Your guide to the best family photography tools, plus exactly what I use and why!
After nearly nine years in this industry, I’ve navigated my fair share of equipment and photography tools. I’ve been through plenty that I wouldn’t recommend, but I’ve also found some favorites. Read on for a look inside my camera bag, as well as a comprehensive list of my favorite tools of the trade!
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DIGITAL CAMERAS + LENSES
This combo is pure gold! I fully converted to Sony in 2023 and I absolutely love it. I used my trusty Canon for literally over 8 years of my career and it has served me so well (more on it below), but I was ready for an upgrade to some of the latest technology, and this was what I landed on. I use both my 50mm and 35mm lenses throughout every family session and love both of them. If I had to pick one, I’d start with the 50 because it’s truly irreplaceable and so true to how we see the world – but my 35 gets just as much use most days!
The mkIII was the first full frame camera that I bought as a beginning photographer, and it has been so trusty and has served me so well. In general, I don’t believe that family photographers need the ‘latest and greatest’ gear, and I have zero regrets about being extremely cautious with each new investment in my equipment. I still recommend this camera for family photographers, though it’s not as easy to find to purchase these days. The 6D is another solid option that I have owned and used as a backup, but it doesn’t have two memory card slots, which is a dealbreaker in my book for important events.
With my Canon cameras, I have mainly used the Canon 50mm 1.2 and 1.4 lenses, but I do occasionally use the Sigma 35mm 1.4 on families as well. I’ve mostly loved my 50 1.2, but the chromatic aberration with this lens can be frustrating and distracting. I’ve spent too much time editing it out of my photos. I would actually consider using the 1.4 lens over the 1.2 because of this, and because the price is so much less. However, the 1.2 does render truly gorgeous images… minus the CA. And for a 35mm option, the Sigma has been fantastic!
Overall, the Sony + Zeiss combo is a clear winner over my Canon setup – but if you already have one of these Canon models, or you can get your hands on one of these Canon combos for a great price, it will take you so far, promise! There’s nothing about it that will hold you back in family photography. If you’re shooting weddings, the faster Sony has a clear advantage.
FILM CAMERAS + LENSES
Medium format film: When shooting film, I use both medium format and 35mm options. I love my Pentax 645n for medium format. It’s reliable, it was reasonably priced, and it has autofocus (some medium format models do not!). I only use the 75mm f2.8 lens that it came with, and never swap it out. The one drawback is that this lens does not produce dreamy bokeh, and sometimes I miss that. There are ways to adapt other lenses that are prettier, and many people do this on the Contax (different topic for a different day), but I’ll just say this: the most practical solution for me personally is to simply use my digital or a 35mm Canon film camera (see below for more info), and shoot wide open. No expensive Contax needed.
35mm film: I have used many Canon film cameras in my day. As long as you get an SLR (the precursor to the DSLR), it will work with your Canon lenses that you typically use for your digital! I love this option, and these cameras tend to be quite afforadable. Some options will cost a few hundred dollars, but I’ve gotten great options for under $50. I shop KEH camera and it’s easy to find all the specs to make sure a camera will fit your lenses. This is the best way to get into film if you’re curious! (Click here for available Canon bodies that are compatible with EF lenses.)
My favorite film by far is Fuji 400h. However, it’s been discontinued…. so sad! You can still find some for now, but it won’t be around for long. My next favorite is Kodak Gold 200. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Portra 400 or Portra 800, but many people like them. Film stocks can look different depending on your light, how much you expose, and how your lab scans, so it’s worth shooting several rolls of a certain stock and talking to your lab before you give up on it. I have shot tons of Portra and simply can’t love it, while Fuji makes me happy every single roll. Gold has been a very good alternate option, but remember that it’s a lower ISO and you need more light! 🙂
Sekonic Flashmate: If I’m honest, I really don’t use a light meter. I know my light really well after many years shooting film, and it’s just too easy to guess. After all, I tend to use a 400 film and shoot at f.28 (as wide as my Pentax goes) for almost all of my film shots. If I switch to 200 or 800 film, it’s an easy bump of my shutter speed one way or the other.
That being said, a light meter is a really important tool for many photographers, and I do use it at weddings when my light is changing significantly, and when I’m changing up my aperture or film stock more often. The Sekonic is a great option!
Photovision, hands down. I know other labs are great too, but PV has kept me loyal for years for two reasons:
- Their customer service (seriously, they are so nice and so helpful!)
- Their negative scans (instead of getting negatives shipped back after an order, you can simply get an image of your negatives, and it’s free!)
Without actual negatives, you couldn’t get rescans of images down the road. However, that’s not something I’ve ever needed or wanted. Rather, I want my negatives so that I can make sure my images were exposed properly and not wonder at what could be going on if they don’t look quite how I hoped. When my students are learning film, this piece is absolutely essential in my opinion. It’s the most informative piece of information that you can get your hands on! Use Photovision, friends!
The Archetype Process: my favorite. I use this on at least 80% of my digital edits, and I’ve loved them for years. I highly recommend these profiles not only for those who shoot film and want to match, but also for those who love the gorgeous skin tones that film delivers. The Facebook group for these is also active and helpful and I recommend it often to students who are just getting started with TAP. Note: I use the Fuji pack. I do not use the b&w or the Kodak.
Goodlight Presets: I don’t yet love these, but I like them. I’ve seen amazing results from others with these presets, but I haven’t reached a point where I get results with them that I love personally. I have the Erich McVey pack, and I think they shine on delivering clean whites and good colors indoors, where the TAP profiles might lean too magenta. I can’t yet give a resounding recommendation, but I’ve only used them on a few sessions so I know that I have more to learn with them, and they are definitely promising. Note: this pack is significantly more expensive than TAP, but it does also include b&w profiles!
Note for both options: it’s tough getting started with new presets/profiles. Don’t expect to love results from day one, but rather expect to utilize their Facebook groups and other educational resources, and practice lots, so that you can get the best results possible.
ImagenAI: I am loving this AI editing tool! I was so skeptical of AI everything when it started getting talked about, and I still hate the idea of it being used in most facets of our lives. But as far as editing goes, bring it on. This has been a huge time saver for me, and it’s very very affordable. The only caveat I have to give is that this tool learns from your own edited images, so if you’re changing your style, it’s not time to try to use AI just yet – wait until you’ve made your change, and let it learn from your new work. I am consistently impressed with how well this tool does at mimicking my editing style, and I make very few changes to my images. Friends, don’t let AI intimidate you – give this a shot! It will save you HOURS. Use this link to get 1500 free edits!
Note for all editing: I use Lightroom for almost all editing, and Imagen runs on Lightroom. I also use Photoshop for additional edits where it’s required.
Has this been information overload yet? 😉 I’ll stop myself here. Soon, expect a full rundown of my favorite business tools – they’re equally important to what you’re using to shoot and edit!
Family photography tools of the trade // Hannah Mann