Beauty, Glamour + Fashion

What’s in a Beauty Photographer’s Gear Bag?

February 14, 2019

By Angela Marklew

All photos © Angela Marklew

If you’ve ever been curious about what’s in the bag of a beauty photographer, look no further—I’ve broken down what I take with me to beauty shoots, what I use them for and why, plus how I use some of the more creative, DIY-esque pieces and materials.

I cart my camera gear around in a Manfrotto rolling suitcase (from the LINO collection). Truth be told, I could quite easily fit the things I always use into a much smaller bag. However, I learned the hard way about the importance of having backups when it comes to your camera gear.

One Sunday, I had driven from Los Angeles to San Diego to shoot with a hair stylist friend of mine at her salon. We were about halfway through the shoot when my shutter broke—like, completely beyond repair. No rental houses were open, and I didn’t have another camera body with me. One very panicked call to my boyfriend later, he was on his way to San Diego to bring me his camera so I could finish the shoot.

I’m thankful that this happened on a relatively low pressure shoot; no clients were involved, and since we were all friends, we just hung out for two hours while we waited for a camera to show up. But I can assure you that I have never left for a shoot since without having a backup camera body—I always carry a Canon 5D Mark II and III. To that end, I also have a backup battery charger, along with multiple batteries, and an extra tether cord (not pictured).

Here are what I call the essentials—memory cards, a tether cord, a grey card, and some stuff for quick lens cleaning. Although I do primarily shoot tethered, I always have memory cards in case I need to really move around (thus rendering the tether a hinderance), or especially if we decide to move outdoors. Revisiting the idea of backups, the memory cards are also there in case something goes wrong with my laptop or the tether cable.

Although I carry a grey card with me in my bag all the time, I have to admit that I rarely use it. This is because I am typically shooting beauty imagery where rendering the colors exactly as I see them is not of the utmost importance. If I’m shooting products, however, I will shoot a grey card to give me a reference for the true colors.

The four lenses that live in my bag are:

  • Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro
  • Canon 85mm f/1.8
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8

My absolute favorite lenses for shooting beauty are the 100mm and 85mm. Because they are primes, they are my sharpest lenses, and they don’t get too heavy when I’m shooting for long periods. If I’m not shooting anything really close up, I will always default to the 85mm; it’s the lightest and most compact for body-lens combination.

The 70-200mm is my go-to when shooting outdoors. I love the background compression and it allows me more freedom to get different crops without constantly having the model move. The 24-70mm was actually the very first lens I ever bought, way back before I started shooting beauty. At this point, it pretty much acts as a backup lens.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I would bother taking up valuable space in my bag with a speedlight. By now, you can probably guess what I’m going to tell you: It’s a backup light. If all other strobes decide not to work or there’s a power outage, I can load some batteries into my Canon Speedlite 580EX II, set it to manual, use that adaptor to attach it to a stand, and I’m back in business.

Now we’re getting into my favorite group of items: Things that you can shoot through! I have a collection of vintage filters from the 1960s and ’70s.  Among them are:

  • A star filter
  • A polarizing filter
  • Prism filters
  • Cheap UV filters

If I’m feeling stuck or uninspired during a shoot, I’ll typically take out a couple of filters and either stack them or use them with lenses they don’t fit (which mean you have to hold them in place).

Some beauty portraits shot using single prism filters. From left to right: A three-faceted prism, handheld in front of the lens; a 21-faceted prism, handheld in front of the lens; a three-faceted prism, properly attached to the lens.

The UV filters I will typically end up ruining by putting vaseline on them (that’s why I buy cheap ones—thank you, Amazon). If you try this, use the vaseline sparingly; a little goes a long way! I love the dreamy effect this can give.

From a series shot using a UV filter with vaseline, which creates the the blurred effect on the right side of the frame, in conjunction with holding crumpled iridescent cellophane close to the lens that provides the bokeh effect in the foreground.

I also carry old chandelier crystals in my filter pouches. I’ll use these to either try and refract light into the frame or hold them close to the lens and shoot through them.

A portrait shot using window light and a chandelier crystal held very close to the lens. It takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the best position to hold the crystal.  Once I know the crystal’s range of motion, I’ll start shooting the subject. I typically shoot more than I normally would as there will be a higher percentage of rejected images seeing as both the subject’s pose and the effect of the crystal have to marry to create something really visually pleasing.

Lastly, I also carry a few more “household” items to aid my creativity like pieces of nylon, which are great for shooting through to give a soft-focus effect. Scraps of iridescent wrapping paper can create foreground interest when crunched up and held really close to the lens, especially if it catches the light.

Some beauty images shot using a star filter and pieces of black nylon pulled taut over the lens. The nylon itself will give a soft focus effect, which can be adjusted depending on how tight it lays across the lens. The tighter the nylon is pulled, the subtler the effect will be.

Angela Marklew is a beauty, fashion and portrait photographer based in Venice, California. Before she was a photographer, she worked as a chemist testing explosives for the Canadian government.


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