When you’re starting on your photographic journey what you need can be a minefield, so here are five essentials to get you started…
Getting started in photography is incredibly exciting; the move from taking snaps to capturing images that friends and family shower with praise fills you with pride, confidence and enthusiasm. But taking your next step on the road to making an indifferent pass time a serious hobby, or even a career, can be daunting.
"Photography is a bottomless pit when it comes to buying lenses and accessories... in reality, there’s nothing gear-wise that will make you a better photographer..."
Not least because of all the gear you could buy to help you to achieve the results you’re unable to with what you currently own, but also because you may not even know exactly what you need.
Photography is a bottomless pit when it comes to buying lenses and accessories. There’s always something new to buy or something else that promises that it will make you a better photographer. But in reality, there’s nothing gear-wise that will make you a better photographer. Instead, many things will help you to achieve a specific aim or technique, and many things won’t. So, to help you get started on the next leg of your photographic journey, here are five things that you should invest in.
1 Upgrade from a kit lens
The first step on any budding photographer’s journey is to upgrade from their smartphone to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Sure, magazine covers have been shot with iPhones and prestigious competitions have been won with photos taken on smartphones. But the thing is, you simply can’t achieve the same level of control as a ‘proper’ camera and image quality simply isn’t as good. All you need to get started is an entry-level model with a kit lens.
A kit lens is a great starting point; they’re relatively inexpensive when purchased in a kit with a camera body, and the versatile focal range makes them ideal for shooting a variety of subjects. But the thing is, you will grow beyond their capabilities quickly, and one type of lens that’s a great first upgrade is a standard prime. Standard primes are 50mm on full-frame cameras and each camera format has its equivalent.
These lenses are a highly versatile option that will provide improved image quality compared to a kit lens, a faster maximum aperture and ultimately more scope for creativity in terms of being able to capture a shallow depth-of-field. What’s more, 50mm f/1.8 lenses and their equivalents are one of the least expensive upgrades. So, for full-frame cameras look for 50mm f/1.8, for APS-C cameras an f/1.8 will provide an equivalent focal length of 50mm, and for Micro Four Thirds a 25mm f/1.7 will provide a 50mm equivalent.
2 Get yourself a dedicated camera bag
When first starting out, many beginner photographers either carry their camera in a regular bag or purchase the smallest camera bag they can find and carry this inside a standard backpack.
"Camera bags are the best option because they’re designed specifically for photographers and carrying gear."
This can work well for a time, but as you accumulate more lenses and accessories, you’ll quickly find that this approach isn’t the best and that it’s time to upgrade to a dedicated camera bag.
Camera bags are the best option because they’re designed specifically for photographers and carrying gear. Not to mention, they come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colours and designs, so you can choose the one that both fits your needs and your style preferences. The most popular type of camera bag is the backpack because these are the most comfortable type to carry. They also provide either a full inner section for photo gear, or split sections so you can carry personal items alongside your camera kit.
Another popular option is the shoulder bag, and these too come in many shapes, sizes, colours and designs. These are best for situations where you need quick access to your gear without the need to remove the bag, but they’re not as comfortable to carry for long periods as a backpack. Which option is best for you is very much a personal decision, but many photographers end up owning several bags so they can use the best bag for different situations.
3 Invest in a tripod
Unless you’re a street or wedding photographer shooting handheld all of the time, a tripod is a worthwhile investment regardless of the subject you shoot.
"Unless you’re a street or wedding photographer shooting handheld all of the time, a tripod is a worthwhile investment regardless of the subject you shoot."
For landscape and wildlife photographers they’re an absolute must, and even portrait photographers use them to lock the composition to allow the model to move around the space in front of the camera.
There’s much more to tripods than just three legs and a place to attach your camera. The material they’re made from, size, weight, features like articulating centre columns and even the tripod plate mount type are important factors. And when it comes to budget, avoid the cheapest models from no-name manufacturers because these tripods aren’t even worth the small amount of money they cost. You can pay thousands for top-end tripods, but mid-range models will do the job for most photographers and will be tough enough to withstand use in a variety of situations and conditions.
If you’re a landscape photographer, a carbon fibre tripod will be ideal because these are lighter than their aluminium counterparts. Also, aim for a model that uses the Arca Swiss type plate because this is the type of tripod fitting that works with L-brackets. Studio-based photographers and those who don’t carry their tripod with them all day could benefit from a larger and heavier tripod for stability, but they too may find that a carbon fibre model is the best option.
4 Learn how to use editing software
Once you begin taking photography seriously, you’ll probably find yourself dabbling with shooting in Raw, and that’s absolutely the best thing to do.
"Whether you’re shooting in Raw or JPEG, you’re going to need to use editing software to get the best from your images and to apply a wide range of technical and creative effects."
When you get started with shooting in Raw, set the camera to capture Raw+JPEG at first so that you still have both file formats available; JPEGs for convenience and Raw files to go back to as your editing skills and demands on your photography increase.
See our 10 top tips for shooting in Raw.
Whether you’re shooting in Raw or JPEG, you’re going to need to use editing software to get the best from your images and to apply a wide range of technical and creative effects. Software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo and Skylum Luminar, to name but a few, are all great options that will provide you with the editing tools you need to get the best out of your shots. And since most offer free trials, you can try before you buy to discover which works best for you.
Once you’ve settled on the software that suits you best in terms of price, features and complexity, it’s time to start learning how to use it. Most editing software developers provide handy video tutorials on their websites to help you get started. Plus, Picfair's Focus is packed with useful editing tutorials covering a wide range of subjects and techniques, making it a great resource to improve your editing skills.
Exclusive Adobe discounts with Picfair Plus:
Picfair Plus users can take advantage of two exclusive discounts on Adobe products for photographers. Read about the Adobe discounts here and choose the one that is right for you.
5 Create an online presence
Having an online presence is essential if you would like other people to see your photos. And for most people, the first port of call will be social media apps such as Instagram, Flickr, Facebook and even Twitter.
"Having an online presence is essential if you would like other people to see your photos."
These apps are all fantastic ways of getting your images seen by a wider audience for free. They’re also great for engaging with the online photographic community where you can build relationships with other photographers and learn new skills.
Social media is a great online starting point and will no doubt be something you’ll continue with for years to come, but nothing beats having your own website. A website is your own personal/professional presence on the web and one that you can control rather than being at the mercy of an app owned by a company based in Silicon Valley. For a website, the easiest option is to opt for a company like Wix or Squarespace, which offer off-the-shelf and easily configured websites.
The next option, and one with more control but not overwhelming is to create a self-hosted WordPress site. Beyond this, you could build your own website or pay a website developer to build one for you. An alternative, and one that will allow you to sell images at the same time, is to create a Picfair account and store. The free account is the perfect starting point, but for more control over how your Picfair website looks is to subscribe to Picfair Plus; not only do you get more control over pricing and how your site looks (pictured), you can even use a custom URL such as www.yournamephotography.com for a more professional finish.
Learn more about how to diversify your online presence as a photographer with our dedicated article.
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles