I'm so jealous. Considering this me living vicariously through you.
PRACTICAL ADVICE should be taken as suggestions, not mandates because really, what you're going to want to do is whatever works fastest for you and what gets you the best results with the least amount of fuss.
An anecdote: I wandered through the southwest with a buddy for about a week back in December/January 2001-2. I was running a Pentax 6x7 with four lenses as well as a Nikon F5 with three; he had a Mamiya RZ67 with three lenses. And whenever we'd stop, I'd go out and go blamblamblam with the Nikon and then Blam...Blam with the Pentax and be done.
My buddy, on the other hand, would
...get out the tripod.
...get out the light meter.
...get out the viewfinder.
...load up the camera.
...try both lenses.
...move the tripod.
...shoot bracketed exposure.
...shoot bracketed aperture.
So I got shots that he never got. After all, I could get out, get nine shots on two cameras and get back in the car in the amount of time it took him to put sticks on the ground.
But those shots where we both got pictures? He has better pictures. If you've got the time, take the time, and shoot like you have the time. If you don't, fuckin' pretend it's a warzone and go to town.
My skills were largely refined shooting rock'n'roll shows (on film) and weddings (on film). I did shoot architecture, I did shoot portraiture, I did shoot landscapes, I did shoot product and art shots. But my work aesthetic is all about getting the fucking image right fucking now because when I was learning, I didn't have the time to fuck around. I got out of my Nikon N70 and into an F5 because the shutter was too slow on the N70 and because it wasn't metering light as well. With the N70 I got the picture half a second after I wanted it because I was generally second-guessing its settings. With the F5 I got the shot.
So I shoot aperture priority. It's much easier now because you can shoot aperture priority and let the camera make up whatever pretend ISO it feels like but I mean, even my 5D still thinks ISO matters so that's new, comparatively speaking. But aperture priority works great because depth-of-field fucking matters and if you don't control it, it'll control you.
This is a reason to shoot primes - an f/2.4 prime is cheap, an f/2.4 zoom is a fucking mint. And shallow depth of field is the fundamental essence of professional-looking photography:
f/1.4 is an Orvis catalog. f/2.8 is Sunset Magazine. f/16 is your aunt's terrible snapshots.
This scene also does a good job as to why you need flash: a modern digital camera can go so much fuckin' deeper than we used to be able to. I used to shoot NHG Pro II at 800 and the grain was something you could taste. The new Sony shoots at what?
And yeah -that's the 3-year-old sony. But here's fill flash:
And with remotes and wireless you can do dumb shit like bounce light off walls to the left of you or put them behind tombstones to get crazy effects and all sorts of other cool shit.
You'd much rather use practicals than flash but you also don't want to haul around practicals 'cuz they take up a lot of room and take forever to set up. A couple flashes on stands or velcro or gorillapods? You're golden. My wedding rig used to be a mammerjammer flash on the camera and then another mammer-jammer on an SU-4 (which was $200 all by itself) blasting the bride and groom from up high. That way you get useful shadows instead of shit shadows.
And now that only hipsters shoot film, you can see what you're getting now and adjust. Used to be you'd do this thing and hope it worked, and you'd find out three days later and use it next time in the field. You? You can fuck around until you're satisfied. A 64GB card will hold like 3,000 images at 50MPix. You can burn a million pictures and you should. What looks good in the viewfinder looks different on the monitor.
So. Flashes. Explained that. Aperture priority. Explained that. Whatever cameras you work with, depth-of-field preview is nice. It'll be a button you can press. Lenses. Again, whatever budget they're giving you, blow through it. If you buy $20k of gear (you won't need to buy $20k of gear) and sell it back for $16k you're only out personally $2k. If I were you, on your budget, I'd go
- 2ea. Eos 5D Mk IIs (the IIIs are pointless and the IIs have been out plenty long enough to be cheap used)
- the 16-35 II wide angle zoom.
- a 200-400 or so.
- 28mm prime.
- 55mm prime.
- 135mm portrait.
- 17mm tilt-shift.
...but really, if you go to a camera shop you trust and let them make you a deal you'll be rawkin'. You might even let them try you out on a long-term rental.
Learn it now. Learn the shit out of it. Do the Lynda course or whatever but take whatever photos you already have and learn to catalog them, learn to process them, learn to evaluate them, learn to output them with tags and shit on them. You're going to be generating piles and piles and piles of data. You're going to want a couple hard drives to back up to every single day, one in the front of the car, one in the back. It isn't just about taking the photos, it's about getting them in front of people. The difference between a professional and an amateur is a professional shows fewer of her pictures. Back in the film days, typical shooting ratios were 1 good shot out of a 24 exp roll. I wasn't quite professional enough; I'd show two or three. Now that everything is digital? If you get 3 good shots out of an afternoon photo shoot, you win... but that means you took 400-500 shots. As you can tell, this means that you need to lightroom shit down by a more than 100:1 ratio. You're going to want to get good at it now.
And you're gonna want a calibrator. Datacolor Spyder. Whatever you can afford, whatever makes sense. 'cuz tweaking your images to look good on a monitor that looks bad can ruin your entire life.