's E-Mount system as it was lighter than a dSLR and can be even pocketed with the right lens, but also gave me full control of the images I was taking. For me it was a revelation and changed the way I looked at the pictures I was taking. As I grew as a photog I moved onto the A6000 which has a lot more control and I would highly recommend any of the A6X00 series, but the original NEX was my gateway into proper photography having been interested but not able to justify the cost earlier than this.

5. MInolta 50mm f1.8 legacy lens; One of the benefits of E-Mount is the ability to add legacy manual lenses particularly cheaply, Adding this cheap 50mm with an adapter was less than £20 and really got me thinking about how I was shooting and challenged me to fit shots into a fixed Focal Length, as well as allowing me to get shallow DoF. Lenses have been upgraded to those with AF, and the 30mm Sigma 1.4 Contemporary lens is my favourite ever but this is what got me started on that path.

A close 6th was my first set of Cokin filters I had before the above, used on some very cheap second hand DSCs which got me into the possibility of any sort of decent photography.

Joe Giacomet's picture

Best purchase I made was an Eizo Monitor and a calibrator. As it meant I was finally able to deliver accurate images and be totally sure of it.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

A good purchase for sure

Too bad all that pricey gear didn't avoid you cutting the model's hand off.

Dusty Wooddell's picture

...because that hand was super important, right?

Simon Patterson's picture

Not only her hand, but her legs and feet too. Shock! Horror!

Ehhhhh.....why such a comment. Really? And the gear isn't relatively that pricey.

Anders Madsen's picture

1.
A small HP C200 digital camera that I won in a HP-sponsored photo contest in 2000. After that day, my Minolta 3000i never took another image, even though the HP was a simple point-and-shoot with only a one megapixel sensor.

2.
Canon 30D, the first DSLR I bought in 2003. This is where my hobby took a serious turn, and 7 years later I ditched my job as a CTO and became a full-time professional photographer.

3.
A 2006 MacBook Pro. After working in IT for 10 years, fighting the instability, viruses and cludgy support of new hardware (Windows 98 and USB, anyone?) in Windows and spending way to much time on making Linux work well as a graphical workstation (with little success, I might add), it was a godsend to finally sit down in front of a tool, not a jigsaw puzzle and get some work done.

4.
Nikon D610 with the 35/80/85 f/1.8G primes. After shooting Canon (30D and 1Ds Mark II) with L-series zooms for 8 years, having a small, nimble body and equally light lenses made all the difference to how I worked. The D610 became and extension of my hand and mind in a way that the big 1Ds with a 28-70 f/2.8 L never did.

5.
Kelby One. I have no idea how things are at Kelby these days, but back when it was Kelby Training, I purchased my first subscription and had it for two years, until I eventually outgrew it. I learned a ton from these videos and it cut years off my training compared to learning from Youtube videos or by my own personal projects.