Shoot like a pro: essential kit for elevating your photography

Three young Canon Ambassadors, working in different genres, discuss the best cameras and lenses for aspiring photographers and students keen to follow in their footsteps.
A young woman wearing a winter hat photographs autumnal leaves with a Canon camera and large lens.

To shoot like a professional, you need the right gear. But with a wealth of camera and lens choices now available thanks to the rapid advance of camera technology, how do you know which kit best fits your needs?

Whether you're a graduate starting out in the industry, a keen hobbyist eager to expand your range or a fledgling pro wishing to move up the career ladder, one of the biggest elements to consider is the type of photography you wish to pursue. A documentary photographer who might need to work quietly and discreetly in a range of environments will have different kit requirements in comparison to, for instance, a fashion photographer who works in carefully set-up scenarios with professional models.

A camera's capacity to shoot video is another important factor. "It's becoming an increasingly important tool," says Canon Europe Product Specialist, Mike Burnhill. "Video is a key part of social media platforms, for example, and having the skills to shoot both stills and video dramatically opens up markets for working in the photo industry."

Here, three young pros, all specialising in different fields, and each with their own unique story of how they broke into the industry, talk about the Canon cameras and lenses they use and why they're ideal for their chosen style. They are: Nigerian fashion and portrait photographer Emmanuel Oyeleke, German-Russian documentary photographer Nanna Heitmann and Austria-based Ingo Leitner, part of wedding photography duo Carmen and Ingo. Along with their personal insights, further expert advice is provided by Mike Burnhill.

Best kit for fashion photography

A woman in a beaded top and multi-layered skirt lies across a sofa, holding one hand up above her face. Red smoke billows behind her.

Fashion and portrait photographer Emmanuel Oyeleke says that EOS R System camera features, such as the fast, accurate autofocus and In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), give fashion photographers the freedom to be creative. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 28mm, 1/125 sec, f/4.5 and ISO160. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

A woman in a striking red cape stands on a carpet of purple-blue flowers in front of dark grey rock.

Emmanuel prefers shooting his fashion work on prime lenses. "I've predominantly used the new RF primes and can recommend them," he says. "I use the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM, but the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is also great if you're on a budget." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/5 and ISO400. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

A former professional Scrabble player who fell in love with photography while travelling to tournaments around the world, Emmanuel Oyeleke has won awards including ASFA Fashion Photographer of the Year in 2019. Largely self-taught, he broke into the industry shooting weddings (some with 3,000 guests) in his home country of Nigeria, before moving into lifestyle, and now regularly produces bold and beautiful editorials for Africa's top fashion magazines, as well as commercial work for brands including Coca-Cola and Unilever.

"I started using the EOS R System in 2018 and it was a revelation for me," he says. "You don't have to worry about the technical side as the cameras just deliver, giving you the freedom to be creative without restrictions." He has been mainly using the Canon EOS R5 since it was released in 2020. "The 45MP sensor captures a huge amount of information and gives me the option to crop down while still having a high-resolution image.

"If you have the budget I'd say the EOS R5 is ideal for fashion work, but if not I'd recommend the EOS R6 because it does almost everything the R5 does, just with a smaller resolution."

"Although fashion photography is about the clothes, when we look at pictures of people we tend to be drawn to the faces first, so the face/eye tracking on the EOS R5 and EOS R6 is important," adds Mike Burnhill. "Other features useful for fashion work include the vari-angle touchscreen, which enables you to shoot from different angles for interesting and dynamic images."

Emmanuel's go-to lenses are the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and the RF 85mm F1.2L USM and he recommends them both for fashion students. "They are sharp, fast, very well-built and are worth the investment – a good lens will last you for many years," he enthuses.

"Those are great lenses for shooting everything from full-length shots to portraits with a flattering perspective," agrees Mike. "The other alternative would be a zoom, such as the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM, or the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM attached with an adapter."

Best kit for documentary photography

Two men walk through a dark forest, lit only by the burning embers around them.

Canon EOS R System cameras are capable of shooting at high ISO with low noise. It's a feature documentary photographer Nanna Heitmann finds essential to her work, as it allows her to shoot with confidence in dim lighting. Here, she photographed two volunteers fighting a forest fire in Magras, Siberia in 2021. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/1.8 and ISO8000. © Nanna Heitmann/Magnum Photos

A group of older women, all immaculately dressed in matching white robes and headscarves, taken from below.

Nanna regularly uses the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R's silent shooting function to help her work discreetly. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Nanna Heitmann/Magnum Photos

Documentary photographer Nanna Heitmann was born in Germany in 1994 and bought her first DSLR, a Canon EOS 400D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D), when she was 14. Growing up, she was inspired by the images she saw in National Geographic and went on to complete a degree in photojournalism and documentary photography at Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Her work has since been published in National Geographic, TIME Magazine and de Volkskrant, among others. In 2019, she was invited to become a Magnum nominee.

In recent years, Nanna, who mainly works on long-term projects such as documenting the community around Germany's last coal mine, has used the Canon EOS R and Canon EOS R5. "I previously used the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, but now I love working with Canon's mirrorless cameras," she says. "As I'm carrying my gear around all day, it's much better to work with a lighter camera."

Nanna says that innovations introduced on the EOS R and EOS R5, including low-light AF to -6 EV, have great benefits for documentary work. "The low-light sensitivity is important when working in low light without a flash, and being able to use the camera's silent shooting mode means you can work discreetly," she says. "I would recommend both the EOS R and EOS R5 to documentary students, for sure."

For those on a slightly tighter budget, another EOS R System camera, the EOS RP, is an option. "It's a smaller, lighter camera and has lots of great features including the silent shooting mode, and like other EOS R System cameras, is fully compatible with EF lenses," says Mike.

"If your budget stretches to the EOS R6, its amazing low-light capability means you can cope with a wide range of lighting conditions, while the face/eye tracking means you don't have to worry about focusing and can concentrate instead on timing, composition and expressions."

As Nanna likes to get close to the people she's photographing, she almost always uses the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM and RF 50mm F1.2L USM lenses. "Two lenses are all I need," she says. "I prefer primes to zooms, as they make you move around and work more on the images."

Mike agrees that these two lenses are the perfect combination. "The 35mm and 50mm focal lengths have always been popular for documentary and reportage work as they give a naturalistic perspective," he says. "The RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM is small, reasonably priced and has a 5-stop Image Stabilizer for sharp handheld shots."

Best kit for wedding photography

A couple smile and dance, holding hands, in a field of cut hay and a single bare tree.

Destination wedding photographers Carmen and Ingo Leitner shoot a range of images and video on their Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 bodies, including spontaneous shots when people are moving. Mike explains why they're the perfect cameras for big occasions: "Face/eye tracking on the EOS R5 and EOS R6 is extremely reliable, which means you can concentrate on framing and capturing the moment." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens and Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R at 1/1600 sec, f/1.4 and ISO160. © Carmen and Ingo Photography

A bride and groom kiss passionately in a room filled with fairy lights and laid-out tables.

Ingo recommends fast prime lenses with focal lengths of 35mm and 50mm for wedding photography, used with the aperture wide open when you want to separate the subject from the background. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/1.4 and ISO4000. © Carmen and Ingo Photography

Carmen and Ingo Leitner met on an Italian beach in 2003. After discovering a shared loved of photography while travelling together, they began photographing their family and friends' nuptials, before taking the plunge and setting up their own business in 2009.

The husband-and-wife team, who started their careers as a technical engineer and a makeup artist respectively, have since photographed weddings in some of the world's most beautiful locations. Their first DSLR, which they still own, was a Canon EOS 350D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D) and they now use EOS R5 and EOS R6 cameras, often working simultaneously, with one shooting stills and the other shooting video.

"The most important feature for us is the super-accurate focusing system on both the EOS R5 and the EOS R6," says Ingo. "Even with the lenses wide open, the shots are incredibly sharp. The other big advantage, for video as well, is having the In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which gives up to 8-stops of stabilisation with certain lenses and means we don't need tripods or monopods."

For those aspiring to work as wedding photographers, Ingo feels the EOS R5 is definitely worth investing in. "If you don't need 45MP files, you'd also be super-set with the EOS R6," he adds.

"The two biggest benefits of these cameras for wedding photography are the face/eye tracking and the silent shooting feature, which allows you to take pictures without people being aware, particularly in quiet locations," adds Mike. "Also, they are hybrid cameras, which can shoot video at up to 8K RAW and 4K at 120p on the EOS R5 and 4K UHD at up to 60p on the EOS R6."

Carmen and Ingo mainly use the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, the RF 50mm F1.2L USM and the RF 85mm F1.2L USM, plus the RF 28-70mm F2L USM. For someone starting out in wedding photography, Ingo has this advice: "I'd suggest a 35mm and a 50mm lens, with wide maximum apertures – L-Series lenses if you can afford them."

"When you're starting out as a wedding photographer, a multi-purpose zoom such as the RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM is extremely useful. It's a lens that can do a bit of everything," suggests Mike. "Then you can partner that with an RF 50mm F1.8 STM or an EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – something fast, small and bright. That would allow you to do different kinds of imagery, such as using the widest aperture to isolate the subject from the background. With a zoom and a fast prime lens, you'd be set for most situations."

Whatever your planned path, be it fashion and portrait photography, documentary photography, wedding photography or more, investing in great kit is an investment in your future. Your pro adventure starts here…

Written by David Clark

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