My Very Favorite Photography Equipment

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Photo by Bill Nygard

Hi, everyone! I’m Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman. I’m so happy to be here on Scott Kelby’s blog. What am I doing here, anyway? Photographically speaking, I’m nothing but a punk.

But I’m here, and I might as well join in the fun. I’ve decided to call this post “My Very Favorite Photography Equipment” rather than “My Photography Equipment” for a reason. A very good reason. If I were to call it “My Photography Equipment” I’d have to show you ALL of my photography equipment. This means I’d have to lay all of my sins out in the open and come face-to-face with the reality of my addiction. This way, by simply showing you just a small handful of things I love, I can keep most of my sins packed away and hidden, and avoid admitting in this public forum that I have a problem.

It’s so much better this way.

As I repeatedly tell the cool folks who read the photography portion of my website, when it comes to photography there are approximately 1,986,334 people who know more than I do. I am no expert. On the contrary: I bought my first digital SLR camera—a Nikon D70—a mere three years ago this May. I took one lesson, then dove into the twisted, confusing, and wonderful labyrinth that is Photography. I’ve taken more bad shots than there are grains of sand in all the beaches of the world. But I’ve also taken a handful of photos that I’ve loved, and they’ve kept me going.

Nope, I’m no professional. This makes the fact that I’ve managed to convince myself that I really, really, really need this lens—or ooooh! THAT lens—even more hilarious. But still, I surge on.

What is it about lenses, anyway? Why do they suck us in? I think they emit some kind of addictive, invisible gas that renders us incapable of resisting.

Wait. Isn’t all gas invisible?

But I’m going to go with this gas theory: my penchant for buying lenses has nothing to do with my own excess or lack of control. I buy lenses because an invisible gas makes me do it.

But even if that weren’t the case, I have a backup rationalization: I hate shopping for clothes and shoes and purses and almost never do it. I also live on an isolated ranch and never go anywhere. So I’m actually saving money with this photography hobby if you really think about it.

Isn’t this nice? Scott Kelby invites me to write a guest post on his photography website and I totally blow it. So before he shows up and kicks me to the curb, let me show you my very favorite equipment as of April 15, 2009.

This is the stuff I can’t live without:

The Nikon D3. What can I say about this camera? It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever held—next to my four precious children, of course. And my Basset Hound, Charlie. As I said earlier, I began with a D70 and “upgraded” (I felt I deserved it; I don’t buy purses, remember?) six months later to a D2X, which, in hindsight, was probably too much camera for me at the time. But guess what I’ve discovered? The D2X was noisy. I took thousands of photos with it, and was hard pressed to come away with one without noise, even on lower ISO settings. Maybe it was a lemon; I’m not sure. But my noiseware filter was my constant companion. Ironically, the D70 had been a lot less noisy than the D2X.

This made the step to the D3 so much sweeter.

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This camera is like butter. The full frame sensor is—well, I don’t know what it is because I don’t even know what a full frame sensor does. I’m sorry to Scott and all the professionals here and I understand if you’re shaking your heads right now. But if I had to explain to someone what a full frame sensor is, I’d embarrass myself. However, I do know what the resulting photos look like. The difference is amazing. And there’s not a bit of noise anywhere—at least none that I’ve uncovered.

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The Nikkor 50 mm 1.4. I’m not sure I could choose this as my “forever” lens over a more crisp, dramatic wide-angle, but I also don’t know how I’d live without it. I use this lens to take the majority of my food shots on The Pioneer Woman Cooks (and in my cookbook), and it never fails to please me. The bokeh with this lens is beautiful. In fact, I have to really discipline myself to “step away from the 1.4 setting” from time to time. I’m a bokeh freak. I knew I’d gone too far when I posted this photo of some cupcake treats a visiting guest had made:

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You’ll notice that while all the treats are different, only the detail of the first one is visible. Someone who reads both my photography and cooking sections staged an intervention and said, “Step away from the bokeh, Ree—I’d like to actually see the cupcakes next time.”

Live and learn.

But I really do love this lens.

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The NIkkor 20 mm.

I really love this lens. It couldn’t be crisper, and it’s so wide and dramatic. I pretty much go back and forth between the 50 mm and this lens most of the time. Between the two of them, they meet most of my daily nutritional needs.

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It’s wonderful for landscapes, for wide shots of cattle and horses grazing in a field, or for Basset Hounds wading in a creek at sunset. I also used this lens to take most of the photos of our Lodge renovation, and I think it might have been just wide enough to cause a little distortion. But I’m not a professional, so it’s okay.

Speaking of distortion, this lens is not always great for human faces…

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Unless it’s Halloween, then it’s perfect!

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The Nikkor 85 mm 1.8. This is like that special pair of shoes you keep in your closet and whip out only when you really need to look extra nice. This doesn’t actually ever happen with me, because I don’t have a shoe in my closet that doesn’t have manure on it. But for most people, this is like that special pair of shoes that…

Oh, never mind.

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The 85 mm 1.8 is a beautiful lens and creates the most splendid, ethereal portraits. My husband doesn’t like it because the “objects in camera may appear closer than they are”. He’s a man, and a rancher at that, and he wants things in the camera to look as they do in real life. He doesn’t want to have to back up eighty feet to get the subject in the frame.

But those are his issues, not mine.

I don’t leave this lens on the camera very much, mostly because it is a little unwieldy in a photographic sense. But I always love it when I use it.

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That’s it, my friends! Just a simple ol’ camera and a couple-or-three simple ol’ lenses and a memory card. Or two. And a tripod helps, of course, and a good camera bag. You need a big bag for trips and a small bag for quick photographic errands. Plus, everyone needs a couple of good zoom lenses, and a speedlight always helps. And you might want to have a few extra memory cards for good measure, and an extra tripod doesn’t hurt. UV protective filters are smart, of course, and don’t forget Photoshop.

I like to keep it really, really simple.

But then again, I’m just a simple girl.

You can find more of Ree’s writings, photos, recipes, home and garden tips, and homeschooling tips at her website, The Pioneer Woman.