The Must-Have Lens For Anyone Starting as a Professional Photographer

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When I transitioned from a hobby photographer to a part-time professional, I started with model portfolio shoots and event photography. Then came weddings, portraits, editorial and commercial shoots and so on. A fair few of you will similarly start your professional photography career. Or at least cover some aspects of the path mentioned above.

When I was feeling that strong urge to make the jump to professional photography, I was given some great advice by a senior photographer: your next purchase needs to be a fixed aperture lens, preferably f/2.8 or lower. Upon further exploration of that advice, I set my gaze on a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8. I saved up for it, bought it and can confidently say that it was the best return on investment I’ve had from a single piece of photography gear ever!

Whatever the situation, whatever the lighting, this lens will deliver. Over the years, as I became better at photography, I relied more and more on primes and other specialized lenses. But if there is one lens I always carry, it’s the good old 24-70mm f/2.8. For example, in low light conditions, certain primes like the 50mm f/1.2 might struggle with auto-focus and when shooting an event or a wedding that can be a risky affair. I’ve found my 24-70mm f/2.8 to be much quicker in this regard.

One could argue for the 24-105mm f/4 as an alternative, but I’ve found that extra stop between f/2.8 and f/4 to be a lifesaver many times. When I started shooting weddings, I came to understand why f/2.8 felt a whole lot more magical than f/4. For one, in low light situations that one stop of light made a huge difference if I wanted to maintain a reasonably low ISO and could not use external light (e.g., in a small lit church during the ceremony). Secondly, I found f/2.8 to be a sweet spot between blurring the background to bring focus to my subject and not blurring my background so much that it loses context (e.g., shooting progressive groups during events). Yes, at times I did wish that my lens also had a focal length of 105mm, but it was always an easy compromise given its advantages over f/4.

This probably has some truth in it. It’s a classic zoom lens, and you can get comfortable with it. But if the truth is wholly told in context, when you’re starting as a professional photographer, you are learning so many new things about your craft that it can be overwhelming at times. You can run out of poses for your client to do or your lighting may not be working with a particular scenario and on and on. You can allow yourself a crumb of comfort in the form of this lens as long as you keep developing your skills as a photographer. Moreover, I’m sure, further down your career, when you have the cash, you won’t mind honing your skills on your brand new bokehlicious 85mm f/1.2!

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