Unlocking inspiration: inside Rosie Hardy's creative kitbag

The content creator and fantasy portrait photographer shows us what gear she prizes most, and why.
Creative portrait photographer Rosie Hardy smiles as she holds up a Canon EOS R7 and looks at its rear screen.

Rosie Hardy's kit has evolved since she began shooting with an APS-C camera years ago, but there remains a common theme in her creative portrait photography. "The drive to create in a fun way has always been consistent," she says. "You don't have to have the perfect gear, but you can have equal amounts of fun at each level."

Creative portrait photographer Rosie Hardy was placing herself in otherworldly scenes far before AI art existed. For over a decade, Rosie has been creating whimsical, fantasy portraits – and for her, it isn't just about the outcome; it's about the process.

"Pretty much every piece of work that I create is some kind of emotional catharsis for me," she says. Her "visual diary" began in her teenage years when she developed alopecia and lost her hair. She found comfort in creating self-portraits, uploading them to Flickr and becoming the platform's third most followed account, behind NASA and the White House.

Now, she shoots professionally – both commercially for brands and privately for weddings – but maintains her personal work and presence with more than 180K followers on her social channels, and almost 6K subscribers on YouTube, as creatives are keen to find out the process behind her sometimes surreal and often sublime images.

Although she's a professional with years of experience, Rosie still describes her kitbag as "a simple one" – and she hasn't forgotten where it all began. "I started with an APS-C camera and an embarrassing fact is that I didn't know, for about a year, that lenses came off," she says. "I thought if you wanted a new lens, you had to buy a whole new camera!"

There's a serious lesson in the anecdote. Rosie strongly believes that you don't need a lot of money to create and have fun. "Not everyone starts out with a huge budget; not everyone can afford to build a set out of all kinds of interesting things," she says. "I think being self-sufficient – whether it be just shooting yourself and not models, or getting your friends together to do the job of a make-up artist – is a great way to start."

Following her creative editing tutorials for the Canon Europe Learning Series, we asked Rosie about her go-to kit.

A woman in a white, off-the-shoulder dress with a feathered top holds her arms around her body, looking down to her left, as snowflakes appear to fall around her. Photograph by Rosie Hardy.

Rosie likes her images to feel dreamlike and surreal, without being so far-fetched that they aren't relatable. She advises capturing as much as possible in-camera, to ensure images maintain that realistic quality. Taken on a Canon EOS R7 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/200 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 100. © Rosie Hardy

A woman in a light pink gown lies on a chaise longue, leaning against the arm, with white and pink flowers cascading next to her. Photograph by Rosie Hardy.

In the Canon Europe Learning Series, Rosie gave three editing tutorials. "Of the three shots and setups that we did, I think these were my favourites, with Sasha on the chaise longue surrounded by flowers," she says. "It came out as a really beautiful fairytale image, and I really enjoyed elevating it in the edit." Rosie edited the image using Canon's Digital Photo Professional software. "I put flowers in the foreground and bulked them out," she says. "It's the perfect amount of editing and I was really happy with the result." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/400 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 100. © Rosie Hardy

The importance of in-camera work

Looking at the surrealism of Rosie's images, it is easy to assume that most of this is created in post-production, but she emphasises that this isn't the case. "It's important to get as much in-camera as you can – even if it's just shooting separate elements and then blending them together afterwards," she explains. "In the AI era, it's imperative to make something look realistic."

But how do you still make it look like a photograph? To be able to shoot as much as possible in-camera, Rosie has a lot of props. "I've got a storage unit with big apples, a big giant crayon," she says. "I also keep an eye out for stock photos. Sometimes I'll find an image, and create a shoot around it. You can match the lighting with the stock image."

Rosie uses Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software to create composites of multiple shots. "You have to have the same lighting, shot with the same camera, the same focal length, the same white balance, so that it all comes together and looks like a real image," she explains. "I don't want it to be so fantasy-like that people take a look at it and disengage because they can't relate to it."

A man holding a Canon camera smiles and talks to another man.

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Photographer Rosie Hardy stands on one leg, wearing a white dress, against a white wall, a Canon EOS R5 mounted on a tripod in front of her.

When moving to mirrorless, tracking focus was the first big upgrade Rosie noticed – for shots like this, which she captured using the Canon EOS R5, she relies on the AF to track herself as she walks into shot.

Photographer Rosie Hardy looks at an enchanted wood through a hole in a white-painted brick wall in a self portrait edited in Canon Digital Photo Professional.

Rosie shot photographs of herself against a white wall and then a black background, and used DPP to create this dreamlike, fairytale image of her looking through a hole in the wall into an enchanted forest. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens. © Rosie Hardy

Canon full-frame cameras

Camera capability has completely changed Rosie's shooting experiences over the course of her career. "I used to set the 10-second timer and then run into the frame and hope it was in focus," she says. "To get 10 shots would take me 10 minutes, and it was really problematic." Previously, she needed an external remote intervalometer to control her camera, taking high-res images one after another, but with the launch of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, the intervalometer became in-built. "I use the intervalometer and the tracking focus all the time. It just makes life so easy to be able to walk into the shot wearing a ballgown and know that your camera is going to track you wherever you move."

Alongside the EOS 5D Mark IV, Rosie has been shooting with the Canon EOS R5, and has also worked on projects with the EOS R6 and EOS R7. She has four main requirements of her kit choices: durability, low-light capabilities, reliability, and size and weight. "I'm always shooting when I get a day off," she explains. "I can't choose whether it's raining or windy or stormy. I want something that's going to survive. Canon cameras have always provided that for me."

She also requires reliable camera performance: "You have to get things right without fail, including having a really accurate autofocus. There's nothing more frustrating than shooting on a self-timer, embarrassing yourself in front of people for five minutes, then coming back to see that they're all out of focus."

Finally, size and weight matter in her camera choice. "They have to be easy to carry around. If you're going to be lugging a big camera up a hill, you want something that's not going to break your back," she says. "Mirrorless cameras are great for that."

Rosie didn't believe the EOS 5D Mark IV could be improved upon – until she tried the EOS R5. "I think it's a real gift to have a camera that immediately feels like an extension of your hand," she says. "It feels like an extension of your brain and what you want to create.

"The tracking focus on the EOS R5 was the first thing that I really saw and it was a big upgrade, and also just the weight of it and how easy it is to carry around," she continues. "It just makes life a lot more simple and streamlined, but not at the expense of any quality. In fact, you've got better quality all around, especially in low light." This is an attribute that matters to Rosie. "I don't like the look of flash or artificial light in my work," she says. And shooting ambient in many locations – from castles to fields – across the UK, she needs to know her camera will capture the most data possible, using only available light.

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And when it comes to camera recommendations at lower price points? "I would recommend the Canon EOS R7 – it's brilliant," Rosie says. "It's got enough megapixels and good low-light resolution."

Presenter and content creator Tomi Adebayo and photographer Rosie Hardy sit together on a chaise longue, a light pink ballgown arranged over their knees and flowers on either side.

Rosie talked presenter and content creator Tomi Adebayo through her process for this shoot, using a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens, as part of the Canon Europe Learning Series, available on YouTube. She was particularly drawn to the lime-washed studio wall, and used this romantic-looking chaise longue as the central prop, along with numerous flowers, which she added to in post-production using DPP.

Canon Prime lenses

"I look for an aperture of f/1.2 or f/1.4 because I'm a sucker for things looking really creamy, with a lot of depth of field. I like prime lenses a lot," Rosie says. "In terms of focal length, my preferences would be either a Canon 50mm [such as the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM] or a Canon 35mm, although I have been using a Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM quite a lot lately."

For those looking for a more accessible lens, she recommends the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM. "The EF version saw me through many years. If someone was looking to shoot the sort of work that I shoot, a 50mm is a really good place to go – if you've got an APS-C camera, the smaller sensor boosts the reach of your lens, so drop that down to a 35mm."

Tripods, duct tape and a room full of props

Rosie's kitbag also includes affordable tripods – "I want something easy to replace if it goes off a cliff!" – plus duct tape, which in early days was used to tape her camera to the ceiling for bird's-eye shots, and a whole lot of props.

"We could do a whole interview just on the props," she laughs. "I've trawled marketplaces over the years and antique shops, collecting anything that tells a story. If I'm feeling a bit uninspired, I'll just go to my unit and have a look around and see where it takes me."

But Rosie's need to maintain that level of relatability and realism feeds back into her prop choices. "I don't think I do well with something like a sword made of snakes, for example. But a giant teacup, I can work with because I think that's something that people see in normal life."

Keeping things simple

"When you're putting your photography kit together, whether you're a beginner or an expert, I think it's important to figure out what your go-to pieces are," Rosie says. "You don't need to complicate things for the sake of being professional or being good at something. You can have a really simple kitbag and still create fantastic work."

There are things to consider, but no matter what your kit, it's the ideas that count. "The most important thing is the vision that you want to bring to life, to tell a story," explains Rosie. "Then find a camera that's reliable, enjoy it and have fun. Worst-case scenario, you have a fun story to tell; best-case scenario, you get a great picture."

For more inspiration and advice from Rosie and other content creators, check out the Canon Europe Learning Series playlist on YouTube.

Emma-Lily Pendleton

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