Getting ready for the workplace: a buyer's guide for photography students

What are the best cameras, lenses and printers for photography students starting work placements and freelance assignments? Canon Ambassadors Nanna Navntoft and Yasmin Albatoul, plus Canon experts Mike Burnhill and Suhaib Hussain, give their advice.
A woman walks along, passing the white painted side of a building. She is holding her coat closed tight around her with both hands.

Danish documentary photographer Nanna Navntoft specialises in exploring contemporary social issues through her sensitive portraits. She now shoots on an EOS R System camera, often paired with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens, one of Canon's trio of essential RF zooms. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 45mm, 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Nanna Navntoft

If you're a photography student, getting experience of working in the industry before graduation makes you more employable and is a vital first step to a professional career. Work placements, freelance assignments and developing personal projects are all great ways to get your name and work known by potential employers.

When Canon Ambassador and documentary and editorial photographer Nanna Navntoft was a student, she spent 18 months on placement at Danish newspaper Politiken and was amazed to see how many email pitches the editor received every day. "That taught me how important it is for students to do a strong, eye-catching pitch when trying to sell freelance photo stories," she says. "Working at Politiken was very important and I wouldn't have been the same photographer without it. I learned a lot from my editor, Thomas Borberg, as well as all the different photographers who worked on the newspaper."

As well as internships and professional placements, Nanna says that for editorial work it's good to keep developing your own personal projects and getting them seen by picture editors. "I'd advise going to as many portfolio reviews as possible, applying for any available grants and taking part in competitions."

Yasmin Albatoul, a Canon Ambassador who photographs food for major brands, started her career while studying for a Master's degree in Clinical Psychology. She began by shooting important university events and occasionally weddings on a freelance basis, before working at a studio in her home country of Algeria and specialising in food photography.

"The most important thing for getting a job is to share your work on social media platforms," she says. "I shared photos almost daily and got clients in different regions. My advice for students is to work seriously on your social networking accounts. TikTok and Instagram have become the two most important platforms for guaranteeing you more customers and diverse work."

When starting out in the world of professional imaging, it's also important to have the best kit that your budget will allow for launching your career. Here, Nanna and Yasmin, plus Canon product specialists Mike Burnhill and Suhaib Hussain, give their equipment advice for students starting out in the world of work, whatever your budget – from the best camera, to the best lenses, and the best printer.

Two people leaning in to look at the back of a Canon camera.

Studying photography or film?

Canon's Future Focus connects photography and filmmaking students to the professional community.
A young woman in a white blouse and teal headscarf holding a Canon EOS R camera.

Yasmin uses a Canon EOS R System camera to create her mouthwatering food images for commercial clients. © Yasmin Albatoul

Bright baked delicacies in yellow and orange, topped with slices of lemon and mint leaves, sit on a bright blue wooden table.

When freelancing, Yasmin says it's important to use the most up-to-date equipment you can afford for the technical advantages that brings. "You must focus on providing high-quality photos with detail and accuracy, so your customer is happy with the result." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Yasmin Albatoul

Best cameras for photography students

"Equipment is one of the most important things to think about before starting work," says Yasmin. "I always strive to own a camera that achieves excellent results and therefore attracts more customers." Nanna adds that it's good to buy equipment that's as futureproof as possible. "It's nice to buy something that's looking a bit more ahead, and you know is going to be around for a while."

If you're looking for a futureproof setup, Canon's EOS R System is ideal. Not only does the camera technology give you the flexibility to shoot with excellent low-light performance and fast shutter frame rates, but switching to video is now easier than ever before. "In the modern market, video is an important consideration when investing in equipment," explains Mike.

"The days have gone when you might get hired on the strength of your stills portfolio and video is now almost as important for some clients, so students that have skillsets in both stills and video will increase their chances of making it as a professional," Mike adds. "If you're looking for placements or freelance work, it's also essential to shoot your own publicity videos and short clips for social media."

Hands holding a Canon EOS RP camera, with a man in a cap visible in the vari-angle touchscreen.

The practical, creative Canon EOS RP is the perfect starting point for embracing the benefits of shooting in full-frame.

Hands holding a Canon EOS R6.

The speed, stability and incredible image quality delivered by the 20MP Canon EOS R6 will enable students to really push their creativity, whether shooting stills or video.

Canon EOS RP

The small, light and intuitive EOS RP is the entry-level model in Canon's full-frame mirrorless range. "It's low-cost and the smallest of our EOS R System models, but its specification is similar to the Canon EOS 6D Mark II," Mike continues. "It gives you access to features such as Dual Pixel AF and the focus tracking ability, plus the full-frame sensor and full compatibility with EF and RF lenses."

Canon EOS R6

The next step up in the EOS R System full-frame range is the Canon EOS R6. "The EOS R6 features a lot of the technology found in the EOS R5, but at a lower price," explains Mike. "The major difference is in the resolution – 20MP rather than 45MP. However, it makes up for that in the high ISO performance and the AF's ability to work in even lower light. Compared to the EOS RP, you also get improved video performance – shooting 4K video up to 60p – as well as animal and vehicle tracking functions." The EOS R6 would therefore be particularly useful when shooting in any low-light situation, from interior documentary work and portraiture to wildlife.

Hands holding a Canon EOS R7 camera.

The EOS R System APS-C Canon EOS R7 – the successor to Canon's EOS 7D series – is ideal for students who want to move to mirrorless and expand their skillset but may not be able to afford to take the step up to full-frame.

Canon EOS R7

Mike says it's also worth considering the advantages of having an APS-C camera. "A sensor is perhaps the most expensive component on a digital camera, so if you're on a tight budget, you can get more features for a lower price by choosing an APS-C camera."

Canon's EOS R System APS-C EOS R7 brings many high-tech specifications at a lower price than full-frame models. "For instance," Mike continues, "it offers features such as 15fps shooting capabilities, oversampled 4K footage and an advanced AF system similar to that of the Canon EOS R3, all at a lower cost and in a smaller package.

"The format also gives you the opportunity to use shorter and less expensive lenses; instead of buying a 400mm lens you can use a 300mm or 200mm lens and you have that extra reach thanks to the crop factor."

Pairing the EOS R7 with the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens, for example, will give a view equivalent to a 112-320mm lens on a full-frame camera.

An overhead shot of an array of ingredients and food laid out on a table and chopping board, including chopped olives, pickles and peppercorns.

The fast 50mm prime lens that Yasmin uses for much of her food photography gives her fine control over background bokeh and depth of field. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/4 and ISO400. © Yasmin Albatoul

A tall glass filled with liquid, ice, fruit and a glass straw stands on a wooden coaster, surrounded by pieces of fruit and wooden bowls.

The image stabilisation in the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens comes in useful when Yasmin doesn't have a tripod. "I avoid carrying too much gear and the lens IS ensures no one will notice that the images were shot handheld," she says. 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/4.5 and ISO400. © Yasmin Albatoul

Best lenses for photography students

"When you're choosing equipment for going on a work placement or freelancing, lenses are just as important as the camera," says Yasmin. "I always recommend having one good-quality lens that can be used in a range of situations and another that is suited to your specialist area."

Nanna agrees: "If you're doing a placement on a newspaper or magazine, it's useful to have a really good all-round zoom lens," she says. "For this kind of work, I also like using fixed lenses, such as a 50mm or 85mm lens, because having to move around makes me shoot better pictures."

Two boys and a woman stand around the edge of a water table. The boy in the middle is dipping both hands into the water and looking at the camera, laughing.

Fast and sharp, with a 5-stop Image Stabilizer, the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens that Nanna used for this shot is an ideal standard zoom for capturing a variety of situations. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 41mm, 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO2500. © Nanna Navntoft

Shoot like a pro: Canon's RF 'Trinity' lenses

Canon's L-series RF lenses are worth the investment as they offer optical excellence, speed and ease of operation and will last many years, even if you update your camera body. Canon's 'trinity' of essential RF lenses, the RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM, RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM, offer fast apertures and cover a huge range of subjects.

However, Canon also offers f/4 aperture lenses that cover almost an identical focal length range and may be more suitable for a student budget: the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM, RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM and RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM. "These lenses all provide the same advanced specifications as the trio of professional zooms, but with a slightly slower aperture and a lower price," says Mike.

"Alternatively, some of the fast primes are great lenses for placements and freelancing. The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM, RF 50mm F1.8 STM and RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM are all classics."

A hand holding an EOS R System camera with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens attached.

The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM zoom covers wide-angle, standard and telephoto focal lengths, so it's a useful lens for a range of scenarios.

The go-to lens: Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

If you can afford only one lens, Mike recommends the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM. "It's a great multi-purpose lens; compact and lightweight," he says. "It offers a 5-stop optical Image Stabilizer and it's optimised with motors that are designed to give you smooth focusing, whether you're shooting stills or video."

Printed images on a desk next to a computer, Canon PIXMA PRO-200 printer and a Canon camera.

Nanna advises students to have both a digital and a printed portfolio. "It's nice to have your work on your phone so you can easily show it, but it's also good to have it printed," she says. "It's all about making a good impression." © Magali Tarouca

Best printers for photography students

As well as having a digital portfolio of your work that you can show on your phone, tablet or laptop screen, quality prints will show your work at its best. "It's definitely good to have a printed portfolio, for instance if you have a portfolio talk or a meeting with a picture editor," says Nanna.

Canon printing expert Suhaib says there are several benefits to printing your images. "Print will set you apart in a market that's saturated with digital imagery," he says. "It can open up things you couldn't do otherwise, such as exhibitions, competitions and applying for particular jobs.

A photography student in a mustard jacket studies an A3 image printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer, which is on the table next to her.

Give your printed portfolio a professional edge

Even on a student budget, you can stand out from the crowd with a printed portfolio that does full justice to your photographic skills.

"More importantly, it will help you hone your photography skills. For instance, you might be submitting prints for a dissertation where parts are overexposed and look relatively fine on screen, but you can clearly see the overexposed areas when printed." Printing your work will help you see these flaws and encourage you to correct them in future images.

Canon offers a range of high-quality printers to choose from, depending on the budget available. Here are three of Suhaib's recommendations.

A woman wearing a lilac jumper perches on the edge of a desk holding an A2 print emerging from a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer.

For printing expert Suhaib, one of the great advantages for students of having a printed portfolio is that it instantly sets you apart from those who only have their images on screen. "It completely changes the game compared to just having a digital image that you're posting on your social," he says.

Canon PIXMA iP8750

The Canon PIXMA iP8750 is an A3 printer with a six-colour dye-based system that uses individually replaceable single ink tanks. "This model delivers high-quality prints for a reasonable price in the home environment," says Suhaib. "It's pretty much plug-and-play; you can print using any software and it will give you a good result."

Canon PIXMA PRO-200

"If you're looking for a printer that will allow you more control over your final images, including features such as colour management, paper profiling and soft proofing, the next step up would be the Canon PIXMA PRO-200," says Suhaib. This is also a compact dye-based A3 printer, but uses eight colours for a wider colour gamut. It has a three-inch LCD display and you can fine-tune your prints for optimum quality using Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) plug-in.

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300

"For an even wider colour gamut, the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 has 10 LUCIA PRO pigment inks, which makes it ideal for fine art prints," explains Suhaib. "It's also great for black and white printing, as it uses a high-density Matte Black ink."

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000

If your budget is more generous, another option is the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000. It prints up to A2 size and offers an advanced high-longevity, pigment-based 12-ink system, as well as the benefits of using PPL.

"The PRO-1000 is very easy to use, and the quality is really good," says Nanna. "If it's beyond your individual budget, I'd advise, say, three or four students getting together to buy one and sharing it. That way, you'd all have a really good printer to make nice prints for portfolios as well as printing and selling your own work."

The kit you choose for starting work placements or freelancing depends on the kind of work you're doing and the budget you've got available. However, the above advice will help you make an informed choice on the equipment you need to produce work that displays your talents and gets your career off to a strong start.

Written by David Clark

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