A lot of friends have asked me for photo advice—what I edit with, what lenses I own, etc.—so I've finally written a long post on all my tips!
I should start by saying I am by no means a professional. I took a few photography courses here and there, but I am primarily self-taught. I learn through practice. That's my biggest tip: practice!
Overall, I believe in investing in lenses, not the actual camera body itself. Not to say the camera isn't important, but if you stick with the same brand, your lenses will work on (almost) any model you upgrade to. Lenses are with you for the long haul.
I'm loyal to Canon, so all of my recommendations are that brand, but I've heard wonderful things about Nikon and Sony. (And Fuji!)
BAG & PROTECTION
I use this backpack when I travel or hike. It can fit my camera, lenses, cords, external flash and battery. There's plenty of protective padding and—even when it's full—still feels really light and comfortable.
If I want to pack my camera or a lens in my purse, I use these protective coverings. They come in a few different sizes.
I used a Rebel XT for two years, then moved on to the Rebel T4i for about four years. Both of those were great to start with and were exactly what I needed them for. (The T4i takes great video too.) I used them mainly for portraits and they took really beautiful photos. Most of the photos on this blog were taken with either of those.
The reason why I have moved on from the T4i is because I wanted a full frame camera. There are two kinds: crop sensor and full frame. Crop sensor cameras have a tighter frame on the subject. They, essentially, "crop" the photo and increase the focal length. Full frame cameras have a wider frame, so more of the subject is seen. Full frame cameras are more expensive, so I waited to make the investment until I was gaining more clients. I just upgraded to a full frame—a Canon 6D—in the past year and I'm loving it so far.
With that said, I'd still recommend starting out with a crop sensor camera. As you'll see from the photos in the post—most of which were taken on my T4i—a crop sensor camera still takes the photos you want it to take.
Like I mentioned above, smartly invest in lenses. I've had the same ones for years and they all work as well as they did the day I got them. Here's what I have:
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
If you want an affordable, starter portrait lens, this is the one I'd suggest. It's a fixed lens, which means there is no zoom—you are the zoom. Here are some photos I've taken with it:
Canon 50mm f/1.4
This, another fixed lens, is a step above the 50mm/1.8 since it has a larger aperture and therefore a smaller depth of field. The focus is sharper and faster, and the bokeh is much more smooth. This is my favorite lens to shoot portraits.
Before I invested in a full-frame camera, I wanted a wider lens that showed more of the subject than the 50mm lenses. This 35mm ended up being the perfect option. Aside from portraits, I've taken many beautiful landscape images with this one.
Canon 18-135mm STM
This is my widest lens and came with my T4i when I bought it. It's great for larger family photos and landscapes. STM = Stepper Motor. When shooting video with this lens, you can keep the autofocus on rather than manual, and the focusing noise will remain fairly silent. (Typically if you shoot video in autofocus, the focus noise is pretty loud and can ruin video.) Unfortunately this doesn't fit on my new camera, so I'm now on the hunt for a new wide lens!
EDITING & ORGANIZATION
I almost exclusively edit in Aperture, which is a Mac-only program that is (sadly) no longer available to buy. I also use it to house and organize my photo library. Apple's program "Photos" is so inconvenient when it comes to editing options, so I highly recommend not using it. (Same goes for iPhoto, for those who still have that). I very rarely use Photoshop.
I also edit with Nevercenter's CameraBag - they are now on their third version and each has gotten better and better. It's great for quick edits.
Continuing to use Aperture doesn't seem like the best idea, especially since it's not sold anymore. I'll soon be upgrading my personal laptop and when I do, I'm going to start fresh with a new organizing system. I'm hoping to use Adobe Bridge to house my photos and will probably edit in Lightroom.
LIGHTING & BACKGROUNDS
I have the Canon Speedlite 430EX for my external flash, though I hardly every use it. I prefer natural light. I also use this reflector when shooting indoor portraits, to help soften the harsh flash.
And finally, I use this background if I need to shoot products or newborns. I've only used it once, (and am still getting the hang of properly setting it up), but I'm glad I have it just in case. One side is white and the other side is black.
So there you have it. Anything I didn't cover? Anyone have additional questions? Comment and I'll answer them! And here's my photography website, if you want to see other work I've done.