By popular demand, I present my complete kit of photographic equipment.

Lenses are at the heart of any kit. My line-up includes (from left to right):

  • Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II. This fast, crisp telephoto zoom lens is the only lens I own that hasn’t paid for itself yet, partly because it’s expensive, and partly because, well, I mostly sell insect photos and this is not a close-up lens. Still, I love him. I use the 70-200 mainly for photographing roller derby. [sample image 1, sample image 2]
  • Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro. The most important piece of equipment in my kit, the MP-E is responsible for over 3/4 of my footage. It’s an original and difficult lens, but it allows for extreme close-ups of very small insects. [sample image 1, sample image 2]
  • Canon EF 17-40mm f4L wide angle zoom lens. A well-built zoom lens at a reasonable price for wider shots. The 17-40 is my favorite lens for landscapes and walks in general. I sometimes pair it with a 12mm extension tube for a wide angle macro. [sample image 1, sample image 2 – with extension tube]
  • Ultra-wide zoom Tamron 11-18mm f4.5-5.6 Di II. This is an inexpensive ultra-wide zoom for crop sensor cameras. The 11-18 focuses more tightly than other zooms in its class, which is why I bought one, but since it has some weird barrel distortion effects in the low end, I prefer to use the 17- 40. [sample image 1, sample image 2]
  • Canon EF 1omm f2.8 USM macro. An excellent and crisp general macro that doubles as a portrait lens. I use this for insects larger than the size of bees, and it’s the second most likely lens you’ll see on my cameras. [sample image 1, sample image 2]

Lighting is of utmost importance for insect photography. Most of my images are lit by combinations of the following three flashes:

  • Canon Speedlite 430 EX II. I have a pair of these inexpensive, versatile strobes (my second was used to light up this photo, so it’s not showing here). The 430 EX II is small, light, but powerful enough for close-up shooting. I usually organize these off-camera using remote triggers.
  • Canon Speedlite 550 EX. This is my strongest flash and my go-to flash for general work. I got a few outdated models – Canon’s new high-end speedlites are more versatile, but the 550 EX performs well enough that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade.
  • Canon Macro Twin Lite MT24-EX. An ideal flash to pair with the MP-E 65mm 1-5 macro lens. Twin heads can be moved for creative lighting.

The cameras themselves. I shoot Canon mainly to take advantage of the MP-E lens.

  • Canon EOS 50D. Solid. Currently as my backup body.
  • Canon EOS 7D. I bought the 7D primarily to take advantage of the great video features, but it’s a great machine for still photography and my primary camera for macro work. The sensor coating makes this camera much less sensitive to dust than older models, which saves me a lot of processing time. Sometimes the little features turn out to be the most important!

Matching equipment.

  • Opteka external flash battery pack. When attached to my other flashes, the strobe recycles faster, essential for macro action sequences. Excessive use can burn a speedlite though, so the pack should be used sparingly.
  • Giottos Rocket air blower. Ideal for removing dust from lenses; doubles as a cat toy if I accidentally forget it.
  • Canon RS-80N3 remote control. Allows me to take a photo without touching the camera, an absolute must for delicate work with long exposures. I also have an intervalometer (basically a fancy timer) which also serves this purpose, but this gadget missed yesterday’s photoshoot and is not included here.
  • Cowboy Studio NPT-04 Remote Flash Receivers and Trigger. These inexpensive little units allow me to place my flashes anywhere. When I first started using them, they opened up a whole world of creative possibilities for me. Freedom, in exchange for $ 30 on eBay. Not bad.

More matching equipment. These are small, inexpensive items that all SLR photographers should own.

  • 12mm extension tube. Reduces the focus distance of any lens. I mainly use it to turn my 17-40 lens into a wide angle macro, or to increase the magnification of my 100mm and MP-E macro lenses.
  • 72mm circular polarizing filter. Ideal for removing reflections and for adding a little spice to landscape photos.
  • Adorama eTTL2 coiled flash cord. Allows me to move a camera flash.

Diffusion of the flash is essential to dim the strobe and make the artificial light appear natural. i use Lastolite EZYBOX softboxes. These are more expensive than similar units, but they are particularly sturdy.

Supports, and the like.

  • Magic Weapons of Manfrotto. I love them. I have two, as you can see, and I should probably add another one. They are strong enough to hold a heavy camera in any position, and the other end can be attached to anything close at hand: tripod stand, table, tree branch. I mainly use them to organize flashes in the studio and in the field.
  • Velbon rail macro. Allows small scale focus adjustments. If I did, I was probably going to upgrade to a more rugged unit, but this entry-level rail is adequate for occasional work.
  • Not illustrated: Manfrotto tripod.

More matching equipment.

  • Canon camera backpack. I really wish it didn’t come with a Canon STEAL-ME-I’M-FULL-OF-EXPENSIVE-GEAR logo on the back. Otherwise, it’s great.
  • Asus Eee PC Netbook. My trusty field computer. Not as sexy as a tablet, but it’s inexpensive, durable, light, works in Photoshop, and the 200 GB of disk space allows me to save 3 weeks of field photos.
  • An unbranded lighting stand. Contains strobes in the studio.

You might notice that I don’t often have the most recent model of a given class of equipment. For example, I always shoot with the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM, rather than the new Canon 100mm f2.8L IS USM. My main flash is the dated Canon Speedlite 550, instead of the 600.

The case of heavy equipment is simple: it works well enough for the subjects I photograph. If I find enough money to upgrade, I have to wonder if spending it on gear is a better investment than spending it on a plane ticket to a tropical jungle. In most cases, this is not the case. New photographic subjects add more value to my portfolio than the same old subjects photographed with increasingly recent technology. If I don’t have a pressing need for the latest news, I will preferably invest in travel.

Finally, here’s an iPhone snapshot of the impromptu studio that I used for the equipment photos above: