Freelance outdoor and automotive photographer Tom Kahler has been shooting full-time for the past four and a half years – since he was just 19 years old.
After first picking up a camera at the age of 16, Tom fell in love with the way photography could help compensate for his poor memory by allowing him to capture moments to look back on in the future. But he feels like his early day-to-day, documentary style of shooting became a bit stale, so Tom began pushing himself to do more interesting things and capture them in a unique way – which has inspired his current style, and his love of the outdoors.
Each year, Tom says, he gets closer and closer to reaching his goal of traveling around the globe, documenting his adventures with his camera. Working with clients like Red Bull, Adidas TERREX, Airbnb, TomTom, and Peron Automotive, he’s making his dream a reality.
Take a look inside his camera bag to see what gear this young up-and-comer uses to share his exciting experiences with the world.
Can you tell us how you go about deciding which gear is essential to your work?
It depends on what I’m shooting and where – how I’m traveling determines what gear I take. I would always choose to take more, given the choice to play it safe; however, some shoots require hiking and weight is an issue. In this case, I ditch some gear and just take what I know I will use the most, based on experience.
Canon 5D Mark IV
30.4 MP full-frame CMOS sensor, Up to 7.0 frames per second continuous shooting speed, 4K video recording
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV: I love this camera. I’ve been a Canon user from the start, and I’ve never been let down to this day. It’s not the lightest of gear, with all the mirrorless cameras on the market these days, but it’s a solid workhorse, which I have bonded with over the years, allowing me to get the most out of the body and understand how it reacts in situations.
IRIX 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone: This is a lens a lot of people don’t know about, by a Swiss company with amazing build quality. It’s a fast prime at f/2.4, ideal for low light. It’s sharp and has almost zero distortion, making it ideal for landscapes, astro, and interior photography. I use this lens a lot and 100 percent recommend it.
Canon 17-40mm f/4: The danger lens – this was one of my main lenses for a few years, but due to wear and tear, it has seen better days. It’s also not very sharp or fast, and has a fair bit of distortion. I tend not to use this lens anymore, as I’ve replaced it with the 15mm and 35mm primes; however, its ideal for risky situations where you’re worried about damaging your gear.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4: This lens has to be my favorite lens in my bag – for anyone out there thinking of buying one, get it ordered ASAP. I’d say 75 percent of the time, I have this mounted on my camera. It’s always my go-to option if I’m going for a hike or walk and want to save weight on gear – very, very sharp and fast, ideal focal length for portrait and landscape photography, and allows you to get some amazing depth and catch the last rays of light. One of my favorite times to shoot is blue hour, and this is the dream lens.
Canon 50mm f/1.2: I also have a f/1.4 which is slightly broken, so I upgraded to the bigger brother. The f/1.2 is a big chunk of glass and isn’t light, but it’s amazingly sharp. I find it a little tight for most landscapes and, due to the weight, don’t normally take this on hikes, but this is one of my go-to lenses for automotive or portrait photography.
Canon EF 100mm Macro
100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro lens for Canon digital SLR camera, EF-Mount, full-frame format
Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro: One of the cheapest lenses in my bag, however, one of the sharpest – this lens blew me away. I bought it for a product shoot as I didn’t have a macro lens and it’s not something I shoot a lot of. It’s a very ugly lens, but 100mm is a nice focal length for portrait or automotive shots. This lens spends most of its time sat in the office, and only gets used when I know I’m going to capture some details.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8: Perfect for compressing the image to allow mountains to appear larger or shooting automotive shots from far away, giving a nice depth of field. I love shooting long, and it’s often overlooked. Morning layers in mountain ranges shot at 200mm are some of my favorites – although it’s a big chunk of glass, I always try and squeeze this in my bag when going for a hike, and 50 percent of the time it never comes out but, occasionally, it pays off, carrying it to the summit.
Elinchrom D-lite 2, with a few different-sized softboxes. To be honest, I hate using lighting and I avoid it at all costs – it’s not my style. However, it’s useful to have them, just in case.
Peli case: I use my Peli case when possible for commercial shoots, as it keeps my gear safe and saves my back from carrying all the weight.
Langly Multi Camera Pack: This is a brilliant bag if you want to look cool, be protected from the weather and carry a lot of gear; however, it’s expensive – even more when you live in the UK, once you’ve paid for delivery and import tax. I had this bag fail on me when on a Euro trip and all my gear fell out, so I wouldn’t recommend it too highly. They did replace the bag, however, I was left with some broken equipment and without a bag for the rest of the trip. It’s also no good for hikes, as there is no support.
Currently in need of a new camera bag to replace the Langly – looking at Lowepro Whistler, F-stop, or Evoc.
Gitzo tripod: Expensive but solid – I love this thing.
Macbook Pro 15″: For editing, with a bunch of LaCie hard drives for portable storage.
Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop: For editing.
Note pad: Always comes in useful.
Head torch: Don’t get caught out in the dark.
Memory Card cases: Perfect to organize and store your empty and shot cards.
Grip: Both my 5Ds have grips, it makes the battery life last a lot longer and feels much better in the hand when shooting.
In addition to the work Tom does for his clients around the world, which can be viewed on his website, this UK-based photographer continues to document his daily adventures on Instagram. He also shares his journey, along with the occasional post-processing tutorial, on his YouTube channel.
Jessi Gowan is an award-winning writer and photographer who specializes in rural landscapes and fine art abstracts, with a focus on form and composition. Her photography has been included in a variety of publications, as well as in exhibitions in Canada and the United States.