August 10, 2016 by Ed Kennedy
Where to Start When Starting in Photography: 3 Cameras to Use
So you’ve been bitten by the photography bug. Sure, just like anyone else you’ve got a camera on your phone, and have been known to snap a good selfie or two – but lately it’s something more.
You find yourself taking longer to get the right shot at a party, stopping midway through your day to snap a pretty vista – and you’re making no friends by critiquing the lighting and framing of pics on your Facebook wall. If this sounds like you it’s now time to get serious about your newfound passion. Yet, when you do decide to take a step into serious photography it can be hard knowing where to start.
You know you want to snap pictures but the variety of cameras on offer leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, it is possible to make sense of it and find the right camera for you. May the following be a useful guide for making a start in photography.
Start with your Smartphone
You’re excited and ready to go, you’re keen to get out in into the world and you’ve already told your local gallery they best make space in that Ansel Adams’ exhibition for some of your landscapes – so hearing the gear you already have can do the job well may be surprising. But if you’ve a smartphone that is reasonably new and has a decent camera you can make a solid start with it.
The exact model or brand doesn’t matter – a popular one like an Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy will work well. With common settings on the phone and the wide variety of apps available there’s much you can learn by starting on a smartphone. Furthermore, while some see smartphones as just a ‘stepping stone’ to other cameras, many professional photographers will happily whip out their mobile phones to take a cheeky snap occasionally.
So getting good with smartphone snaps is not just good practice, but could come in handy next time you stumble upon a ‘once in a lifetime’ moment while your DSLR is at home.
What Do I Snap with a Smartphone?
Wondering what to photograph with your smartphone? Anything and everything! True, smartphones generally find their best use up close – so opt for portraits and pics of nearby objects over landscapes and big crowd scenes – but if shooting a close up like a pic of a piece of fruit then a smartphone camera can do a very decent job.
An Entry-Level DSLR
After some time taking pics with your smartphone an entry-level DSLR is usually your next step. An entry-level DSLR is distinct from a regular DSLR as it usually offers a few less features – such as compatibility with a full range of lenses – but can be easier to use, and is typically sold at a more affordable price point.
While there are other cameras available in between a smartphone and DSLR in terms of price and features (more on this in a moment) a DSLR offers you an extensive and robust upgrade of features with a rich variety of possibilities for further modification. The exact model you could buy depends on your budget and where in the world you’ll buy it, but a few guidelines are useful here.
1. Stick to a Major Brand for Now
There will be time as you progress in your photography pursuits to acquire that cutting edge or specialist DSLR that offers a particular feature no other cameras do right now. Yet when just starting out it’s ideal to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’, and that usually means buying either a Nikon or Canon. This is because both have entry-level DSLRs that are user-friendly, are widely available around the world, and also have a strong community of educators and fans online who can answer your questions and provide you some great tips and tricks when building up your skills.
2. Avoid Engaging in the Nikon vs. Canon Rivalry
Yes, Nikon and Canon have a huge rivalry. It is not quite as big as Puma vs Adidas but it’s very real – and also by and large unimportant at the outset. This is especially so as an entry-level DSLR from either of these two camera powerhouses are sure to start you off strong.
When it comes time to buy your next DSLR you may have clear feelings about which side of the fence you sit on – or maybe you’ve even found another DSLR brand is your favourite – but for now your focus should be on building up your photography skills. Once you have a good foundation of these in-hand, you can then join in the fun and games of this great camera rivalry if you wish to.
3. Stay with Digital
Some may say start with a non-digital SLR, and there is a case for this. Not only can it offer a more basic introduction to single-lens reflex shooting but – on account of being unable to just shoot endlessly and digitally delete – it can help hone the principles of a good photographer in making each shot count, and taking the time (even if it’s just a second or two) to try and get a better shot. Yet for a beginner just starting out the DSLR allows you to see how your shots are coming out instantaneously.
This is a great advantage over an SLR while out snapping pics. It’s also more cost-efficient. In your early days of photography is it unlikely all your snaps will be amazing. When using a manual camera the cost of burning through rolls of film can quickly add up. By using a DSLR you can instantly delete any pics that didn’t turn out well.
A GoPro Hero 4 Black
Finding a camera to fill the void between your smartphone and DSLR is usually a good move. As a backup to take with you when out for a big day of shooting pics, and even a camera that can be great in its own right for certain unique shots. Enter the GoPro.
You see them around, you see them widely used – and the cool videos online may leave you tempted to pick up an extreme sport again even if the dangers of all sports are also real.
The GoPros are great for filming on the move, getting good photos and videos as you do – and given their compact size and ease of operation whether via controls on the camera or via a connected smartphone app – they make it easy to use with a variety of accessories such as selfie sticks that can deliver you amazing overhead shots of big events (something a heavy DSLR on a tripod would be unable to do well).
Concerning their quality, GoPros are usually at their best for wide-angle and expansive shots. They are not as well-suited for extreme closeups (such as photographing a brand label or words on a page). With this in mind, a veteran photographer reading this now may be asking ‘why is GoPro getting a recommendation over another mid-level camera like a mirrorless SLR or even a good point-and-shoot?’
Ultimately it’s a recommendation based upon the future of photography and the way it’s changing. Though quality imagery will always be the foremost priority of good photos, so too is it no understatement to say GoPros and similar handhelds have fundamentally changed the way photography is done given their portability and versatility of use.
Given this, and the growth set to occur over time of 4K (in which the top-end Hero 4 Black can film in) getting a GoPro over a conventional point-and-shoot (that could eventually be outpaced by a smartphone upgrade) appears to represent a better bet long term for a keen photographer starting out in the field. This all the more so as GoPro appears to have a few tricks up its sleeve for further innovation and new product launches.
A Word on Cost…
Buying these three cameras all at once can be a pretty big investment. While odds are good if you’re reading this you’ve a smartphone – especially as statistics show more people use the web via mobile devices than the traditional desktop – buying all this gear at all once could be a tall order.
If you’re Tony Stark, a Wall Street billionaire, or someone well into their career with the disposable income to match your new interest rapidly acquiring a collection of cameras may not feel hard. Yet, for a 15-year-old guy or girl reading this article and looking to get a start in photography it can be.
So, if you are this younger demographic know this: good camera stores often have good deals on second hand models. While overall it may be best to save up for new gear, if you’re really keen to make a start this is an option.
After the Shot: Editing
Right now getting good photos is likely your chief aim. Yet, once you’ve a pretty good picture in-hand looking to do some basic editing is worthwhile. This doesn’t mean drumming up fake pics and getting into a daily duke out with the gang over at Reddit Photoshopbattles right now, but instead knowing how to make slight edits and alterations. Like getting good at cropping a pic, improving its lighting, and addressing other minor imperfections that can detract from an otherwise great snap.
There is a diverse selection of photo editing software out there, and one like Adobe Photoshop is industry-standard and is a fantastic program to edit with. If you’re just starting out though – and maybe not quite ready to jump in the deep end of photography editing -using the basic photo editor your computer already has, or using a free one like Gimp or Google’s Nik Collection can be good.
Where to Next?
Just the same as you’ve perhaps found yourself frustrated by the quality of shots you’ve been getting of landscapes with your smartphone – and so now headed into the DSLR territory – so too will you find over time an upgrade to your current gear may be necessary.
When that occurs, looking at a professional model DSLR can be worthwhile, with all the wide variety of lenses, tripods and other cool gear on offer to compliment your snaps. A final word on this though: get a good bag! It does not need to be bulletproof, but something that’ll keep your gear secure long term is essential. Have fun snapping!Ed Kennedy is a journalist and ghostwriter from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on Skype or LinkedIn.