It all starts here…
Your equipment is of utmost importance to your photography (many may argue against this statement) because if you feel happy and comfortable with what you are using and you have the right equipment set up to get things done, then you have one less thing to think about. You can then concentrate on what matters…shooting photos!
For example, if you are of a small frame and (just because you can afford it) you opt for the Canon EOS 1Ds series or Nikon D4 series of professional DSLR’s with 70-200mm lens, you may get a shock after a day or even an hour or two of use.
I am a 6 foot male, fairly athletic and by the end of every wedding I shoot with these cameras I am feeling the strain big time! They are heavy and bulky. When just out and about I use a standard DSLR without additional battery grip for lightness and inconspicuousness.
Get a few DLSR’s in your hand before buying and see what feels comfortable first. Couple that with great ergonomics, a menu layout that suits you and the possibility of adding some great lenses and you are good to go. Of course, make sure the features match what you need:
A DSLR is a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera which we will learn more about in the next stage. For now, all you need to know is that “what you see is what you get” when looking through the viewfinder and that you can change lenses from anywhere between super wide angle (lots in the picture) to super telephoto (zoom in close to a far away object).
- Megapixels – Although not super important, go for more if shooting weddings, stock or commercial projects but if the majority of your photography is fun, family and general images that will be printed no larger than A3 (18″ x 12″), 8-10mp will do you just fine. Megapixels are measured by multiplying the image’s pixel width by the pixel length. For example, the size of a photo using a full size RAW or large, fine JPEG image (more on those later) from a Canon 5D Mark III is 5760 pixels x 3840 pixels which totals 22.3 million pixels, or 22.3 megapixels. However, the file size (megabytes) will differ greatly as the JPEG is compressed.
- Megabytes – Don’t confuse megabytes with megapixels. Megabytes is the file size of the image which can vary depending on the amount of data in the photo. JPEGS are compressed and have less information and less megabytes, RAW images hold a lot more information and therefore have more megabytes (More on JPEG vs. RAW and the benefits of each later).
- Menu – I always look at the menu layout on both the back of the camera and the top LCD (liquid crystal display) panel when buying a new camera. Is it the same as my previous one? Will it have a steep learning curve? Is it easy to navigate? Is it confusing? Do I like it?
- Buttons and swivelly things – Are the buttons you are most likely to use (shutter, mode dial, rear scrolling dial or buttons, ISO change, settings change) all easy to locate and find when holding the camera? Are there way too many (I only use the minimum)?
- Manufacturer – Is the manufacturer of the camera reputable? Do they have a good history and great selection of quality lenses? Do they get generally good reviews from both professionals and general users?
- Features – What is the quality like at high ISO and how high does the ISO go? 1600? 3200 (good)? 6400 or above? Average is 100 ISO for general use. What is the dynamic range* like (the difference or ratio between a bright and dark subject, i.e. wedding dress and dark suit)? Do reviewers rate it? What is the fastest continuous shooting? 5 frames per second (fps)? 8 fps? Do you NEED fast, continuous shooting? Does it have live view shooting? Do you WANT live view shooting?
*Dynamic range is playing a more important part in photography these days and manufacturers are working on perfecting this. Our human eyes see fantastically deep dynamic range as we can easily distinguish between, and see great depth in, both bright and dark objects when viewed together. As a test, turn off the lights in your house during the day and look out of the window whilst standing in the middle of a room. You should see detail in both the view outside and in the shadows indoors as your eyes “level out” the dynamic range. DSLR’s don’t have the same luxury yet but more on that later!
These are all things to consider when reading online reviews or playing about in your local store, make sure you pick the right camera for all the right reasons before buying. Do not be swayed by gimmicks and gizmos that you simply don’t need. Photography should be as basic as it gets. Your eyes are the most important part of photography!
Now, if you don’t have a camera already, go read some reviews, visit your local store and think seriously about what camera you want and why!
If you own a DSLR, get used to the features and functions and the general layout of the camera. Keep it with you and use it as we progress through this course and by the end it should be your best friend! Don’t be afraid to play with the settings, you can always reset to factory settings (as it was when you bought it) if you get lost or confused with what you have done.
Quality! To save time and frustration later on, please, get the best lenses you can afford if you are serious about, or think you will become serious about photography. You may read many times that people say “it isn’t the equipment that makes a good photo, it is the person shooting” but that isn’t always the case. If it was, why do most pros use nothing but the best?
Good lenses last a lifetime and will greatly affect and improve the light quality hitting the sensor, it will affect the colour saturation, edge sharpness, “bokeh” (quality of the background blur) as well as giving you the confidence that you have the best available to you leaving you to concentrate on the subject and composition etc.
The general lens range, bearing in mind that 50mm is approximately what the eye sees, is this…
- 16mm to 40mm is considered wide angle (more in the picture)
- 50mm is a standard lens (what the eye sees)
- 70mm-135mm is short telephoto (zooms in on your subject)
- 200, 300, 500, 600mm is long telephoto (focuses in on distant subject, fixed (no zoom) and expensive)
- 17-40mm, 17-55mm, 17-85mm – Wide angle zoom
- 28-85mm, 28-135mm, 24-70mm, 24-105mm, 35-135mm – Wide angle to short telephoto zoom
- 50-250mm, 50-500mm, 70-200mm, 70-300mm, 80-200mm, 100-400mm – Telephoto zoom
Fixed Focal Length (No zoom)
- 14mm, 15mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm – Wide angle (good for landscapes/architecture)
- 50mm – Standard (always have one of these “general” lenses in your kit!)
- 85mm, 100mm, 135mm – Short telephoto (perfect for portraits)
- 200mm, 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, 600mm etc – Long Telephoto (Sports, nature, wildlife etc)
50mm Macro, 85mm macro, 100mm macro, 105mm macro – Most quality macro lenses are fixed, some cheaper lenses have macro features but are nowhere near as good as a purpose built macro!
Macro lenses are for close up subjects such as flowers, insects, detailed objects and up to 1:1 closeness. These are quite specialist and I would wait until you know what you will be shooting before buying one. Go for a good general “walk around” lens first such as the 17-85mm which has macro “features” to give you an idea before splashing out on a macro lens. 17-85mm is good for a variety of general, everyday subjects.
We cover this more in depth later but just remember that quality matters. Cameras come and go but lenses should last for years!
Great for shooting in low light or night time. Low light causes the cameras shutter speed to slow to a point where you cannot hand hold it without getting camera shake or blurred images. More on this later (see metering and settings).
Skimping on a cheap tripod defeats the whole object of owning one as a poor standard tripod may not be stable enough for long exposures, especially in windy conditions.
The main reasons for owning a tripod are:
- Shoot long exposures at night (slow shutter speed due to lack of light)
- Time lapse photography. This is the technique where you shoot for example, multiple images at one frame per second over a long period of time. These images are then made into a short movie that speeds up slower things, i.e. flower opening, sunset, sunrise, ice melting, fast moving clouds, star trails etc. A sturdy tripod is needed as the camera must not move at all between each shot.
In the video below, we show you the old way of shooting and compiling a time lapse sequence with a standard DSLR…
Whereas in the following video, we use a much simpler technique where the camera does all the work for you. Using the night lapse feature of the Go Pro HD Hero4, you set the camera to the desired parameters and let it do all the work.
You then load the images into Go Pro’s free software and it puts the sequence together for you.
Other cameras such as the Panasonic GH4 actually do all the processing “in camera” which makes it even easier still…
- Studio photography. You may want to leave the camera in position whilst you play with the lights, adjust the models clothes, move items about etc so that you don’t lose your composition.
- Self portraits on holiday for example using the camera’s self timer!
- Macro Photography. Focusing is critical with macro work with very shallow depth of field (barely anything in focus but the subject) and even the slightest movement of the camera could blow the shot.
- Simply to take the weight over long periods of time. If you shoot subjects that rarely move much (sports such as football, soccer, show jumping, cricket etc), you may want a tripod or monopod (tripod with one leg) to support the weight.
Speedlight or Flashgun
I don’t think I know one photographer, professional or otherwise that doesn’t own at least one speedlight, even if they say they only ever shoot natural light.
Many prosumer (beginner, general, non-professional) DSLR’s have a small flashgun fitted on top of the camera which pops up when needed. Unless you are simply shooting family “snaps”, please do me a favour, don’t use it and switch it off completely from within the menu (custom functions)!
The results are quite poor and can actually make a shot look worse. Get yourself a decent, dedicated flashgun or speedlight for your camera.
Note: Dedicated means that the speedlight is “made to measure” for your particular camera make or model and they work in unison together. You can be as creative as you want or simply switch to full auto…either way, the results are way better than the built in flash.
This is partly due to the speedlight being a lot higher above the lens.
Once you get used to using an external speedlight or two, the possibilities are endless for your creativity. You can bounce the light for a much softer look, you can add coloured filters and even remove the speedlight from the camera and fire it remotely.
Don’t worry about spending too much money on a speedlight, as long as it is dedicated and you don’t need it for professional photography, the mid to lower end speedlights will get you off to a good start. Obviously if you can afford it, go for the higher range flashguns as you will probably only want to upgrade later anyway ; )
So, you have your camera, lens/s, speedlight and a tripod (if you need one). We will talk about other accessories such as filters, cable releases, diffusers etc at a later stage but for now, you have everything you need to get shooting!
…now you need to capture the images on something.
The chances are pretty high that you have used a film camera before but if you have never used a camera of any sort before, you now need to be able to store your images on something. In the past it was emulsion film that needed to go through a “wet” process (whether at home in your own darkroom or processed by a high street lab) before you saw your photos in print.
Nowadays, everything is done digitally and hassle free (almost) and in broad daylight! So how do we record the photos? Some cameras (very few) have a very small amount of internal memory. If yours does (it probably won’t though), don’t use it. Get into the habit of using external memory cards that can be put into and taken out of the camera.