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How to Select the Right Light and Cameras for Every Shoot

All photo shoots were not created equal. To select the best camera equipment for every shoot, consider a few important details. Here’s my gear selection process:

  • Determine the shoot location
  • Identify the lighting scenario
  • Research the subject thoroughly
  • Storyboard the desired mood and select the lighting that will best convey that feeling.
  • Carefully consider which camera body and lenses are necessary to capture different angles desired for each shot.

Controlled Light in Studio or On Location

If I am shooting in studio or I simply want more controlled light on a location shoot, I have a variety of lights that I pack. Much depends on the mood I am trying to achieve. I use Broncolor and Profoto heads and packs as my main light sources and use a variety of softboxes, umbrellas and diffusers to mold and shape the light to my liking. I sometimes use strip lights because they produce a very narrow output of light that illuminates the background and can really enhance an image.

Shaping Light

When working to shape light, I primarily use a Broncolor Para Umbrella for shooting beauty shots and close-ups. It creates contrast and shows detail, but the light is still soft, so less imperfections show up on the model’s skin, especially compared to direct light that’s not flattering.  In other words, the light is still focused – but never harsh. The umbrella is deep, which helps create an almost 3-dimensional effect that causes the light to gently wrap around the subject.

Occasionally, I want to produce an image in which the light is highly-concentrated. That’s when I pack my Elinchrom Octabank. If the lighting is too harsh or if I want to show less detail on the subject when using an Elinchrom, I put a diffuser panel on it to create a softer, more flattering light that shows less imperfections and detail.

Maximizing Natural Light

I love using natural light when I shoot. California SunBounce has been my go-to gear for years when it comes to reflectors and scrims. The size of the reflector I use depends on the shot I am trying to get. If I am taking a beauty shot or head shot, I use the SunBounce Micro-Mini and Mini reflectors. The amount of light I’m trying to reflect will determine the color of the reflector I select. Always keep in mind – silver bounces more light than white. If I want to simultaneously reflect light AND add warmth to the tone of the light, I use the “zebra” colored reflectors, which contain stripes of white to reflect the light and gold to warm the tone.

Selecting the right camera body for the shoot

Lighting equipment is only one piece of the gear puzzle. When it comes to camera bodies, I typically use either a Leica S2 or my Canon 5D Mark III. The sensor on the Leica is over 50% larger than the full-frame sensor on my Canon; the resolution is twice as high. This means the S2 produces even greater detail than the Canon. It also means that images shot on the Leica can be enlarged while keeping more information and detail than an image from my Canon, enlarged at the same size. The Canon 5D Mark III, on the other hand, has a shutter speed that’s faster than the Leica, which is great when I’m trying to quickly capture emotion and movement. The Canon also has a lower resolution than the Leica, which means that the size of each image is smaller than images produced by the Leica. Thus, they take less time to download, take up less space in my archive, and are still large enough to blow up to billboard size if need be!


There is specific equipment I pack and carry for every shoot. I always use high-speed Lexar memory cards because they are incredibly reliable and process images rapidly. I bring my MacBook Pro with me and tether my camera to it to download images as I shoot them. I always have my portable Drobo backup system filled with 3 terabyte Seagate hard drives with me to back up the images as I shoot them, to safeguard against data loss. All of my gear is transported in durable Tamrac bags because they keep my equipment safe in all settings and scenarios.

Live Demos of Equipment

I’m hosting one-day workshops on September 5 and 6, and I’ll demonstrate how to use each equipment item mentioned here. With a live fashion shoot, we’ll dive into selecting the right equipment, using it on set and reviewing the results. As an added bonus, Leica will be providing S-System camera bodies and lenses for test driving! Check out my bio below for more info for The Photo Life readers.

About Jim Jordan

Photographer Jim Jordan Born in sunny Southern California, Jim was inspired to create from a very young age. He traveled abroad as a hair & makeup artist, working with actors and actresses for fashion magazines and photographers. Then, Jim picked up the camera and created a style of his own. His work can be seen in such magazines as Interview, Elle, Marie Claire, J. Crew and Vogue. Check out more of Jim’s images on his website and blog.

Photographers who hear about his hands-on workshop through The Photo Life get a 50 percent discount; simply visit this site, click on the “Workshop Registration” tab and then click “Workshops” to enter the store. Once you are in the store you can drag and drop the item with the note “For Brooks Institute of Photography Students Only” for either the September 5th or September 6th workshop into your shopping bag. When you are required to enter a student ID, type in “The Photo Life” and the workshop will be added into your bag. Feel free to email workshops@jimjordanphotography.com with any questions.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!