What professional photographer Ben Thomas has in his bag
Award winning professional photographer Ben Thomas recently joined me in the studio, where we discussed everything from promoting your work to printing and exhibiting images. Ben also shared his go-to equipment and touched on the post production processes he uses to achieve some of his signature images.
Many of our members were particularly interested in what equipment Ben uses and his post production process, so I’ve put together a quick summary of his equipment, travel tips and software choices.
Remember, you can also watch the full show on replay and see more of our upcoming shows on the live shows page.
Camera & lens choice
Before earning the title of Hasselblad Master, the majority of Ben’s work was done using a 35mm Canon camera and a small selection of lenses.
His camera of choice was the Canon 5D Mk III, coupled with the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 and two Sigma Art lenses — the 24mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.4. Although he has also worked with different telephoto lenses, Ben said working with prime lenses forced you to really think about composition and allowed you to understand the capabilities of that particular lens (this he said proved to be incredibly useful when he was shooting for the Formula 1 team McLaren).
As 2018 winner of the Urban/Street category of the Hasselblad Masters competition, Ben won a medium format camera and now he mainly shoots with the Hasselblad X1D. This he pairs with the 45mm and 90mm lenses, which he says cover the majority of his needs when working on location.
Since switching to the Hasselblad, Ben admitted the X1D has quickly become his most valuable piece of kit. The greater dynamic range is particularly advantageous for his workflow, where instead of shooting multiple exposures, he relies on post production to extract huge amounts of shadow and colour detail from a single RAW file only.
In addition to his cameras and lenses, Ben revealed that his equipment list is fairly minimal (something that works in his favour when spending all day on his feet finding and shooting different locations).
As much of his work is done in fair, sunny conditions, Ben explained he often shoots using high shutter speeds, which means he has little need for a tripod. Shooting handheld also allows for a quick setup and allows him to shoot without drawing attention to himself, which he prefers. However, Ben does occasionally find himself using a tripod when working in low light conditions or when photographing models or products, he said.
Filters are another thing absent from his camera bag. Other than a couple of UV filters, which he said he uses purely to protect his lenses, Ben has little need for filters and prefers to work on his images in post to achieve the exact tones and colours he wants.
He protects his gear in his Peak Design Everyday Backpack, which he says is the most comfortable camera bag he’s used to date. Having a good camera bag was also vital for protecting his gear when travelling, he said.
One valuable piece of advice Ben shared was not to get too caught up with your kit. He said there was always a way around challenges, whether that be thinking outside the box in terms of your shot setup or doing a little bit more work in post.
Travelling with camera equipment
As part of his work, Ben has travelled far and wide — from Tokyo to Barcelona, Dubai to Paris — which means he’s often flying with his gear. This typically includes his X1D and lenses, a 13" Macbook Pro, cleaning equipment, three portable HDD's, cables, memory cards, a Nintendo Switch and headphones.
To keep everything safe, Ben takes his equipment with him as hand luggage and advises not only having a good camera bag, but also configuring it properly to ensure maximum protection.
Having a good routine when travelling was another good piece of advice that Ben shared. He explained his routine is to download his images onto two separate HDD's (just in case!) straight away. While this is happening he cleans his camera — the sensor and lenses.
Since starting out as a photographer, Ben said his post production process had changed somewhat over the years. In the early years of his Chroma project, Ben said the majority of his post production was done in Lightroom, with the odd bit of work being done in Photoshop too.
Now, Ben works on his RAW files using Hasselblad’s Phocus software, which he uses for initial corrections before exporting them out and taking them over to 3D LUT Creator, which he said gave him a greater degree of control over light and colour, and occasionally Photoshop.
Photography equipment for beginners
I’ve always said it’s not so much about what equipment you have, but how you use it, and Ben is a great example of this. If you’ve ever felt unmotivated due to a ‘lack’ of equipment, remember that you can produce some great results (award winning results in fact!) using just the bare essentials — in Ben’s case, nothing more than a camera and selection of lenses.
However, if you’ve already taken the leap into lighting and have your own small photography studio, I’ve also put together an article with a list of recommended equipment for studio photography, which you may find useful.
Ben Thomas joined Karl in the studio for an insightful talk show, where they discussed everything from his career and and post production techniques, to printing and exhibiting your work. We also caught up with him ahead of the show to find out what advice he has for other photographers.