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“What camera do you use?” is a question photographers get all the time, as if the piece of technology in my hand is more important than the thought process behind a shot. I’ll be honest, things like focal length and aperture matter… to a degree. I’ve published photos of cars I shot with $15,000 worth of equipment in my hand and photos I shot with my iPhone. So before you drop thousands on a new mirrorless setup, which is something I’ll talk more about below, check out these options for building your photography knowledge base. You might be shocked at what you can do with the dusty DSLR in your closet.
I first started following Aaron Brimhall on Instagram a few years ago (I’m a sucker for photos of Ford GTs) and when I found out he had a car photography workshop on Wildist.co, I had to check it out. This 18-episode 2.5-hour course currently costs $149, far less than even the cheapest lens in my kit. In it, he discusses, among other things, the equipment he uses, how he built his brand, what he tackles in pre-production prior to a shoot to ensure success.
Once he’s been on a shoot, he walks you through everything from shooting the “heroes” photos each brand uses, to adding aesthetics to photos through the use of fog machines and how to get creative with detail shots so your photos don’t look like everything else out there.
Finally, there are seven episodes devoted to editing, because no professional ever posts a photo straight from the camera. Here you can develop your own personal style and, a subject that is most difficult for me, make it consistent throughout your portfolio, so that when others see your work on a wall or online, they already know it without having to see who has that photo created.
Brimhall’s workshop is the best there is regarding car photography and is one to check out. Wildist.co has a ton of other photography workshops from incredibly popular photographers like Chris Burkhard and Alex Stoll, ranging from photography to shooting landscapes and even how to start living your #vanlife.
MasterClass is probably the top of the game when it comes to online courses. They feature a ton of incredibly well-known instructors such as Ron Howard, Samuel L. Jackson, Gordon Ramsey, and Natalie Portman, just to name a few. For those unfamiliar with Jimmy Chin, he is an Oscar-winning adventure athlete for The North Face, most famous for its documentary Free Solo about Alex Honnold climbing El Cap without the use of ropes. If you’re wondering how someone like that can help you shoot your car, consider this: Jimmy was the director hired to shoot the launch videos for the Ford Bronco. So yeah, he knows what he’s talking about.
This lesson is specific to adventure photography, with a lot of climbing, rather than car photography, but many of the principles can be passed on. Plus, in my opinion, it’s better to learn from multiple people when developing a style, rather than just trying to imitate a specific person and dismiss them as a copycat.
The MasterClass courses feel more polished than Wildist.co’s, and I like what you get for the price. MasterClass costs $15 a month paid in increments of one year, so you get access to all of their videos for the whole year for $180. Every once in a while they have sales where you can buy one, which is what I did. My boyfriend and I split the cost and over the course of a year I was able to learn not only from Jimmy Chin but other instructors about everything from negotiation to photography to directing and even how to make a really great BBQ smoked brisket. That said, you won’t be able to access these classes after a year.
You don’t have to go to art school or even pay a few hundred dollars for these classes to get better at photography. Just go to YouTube, where there are millions of videos on this topic. Do you want to become a better landscape photographer? Plenty of high quality videos on that topic. Love portraits? No reason not to get better. Even car photography, which some consider a niche topic, has a ton of tutorials out there.
Okay, let’s get into it. Gear matters, though the two guys mentioned above could easily circle you or me with a 2010 point-and-shoot, even if we had the latest and greatest camera technology. When it comes to gear, like the two artists above, I’m a Canon photographer. Below is my dream setup, so if you have the money, go for it. Keep in mind that there are also many cheaper options under each item, just in case you haven’t entered the raffle lately. Finally, if you only have a smartphone, they can take amazing photos too. Learning how to best use it from the professionals above and learning how to get more of those photos in a post can take you a long way.
Camera: Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera
For now, this is everything you could want in a Canon camera body. Camera housings are constantly being upgraded so while I would say buying this camera housing is money well spent it is a lot of money and you know it will soon be obsolete like all technology. If it were up to me, I’d spend all my money on the glass below. Lenses last much longer, assuming you treat them right.
Wide-angle zoom: Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens
For over a few years I was obsessed with shooting everything wide. Huge expanses of Montana? Grab the wide hem. Interior photos of my house? Wide hem. Car driving up a mountain? Wide hem. You can capture the entire scene with this lens, although it leaves a lot to be desired in the detail department. And for portraits? Leave it at home unless you really know what you’re doing.
Standard zoom: Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens
This is most likely the lens that comes with your camera. It’s not too wide, not too telephoto. In terms of focal length, this one is just right for most of your photography needs.
This may be an unpopular choice as most photographers use the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM telephoto lens and while it’s a close call, I sometimes need more length from my telephoto lenses. A few years ago I traveled to Patagonia and Antarctica, one for a shoot with Subaru and the other for a personal wildlife photography trip. On both trips I opted for an ultra-telephoto lens and was glad I did.
A few years ago I was in Australia for a story about the Ranger Raptor. For the video, we had our full set of lenses to use, but for the stills I decided to do something that could easily have backfired: I had only brought one prime lens, a 35mm f1.4. I shot every photo for the article with that lens and by the end of the trip I was in love with that focal length. Canon isn’t offering a 35mm f/1.4 for the RF mount just yet, although I’m sure it will come, with a much higher price tag than mentioned above. 50mm has always been a staple in any camera bag, so this handy fifty that costs less than $100 is also a great option. If you want to pay more than 10x the price, Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM lens is world class.