How to build the perfect kitbag

Fashion and portrait photographer Emmanuel Oyeleke discusses the gear he has invested in over the years and offers advice on how to put together a versatile starter kit.
A woman in a low-cut velvet jacket, beaded necklace and large hat tips her hat slightly with her right hand. She is standing mostly in darkness with swirling light trails around and behind her. Taken by Emmanuel Oyeleke with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens.

"My gear acquisition is fuelled by a particular assignment I want to undertake, not just the desire to get something new or shiny," says fashion photographer Emmanuel Oyeleke. "Architectural photography requires wide-angle lenses and sometimes tilt-shift lenses, so when I was doing that work, I had to get exactly the gear that I needed. If I had something specific I wanted to do, maybe augmented reality for example, I would probably need VR lenses for that." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 5 sec, f/2.5 and ISO50. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

When beginning your career as a professional photographer, investing in the right tools to suit your style involves making smart kitbag choices. Choosing versatile lenses that will suit your changing needs as you evolve and explore different avenues, for example, is key – but where's best to start?

Canon Ambassador Emmanuel Oyeleke has been on his own evolutionary journey with equipment. Born and based in Nigeria, the acclaimed fashion and portrait photographer didn't have the most traditional start in the field: "I studied computer science, then stumbled on photography after university through playing Scrabble, which I used to do professionally," he explains. "I travelled so much that I thought I should take pictures of my trips."

After attending a two-week photography workshop in 2011, Emmanuel knew he had found his calling, so he quit his job as a computer programmer and began developing a career in photography. His fine art style portraits, fashion and lifestyle images have helped build a striking portfolio and a client list that includes Nigeria's leading magazines, as well as international brands. But how did he develop a kitbag that has grown with him in his profession?

Here, Emmanuel shares his gear pathway and his advice for students who may be unsure where to begin.

A woman in an elaborate beaded gold top, skirt with train and tall headdress sits against a studio backdrop of clouds in a sky. Taken by Emmanuel Oyeleke with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens.

"The wide-angle lenses I have, which typically would have been for group shots, I now use to distort my subject when I want to emphasise something," says Emmanuel. "So, for instance, if I wanted to emphasise shoes, I shoot from a low, ultra-wide angle, so that the main focus or the biggest part of the image will now be the shoes. If it was a bag I wanted to emphasise, I could actually distort the bag so it becomes bigger in relation to the entire subject." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at 16mm, 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

A close-up of a woman's head and shoulders, turned to the side and facing upwards. She has large, natural hair and dangling gold circle earrings. Taken by Emmanuel Oyeleke on a Canon EOS R.

"I get bored with routine easily," says Emmanuel. "But every Scrabble game is unique, and it also offered me the opportunity to travel, so it was really good for me. I was able to do what I wanted every single day. As soon as I started photography, I applied the same principles. I go with what I feel and try to achieve even better results each time." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/3.2 and ISO200. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

Building an ideal kitbag

"I would always advise starting with what you have and making the best of it," says Emmanuel. "When I first began, I had the Canon EOS 60D [now succeeded by the Canon EOS 90D], which I found ways to use as creatively as possible, and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, which was fast and I got really nice portraits from it. Then I got into shooting events and weddings, and quickly realised that a 50mm lens on its own wasn't going to cut it, especially for shooting groups and wider photos."

Emmanuel's next investment was a standard zoom perfectly equipped for shooting events and parties while he was developing his craft. "I didn't have enough money to buy the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM I wanted, but I could afford the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM, so I bought it and made sure I used it to the best of my ability," he continues. "That lens stuck with me for quite a while and produced some stunning images. I grew to love it, because although the aperture wasn't as fast as my 50mm lens's, it was very fast in terms of focusing. When shooting events, I discovered that I didn't miss moments. That became an advantage for me, and I was able to use my Canon Speedlites to compensate for the aperture and raise my ISO."

Next, Emmanuel invested in a new camera and lens. "I created so many amazing images on two lenses and was able to make enough money to say 'what next?' I bought a Canon EOS 6D [now succeeded by the Canon EOS 6D Mark II], a full-frame camera which I enjoyed using with the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. I also invested in a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, which, together with my other lenses, meant I was covered for all situations at events."

As his work evolved, so too did Emmanuel's kitbag. He upgraded from his EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens to an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, and invested in specialty lenses for weddings, including the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM for close-ups of finer details such as wedding rings. When asked for his suggestions for others, he advises focusing on your output. "Know what you want to do in terms of the genre or vision for your photography, then get the right equipment," he says.

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An evolving relationship between kit and genre

Emmanuel's equipment requirements continued to change as his career evolved. "I started shooting weddings because I needed money, not because I really wanted to," he admits. "I really wanted to do artistic fashion work. This shift did influence my gear needs. For example, I found I didn't need the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM for my fashion work. The EF 50mm f/1.4 USM worked well for me, and when I wanted to shoot wide, I purchased the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM."

These days Emmanuel rarely shoots weddings, but he has kept his equipment. "I don't like selling gear because sometimes I'm sentimentally attached to it," he explains. "It becomes an extension of my own body, because I intrinsically understand it. Even when I moved away from DSLRs to the EOS R System, I still kept all my Canon EOS-1D X bodies."

All this equipment is still put to use in his business. "For Emmanuel Oyeleke Photography, I have staff that I train and this gear is available for them to use on assignments, so it becomes like a library of equipment for when the need arises."

A woman in an elaborate beaded dress with high shoulders and a sparkling tiara is dancing, with trails showing the movement of her arms and dress. Taken by Emmanuel Oyeleke on a Canon EOS R5.

"The autofocus system is much better with the EOS R System," says Emmanuel. "I started with a camera that had probably just six AF points, now we have over 1,000. So that's a big shift and makes it easier to capture subjects in motion." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 0.5 sec, f/5.6 and ISO50. © Emmanuel Oyeleke

Emmanuel's current pro kitbag

Emmanuel's kitbag now contains two Canon EOS R5 cameras, which is what he uses most of the time, and a Canon EOS R. He uses his second EOS R5 as his main backup and his EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the EOS-1D X Mark III) for any sports or action-focused work because of its speed and responsiveness. His current favourite lens is the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM. "It's very versatile, sharp and fast, as well as being very robustly built, so it's my go-to lens," he says. "I use this for fashion, lifestyle and portraits."

He also pairs some of his favourite EF lenses with his EOS R5 using a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. "Sometimes with fashion photography I want to have some really interesting wide angles, and the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens has helped me achieve that," he says. He uses his EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM a lot for beauty photography, where sharpness is crucial, and turns to his versatile and robust EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM for weddings. "It is one of my oldest lenses and it's so strong," he says. "I've used it in some challenging conditions and it never fails me."

His kitbag also includes triggers for external lights and ND filters for portraiture. Although he mainly uses natural light, he always carries his Canon Speedlites, spare batteries, memory cards and a cleaning kit for his lenses.

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The switch from DSLR to mirrorless has brought benefits, not least in terms of weight. "EOS R System cameras are drastically lighter than DSLRs," he says. "After 10 to 15 years of carrying cameras, you start to feel the effects on your body. Also, the autofocus system is much better, making it easier to freeze action effortlessly. With the mirrorless technology, I now focus more on the artistic side of my photography, rather than the technical, because the cameras are so intelligent."

A woman in a white corset, knee-high boots and an elaborate sparkling headdress leans against a draped white sheet, against a backdrop of a purple-blue sky and fluffy white clouds. Taken by Emmanuel Oyeleke on a Canon EOS R5.

"I rarely put cameras to my eye anymore, because the view on the LCD screen is so good," says Emmanuel. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/5 and ISO200. © Emmanuel Oyeleke


Just as his kit becomes an extension of his body, Emmanuel's workflow follows the same theme. "My mantra is to get it right in-camera, even if I want to do special effects or light painting, and it's important to have the right gear to be able to do that," he says. "That helps my workflow.

"I have a photo handler which I use to sort, select and cull files," he adds, "then I import into Adobe Lightroom. If an image needs to be refined further, for fashion or beauty photography, it goes into Adobe Photoshop. However, I sat behind computers for long hours when I was a computer programmer and I don't want to do the same as a photographer. I enjoy creating and shooting much more."

Helpful tools for student photographers looking for support also include Canon's Digital Photo Professional software, which is useful for photographers looking to process, edit and organise their images. And for technical backup and repairs, there's Canon Professional Services (CPS), a free service for professional and semi-professional photographers/videographers who use qualifying Canon products.

As Emmanuel's experience shows, no matter what stage you are at when it comes to building your kitbag, making the best of what you have and learning to use it creatively in a variety of settings will pay dividends now and in the future.

Adobe, Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Lorna Dockerill

Emmanuel Oyeleke's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Emmanuel Oyeleke's kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS R5

Whether you shoot photos, video or a mixture of both, the EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your creativity. This is the camera body Emmanuel uses most often. "Essentially, I don't have to think too much about the technical side of things – the camera does that for me," he explains. "It's fast and responsive; it's everything we dream of in a camera. It's such a great tool in a small package, and the quality of the images is incredible."

Canon EOS R

A full-frame 30.3MP sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. "At the time it came out, this camera was perfect for me to just take out on the street without attracting attention," says Emmanuel. "It was the perfect tool for me to execute my shoots. I also love the compressed RAW. At some weddings, I was shooting up to 10,000 files, so the advent of the compressed RAW file saved me from requiring so much storage."

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The current version of the camera Emmanuel has used for years, this is a consummate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep-learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "I love this camera for fast-paced fashion shoots," Emmanuel says. "It's a very strong camera; it withstands everything."


Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that's simply remarkable. "I use this for fashion, lifestyle, portraits – it's my go-to lens and is very versatile," Emmanuel says. "It's also really sharp. It's a no-brainer to have this in my kitbag."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh, along with built-in Hybrid Image Stabilisation and lightweight design. "It's one of the best lenses I've ever used," says Emmanuel. "I love the sharpness. I can get so close to my subjects, and I use this a lot in beauty photography."

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

A premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, for the highest image quality possible even in low-light conditions. "This is a magic lens," says Emmanuel. "It enables me to capture the action."

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

This fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens is a favourite with photographers in virtually every genre. "I use it a lot for my wedding photography; you can get a great close-up and capture the action perfectly," Emmanuel says.


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

The standard Mount Adapter EF-EOS R allows EF-S and EF lenses to be used on EOS R cameras seamlessly. Photographers who already have a collection of EF-S or EF optics can invest in the EOS R System confidently, knowing their existing lenses will work as expected.

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