Camera gear can be very expensive. That’s why when starting off, it’s best not to invest large amount of money into a camera system. Buy an entry level digital camera (new or used) with manual controls that will allow you to learn and expand your knowledge.
Here’s a list of basic camera gear you’ll need to get started.
Digital Camera – Any digital camera with manual controls will do. Refine your skills before spending thousands of dollars on a camera system. Remember, a camera is only good as the hands which it’s in.
Lens – The standard lens that comes with the camera (usually 18-55mm) is referred to as the “kit lens” and it will do just fine when starting off.
Memory Card – Get a minimum size of 16GB or larger. You will be shooting in RAW format, which means the memory card will fill up quickly. So grab a memory card with a large enough capacity to store all the RAW files.
Tripod – This is an important extension to your camera that often goes overlooked. Some photos, such as long exposure shots, simply cannot be taken without a tripod. No need to spend a fortune, just grab a basic, but sturdy tripod.
- Remote Shutter Trigger – This is very helpful for taking long exposure shots, but it’s not mandatory since there’s workarounds.
- External Flash – Another optional item. Built in flash is decent, but nowhere as good as the external flash. Again, no need to spend a fortune, just grab an after market flash, which will work just as well as the brand name flash.
Before you start using your camera, make sure to follow recommended settings and make the necessary adjustments. The directions below are for a Nikon DSLR camera. The menu options for your camera may differ, so refer to your manual.
Format Memory Card
Format your memory card using the camera (do not format the card using the computer). If you format it using the computer, depending on the type of format, the capacity on your memory card can be reduced (temporarily). For an example, if you format a 16GB SD card, it may only allow you to take photos only up to 1GB.
Menu > Setup Menu > Format memory card
Enable RAW Format
Always shoot in RAW format! RAW will allows you to maintain all the details (colours, light, shadow, etc) of the photo, which comes in handy for post-editing.
Shooting in RAW + JPEG can also be beneficial, since JPEG files load up quickly for easy viewing on the computer (smaller file size) and also ideal for quickly posting photos online. However, this takes up significant amount of space on the memory card.
Menu > Shooting Menu > Image Quality and select NEF(RAW) or choose to shoot in RAW and JPEG format by selecting NEF(RAW)+JPEG Fine
Set White Balance
For now, set White Balance to Auto. We’ll dive deeper into White Balance in another lesson.
Menu > Shooting Menu > White Balance and set it to Auto
Few Basic Rules To Remember
Before we go any further, there’s few rules I discovered that helped me advance my skills and hopefully they will be helpful to you too. I use the term rules very loosely since these are more guidelines than actual rules.
Rule #1 – Set your camera to Auto mode and start shooting!
When starting off, don’t get too caught up in owning the best gear or the technical aspects (i.e. aperture, shutter speed, etc) of photography. Taking photos should be fun and a enjoyable exercise.
So set your camera on Auto mode, let loose, and start shooting anything and everything that’s of interest to you.
Focus on choosing a subject and an angle to shoot which captures the moment well.
You are going to take a lot of terrible shots and that’s okay. The whole point of this exercise is for you to get comfortable with your gear. Only way to become comfortable with your gear to start shooting and continue to shoot more regularly.
Rule #2 – Give yourself permission to fail.
We are systematically brought up to fear failure and avoid making mistakes whenever possible. We are rewarded when successful and punished for failure.
So after taking few shots and if they don’t turn out great, don’t hang your head down low. With photography you need to embrace failure, figure out your mistakes, learn, and keep moving forward.
You are probably going to take hundreds of photos only to be able to select few usable shots (if you are lucky).
Failure is part of the process. Learn to embrace it early.
Rule #3 – Don’t get caught up in the hype of owning the best gear.
Having an expensive camera gear doesn’t make you a professional. You can own the best gear in the world and still take terrible photos.
Just remember the camera is only good as the hands which it’s in. The best camera gear doesn’t guarantee amazing photos if you don’t know how to use it.
Especially with the rise of mirrorless cameras, photography gear is getting more and more expensive. As I said in the beginning, don’t invest a significant amount of money into photography gear at the beginning. Give yourself the chance to learn and advance your skills before investing into a camera system that you’ll love.
While you are learning to shoot, you may discover a few things:
- You may have loved the idea of being a photographer, but don’t really enjoy actual creative process and everything that goes along with it.
- You discovered a specific camera brand that you really love, but since you already spent a fortune into your current camera system, you can’t afford to switch out.
These are just some of the reasons not to invest heavily into a camera system early on. As skills become more advanced, you will develop taste for the type of photography you want to do (events, landscape, street, architecture, etc) and the appropriate gear to get the shots you want.
Now that we identified all the camera gear we need and basic rules to get started, let’s dive into understanding how a camera works.
So, How Does A Camera Work?
Every time the shutter button pressed to take a photo, light enters the camera through the lens and falls onto the camera sensor. The sensor will then translate the light into a photo.
Learning to taking great photos means learning to control the light. The right amount of light needs to be captured by the camera sensor to produce great photos. Otherwise, photos will be either overexposed (too bright with no details) or underexposed (too dark to see anything) as shown below.
When There’s Too Much Light
This photo of the Empire State building is overexposed. Meaning more than required amount of light was captured by the camera sensor, therefore resulting in a photo that doesn’t capture all the details. Take a look at the sky, most of the details are lost.
When There’s Not Enough Light
On the other hand, the photo below is underexposed. Meaning less than required amount of light was captured by the camera sensor, resulting in a photo that covers up all the details.
So How Do We Control The Light?
Now, there are 3 fundamental ways of controlling the light and these are also referred to as the 3 pillars of photography.
Aperture – Opening within a lens, which allows for light to travel into the camera body.
Shutter Speed – Length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor.
ISO – The level of sensitivity of your camera to available light.
In the next lesson, we are going to take a closer look at Aperture and how we can use it to take awesome photos!