People often ask me in person or on social media what photography gear is in my camera bag. What they are really asking is what camera gear they should buy to achieve the results that I do for my cocktail photos.
There are two key questions I ask them.
What is your budget?
What is your skill level?
Budget only matters because it gives me a ballpark idea of what someone is looking to spend. Expensive cameras will not produce high-quality results on their own. A skilled photographer can take exceptional photos with anything from a cheap point and shoot to a smartphone.
Expensive gear often has bells and whistles that the average person doesn’t need, whether it’s a camera’s dynamic range, high burst rate, large megapixel count, or other features.
The best thing to do is learn skills like lighting, composition, and foundational principles relating to optics, depth of field, et cetera.
Let’s dive into what’s in my camera bag, but first…
Why Trust My Gear List?
I have been a photographer and videographer for over 15 years. I come from a video production and post-production background working with brands like Walmart, NASA, The Pioneer Woman, Remington, Hasbro, and more. Often I work as a 1st assistant camera operator, which could be considered the right hand man to the director of photography or cam op. It’s a very technical role, so gear is my forte. (Click here to work together or view my portfolio.)
I’ve broken down this gear list into categories, and will add to it as needed. Off the top of my head, here is my current cocktail photography setup for 2020.
- Sony a7III – I love working with this camera. I use a lot of higher end rigs in video production that can cost upwards of $50,000 when fully built, but that would be overkill for cocktail photography. This Sony is a great bang for buck combination of photo and video features. The eye-tracking auto focus is on-point. Buy just the body, then spend more money on good lenses.
For an upgrade pick, I’d opt for the Sony a7R IV.
Sony’s native lenses work best with their AF system, but other third party options still excel and often do so at a fraction of the cost. I’m a huge fan of the Sigma Art series of prime lenses. Excellent build quality and tack sharp.
I’d also suggest picking up some vintage lenses for your camera if you want to get some interesting looks. Just Google “vintage lenses for Sony E-mount” and you’ll find a ton of options, some of which can be found on eBay for $50-$100.
- Sony 24-105mm f/4 – I’d recommend this as the first lens most people should purchase with a full-frame Sony E-mount camera. With a maximum aperture of f/4, it’s not the fastest lens (meaning the low-light abilities aren’t as good), however it is sharp and has built-in optical stabilization. Win-win. It’s a great buy for the price point.
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art – I probably use this lens more than any other in my bag. I particularly enjoy using it for low-light shots of bartenders making cocktails.
- Sony 28mm f/2 Prime – This is a good lens for the price point. I purchased this lens specifically to use for video work while my camera is on a gimbal. Adding the specifically-designed 21mm Ultra Wide Converter is a no-brainer, although it does drop the lens to an f/2.8.
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 Art – This much-anticipated lens is scheduled to be released mid-March 2020. The range from 24mm to 70mm covers so many photography situations, which is why the 24-70 lens for any camera model is a workhorse. The best part about this Sigma is that it’s half the cost of the Sony! I’ll take $1,000 in savings any day.
Few things are worse than a bag with zippers that wear out, latches that bust, or is generally cumbersome to carry. I love the bags that Peak Design has been putting out. Their range covers everything from smaller messenger-style bags to larger travel bags.
If you’re more a fan of hard cases, Pelican is a trusted brand. They’re great for flying, but can be more difficult to customize unless you install something other than the pull-and-pluck foam. SKB cases are another option, and it appears that they are either Pelican’s entry-level brand or that Pelican Cases acquired the company. The main differences you’ll see are in latch style and options for handles and roller wheels. Some cases are also stronger and more suitable for airline travel.
Back to the Peak Design gear, I love how it’s all modular. I reconfigure my gear back based on the needs of the gig I’m working. This is everything from hiking Yellowstone to food and cocktail photography for high-end restaurants. Peak Design also has a lot of great sales throughout the year, so be on the lookout!
While this list may seem excessive, I do own every piece of this gear and plan on buying more. I can’t say enough about the durability and versatility of the Peak Design gear.
- Peak Design 45L – My main camera bag. I’ve loaded this bag up with my camera body, several large lenses including the Sony 100-400mm and Sigma 14mm, a tripod and more while hiking Yellowstone. I easily had 20+ lbs. of gear and this bag perfectly distributed all the weight.
- Rain Fly – A simple add on for the 45L bag to cover it from rain.
- Camera Cube – These cubes are the base of the modular system of Peak Design’s Travel Bags. In the larger backpacks, you can fit a few of the smaller ones or a single large one. In my 45L, I have a large Camera Cube and a Tech Pouch. They work reasonably well as a standalone bag. I have one inside my 45L and another that is standalone to hold my speedlights and MagMod diffusers.
- Tech Pouch – Cables, SD cards, hex keys, pens, miscellany. This a great little organizer pouch and the accordion-style design helps save space inside your primary bag. There are three divided compartments, that contain both slip-in pockets and ones with zippers.
- Slide Lite – I upgraded to this camera strap after buying the Leash and the Cuff. If you’re using a larger lens, this wider strap is essential. The thinner straps tend to dig into your shoulder when the weight of the camera is heavier.
- Leash – If you have a smaller lens on your camera, this is the strap to go with. It also rolls/folds up better than the Slide Lite, which is more rigid.
- Cuff – I use the Cuff when I’m waning to be mobile and not draw attention. A good example is when I’m taking photos of friends bartending. Perfect for on-the-go shooting.
- Capture – The Capture is a mount-point to give you easy access to various camera gear. It comes with an Arca-Swiss plate that can be attached to the base of a camera body. I’ve never used it with a camera, but I do use it with the Lens Kit add on to carry lenses.
- Lens Kit – I’ve used this setup a few times now, and am still evaluating it. It works with the Peak Design Capture and gives you two dummy mounting points for lenses. This way you can carry two lenses within easy reach on a belt or attached to a strap of a backpack. It works better with smaller lenses, but can be cumbersome if you’re using something larger like Sigma’s 85mm prime or Sony’s 70-200mm.
PS – If you’re looking for a good laptop messenger bag, I really love my bag from WaterField Design. These bags are handmade in San Fransisco of leather and waxed canvas. I find them to be well-designed, functional, and aesthetically pleasing, plus they start to develop a nice look once worn in. I own the Vitesse.
Lighting and Modifiers
- Godox V860II-S – I used to shoot Canon and owned several Canon speedlights after selling that camera. I tired of using a transmitter/adapter to make them work and went to these Godox models. The two things that I love about them are the built-in wireless receiver (works with the transmitter listed below) and the lithium-ion battery. The batteries make for a quick recycle time on the flash and are large enough that they give more than enough flash fires for a session. That said, I always carry a spare battery. You can assign these units to groups to control them in conjunction.
- Godox Xpro-S TTL Wireless Flash Trigger – This trigger attaches to the hot-shoe on your Sony camera to wirelessly trigger your speedlights. You can adjust the power level of each flash (or flash group) remotely from this unit.
- MagMod Professional Flash Kit – I was hesitant to buy into this system, but it has been indispensable. Basically, you stretch the MagGrip over the head of your speedlight. This serves as the mounting point for the entire MagMod system, which is built around super strong magnets. If I were to suggest only one diffuser, it would be the MagSphere, but I find myself using the MagBounce and gels set often too! The MagGrid helps control your light and make more directional. If you’re wanting to isolate even more, opt for the MagSnoot.
- MagMod Starter Kit – If you’re not ready to go with the full professional kit, this is where to start. You get the MagGrip, MagGrid, and MagSphere.
- Neewer Portable Rectangular Softbox with Bowens Mount – I’ve used both shoot-through umbrellas and soft boxes. Either work, but it’s a different look. The main difference will be the specular highlights on glasses and bottles–circles vs. rectangles.
- Manfrotto 367B Light Stand – A nice mid-priced stand for your speedlights. Sure, you can find stands that cost less, but the cheap plastic knobs always break and the action isn’t as smooth when setting up or tearing down. Buy nice or buy twice.
- Neewer S-Type Bracket Holder with Bowens Mount – This bracket will go onto your light stand to hold both your speedlight and give you mounting points for a soft box.
- Best Ever BackDrops – I’ve used a lot of backdrops and surfaces over the years. I prefer shooting with practical elements as opposed to faux ones, but there are perks to well-made faux backdrops. High-quality printed backdrops for food and drink photos can seem a bit pricey, but they make up for it when you consider the portability and durability. Having a textured wood grain table of equivalent size simply doesn’t make sense. The Best Ever BackDrops start in a 24″ x 36″ size, which I find ideal for 95% of food and drink shots.
- Streamlight MicroStream – Hands down the best small LED flashlight for under $20 that I’ve come across. I’ve carried this flashlight on me every day for about 15 years.
- 12-Slot SD Card Case – Protect your media!
- SanDisk 256GB Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Card – Self explanatory… you need media to shoot. SanDisk is a trusted brand that I’ve always gone with.
- VAVA USB-C Hub 9-in-1 Adapter – I own this adapter and don’t really have any complaints about it. Since the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have an SD card reader, this is the best way to offload cards. It also has power pass-through, so you can use it while your laptop charges without taking up a port.
- Twelve South StayGo USB-C Hub – This is the hub I want. If the VAVA hub has a design flaw it’s that the cord for it is so short that it causes the hub to dangle when my MacBook Pro is docked. The Twelve South model fixes that by using a removable USB-C cable, allowing you to use a longer cable if needed.
- G-Technology 1TB SSD – These SSDs are small and blazing fast. Even if you buy drives with USB-C connections that doesn’t necessarily mean that they support the fast USB 3.1 Gen. 2 specs. On top of that, a spinning disk can’t match the speed of an SSD. I use two of the 2TB models on shoots when data redundancy is essential. This inexpensive Amazon Basics case is perfect for carrying them.
- Manfrotto 190 Go! M-Series Carbon Fiber Tripod – Tripods are one of the essentials that you can quickly spend a lot of money on. When upgrading to this model, I was looking for a few things. Most importantly, I wanted the 90° column that would let me “arm” the camera over what I was photographing. Other considerations were overall weight (carbon fiber really helps here, but adds cost), max height, and size when collapsed. When this tripod is collapsed, it will fit in the side sleeve of my Peak Design 45L bag. I slide two legs in, then the close the third leg against itself to help hold it in place.
- Sinnofoto R1 Ball Head with Arca Swiss Plate – I looked at several ball heads before settling on this Sinnofoto. I generally prefer Manfrotto gear, but $180 for a ball head seemed steep. I wanted one with metal knobs and bubble levels since I do a lot of product photography. If I’m going to trust it to hold the weight of my camera, I don’t mind spending a little extra money. This ball head can hold nearly 40 lbs. and has a solid metal construction for $60.
- Sony NPFZ100 – Spare batteries are must. You can buy third-party (off-brand) batteries for your Sony, but the camera may give you an error when it recognizes that it’s not a Sony battery. Most of the time you can ignore the error, but I have had issues in the past.
- Newmowa Dual Charger – This is an inexpensive dual charger without any bells and whistles. I like it because it packs well in my bag. There are certainly nicer chargers that will charge faster and provide better status indicators, but you’ll pay more and they are larger.
- Neewer Vertical Battery Grip – The small size of Sony’s mirrorless cameras is great until you have a heavy zoom lens attached. Using this battery grip will double your battery capacity (it has a tray for two batteries) as well as improve the ergonomics when you’re using a larger lens. Sony’s model is super expensive, and, in my opinion not worth it. The feel of the buttons on the Neewer model isn’t as nice as the buttons on the actual camera, and I imagine that’s one of the differences on the Sony brand grip.
That sums up what’s currently in my camera bag for cocktail photography. If you have any questions about gear or want to hire me for a project, feel free to contact me.
I created The Humble Garnish because I’m passionate about cocktails. Occasionally, I am provided with products for review or other perks. Many product links on this site are affiliate links that give me a very small kickback, and costs the buyer nothing extra. For example, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases after a link leading to Amazon clicked. This helps offset the cost of creating content for the site – things like camera gear, software, alcohol, glassware. I have at times accepted and at other times declined free products. I promote what I love and use, and rarely will write about a product that I don’t appreciate or own. – Andrew