How I Built My Camera System: Nicole Fara Silver

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I’m a Canon girl, although the first photos I took were on an Olympus D-380 that my parents gave me for the holidays when I was twelve years old. My dad was a photographer, and when I was growing up he had a disposable camera in the glove compartment of his car at all times. We’d be driving down the street, and he’d pull over anytime he saw something he liked. He’d make me get out of the car and stand next to him as he told me how he was composing the shot, and why he was doing it one way or another. Despite that, my old Olympus sat on a shelf for two years, until I hit high school. I started taking photos of all of my new friends, documenting our daily lives, as a way to mask the fact that I felt totally awkward.

Editor's Note: This is a guest blog post from Nicole Fara Silver.

My tiny Olympus lasted two years, until I was sixteen. Then, one day after school, I stumbled upon my best friend’s Canon Rebel. She was way more into photography than I was at that point. All I knew was that I liked taking photos. Becoming a photographer hadn’t consciously occurred to me yet. She gave me a thirty-second lesson on how to use it, and then before I knew it, another friend of mine was climbing through a window—I told him to pause—and I snapped a photo. A few weeks later, in the lunchroom, my best friend handed me the prints. They were perfect, and I was hooked. Canon forever.

There was an old camera shop just down the street from my apartment where you could buy a Canon Rebel for $100, which I was going to do, until I realized I couldn’t afford the constant cost of buying and developing film. Around the same time, Canon was coming out with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel. So I went to my father with a proposition: Would he loan me half of the money to buy the camera? I had saved part of my allowance, but wasn’t quite there yet. He said yes, and we headed to B&H to buy my very first big camera. The Digital Rebel lasted me until I was a sophomore in college, when a professor of mine was teaching us how to do something and said, “Go to this menu.” Well, my camera didn’t have that menu. That’s when I knew it was time for an upgrade.

Around the time I went to college, I had also inherited my mother’s Yashica FX-3. It only had one lens, a 50mm, and no lens cap. It never occurred to me to buy a new lens or a cap, so that’s the way it remains. It was with that camera that I took my first real concert photo (i.e., not of my friends messing around in a basement or a school auditorium). While on spring break, I went to see Louis XIV play at Irving Plaza, and snuck the little Yashica in with me. I wasn’t shooting with any particular goal, but I ended up with some pretty cool silhouetted shots. I still use the Yashica to this day, although much less frequently than I would like, as film is (still) expensive, and the poor camera is basically falling apart from decades (and generations) of use.

When I realized it was time to upgrade to a DSLR, I moved onto the Canon T1i. This little baby did me well for three years. A large majority of my favorite photos were taken with that camera. I worked on building my lens family before I took on the expense of upgrading to a full-frame camera body. I worked with a standard 18-55mm kit lens until I graduated college. My mother bought me a 50mm f/1.4 as a graduation gift. I used it to photograph my first major concert (i.e., with an official photo pass), because the only other lens I had to my name was the kit lens. It was incredibly frustrating, and I rented a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for every show after that, until I could finally afford my own.

All in all, my 50mm is still my favorite lens for portraits. There’s just something about the vibrancy of the colors that comes with that lens—it wows me every time. My 24-70mm f/2.8 is my go-to lens. I shoot almost everything with it. It’s got the versatility that I need in a concert situation, when oftentimes things are moving very quickly, and I don’t always have the time to switch lenses. In fact, I’m probably one of the very few music photographers who prefer to choose one lens, and stick with it.

At the same time, I began photographing more events, and I needed a flash. That’s when the Canon Speedlite 580EX II came into my life. I’m not a huge fan of flash or artificial lighting, but sometimes there’s no avoiding it, especially when the majority of my work finds me in dark hallways, conference rooms, or bars. This flash gives me everything I need. It’s light, quick and easy to use, which is especially important in a situation where I am only allotted a few minutes (or less!) with a subject. I bring it with me ninety percent of the time these days, because I’d rather have it than get caught without it, and miss a photo as a result.

About a year ago, I decided it was time. I was shooting more, and I wanted to make my life easier, to become more professional—it was time to invest the money. I traded in my Canon T1i and went full frame—Canon 5D Mark II. I chose the Mark II instead of the Mark III because the differences weren’t all that significant to me. The Mark II is currently my main camera body. Shooting my first concert with the Mark II was as if someone had taken sandbags off of my shoulders. Yowza! The full frame sensor and boost in ISO sensitivity really help! If my history is an indicator, I’m sure that this camera will last me a good few years more.

Last but not least, there’s my secret weapon: my Fuji X100. I don’t care what anyone says, I love this camera. I was getting a bit sick of carrying my big Mark II everywhere, and I longed for a powerful little camera that I could stick in my purse. This camera can really hold its own in concert situations, which is an added bonus. I took one of my favorite photos with this camera—of Silvertide at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia. I bring my Fuji with me pretty much everywhere.

A lot of photographers say, "It’s not about the gear—it’s about the photographer." An image is made six inches behind the viewfinder (in your mind). I agree with that to a certain degree, but I don’t think that it’s fair to discredit altogether the work that the gear does. There have been amazing advances in just the last few years—even mobile phones can take pretty incredible photos now. Not only that, but lo-fi Polaroid film is making a comeback! There are so many options these days. The photographer may have the eye to see the image, but one’s instincts aren’t going to make a photo. The camera is doing the muscle work. I can safely say that for the time being, unless something majorly changes, I’m a stand-by-my-man kind of lady. Once a Canon girl, always a Canon girl.

List of current gear:

  • Yaschica FX-3
  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Fuji X100
  • Canon Speedlite 580EX II
  • 50 mm f/1.4
  • 24-70mm f/2.8

The author of this post, Nicole Fara Silver, will be giving a free presentation on music and portrait photography at the B&H Event Space on July 18th, 2013.

Add new comment

I'm a NIKON boy.

You must switch on NIKON.

You'll feel better.

Hi Nicole,

I very much enjoyed reading your post. I guess to a large extent I've always been of the school of thought "it's not the gear, it's the photographer" and I've never consciously sat and considered the history or the journey my kit has taken to get where it is today.

But, after reading your post I think every photographer should have to tell the story of their kit - mainly to ensure they speak about their gear with the same love and passion you do for yours.

:) Thanks for posting it!

Luke

Nikon is great. But if you're serious about photography then go Canon. :)

"it's not the gear, it's the photographer"... seems to always be said by old guys with Hasselblads. It's like hearing poor folks say "money doesn't buy happiness"... you don't come across that too often.

Great set up, yes. I moved from nikon to Canon. I am happy. but in reallity it is the person behind the camera. I like that you still use film!! thanks for the article.

Cannon, Nikon, Leica, or Kiev - in the end it is the photographer who is taking the shot. It is all about composition, optics and post processing that results in the final image. As a long there is a will and passion for observation equipment will not be a hindrance. It does help to have quality equipment that one can rely on. From my personal experience for the last 25+ years Cannon has been in my hands. Why? – Perhaps it was fate intervened on one Saturday morning, back in the 1986, when I picked $25 AE-1 at a local garage sale. I had no clue about photography back then and $25 was a lot of money!

No matter what camera you use, buy the best lenses you can afford. That's where great photos are made. If what's in your head can't be duplicated in the camera, buy an instamatic. I've had Nikon and Canon and find that Canon is a better product.

I'm a Canon guy since 1999. I still have my first 35mm which I got in 1971. A Yashica TL electro x ITS black. Under that black paint is a brass body. I had several Pentax 35mm all long gone. My first DSLR was a Rebel. Now I own a 50d with all high end lenses and I just got a 5D Mark lll. Needless to say I also seem to have cornerird the market on Speedlights. I still have a Canon Elan ll but don't feel the need to shoot film any longer being I no longer spend time in the dark room.  I just wish there was a way to pack everything I want to take on vacation with me in a carry on.