A typical beginner photographer would ask these questions –
“What do I need to get started into photography?”
“what are the top five tools that I need to start making great pictures?”
Well to tell you the truth, the first thing you need is an astute eye to spot something interesting amongst the daily deluge of mundane. But that’s just a start. No one simply gets up one day, picks up a camera and start making prize winning photos, whether or not he has a knack for it. You still have to work hard, train your eye to be able to spot something when it presents itself and the know-how to capture that fleeting moment. But then, this is all about the aesthetic side of photography. Tools as much as I dislike it, play an important part in all of that.
So, which tools should a beginner photographer have? Let’s take this hypothetical scenario. A student is interested in learning photography. Being a student he is dependent on whatever he can save from his allowances and the odd jobs that he can manage. Budget is limited. Let’s look at the shopping list and the options.
An Entry Level Camera Body
A good thing about the nature of the photography business is camera bodies get outdated in about 1 to two years. In the case of pro cameras a good body will stay around in the market for around 2 to 3 years. The dynamics of the entry level market is a little different. Cameras like the D7000 got replaced by the D7100 and then came the D7200. The same can be said about the Nikon D5000x series and the rival Canon Rebel series. When a camera gets replaced in this way manufacturers tend to drop prices of the outgoing model bringing it within the reach of a beginner photographer working with limited budget.
Another place to look for better pricing is the refurbished section. Manufacturers replace faulty parts with new ones and these are then sent back into circulation as refurbished items. They come with original manufacturer’s warranty and a hefty discount; perfect combination to pick a good camera with which you can practice the fundamentals of photography.
A Good Glass (Lens)
A DSLR is as good as the optics that sit in front of it. No matter whether you are a beginner photographer or a pro this is a fundamental truth. This is true even for the best in class flagship digital SLR cameras. There is no way you can compensate for a bad lens, not even with the best of cameras and finest of post processing tools. But the catch is – good glass costs good money. Lenses such as canon’s L series optics or Nikon’s pro series with state-of-the-art technology costs a good deal of money to own. They are beyond the reach of buyers on a budget.
But there is a way around. You don’t always have to pay a lot of money to own good quality sharp lenses. Prime lenses, often referred to as the hard working photographer’s optics, are cheap and are optically very sharp. They are extremely fast too. A 50mm f/1.8 lens costs around $100 and is a great choice, one that will give you years and years of joy shooting with it.
The Three Legged Thingy
Amazingly, the tripod is an underrated tool. Pros love it amateurs hate the extra bulk that comes with it. If there is a tool beyond the lens and the camera that is absolutely necessary for making great photos then it has to be the tripod. Without the tripod you basically have to forego several genres of photography out of your to do list. So, no more long exposures, landscapes, star trails, Milky Way and anything else where a tripod would be imperative. You can also forego sports and wildlife photography (though technically those can also be shot on a Monopod).
Tripods can be moderately expensive. A good one with a ball head, and hooks that allows you to sling a piece of cloth for putting rocks etc., retractable spiked feet, dual bubble level indicators and all the bells and whistles would set you back by 5-6 hundred dollars quite easily. There are several makes, models and build quality. As a beginner photographer, investing in a good tripod very early in your career is a good move. The problem is you may not have the budget to do so initially. Buying something cheap just for the sake of ticking it off the list isn’t advisable. You are better off shooting hand-held for some time before you have enough money to invest in a good tripod.
With dwindling budget and having already spent handsomely on a lens, camera and tripod how one is to buy a flash that matters? But before you cross this one out, read this. You don’t need the best and the most powerful flash / strobe out there. You just need a way to be able to throw some light on your subject using an off camera setup. Why? Because off camera lighting adds depth and dimension to your images, something that the pop-up flash on your camera can never do. The pop-up flash may be great for taking those impromptu family photos or ones that you will probably end up on social media. But for serious photography you’ve got to get an off-camera light.
There are some very inexpensive brands in the market. Yongnuo being one of them. For less than $75 you can buy one and set it up to be fired off-camera, dramatically improving your portrait imagery. With a couple of these you can have a really interesting set-up ready for you.
Post-processing Tools for the Beginner Photographer
No photography requirement list, not even one for a beginner photographer, can ever be complete without the mention of a photo editing tool. A photo editing tool is like salt. It tends to bind all the individual flavors and make the dish palatable. No matter how good you are as a photographer, or how accurate your estimation of exposure, white balance and framing is, invariably something misses the eye. When you open the image on your computer either the white balance is off, or the shadows are too dark or the highlights are clipped.
At the bare minimum a post-processing tool helps you fine tune your images and help you to make them more presentable. For a beginner photographer Photoshop or Lightroom may seem like expensive toys. But if you think pragmatically $9 a month is a small price to pay for a full photographer’ suite of tools from Adobe.
There are a few free options on the internet too. GIMP is one of them. Darktable is yet another software. Apart from that camera manufactures distribute their own editing software such as Nikon’s View NX 2.
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