Updated MAY 2019
(BIG CHANGES!!! - now using Sony mirrorless)
I'm often asked about the gear I use, which is usually followed up by "what do you think I should buy?" The answers to the first question are below. The second question is a big grey area. What do you want to shoot... how much money do you want to spend or can you spend... is this a hobby... are you a part time or full time professional... how good is good enough.
Before getting into any of that, here are two big mistakes to avoid: buying poor quality gear that will fail, and believing the reason your pictures are not good is because you don't have the latest and most expensive gear
Bad photographer + inexpensive camera and lenses = bad pictures
Bad photographer + expensive camera and lenses = bad pictures + broke photographer + pissed off spouse
Getting great images which look like those you see in Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, National Geographic, magazines, high end websites, etc., are almost always the result of years of work, a great crew on the shoot, and large sums of money spent on gear. Don't misunderstand this as my saying you always need expensive equipment to take great pictures because that's not always the case. If you are planning on shooting sports at night or in high school gyms, you're likely going to be in for some sticker shock, although an inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 lens nice way around the gym problem. Regardless of what you purchase, you should always know why you are buying it. If you don't know why you need a Sony A9 at $4,500 instead of an entry level camera at $499, then think before you spend.
If you are a hobbyist or part time pro, the 90/50 rule usually applies: buy gear that gets 90% of the quality-functionality for half the price of the top of the range. If you are a full time pro, the cost-benefit decisions are not as easy. Regardless of skill and aspiration level, you can go quite a ways with a 6-in-1 reflector-diffusor kit, shooting in RAW and on manual, and a $10/month Photoshop-Lightroom CC subscription. Check out the courses at Lynda.com or KelbyOne.com both of which offer month-to-month subscriptions for $20-ish a month with unlimited courses. Much better than blowing $20k or more at photography school.
Sony A9 - This is the current flagship Sony mirrorless full frame camera and it is spectacular. While the Canon 1DX Mk II and Nikon D5 are fine cameras, the A9 is better in every way: 20 fps vs 14 or 12, no blackout when shooting, better autofocusing, silent shutter, viewfinder image review, and it’s less expensive. Plus, you don’t get screwed for another $700 on top of the $6k for WiFi. $4,500 (is on special right now for $3,500 - half the price of the Canon or Nikon). WiFi will send directly to your smartphone or to FTP server.
Sony A7RIII - brilliant camera, 42 MP, my main body for shoots - $3,000
Sony Imaging Edge Mobile - Quick version: Imaging Edge is great and unlike the similar Canon and Nikon apps, the Sony version will transmit a full sized JPEG which is actually usable. The Canon and Nikon $6k+ bodies have no WiFi without paying $700 for a WiFi dongle, and those won’t send to your phone without 3rd party apps that have zero customer support.
Imaging Edge has been given a hard time by some people. Here's the deal: It's not, nor was it never intended to take the place of a USB or Ethernet cable when transferring files to your computer on a shoot where you are taking hundreds of RAW images. Anyone complaining about it not doing something it was never intended to do, is missing the point.
Here is what is does and does VERY WELL. By pressing a button on your camera, it will transfer a large JPEG file to your phone in under 10 seconds. This is such a great feature for uploading something quick, or sharing an image. As a photographer working with a professional sports franchise and several universities, this is an indispensable feature for quickly getting images to the social media manager during a game. It's also great to be able to post or share images with everyone you are with right after you take them versus waiting until you get home. A+ grade for Imaging Edge Mobile.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS - fantastic all around lens.
Sony FE 24-70 f/2.8 GM - another great lens.
Canon 1D Mark IV - I mount this behind the goal and trigger it remotely. Using this for several reasons: (1) with a 1.3x crop, if gives me a great image of the goal with the 15mm fisheye, and (2) not really interested in putting a $4,500 body + $2k lens behind the goal in hopes that it won’t get hit.
Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye - With very few exceptions, all of the wide-angle shots on my site were shot with a 15mm fisheye. What it does is not always needed, but when you do need one, nothing else does it. Very pleased with this lens and cannot recommend it enough. I had the Sigma when I was on Nikon and now have the discontinued Canon with the Sigma MC-11 adapter for my Sony. Both are great and don’t have any reservations about getting a Sigma because they are making some really great lenses including their ART range. Before and after a game, this is usually on one of my A9 bodies to get closeups of pre and post game scenes and when the stars and planets align, something epic happens.
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 - I picked one of these last year from Adorama and now have eight of them. It's a 600w stand alone head for about $600 (plus $50 for a remote) with HSS, a built-in battery, and receiver so it requires no extras... no power cable, no Pocket Wizards, no HyperSync etc. It's essentially a cheaper version of a Profoto B1 Air for under $600 instead of $2500+. They also make a TTL version for $150 more. I've used them on every high profile shoot over the past year and they have performed flawlessly. If you need a single light, even with a second unit as a backup (which you'll need anyway if you're doing paid shoots), a pair of them are still over $1k less than a single B1.
Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 TTL Speedlite - these work with the same remote as the XPLOR 600 units. They make a TTL version ($180) as well as a non-TTL version ($100). The TTL version uses a single proprietary battery instead of AA batteries.
MODIFIERS - I use all umbrella-style soft boxes, not really interested in spending time with softboxes which have to be assembled and disassembled each time you go somewhere.
Paul C. Buff PLM Umbrellas and softboxes - great softboxes and umbrellas of all sizes, reasonably priced and unlike many manufacturers, buying grids does not double the price of the softbox
Fotodiox 60" Octa - great octabox for around $100, just don't buy their grids as they fall apart
Westcott Rapid Box Octa - beauty dish on the go in a bag
HARDWARE / CASES
Think Tank - their cases cost a little more than some of the other brands, but you're not going to have to buy a new one every 12-15 months because these things don't fall apart. I use the Production Manager 50, Glass Limo, and Airport Security v3 which is sized to the exact specifications for a domestic carry-on.
Think Tank Part II - in addition to their cases, I also use their Hydrophobia series when the weather does not cooperate. Both their 70-200 and 300-600 are great and provide everything needed to shoot in extreme weather conditions.
Impact C-stands - great and less expensive alternative to some of the other more expensive brands out there, OEM versions of Kupo. Whatever brand you go with, make sure to get something with a Turtle base that breaks down with twist and release locking legs. Needing a monkey wrench, pliers, and tools to assemble C-stands is so 10 years ago.
Manfrotto - I use Manfrotto tripods, heads, as well as several pieces of hardware-grip, none of which have ever failed. Their 1004 stackable stands are fantastic, I have about half a dozen of these... light weight, take up minimal space in transport, and solid construction.
Tamrac - I have their Adventure 75 (5375) backpack which I've taken literally everywhere and it's in almost the same condition as it was when I got it 5 years ago. The current equivalent is their Anvil series which come in several different sizes.
SKB Double Wide Golf Travel Case - a great way to put a whole lot of extra items needed for a shoot into a single, rolling case for transport. Along with my Think Tank bases, I'm able to fit multiple softboxes and stands, along with backdrops and everything else I may need for a day into this.
Adobe Photoshop CC - industry standard for a reason. You might be able to get away with Photoshop Elements but at $9.99 a month for Photoshop AND Lightroom Classic CC why bother.
Adobe Lightroom Classic CC - excellent way to organize and quickly process large quantities of photos. With Apple dropping Aperture and the above mentioned $10 a month Ps and Lr, this is the best deal going.
Photo Mechanic - the ONLY way to go for sorting through hundreds of images in the field at a sporting event or any event where you have shot a large number of images. Wedding or event shooters, you need this too.
On1 Photo RAW - essential software package with 7 apps for under $125
DxO Nik Collection - same deal as On1 Photo RAW. Great that DxO has picked it up and is now selling and offering support for this.
SmugMug - this is what I use to get photos to clients and serves as an offsite backup of everything I’ve ever shot. Includes a free app which works great.
CloudSpot - another other way I get photos to clients.
Squarespace - this is what you are looking at right now - just under $150 annually.
Apple - MacBook Pro, iMac 27", Mini i5 - I own three Macs, I think they are numbers 32, 33 and 34 going back to 1994. The Mini i5 has an external BluRay-DVD-CD burner and it's only purpose is for burning archive safety copies. The iMac 27" is for Pro Tools and archiving, and the MBP is my main photo editing workstation which I also use for shooting tethered in the field and when working sporting events like Nashville SC where I have to upload edited images throughout the game.
Dell monitors - Don't get caught up with the size of the monitor. Using a 60" 1080p HD TV may impress your clients for a few minutes because it's big, but your images will look like garbage and your edits will look even worse. You're going to want a 2500x1400 monitor or better to make good edits on your photos.
SanDisk and Sony Tough SD cards - always have several cards and get the fastest cards you can afford. I have over a dozen SanDisk and Sony SD cards, and none have ever failed me. Used to use Lexar but with the company being sold and resold several times, I’ve moved on to SanDisk and Sony. I use the 300MB read/write rather than the slower 95MB cards. Not only do images move through the A9 buffer quicker, they import to your laptop much faster. Be sure to get a USB3 card reader as the SD slot on the older MacBook Pros uses the slower USB2 spec.
BlackRapid Double Breathe - gunslinger style, double holster - holds two bodies, great at events or on the sidelines of any game, and can also be easily worn as a single like Chewbacca’s bandolier strap . They have several styles and sizes.
Westcott reflectors and diffusion - Both Basics and Illuminator series offer several sizes in their 6-in-1 reflectors.
Monster Bluetooth portable music system - get something simple that requires no power so clients can easily connect their iPhone and you'll get better pictures with them enjoying their music. If their musical tastes are crap, get over it. They're paying you so let them play DJ for a few hours.