In the past few years the hobby of photography has been revolutionized unlike any other hobby. With the development of the digital SLR camera, cell phone cameras, and amazing advancements in point and shoot cameras there really is no excuse you can’t get out and pursue a hobby in photography. Not only have there been improvements in photographic equipment but also in showcasing technology like digital picture frames and photo sharing websites like flikr.
Some want to capture their kids as they grow up. Others have an artistic passion that drives them to take thousands and thousands of pictures. Others still spend their spare time in nature capturing amazing landscapes and the intricacies of the world we live in. What is your reason for wanting to pursue photography?
This hobby guide is meant to help those looking for guidance in the subject. We’re not an authority on the subject but we’ve done our best to point you in the right direction. We can recommend some of the equipment you should consider, some of the sites you should take instruction from, and others with which you can participate in an active community of photographers.
So where do we start? If you’ve already got a camera I suggest you start there. Start taking pictures. The more pictures you take the better you’ll get. However if you’re in the market check out the next section of the guide to see what we suggest.
Obviously go digital. The pros of a digital system out weigh the cons 10 times over. Simply being able to see your picture instantly is the single biggest advantage.
My recommendation would be the Canon Rebel Digital SLR. I bought this camera with no regrets the day that it came out. This was my first SLR camera and I couldn’t be happier. With that said, if you like Nikon better, buy Nikon. Here is a very interesting review on the d40. Tommy basically nails it saying “Most of the other items on the checklist are just inherent to Digital SLR cameras. Like, quick to start, quick to shoot, good quality, etc. The rest of the specs I didn’t know anything about and probably wouldn’t know the difference anytime soon.” All these entry level digital SLR cameras are loaded with features you’ll probably never use or need. Getting a quality camera is what IS important and you can’t go wrong with a Canon or a Nikon.
Why an SLR? A single Lens Reflex offers a drastic improvement in picture quality. These cameras use much larger digitizing sensors capturing more of the image in digital space. Also SLRs offer the ability to change lenses. Depending on the type of photography your interested will dictate the lens you choose. More on lenses in the next section.
If you’re investing $500 – $1000 in an SLR camera body think long and hard about your lens choice. I would highly recommend you not purchase a body + lens kit that most of the big chain stores sell. Yes you’ll get a little bit better deal but your lens probably isn’t at the top of the lens quality list. Just remember your lens is the second most important factor to taking great pictures. I’m not saying spend a fortune but don’t skimp on a lens. You’ll regret it down the road.
Lenses basically come with two major features you need to concern yourself with. Focal Length (i.e. 28mm – 75mm) and Aperture (i.e. F2.8). These two features are discussed in detail below. What you should remember is as Focal Length goes up so does price and conversely as the Aperture goes down the price goes up. Once you understand the concepts of Focal Length and Aperture pick your lens accordingly. I would also highly recommend you read as many reviews on your lens choice before making your purchase.
A great site for reviews is Fred Miranda.
Depending on your camera will depend what type of memory you’ll need. Buy as big of a card as you can afford but more importantly buy the Ultra Fast memory. This directly effects how fast you’ll get the data to the card and be ready for the next picture. Remember you’ll be transferring 10’s of megabytes in a fraction of a second. You’ll need all the speed you can get if you want/need a respectable frame rate.
The only things you really need to take pictures have already been discussed. There are a ton of extras where you could literally waste thousands of dollars. A camera bag really is a must have. A tripod is a nicety especially if you’re interested in time lapse or low light photography. The other accessory to mention are filters. There are a dozen different types of filters. I went ahead and purchased a polarization filter since I spend a lot of my time outside taking pictures. It really knocks down on the glare and reflections.
Types of Photography
This section of the guide is meant to inform new users of the different types of photography. You’re obviously not limited to any particular type but some people find one type more appealing than another. Some people also find it easier to take good pictures of a particular type. I for instance enjoy taking portraits. I’ve found after you take enough pictures of a given type you begin to understand what’s involved in taking great pictures.
My personal favorite. Usually taken of a person, but not necessarily always the case. Pets tend to make great portraits. A portrait should capture the likeness of of the person. Obviously everyone looks different and just taking a picture of their face really doesn’t capture their likeness. To take a great portrait you have to take some time to get to know your subject. Understand what makes them unique. Once that’s nailed down you can attempt to capture those nuances in the portrait.
Nature / Landscapes:
Everyone seen the lone tree in a field, a skyline shot of the Big Apple, or a magnificent shot of Niagra Falls. All these types of pictures fall into the Nature/Landscapes category. These types of pictures are generally taken with a wide angle lens in order to capture as much of the scene as possible.
Wedding, gradations, sporting events, and birthdays all register in the event type of photographs. Pretty popular category as everyone wants to remember that momentous occasion. Lets choices are endless depending on the situation.
Get close up. No, real close. Now your in the macro range. A macro lens is necessary to capture objects close up. The lens must be able to focus at very short ranges.
Aperture and Shutter Speed:
The aperture is “how fast” the lens is. Basically the aperture defines how wide the shutter can open in a given amount of time. The wider and faster it can open the more light the lens can collect and the faster the shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds mean sharper images because your frame has less time to move while the shutter is open. The implications of this are seen indoors when taking pictures of kids. You don’t want to use a flash because it makes your pictures all blown out, so you use a lens that has a low f-stop/aperture. With these fast lenses you can take pictures inside without a flash and expect them to not be blurry.
All my best pictures have been taken with a Tamron 28-75, f2.8 lens. The one thing i forgot to mention about aperature is the Depth of Field. So if I take a portrait, 10′ away at f2.8 the following will happen. Where the camera is focused will be perfectly clear or in focus. Then ~5″ in front of the focal point and ~5″ behind the focal point will be in relatively good focus, then everything else will start blurring out. Portraits look really good because there are no distractions. If you take the same picture from 10′ away at f25 then the entire picture, foreground and background, will be in perfect focus. f25 shots are really good for landscapes and such. You can mess around with all these functions on your point and shoot its just a pain to adjust the settings because its all menu driven. On an slr its a flick of the finger wheel.
A great way to learn about aperature is to shoot pictures on an SLR in aperature priority mode. You can look through the view finder and see the frame and a number – not much else. The number I see is the f-stop. Take a picture, and flick my forefinger to move to the next f-stop. Take another picture. The camera will meter the shot to determine the frame rate to make the picture expose at that f-stop. If the number blinks it means there isn’t enough light to properly expose but it will still take the picture since you could have it on a tripod or something to hold it really still. There is also frame priority which allows you to set the frame rate and the camera will adjust the aperture to compensate for a great picture. It won’t take long before you have a really good understanding on how to take decent/great pictures using these 2 modes. There is a fully manual mode, but who has time to adjust all those settings.
If you have a point and shoot try this. Take a picture at ISO 100 and ISO 1600 and look at the difference on your computer. SLRs are really good to about ISO 400. Basically ISO is digital noise that is injected into the pixels. So if you were at f2.8 and the number was blinking you could run the ISO up to 400 or even 800 to increase the shutter speed so the picture exposes correctly.
So you want to take great pictures? Don’t we all. Having a nice camera certainly makes pictures better but your composition is what will make those pictures truly great.
Two major tips I can offer for the composition of your pictures.
1. Use the rules of thirds
Ask yourself what’s interesting about your picture? Now take that interesting ‘thing’ and put in the vertical or horizontal third of the frame. Looks better doesn’t it. Why? Thats just the way the human mind works.
2. Fill the Frame
All the dead space around what you’re taking a picture of only adds distractions. Zoom in. Get closer. Fill that frame up as much as you can with whatever you’re photographing.
Lighting is photography. The best light you’ll find as a photographer is a couple hours right after sunrise and a couple hours before sunset. If you could take your pictures at these times it wouldn’t be an issue. Since timing isn’t an option in most cases its important to understand how to handle light.
Low Light: In low light you’ll have to adjust your aperture and ISO settings to get a reasonable frame rate (no blurry pictures). A flash is also an option but can sometime cause an unwanted harsh feel.
Bright Light: Remember what you’re mother told you. Don’t look at the sun. Same goes for picture taking. If you’re taking a picture into the sun you’re going to get some very bad sun spots/glare on your pictures. Reposition yourself to get the sun at your back, just make sure your shadow isn’t in the frame.
Looking to make money from photography?
Here are just a few resources for you to reference as you’re exploring this great hobby. If on your travels you find a resource you think belongs here please let us know.
Steve’s Digital Camera Reviews
Techniques / Tutorials
Digital Photography Tutorials
Photoblogs / Forums
Digital Photography School