Thursday, January 4, 2024

Starting Out In Photography - Choosing A Camera

Why Photography?

As you begin your journey, it' will be important to think about what you first plan to do as a photographer. As you look at the work of others, what is your focus? You don't have to limit yourself to just one genre or type of photography but what you want to do will inform your first steps in your learning journey.

Rarely do photographers limit themselves to just one aspect of photography. Initially you can't afford, nor does it makes sense, to purchase a whole bunch of kits to perform various task, but rather a camera body that accepts different lenses. But... It's OK to purchase a camera that has a fixed lens to get started. Cameras like the Fujifilm X100v are excellent cameras and are one of the most popular street photography cameras.

Genres of Photography

Below is a list of various genres of photography but it's not an exhaustive list. I've left out things like... you just want to take good picture of your kids, friends and pets or take great self-portraits for Instagram, all of which are just as valid.
  • Portraiture
  • Landscape
  • Street
  • Macro
  • Product
  • Architecture
  • Industrial

Choosing A Camera

The first thing that photographers think about is equipment, mainly the camera.  Makes sense, it's the "paint brush" of our trade.  But like paint brushes, there are many kinds, used for different things.  The "what camera should I buy" is really a difficult one.  The kit that you assemble will be different depending on your objectives.  For example, a wild-life expedition will normally require a longer more powerful lens, whereas street photography will typically call for a much wider lens and system that is less obtrusive.  Each of the genres outlined above might require slightly different setup. 

Brand

Brand may not be important because all of the cameras that are five years or newer take excellent pictures and generally have all the features you will need. BUT, the brand you choose today will most likely be something that you stick with over time. Camera brands are kind of sticky mainly because the lenses aren't typically interchangeable between systems. Sure, you can get adapters but when you use these to move lenses between brands you may loose some functionality, like camera controlled aperture control or auto focus. This doesn't mean you are locked in, just something to be aware of. There is a very healthy used market where you can buy and sell your old equipment ranging from ebay.com to keh.com. Keh.com makes it super easy to sell your equipment and buy your equipment with short-term or long term warranty. They also check out the equipment and grade it before putting it up for sale. Several years ago, I switched from Nikon to Fujifilm, selling all but a couple of my lenses. I wrote about why HERE, and HERE.

NOTE: I am a huge fan of Fujifilm and Nikon cameras and have a ton of experience with both of these brands, owning my first Nikon at age 13. If you purchase any of the leading brands made in the last 5 years, you'll be able to take fantastic photos and it should meet your needs for quite some time. I've compared photos from photographers that are using thousands of dollars of Leica equipment to a modest setup from Fujifilm and there is no difference in my view. A camera is just a bush, and in the right hands, can create epic pictures. In addition to Fujifilm and Nikon, you could consider some other great platforms from Sony, Cannon, and Olympus.


Key Attributes

Since I don't know what aspect of photography you want to focus on (pun intended), my suggestions below will hopefully allow you to start out and grow. Some of the key elements of your photography system you should consider are:
  • A camera body that accepts different lenses. Although not required, it provides you options down the road by not having to purchase a new body when you want a different focal length.

  • Your first lens should include a small zoom but it doesn't have to. Many camera makers have a "kit" option that includes a zoom lens and these lenses help you better understand some of the key aspects of photography. Some options include a fixed / prime lens, which I love because it makes you move and think more about what you want.

  • The camera should allow you easy access to the core creative controls, specifically the ones that control the three aspects of the exposure triangle, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. These controls should be accessible from the top of the camera or located on one of the many knobs / wheels under your thumb or index finger. I prefer not to go into the menus for things that I use all the time.  Therefore I really like the FujiFilm cameras, particularly the X-T3.

  • Get something that exceeds your technical capabilities and get a camera that you can grow with. The camera is just a complex brush. Make sure it can deliver on your vision today and in the future. Starting out, don't worry about purchasing a camera that exceeds your capabilities and skills. When you start out, you may choose to use the more automatic aspects of the camera, but having the ability to take more control as you go on will be important. (I shoot in aperture-priority mode most of the time, letting the camera choose the proper shutter speed and I choose the ISO and aperture / depth-of-field).

I've written previously on what camera to buy in this article in the section titled "What camera should you buy".   The point I was stressing there is that all the cameras today can deliver fantastic pictures.  Choose the camera that makes you want to pick it up and go out shooting.  Don't ignore the emotional input in your decision. In addition, before purchasing, put your hands on it. How does it feel in your hands, how accessible are the controls, how much does it weigh, etc. I've picked up some cameras that I just didn't like because of how they felt in my hands or the controls were just too hidden or funky.

If you are new to photography, having a camera that can go fully automatic but support the ability to have more control over time is the best option.  Certainly, the Fujifilm cameras in the "XT" line are a fit because they allow you to set everything in automatic mode for starting out and use different lenses.  Cameras from Nikon, Cannon, and Sony support this ability as well.  The camera body is a one-time purchase, think "cry once, by once" since you'll have it for a long time.🙂  Obviously you'll need a lens.  A lot of times you can get a "kit", in that the camera comes with. Normally it's a small zoom lens but you can change it later. Over time, I find that I use a few key lenses for what I like doing, nature, portraits, travel, and street photography. It's a journey with no right answer. I always laugh when seeing articles like "the best lens for street photography", because it's all BS. It really depends on YOU. I'm happy to tell you what I use but it doesn't matter. It's better to understand what the difference is between various options and make up your own mind based on your creative vision.

Clearly, the camera doesn't have to be as complex a camera as I have, you can choose something else and still enjoy what you are doing. The above are just my recommendations. You may choose a simple fixed-lens camera and have fun and create fantastic pictures.

Using Your Phone Camera

Sure, you can use your iPhone or android and get some great pictures but it's really hard to control what it produces. There are apps that allow you to possibly control what comes out but it's still not easy. Also, you'll inevitable be bugged by some pop-up message from your social media, messaging service, etc. Phone cameras are moving into what I call computational photography. The designers are working hard so that you can point your phone at anything and it produces a passable picture. The camera may even take multiple images and put them together got improve the dynamic range and bring perfection. The problem is, as a creator, you may not want perfection or what it chose as what was important isn't what you wanted. A purpose-built camera is always ready to take photos and is designed for that. If you have the right gear, you won't be fighting for control.
  • Phones
    • Represent "computational photography".  They look at the scene, make take more than one shot at various sensitivities, compute what it thinks you will like best. 
    • Point shoot a fuck-ton of times and move on
    • They are harder to control in order to produce what you may really want.
    • Interrupt you with notifications and other distractions
    • No ability to use on-camera or off-camera flash.
      Sure, they have a light but it's worthless during the day for sure.
  • Full Camera
    • As much control as you want allowing you to get what you want.
    • Cause you to be more purposeful.
    • Lenses!  Lots of options for your model, and from other manufactures and used manual lenses.
    • Tons of options for on-camera or off-camera flash, and studio strobes
    • Lots of all other options.
    • Again, full control over all aspects of photography to achieve your vision and creative choices.

What else will you need to buy?

You may not need a tripod and other accessories, but you should budget for the following when you purchase a camera:
  • Memory card
  • At least one spare battery.
  • A strap.
  • To get started, you won't need a flash but consider getting one down the road, even if the camera has a built in flash.
Oh, and don't forget the fasionable bag to put all this stuff in. 🙂

Next Steps

You that you have your camera, learn the basics.  You can pickup a book, take a class or watch Youtube on the exposure triangle and then composition and artistic aspects.  I'm working on an outline for a class that includes some practice assignments. Photography, like painting, is less than 10% technical knowhow, 90% creative art.  You'll never quit learning.  Part of the learning process is taking pictures, and making mistakes. Take pictures that you love to come back and look at, but practice, practice, practice.

Buy used... Buying used equipment is a great option but it doesn't typically allow you to pick up the item and feel it. If you know what you want, you could head over to keh.com. Keh.com gives you confidence in stated quality and comes with a short term warranty. They test and certify what they cell.  I recently sold a lens to them and bought a Nikon F3 film camera.  (yes film, long story).

Post Production:

Ensure that you have the proper accessories to get the photos off of your camera and onto your computer so that you can enjoy, share, and possibly edit them.  Just cropping an image can completely change it. Also, if you've over or under exposed, you might be able to fix it on your computer. Early photographers did this in "the dark room". Today we mostly use a digital dark room.

You'll have to look up what sort of editing software will work for you.  Most photographers that I know, including myself, use Adobe Lightroom, which can be had for an annual fee.  The number of options for editing your work is unlimited, a simple web search for "best photo editing software for beginners" would be a good idea if you don't want to invest in Lightroom. 

How to improve

  • Shoot, shoot, shoot. Make mistakes, rinse, repeat.
  • Consume other artists work on media sites you respect. Look at their lighting, composition, and editing.
    Focus on what other did from an artistic point.  It's a great photo because of why?  Tells a story, bokeh, use of lighting...
    • Try Instagram
    • Better yet, go to Flickr.com and create an account. 
      • Sign-up for some groups, like style, portrait photography, landscape, etc.
      • When looking at photos, you can see not only the artists composition, editing, etc but also the EXIF info that displays what lens was used as well as exposure (ISO, F-Stop, and shutter speed). 
        Image at right is an example, showing what the photographer used for camera, lens, and exposure settings.
  • Shoot with others to see their style, choices they make, and gear that they use (and why).
  • Check out YouTube but also still sites
  • Practice, experiment, take it in a direction that YOU want, not what others want.
  • Take a class.  You can check and see what is offered at skillshare.com, or masterclass.com, but I would recommend an in-person class so that you can do the homework assignments, more easily ask questions, and receive feedback on your work.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  

Film vs. Digital

Use of film cameras is seeing a huge resurgence, even with the younger crowd. It's a bit nostalgic for me but it also brings a particular color and look that is super hard to reproduce digitally. In addition, it's not perfect. As digital continues to strive for a perfectly exposed image with huge dynamic range, film can be artistically pleasing because it's not perfectly exposed, and super sharp. It's also fun to not know how things came out until you have the film developed. Lastly, I enjoy film with my manual camera sometimes because it's much more purposeful.  It forces me to take my time as I re-check exposure settings, manually focus, and finally pull the trigger. Because each shot costs you a little money, I'm not "over shooting" a scene, hoping I got something I like among the 100 photos I just blasted off. (How many times have you just taken a bunch of pictures with your cell phone because it really didn't cost you anything.
(Above image shot on  Kodak Ektar 100 film)

Learn on Digital

You can learn photography a LOT faster using a digital camera. You get instant feedback as you experiment with different settings, lighting and perspectives. This shortens the time that it takes to learn. Shooting on film, even if you develop yourself, extends that time to learn way out. Labs around town do offer two-hour turnaround but that's at a cost premium. Normal development time is two days and developing via mail and scan takes several days but lower cost.

Backup!

Don't forget to backup. If you are taking pictures that you want to look at more than a day, you should have a backup plan. I'm a bit of a freak about backing up my data. Since I have pictures of my children since they were babies, family and client photos, have a full backup plan and use it. I wrote an entire article specifically on this topic HERE.

Conclusion

As a new photographer, the journey may seem daunting. You don't need to accomplish this all in one sitting and the things I covered above are just the first steps. Take your time, and don't stress. You could also borrow a friend's camera or just use your iPhone.

As my sketching friend likes to say, "enjoy the process". I really like that. As you are looking to build out your kit, and as you frame your first shot, enjoy the process!

Remember though, the camera is but one of the tools in your visual arsenal.  

Be careful you don't go down the GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).  Once you've chosen, learn to use this fantastic tool to achieve what you envision or tell a story.  Then spend your money on classes.  Like taking a couple of thephotographiceye.info.  

My sites and References:

By Chris Claborne, CameraNinja.com
christian claborne

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