I met with a new iStockphoto photographer this weekend; we had much to talk about. Some of our discussion was iStock specific, but as is the norm when two photographers get together, the subject of gear came up often. For stock photography there are a few hard facts that you can’t ignore… the camera and lenses you use do affect what you are able to produce. Cheaper/older cameras don’t produce as clean an image as a higher quality/newer camera, and you can’t get XXXL images from an 8MP camera (unless you do a pano for every image). I am fortunate to have been able to purchase a Nikon D800 with my iStockphoto earnings and have been enjoying the large, noise free files it produces. It has enabled me to edit quicker and crop more and still have a XXXL file for iStock. I didn’t start out with such a fancy smancy camera though.
Our discussion yesterday moved on to lighting gear… what should I buy? My advice was to buy a 5 in 1 reflector and a couple of pieces of white and black foam core. Keep it simple for now. Obviously, foam core and a reflector isn’t going to be much help if you are out shooting landscapes… but then again, maybe it is. Simply studying how to add and subtract light using a reflector/diffuser and black and white foam core can help any newer photographer. I’ve been at this a few years now and I am really just starting to understand how to shape and use light. Working with light that you can see is SO much easier than jumping into strobes too early too! I know, I’m a big fan of Joe McNally and his Hotshoe Diaries and went out and bought speed lights pretty early on – with mixed success. Flash is great, but it adds complexity to the equation, along with cost, and it isn’t always needed (unlike that decent quality camera) to shoot stock.
Here are some examples… shot with different lighting than you might think, and no fancy smancy camera:
The above “isolation” (stock term) was done without any flash. A fresh cut Peony from the garden, a piece of white foam core behind and a black one held over head to subtract light from the subject was all that was needed for this shot that I did in the shade on my deck. Shot with a Nikon D90 and a the Nikon 60mm Micro (macro) lens. No flash!
Flash… do you need flash to shoot stock? For some things yes, but lots of things you don’t. Can you tell if flash was used? Sometimes… sometimes not. I do most of my food photography by window light, but not always. Can you tell which was flash and which was window light below?
If you are just getting started in photography, especially if you are trying to shoot stock, I would put my money on a decent camera and a few good lenses. Learn how to use them. Learn how to use them WELL! Study the light around you. Shoot the same thing from a couple of different angles and learn how changing your angle in relation to the light changes the image. Read, watch, study… there is so much to learn! I know I’ve only just gotten started!