Ruminating, Tutorials


Last week I talked about how I’ve been editing and organizing photos. I thought it might be a good idea to follow up with a post on what I’m shooting with these days. I find this stuff endlessly fascinating since I’m a bit of a gear head. Blogging can be demanding and sometimes it’s nice to hear what other people are up to if it will save you money or time down the road.

There is lots of information available on how to improve your blog photos so I won’t rehash that all here, except to say that I became much happier with the quality of my photos once I invested in a good camera and lens and started venturing outside to take advantage of natural lighting and all the weird little alleys Montreal has to offer (I get really uncomfortable “posing” in public so the more private, the better.) Of course not everyone has the budget to buy expensive cameras, and you can definitely get good results with simpler setups. If you are interested in upgrading, this post may be for you.

My blog photos are definitely a work in progress that I hope to improve with every post, but I think most of us can agree that this is a huge improvement from the backlit horror that is this. Having a great camera doesn’t just mean better blog photos either; I think we’d all benefit if we stepped away from our iphones every once and a while and used cameras that actually take great photos, images that we will treasure longer than an ephemeral instagram snap (something I have to remind myself whenever I am too lazy to bring my camera on vacation – I always regret it).

Over the years I’ve worked with a number of cameras, from point and shoots to DSLRs. I traded in my Canon Rebel last year for a camera that I am utterly in love with. I think it is pretty much an ideal choice as a blogging camera because of its size, cost, flexibility and ease of use.

Closet Case Files: Camera tips

A photography nerd friend of mine traded in his DSLR setup for the Sony NEX5N and I was an immediate convert when I started playing with it (the model has since been updated to the Sony NEX-5TL). It is a mirror-less camera; what this means it that it doesn’t use the mirror/shutter system of traditional DSLRS. It uses a sensor like traditional  point and shoots, but the sensor is bigger and more powerful which results in better quality photos and much better results in low-lighting (you can read a more technical explanation of what that means here). Like DSLRS, you can use interchangeable lenses. This technology is still fairly new and is getting better all the time, but Sony is definitely kicking butts and taking names with this type of camera; everyone else is running to catch up (and this from a former Canon devotee!)

The biggest advantage in my eyes is the size; my Sony is about two thirds the size of my old Canon. It fits in my purse and is easy to keep on me at all times. Photography purists may disagree, but I dislike using viewfinders; rather than looking into one to compose your shot on a DSLR, you can preview your shot directly on the LCD screen, which makes playing with manual settings much more fun for beginners (although there is a viewfinder piece you can purchase that snaps on top). Additionally, some NEX models have screens that rotate 180 degrees, making self portraits a snap to shoot. I use mine all the time to compose photos when I’m working alone.

It is very easy to find cheap accessories on ebay (like remotes) and you can basically attach any lens ever made onto the body using different lens adapters, also available on ebay. I have fun playing with some 1960’s Russian lenses I found for around $30 each. If you have any older film cameras lying around, you can re-purpose the lenses very easily. The nice thing about this is that if you don’t have a budget to start buying expensive lenses, you can easily find good used film lenses for under $100. You won’t be able to use autofocus using lens adapters and older lenses but that ain’t no thang. Why?

When the Sony NEX is set to manual focus, you can highlight in a chosen colour what is in focus on the screen. If you’ve ever tried to take a photo in low light situations you may have found that it is hard to autofocus on the subject using the built in focus beam. This highlight means you don’t have to squint through a viewfinder and hope for the best since it shows you exactly what is in focus before you take the picture.

Closet Case Files: Sony NEX

Check out this sweet highlighted focus action. Also, it fits in the palm of my hand.

For the first year, I used the included kit lens which is very serviceable but won’t give you knockout results. Unfortunately if you want to really up your photography game, you’ll have to invest in a good prime lens at some point. A prime lens means it doesn’t zoom; it has a fixed focal length which let’s you widen the aperture so more light comes in, meaning you can shoot images at a faster shutter speed. If you’ve ever tried to take photos indoors on a crappy camera, you know how difficult it is to get nice,  bright photos without any blur. A big ol’ aperture helps you achieve that, along with creating that lovely softness behind the subject that makes outfits pop.

I did a lot of research and settled on this 35mm f/1.8 prime lens. The f/1.8 aperture means I have enough light to take photos inside my apartment when the snow is 4 feet deep, while also having enough of a wide angle that it doesn’t cut too much off. A lot of people recommend a 50mm lens for fashion/styling photography, but I find that it is really hard to use indoors unless you have tons of space since it is so “zoomed” in. The 35mm strikes the perfect balance.

This “zoomed” in quality is confusing if you haven’t worked with lenses before so I took two photos from the same spot in my studio. The image on the left was shot using the kit lens. The image on the right is using my 35mm. As you can see, the kit lens shows much more in the frame, but I had to use a very slow shutter speed (1/8 of a second) to get the same amount of light. If  I tried to shoot myself I would have to be very still or risk blurriness. The widest aperture on the kit lens is f/3.5, which is half as much light available using my f/1.8 prime lens. I shot the 35mm prime lens using 1/30 of second; easy to take photos of people without blur.  I’d have to be standing about 12 feet away to capture a head to toe shot, so you do lose some space, but you gain speed and light, like Superman.

Closet Case Files: Comparing Sony NEX lenses

I also took a few photos of the dummy pulled away from the background so you can see the lovely soft blurry effect you get from using the 35mm lens. That blurred background really makes what you are focusing on stand out.

Closet Case Files: Comparing Sony NEX lenses

If you’re looking to upgrade cameras, I highly suggest taking a look at the Sony NEX system. They have an affordable starter model called the NEX-3NL that comes in at around $370 US. I am using a slightly older version of the Sony NEX-5TL which is just under $500. Both models have the flip up screens. The main difference is the 5TL is faster and can shoot in lower light conditions (it goes up to 25600 ISO) , but with a decent prime lens you’d be fine with the 3NL if you have decent light.

For lenses, I recommend the 35mm f/1.8 prime. The 50mm f/1.8 is a little cheaper but it’s not as wide so you will be even more zoomed in. Don’t forget the ability to attach older lenses using inexpensive lens adapters. A good remote with a 2 second delay is a great add-on since you can hide it before the picture snaps. Finally, I couldn’t live without my tripod. I bike around town with it sitting in my bike basket like a weirdo.

Whoof. I think that was my most technical post ever. Hopefully someone got something out of this! There isn’t one perfect answer to the camera conundrum, but I am totally thrilled with my current system after a lot of trial and error. Does anyone else use a NEX? What kind of camera are you shooting on these days? Anything else you’d like to know?

  • jen

    Thanks for the informative post with all the tech speak removed! I had noticed the Sony cameras while looking to upgrade (hopefully getting a camera for Christmas) and wondered about them so was very interested to hear how they work! thanks 🙂

  • Thanks for all the info! I love your photography posts, even if I only understand about half of what you are talking about right now. But each time I go back and re-read I get a little bit more! I’ve been shooting on a Canon G1X for the past year (well my 6year old has!). I’ve found it to be a fabulous camera for people like me, lovely photos for complete amateurs who just use the auto setting. However I know it has scope for more than this and I am trying to improve my photos. I’ve just invested in a tripod and remote, used for the first time in my last post…FABULOUS! My daughter was great, but no more blurries and choice of where and when I can photograph, wooohooo! I’m thinking of a new lens next to get the blurry background, but I need to read and understand a bit more before I get to this one…Thanks for featuring me in your last post! 😉

    • No prob love! Try setting your camera to camera at the lowest fstop you can and then play with the shutter speed till you get the right exposure. You have to be standing somewhat apart from your background or else it will be in focus as well.

  • Great glimpse into your photography repertoire. One thing I want to callout, and I don’t mean to sound rude at all or be one of those commenters, but the 35mm on your camera is not a true 35 mm. It’s actually acting like a 50mm (approximately). On a full frame camera, there is no crop factor, meaning a 35mm is actually a 35mm (crop factor = size of your cameras sensor as it relates to the “standard” 35mm size. Due to film being 35mm for so long, it became the standard size for a camera, and therefore “full frame” means equivalent to 35mm). On micro four thirds cameras (mirrorless), the crop factor is anywhere from 1.5-2. Before I purchased my Canon 6D, I had an Olympus Pen EPL-1, and the crop factor was 2:1, so the 50mm I had actually was a 100mm. It requires some math, but it’s super simple, just multiply the crop factor by the focal length.

    • Haha, yes I knew that but I didn’t want to confuse people with more techy nerdiness than absolutely necessary.

  • sallieforrer

    Woo! Great post! I’m always interested in learning what other people use for photos. We have a Nikon D3000 that’s a few years old, but it’s a pretty serviceable DSLR. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a 50mm or 35mm lens for it so I can get that pretty “fashion blogger” blurry background, but honestly, camera gear doesn’t really get me going, so every paycheck I find something more frilly to spend my monies on (pretty fabric, makeup, shoes… more shoes…) But one of these days! One of these days… In the meantime I try to fake it with my zoom lens and manual focus, and mostly rely on pretty backgrounds to distract people (yeah, I’m slightly out of focus, but look at those palm trees!!) The first thing I’m gonna do is buy another wireless remote. Our old one went mysteriously missing when Nick took the camera to one of his classes, and ever since then my blog photo taking process has been far more arduous running back and forth with the self timer. Ugh.

    • Your photos always look great so I wouldn’t stress much about it. I’ve gottena bit of blur uring teh widest aperture on my kit lens – I think it’s probably 3.5?

  • When I first saw the Nex come out, I was actually pretty interested in it since it was a lot smaller and came with interchangeable lenses. it’s so small yet so powerful! my qualm with my canon is that it’s so damn big to fit in purses for impromptu anythkng

    • You basically need to carry a camera bag instead of a purse which is the blurst since camera bags suck.

  • I’m definitely going to check out that camera. It sounds so cool. I use a Canon Rebel DSLR. I bought it as an upgrade from a pocket sized Canon Elph. I really like it but it is big and heavy for travel.

    • It’s like carrying a boulder around in your purse.

  • Sarah

    Two points: (1) I have an Olympus of the mirror-less variety, and I just adore it. (I went with the Olympus because I wanted both the viewfinder and the touchscreen.) I am neither an existing nor aspiring blogger, I just like to capture moments and life. Thanks for sharing the word about these cameras; I think they allow people to be more comfortable with photography, which is only a positive in my eyes! And more importantly, (2), I just wanted to say that your blog is really a delight. Your voice is so rich that your posts read as if you are simply chatting with us in your beautiful studio. It is hard to be commercial and authentic simultaneously, and you seem to be managing brilliantly with a style all your own. It bodes so extremely well for your business. Cheers to you!

    • Sarah, you just got me all verklempt over my morning tea. That is quite possibly the best compliment I’ve ever gotten – thank you m’dear! Means a lot.

      Also, glad to hear you’re happy with your Olympus. Anything that gets us documenting our lives besides our phones is a gift.

  • Thank you for this, DSLRs have turned me off for many reasons and this seems like a great alternative. Now if only I can stop using “new camera money” on new sewing machines…

  • CapitalChic

    Wait… so you are telling me that I can buy some sort of adapter that will put my old school Canon FD lens onto my micro 4/3 body?!!!! How did I not know this?


    BRB, off to destroy ebay…

  • missceliespants

    Thanks for this. I get a new Nikon for Christmas and immediately came to your post to see your recommendations on lenses. Very excited to start shooting.

    • Get a 50mm! You’ll need a little space for full length but it will Take great pics on a full body DSLR. If you can find a 35mm with an f-stop under 2 that would be a good bet too.

      • missceliespants

        I got the 35mm and I am amazed at the difference in lower lighting it makes (being dark, am obsessed with lighting). I read Maddie’s comment after though regarding the crop something or the other. So, I think mine isn’t a true 35 mm. The f stop is 1.8 so it’s under 2 like you suggested. Do you think also getting a 50mm is overkill? My birthday is in April and I’m asking for a flash 🙂

        • I think if you’re happy with the 35mm you should stick with it! No need to get everything all at once.