Bob's Photography Tips for Beginners
People often write and ask for some photo tips, so I thought I'd jot down a few things I've learned over the years. There
are plenty of places on the internet to get advice -- mine's not necessarily better, I'm just sharing the things I've
experienced. Photography can be expensive, so it's good to "count the cost" before you begin to get into it. Here is
what I consider the essentials -- what you need to buy before you begin your hobby as a serious photographer.
What makes a good photographer? Is it the person or the equipment? Obviously, you need both, and while I'd say it
leans more toward the person, you're limited without good equipment. That being said, the best camera is the one that's
with you. I always try to have something with me, just in case, and on those days that I don't feel like lugging an 8 lb.
camera around, it sure is nice being able to pull my little 5 oz. Sony DSC-TX5 out of my backpack or pocket to capture
the unexpected. It's waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, even freezeproof (!) and it takes pretty good images with it's
CMOS sensor and 10.2 megapixels. It's not, however, adequate to take really great pictures -- it's just a backup. If you
want to really be creative and capture excellent images, you need better equipment. Here's a list of what I consider the
essentials to get started:
DSLR camera body
Opposed to the "point-and-shoot" cameras, with a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera:
* you see exactly what the lens sees
* You can change the lens
* you can take better quality images (Digital SLRs have large image sensors that produce high-quality photos)
* you can better capture moments (An SLR has a near-zero lag time, and is ideal for action photography)
Bottom line? Digital SLR cameras are versatile.
You can take photos of everything from sleeping kittens to race cars and you'll never be limited by your camera.
With an SLR in your hands you can rest assured that you'll only miss great photo opportunities because you weren't
prepared, not because your camera was too slow.
Which DSLR should you get? The top two companies are Nikon and Canon, but there are lots of other good ones out
there. The camera bodies typically range from $600 to $8,000 -- yes, $8,000. Your job is to find the camera that is best
for your situation, and your wallet. Don't be too cheap, though, there really IS a difference between the $600 model and
the $8,000, and you may find yourself very frustrated that you're not able to get the kind of quality shot you want if you go
for the cheapest body. I've shot with a Nikon D300 for the last couple of years, and I'm ready to upgrade to a D300s. If
you can't afford the camera you really want right now, don't worry. Buy what you can afford right now, use the bejeebers
out of it, and save a bit here and there to upgrade to the next level when you can. You may even be able to make some
money with your camera and save that money for your upgrade.
You may also want to avoid dumping a whole lot of money into a camera if you're not sure that you're really serious about
this. Get something that works and use it for 6 months or so, and re-evaluate.
You need at least one good lens, and I'd recommend two, but it boils down to what you need. Will you be shooting
people, animals, macro, nature? I shoot mostly people and only use two lenses. While I'd love to have more, I just can't
afford them right now. For now, these work.
The first lens you need is an all-purpose lens, this is the lens that you'll take 90% of your pictures with. I've got a Nikon
18-200mm 1:3.5-5.6 DX lens with VR (vibration reduction) I'll explain later what all those numbers mean, they are
important. This is an excellent all-purpose lens for me because at 18mm I can shoot very wide -- so if I'm in a small
apartment, I can get see almost everything in the room) and at 200mm I can zoom across the park and get a close up of
the old man with his medals, without him seeing me. Stealth can be very important to getting real images.
Your pictures will only be as good as your glass (your lens), so don't skimp on this. If you see a 14-300mm lens being
sold for $175, it likely will not be good -- you get what you pay for. That type of range is very difficult and it costs a lot of
money to make one that's good. Again, lenses have a wide price range. You can spend anywhere from $100 to
$10,000 for a lens (and more, seriously.) You don't need the $10K lens for basic shooting. My 18-200 is sold on
Amazon for about $700. Yeah, I know, that's a lot. It's rugged, though, and takes great images - not stellar images,
mind you, but great images. If you think you've found a lens that works for you, do a little research on it. A good place
to get lens reviews is at www.KenRockwell.com .
When you take someone's picture with a flash, everyone knows it. You've got one shot to capture that image before
- Fast lens for low light situations
people realize you're there and then everyone in the room immediately becomes self-conscious. "Is he going to take a
picture of me? How do I look? etc. For that reason, at gatherings I often switch to a great little lens, the Nikor AF
50mm f/1.8 fixed lens. At about $125, it's about the best deal you'll find for a good fast lens. That f/1.8 in the name
refers to it's lowest aperture size, which lets in a great deal of light, meaning you can take pictures in low-light situations
without using a flash. At f/1.8 there is also a very shallow depth of field, making this a great portraiture lens as well. It's
a small lens, so you don't look as intimidating as you would with the all-purpose lens shown above, and people seem to
relax a bit around you. If I won the lottery I'd go buy a Nikon 28mm f/1.4 lens, but since that costs about $3,000, I'm
afraid that's not going to happen. You see now why the 50mm 1.8 is such an incredible deal.
Tripod. If you're like most people, you'll go out and find a decent looking tripod that doesn't cost much. Maybe you'll spend
$70. After a year that tripod will break, and you'll get a little bit better one for $150. After a while that will break, too, and when
all is said and done, you'll probably spend between $500 and $700 on tripods. If you're able to, skip all that and just buy a
good tripod from the beginning. If you take a lot of photography, you will need one to ensure sharp images, especially if you're
shooting less than 1/60 of a second shutter speed or doing long exposures. The three things you need to consider are 1) price
2) weight and 3) weight-bearing capacity. Separately you may need to buy a ballhead. Confused? Go to
www.digital-slr-guide.com/tripod-for-digital-slr.html to learn more.
Post-Processing Software. Ansel Adams once compared a negative to a musical score, and the post-processing to the
performance of that score. Good post-processing is very often what separates an average image from a spectacular image.
I'll write more on this later, but whether you're truly in a mood to get creative, or you just need to remove the acne from your
teenage daughter's senior portrait, software is essential. Some of you may be tempted to get Photoshop CS5, but if you're just
starting out, don't shell out $700 for that. What you should use, however, is either Aperture (if you use Mac) or Lightroom 3 (for
both Mac and PC users.) I use Lightroom 3 and love, love, love it! I use LR3 for at least 90% of my images before publishing
them or giving them to people.
Camera strap. Before I do anything I wrap my strap twice around my wrist -- just in case. On at least three different occasions
I've had my $2,500 camera go flying out of my hand (once on a roller coaster and most recently when the bench I was standing
on collapsed.) What saved my camera from a concrete death was the strap -- use it. There are a lot of very creative straps out
there, find the one that's best for you.
Camera bag. You don't necessarily need a huge bag -- mine is just big enough to carry my camera, flash, extra battery, and
extra memory cards. You need something to protect it from the elements, get a good bag.
Extra battery and two 8gig memory cards. That may seem like a lot, but on those rare occasions that you need them (I've
needed both many times) you'll be glad you had backups. If you're shooting raw (not naked, raw -- more on that later) then it's
very possible that you'll need it.
Polarizer. Not everyone needs a polarizer, but if you do any nature photography, you'll be glad you have this. A polarizer will
make your blue sky bluer and your green leaves greener, it will take the glare off of water, and help you to slow your shutter
speed enough to create that milky, blurry effect in moving water. This is one of those items that you can find used, but in good
condition, on Craig's List or Ebay.
Last thoughts. . .
Consider weight (not yours, the camera's weight.:-) With a big lens and flash, my camera is around 8 lbs. That's not such a
big deal until I spend 13 hours shooting a wedding, and then my arms feel like jell-o. I can handle it, but I wouldn't want to go
much larger than that. How much can you carry around all day? Consider that when camera shopping.
Get some hands-on experience. Go to Best Buy and actually hold the camera you're considering -- it may make the
difference in what you choose.
None of this is cheap. You can easily spend $3,000 just getting very basic equipment. Is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not. If
you're just taking a few pics every once in a while, it's probably not worth it. In my situation I want to capture family memories,
but I also use my camera for ministry, and I want to be able to tell the stories of our ministry to those wonderful people who give
sacrificially every single month to make our ministry possible. Is it worth it? Absolutely!!!
Buy from a reputable firm. You'll likely go on-line to shop for your gear, and while everyone else has that camera body for
$1,000, some camera shop in upstate New York is selling it for $650. DO NOT buy from those places!! If it sounds too good
to be true, it usually is. They'll send you the wrong equipment, or it will be damaged, or something, but you'll end up losing.
Don't fall for it. The best places to get your gear is either from Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama. You may want to consider
buying used gear, which . . . might be okay. Just do your research and make sure there is a good return policy, and that the
person has a solid history (check out their reviews / track record.)
So, did I scare you off? I hope not, but it's good to know what you're getting into before you make that first purchase. Don't feel
like you need to buy all of these at once, but at some point you will need all of these. It's good to prepare yourself for it.
If you're still interested, let move on to the next topic, composition.
You know that little pop-up flash on your fancy-schmancy new camera? If there were some way to do it, I would highly
recommend taking it off. Think of it as the emergency slide on an airplane -- only use it if you really, really, really need
to. Photography is all about light, and that little pop-up flash will ruin any potentially nice lighting situation you have (not
to mention producing . . . (shudder) . . .red-eye. A decent flash starts around $225, but it's well worth it. Every once in
a while you run into someone who talks down flashes and proudly proclaims, "I only shoot natural light!" Good for them,
but I can guarantee you that in a really crappy lighting situation, their picture will likely not rise above the crappy level. A
good use of flash recreates natural lighting if you do it right. Flash can be tricky, so you'll need to take some time to
learn how to use it, but the results are extremely gratifying. A good image with flash doesn't look like it had a flash at all,
it just looks good. With a good flash you can diffuse lighting, you can bounce off walls and creative dramatic images,
you can use it off of your camera for special effects, etc. Get a flash.