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Essential Photography Gear

My photography gear has changed a lot since I first started shooting with a DSLR in 2006. I want to share what worked for me as a beginner (and make a couple of recommendations to those of you looking to buy), and then I’ll share what works for me now.

For Beginners

My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XT. I wanted to be able to shoot all of my product shots for my stationery line in-house, and my husband bought that camera for me in 2006. I used it with the kit lens (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) until Tristan generously sent her used 50mm f/1.8 to me when she upgraded to the f/1.4 lens in 2011. The nifty fifty was the lens that led to my photographic awakening. The next lens I got was a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. I bought it to replace the kit lens because I wanted the fixed 2.8 aperture, and I was very happy with it for a long time.

I no longer have that camera or any of those lenses. I sold the Rebel with its kit lens on eBay when I upgraded to a better camera body, and later sold the Tamron as well. I sent the 50mm back to Tristan so she can pass it on to her husband, and it became the traveling pants of lenses.

The Best DSLR Canon Camera and Lenses for Beginners

My Recommendation for Beginners


I waffled between the 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D when it came time to upgrade. I went with the latter and I’ve been happy (though if I were buying a camera today, I’d want the new 5D Mark III). Next, I turned my attention toward photographing interiors. I rented and tested a few wide-angle lenses, and chose the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5.

I received the 50mm f/1.4 as a birthday gift in 2012 (that’s when I sent the f/1.8 back to Tristan). Just as the nifty fifty taught me the importance of lenses, the f/1.4 taught me about the difference in quality. Soon I wanted to upgrade my Tamron as well. When I’d heard that the new Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II had come out, I used my accumulated credit card rewards points to buy it. (Some people get plane tickets — I choose fancy photo gear.) It’s the most expensive lens I own, but photographers always recommend investing in lenses rather than a body, and this is a lens I’ll have for a long time.

I could have stopped there, except I went and fell in love with another lens. I was looking through a preview copy of Click Magazine, and I noticed that many of the photos I liked were all shot with the same lens: the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. My 50mm always felt a little too close/zoomed in since I have a crop sensor (APS-C) camera, but the 35mm is perfect. The lens has barely left my camera since I got it, and it’s my favorite for photographing my kids indoors and in low-light.

My Current Camera Body and Lenses

Other Gear

  • Make sure you have a UV filter for each of your lenses as scratch protection.
  • Pick up a lens cleaning kit and a blower.
  • Get yourself a proper camera bag. I like ONA and Epiphanie, and you can take a look at my roundup of cute camera bags.
  • Get yourself a tripod too. Originally, I bought the cheapest one I could find at my local camera store. Sure, it was a little wobbly and basic, but it was fine to start with. When I upgraded, I went with the same tripod and head that Nicole Hill Gerulat recommends.
  • If you want to get yourself in the picture, you’ll likely want a remote. The Canon RC-6 Wireless Remote is only $20. I keep one attached to my camera strap so I don’t lose it.

I’m only familiar with Canon cameras, but feel free to ask any questions you may have and I’ll at least attempt to answer them! I’m always happy to hear other opinions and recommendations too.

Looking for a Photography Class

This post is sponsored by Bing.

I took a 2-hour video class by Matt and Julie Walker of Tiger in a Jar when I was at Alt Summit last month, and I was inspired to learn more about lighting. I feel like I understand my camera and natural light, but I could still use some improvement and I have absolutely no experience with lighting equipment. I’m working with Bing, to help take my inspiration and ‘Bing it to Life,’ so I’m going to take a photography class to learn more.

Sometimes I can pull off a good shot, like the one below from the day I took August’s last monthly photo, but it’s hit or miss, and I’d like a little more understanding and control of the outcome.

Eleanor and August

I searched on Bing for photography classes in Chicago and came up with a bunch to check out. I visited each site and read Yelp reviews, narrowing it down to a couple of top contenders. I could see a few of my friends’ Facebook posts in the search results too, mentioning photography classes they’d taken, but I also used Bing to ask for some direct feedback on my Facebook page.

I’ve heard good things about Clickin’ Moms, which was recommended, and I think I might join. A sample issue of their new magazine, Click, randomly arrived a few weeks ago and I liked it a lot. In fact, I cashed out all of my credit card rewards points to get a Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens because I noticed so many of the shots I loved were using it. I am looking for an actual class here in Chicago to go to though. A couple of people recommended Chicago Photography Center — one that I was already considering — so that helped me make my choice.

Now I’m just trying to figure out which class will be most beneficial. I want to learn more about lighting, and there are specific classes for Fundamentals of Studio Portrait Lighting and Flash Photography. I think I might want to start with Intermediate Digital Photography though, which includes “detailed review of light; a deeper understanding of exposure and white balance use and techniques; introduction to flash modifiers including flash lab and an introduction to portrait lighting.” It might be good to increase my overall photo skills before moving on to specifics, right?

Whichever class I take, I’m sure I’m going to learn a lot. They’re each three hours long, for seven weeks, and there are homework assignments to be done that will be critiqued. I’m looking forward to it.

Wood Valentines Craft Night (and a How To)

Wood Valentines Craft Night

Last week, I hosted a craft workshop at Anthropologie. There were two sessions, with twenty five people in each. We braved the slushy Chicago snow, gathered for crafts (and drinks and treats), and made some cute Valentines. At the end, everyone took home goodies from Pink Loves Brown (assorted pins from my stock), and sample waffle pecan bars from Ticket Chocolate (yum).

Snowy Night
Anthropologie Craft Night with Making it Lovely

Thank you, Anthropologie, for having me, and thank you to everyone who came out! I wish we could have had more time, and more people (I know it sold out really quickly). For those of you who couldn’t make it though, I’ve included a list of supplies and instructions so you can try your hand at making your own.

Craft Supplies
Nicole Balch, Jess Lively, and Kim Vargo

Look at how cute Kim’s turned out below! (That’s her on the right, above, with me on the other end and Jess Lively in the middle.) You can see how the little clip part works, and you can position the clothespins so that you can put notes and photos at the top or bottom, or both if you wish.

Kim Vargo's Wood Valentine



  • wood slices between 4-6″ (I was going to use birch, but then decided that mossy hickory slices were prettier)

  • acrylic craft paint (I brought black, white, red, a pretty blue, and gold)

  • paintbrush(es)

  • mini clothespins

  • paper silhouettes (you can download my templates and use a silhouette cutting machine to cut them, or draw your own and use an x-acto knife)

  • white glue


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Painting Wood Valentines


This is an easy craft to do. Paint your wood slice first. Stripes are easy, and you can even mask them off with painter’s tape if you’re not confident about your painting ability. Polka dots, circles, and following the rings of the wood are all good choices too. Next, glue the mini clothespins to your silhouettes, either one in the center, or one at the top (facing up) and one at the bottom (facing down). Once your clothespinned silhouettes are dry, along with the painted wood slice, glue them together. You could just use the clips too, and skip the silhouette people. Done! And cute.

Finished Wood Valentines
Wood Valentines

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