So, you’re interested in getting into photography, but just don’t know where to start? Then you’ve come to the right place! By the end of this article you should have a good understanding of the basic items you’ll need to get a good start, a long with a basic understanding of what they’re for and how to use them.
It’s no secret, there is an overwhelming range of photography “stuff” out there, all of which sound very important and complicated. I’ve written this article for the very beginner, and cut through all of the jargon to get down to the very basics, so the novice can be on their feet faster and out there taking photographs sooner.
Yup, there’s no denying it. You’re going to need one of these! ;-)
There’s a heck of lot out there to choose from, in all shapes and sizes, but I’m going to assume the type of person reading a page like this wants something a bit more than just a pocket point & shoot camera. Something with manual controls, options, and of course, a bit of grunt.
So, straight up I am going to recommend a camera that has interchangeable lens options. The reason why is because the type of lens you use has the most impact on the type of photographs you take, and the more experienced you get, the more likely it’ll be that you’ll want to experiment with different lens options out there, and customise your photography to the way you want. Whether it’s to take ultra-wide landscapes, zoomed portraits, or super-zoomed photographs of wildlife. An interchangeable lens camera is perfect for all circumstances and the best tool to grow your photography.
Now, as for what camera. For this I’m going to send you over to the wonderful site Camera Labs, run by Gordon Laing. For those of you who simply don’t have the time to put weeks, or even months into all the research needed to get the best deal for you, don’t worry – Gordon has done it for you. CameraLabs.com is a fantastic site with up-to-date recommendations for all budget, mid-range and pro level cameras, as well as a whole bunch of camera accessories. It cuts through the crap and just gives you the best. A very trust worthy site that I myself visit regularly for the latest information on equipment.
Here’s some quick links:
Best entry level cameras | Best mid range cameras | Best mirrorless cameras
Again, the choice must be yours as you’re going to be the one that uses it. As I said before, I personally recommend purchasing a camera that can interchange lenses.
So if you’re in market for a new camera, enjoy the read!
Of course you’re going to need a lens to go with that brand new camera of yours. What type of lens you get will depend on the style of photography you’re after. So unless you know ahead of time what you really want to get into, a good rule of thumb is to get what they call a ‘standard zoom’. This will be something that goes from wide angle, to a little zoomed, giving you good flexibility for typical landscape shots to portrait work. Most of the time these types of lenses will come bundled in a kit when you buy your camera.
If you go with an entry level dSLR with a 1.5x cropped sensor (like a Canon Rebel XT), you’ll probably be looking for a standard zoom that’s around 18-55mm. Or if you’ve forked out for a full frame dSLR (like a Canon 5D mkIII), then you’ll be looking at around the 24-105mm range. And for those of you who are using a micro four thirds system, you’ll be looking for a lens around 14-50mm.
Again, for a list of lens reviews, head over to Camera Labs for some great lens reviews.
“A tripod is a photographers best friend”, a wise person once said. Well, they’re right. When I’m in the mood for some serious photography, my tripod is right by my side. There is a huge array of results that you simply can not achieve without the aid of a tripod. So it’s simple, if you want to get serious – get one!
While there aren’t as many tripods out there as cameras, there still quite a bit to choose from. Flip-lock or twist lock legs. 3-way or ball heads. But my best advice is not to go cheap on your first tripod. You might be telling yourself “oh, I’ll go cheap right now just till I know I’m serious about photography before I invest in a real good one”. I can promise you one thing – if you go ultra-cheap on a tripod, you’ll be sorry. Constantly checking to make sure those cheap twist lock legs are firmly in place, or making fine adjustments to the head positioning just to find out it’s slipped again with the slightest bit of pressure, is just irritating to say the least. But most of all, those favourite long exposure sunset shots you got down the beach last night, which at first glance look amazing, are actually blurry up close. What the?? Well, your money-saving tripod you got simply couldn’t handle the little bit of wind or water which you can’t avoid when taking long exposures. So do yourself a favour and spend a little more straight up. You don’t need that ultra-light, ultra-tough $600 carbon fibre setup, but spend $180 – $250 and you’ll have something robust that you can trust and will deliver results.
Note: Seeming though I’m a travel and landscape photographer, this section on tripods is admittedly biased and more catering towards this type of photography setup :-)
I’ve gone through quite a few tripods in my time (at one stage, 3 in one week!), and in my experience if you’ve taken the stance in my paragraph above, both flip lock and twist lock legs are fine to use. Flip locks are more difficult to clean, however can be a preference to many people. I personally prefer twist locks.
Legs can come in all shapes and sizes, but rule of thumb is; the more solid and heavy your tripod legs are – the more sturdy it’s going to be. So a heavy, rock solid tripod may be fine if you’re a studio photographer and have a set that sits still with your photographic subjects coming to you, but if you’re a travel and landscape photographer like myself, then you’re going to need something much lighter, smaller and versatile, to carry up all those mountains you’re going to be climbing. :-)
Size is obviously a sacrifice here when it comes to weight, so legs with reasonable reaching height (at least 1.5 metres or so should be fine), legs that open and close separately is a must (to deal with the many types of terrain you’ll encounter), the ability to get down as low as possible is much more often necessary, and a four or five leg section (with three to four locks on each leg) will fold up nice and small, making it much easier to carry as well as to take as carry-on luggage on those flights.
Again, like the legs, there are many different bullheads out there. You have two main types you’ll see advertised; a ball-head or a 3-way head.
3-ways have three different knobs which twist to lock and unlock the three different axis (up/down, panning left/right, and forward/back), where ball heads have a centred ball that moves freely and you can move your camera on all axis’s at once, with a single twist knob to lock into position.
From cheap through to expensive – if you want to save yourself a whole set of headaches – GET A BALL-HEAD! They’re so much more versatile and photography is about having fun right? Ball-head!
Ball-head’s, like the legs, come in different shapes sizes with the same rule of thumb with the more solid a ball-head is, the sturdier it’ll be for your camera.
Note: Threads can be different on both the ball-head and legs, so make sure if you’re buying them separately that they are compatible (or you at least have a thread adapter thing). Best bet is just to buy them together so you know they’re good to go. Also, ensure that your ball head is arca-swiss compatible, as this will fit the vast majority of your tripod mounts.
The good thing about tripod heads (along with the legs) is that they have clear and simple specifications that you can be guided by. For example, If your camera body + heaviest lens weighs 2kg, then you’ll need a ball-head that can at least carry that. But I’d recommend not pushing the limit too close when it comes to weight as you’ll induce lens creep (when the tripod slowly slips, dipping the camera), or small vibrations (from wind, shutter depression, waves, etc) that’ll ruin the sharpness of your photograph. So safest bet is to get a ball head that can handle twice the weight of your camera + lens. This way you know you’ll have a solid set up.
Tripod Kit (legs + head combo)
On all tripod leg/head combinations, manufacturers will list their specifications clearly, which you can use as a guide to select the right tripod for you. These specifications will commonly be; extended maximum height, maximum height, minimum height, folded height, weight and leg sections. Next step for you is to decide what you want, and choose accordingly.
The left two (MeFoto and 3 Legged Thing) are both carbon fibre options, while the third (Sirui) is aluminium.
Filters are thin transparent disc like objects which you’ll screw onto the end of your lens. There are quite a few different types of filters that do a few different purposes.
A UV filter is A MUST! Before you even walk out the door, have that UV filter screwed onto the end of that expensive lens. Even though it has little to no-effect on the photograph you’re going to take (reduces the amount of distant atmospheric haze …a bit), you need it on. Why? Well, I couldn’t count the amount of times I’ve heard someone say to me “lucky I had my filter on or that lens would be a goner!” and then show me a cracked filter. The #1 purpose of a UV filter, in my opinion, is to protect your lens from scratches and bumps. I’ve even had a forgetful moment myself and bumped the end of my camera. So, even if your camera is sitting on your desk at home, put a UV filter on it. It’s far better to scratch the glass of a cheap filter instead of an oh so expensive lens!
Note: While I’m on the subject, please put your lens cap back on after you finish taking your photograph. The amount of people I see walking around without a lens cap on (because it’s too much hassle), with dirty scratched up glass in unbelievable. Their picture quality must be terrible. And to be honest, if you’re that lazy – go get a point and shoot. The image quality coming out of those things these days are amazing (and the lens self retracts and protects itself at the touch of a button!) :-P
Ok, so – what’s a circular polarizer? A circular polarizer consists of a ‘linear polarizer’ that absorbs randomly polarised light except for light that’s polarised parallel to the transmission axis, and a ‘wave retarder’ that changes the velocity of one of the light axis. Together these two make the light entering the lens circularly polarised, or “twisted”.
“Righto!” I hear you saying. Haha don’t worry, in summary, they’re great. They make your photographs pop with vibrant true colour and will remove unwanted reflections and glare. But be careful, they can kill rainbows!!
Have a look below to the effects of a circular polarizer when properly rotated.
All you have to do is remember to rotate that ring!
Neutral Density (ND) Filter
I don’t really classify this filter under the “starters” kit, but I’m going to put it in anyway, muse in case.
An ND filter basically cuts light coming into the camera making your shutter speed slower. Why would you want to do this? Well have you ever seen those beautiful shots of rivers and waterfalls, where the water motion is completely blurred? This is done via the use of an ND filter. It’s also great for seascape shots with crashing waves, or to get those streaking clouds across the sky.
These filters will appear very dark for that reason, and you can get them in different degrees of strength. Some will cut your shutter speed by a little (e.g. 3 stops), some will cut your shutter speed by a lot (10 stops). Generally, you’d only need a 10 stop filter to achieve a longer exposure in brighter conditions, so a 3 to 5 stop is generally sufficient. Plus if you’re shooting in that golden hour, light has been naturally reduced anyhow.
If you’re going to use an ND filter to slow down your shutter speed, make sure your camera is mounted on a tripod.
If you’re strapped for cash, and you can’t quite afford three different filters, make sure you at least get the UV for protection, then the circular, then the ND.
Software is a must if you want your photos to pop. Especially for those who shoot in RAW, not JPEG. Very rare, a photograph straight out of the camera will represent what you saw, and if it does – great. But 99% of the time if you’re going to want to tweak it to bring out details in the shadows and down those bright highlights.
Your camera also gets it wrong every now and then. The exposure might not be right, the white balance is too cold. No problem, a small modification in your favourite software will instantly correct those issues.
Take for example this sunset photograph below I took at Railay Beach in Thailand.
The photograph above is straight out of my camera, with nothing done to it. It doesn’t represent the lovely warm colours that I sat there staring at for the best part of an hour. But a few minutes later with the turn of a few knobs in Lightroom, look at the difference!
Adobe Lightroom, WOW what fantastic software this is! There isn’t a single photograph that doesn’t get put into my Lightroom library and adjusted. It’s safe to say, I’m a fan! This would have to be THE software I’d recommend to all photographers, for all skill levels.
Best of all, this amazing piece of software only costs around $150, and you can purchase and download it straight from the Adobe website.
Not keen on spending money on software? No problems, there’s several free and open source applications out there for you to use. Google’s Picasa being one of them.
You can download Picasa straight from Google, here.
This is some quite powerful software that packs quite a lot of functionality. Most commonly can be compared to the famous Adobe Photoshop. So if you’re in the mood for some steep learning, feel free, but for the newby, it’s going to take quite a bit of getting used to. If you don’t have time to familiarise yourself with it’s hundreds of functions, and want something simple straight out of the box to use, stick with Google’s Picasa above.
Gimp is open source software and can be downloaded for free from the Gimp website.