Aug 13, 2010

A Rebel With A Cause ~ What I Used To Get Started | Photography Q&A

I’ve received a lot of emails and facebook messages lately asking how I got started in photography and also for suggestions on the best equipment for new photographers. So instead of sending out the same info to everyone, I thought it would be best if I just answered all these questions with a little blog post πŸ™‚

First and foremost, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a little taken aback by the queries because I am still learning the ins and outs of the business myself Β and I am faaaaarrrrrrr from being an expert! But because I’ve had so many graciously wonderful people help me on my own photography journey, I can’t help but to pay it forward with a little advice although be it from a newbie so keep that in mind …

Before I purchased my first SLR camera earlier this year, I had to make the decision of going Canon or Nikon.

I’ve heard wonderful things about both, but for me, it was Canon all the way simply because my brother and cousin both had Canons and the ability to share lenses was too big a draw for me. So give this some thought — what do your family and friends use? Will you have the chance to share equipment? Lenses are often more expensive than the camera itself so being able to share lenses will help you save lots!

Another thing I would suggest is to simply visit a camera store and hold the camera in your hands. What feels better to you? Go with what feels comfortable in your hands. In essence, your camera will be an extension of your vision and creativity, so you need to make sure it “feels right.”

These days, you’ll also need to decide whether you want a camera that has the capability of shooting video. At the time, that wasn’t important to me, but these days most cameras will be equipped to shoot video.

If you’re just starting out and don’t know the extent of your photography passion or aspirations, I would say don’t invest tons of money in your first camera unless of course you’ve got money to burn — then more power to ya (and do you wanna pay for my student loans, LOL!!!) But if you’re just testing out the waters, start with something simple and basic and really LEARN how to use your equipment before spending an arm and a leg on all the fancy stuff.

Once you decide on the brand and type you want, take the time to price search and compare deals and packages. Great sites to purchase photography equipment include Costco, Sam’s Club, B&H Photo, Adorama, Amazon, and one of my new favorites — Abe’s of Maine, which often throws in free goodies with camera purchases … sweet!!! Whatever you do, make sure you purchase your goods through a reputable company. There is nothing more horrific than investing in bootleg equipment πŸ™

As for lenses, most packages will come with a kit lens. For hobbyist cameras, it will be a simple lens that doesn’t have a lot of “power” to it but as a beginner it’s totally usable. For me, I opted for the Canon Rebel XSi and I purchased it through Costco right after the holidays so I got a great deal. My camera came with the 18-55mm kit lens along with a 55-250mm lens, which is a great starter zoom lens. Costco also offers their 90-day window to return electronics, which gave me some time to decide if the photography thing really was for me. Thankfully, it was πŸ˜‰

As a beginner I wanted to immediately learn how to take great portraits and for me that meant borrowing my brother’s Canon 50mm 1.8. I would totally advise any new photographer on a budget to invest in this lens for crisp clear pictures and really nice bokeh — the blurring in the background. Generally the 50mm 1.8 will cost you about $99, which in my opinion is thee best bang for your buck and totally worth it. And if you’ve got a bigger budget, the 50mm 1.4 will give you even sharper images and awesome bokeh and will run you upwards of $300.

Another crucial tool every newbie should invest in is the book “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. When you’re first starting out, everything may seem like gibberish but it is absolutely imperative to learn the relationships between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. This book does a great job at explaining these relationships and so much more.

And of course, I cannot emphasize this enough … USE THE INTERNET!!!! There are so many fantastic photographers out there who are willing to share their secrets, tools and tips to help you become a well rounded and knowledgeable photographer. And I think this goes without saying … use their photos as inspiration for your own images. Learn what you like and don’t like by looking at other photographers’ work. Study each pose, study the composition, study the lighting and think of ways you can create your own beautiful photographs. Some of my favorite sources for inspiration include Gavin and Erin Wade, Jasmine Star,Β Stephanie Williams Photography (my wedding photographer *woot woot*), Matthew Saville, and Lin and Jirsa. My photographer blog stalking list is actually a lot longer than this, but those are great ones to get you started!

The internet is also a great tool for learning the basics of photography and how to use your camera. You can essentially find the answer to any question on the internet, and no question is too dumb, so don’t feel like you can’t figure something out because the world wide web is truly full of all the answers! YouTube is bursting with video tutorials that are easy to follow. All it takes is a simple search, so DO IT!!!

And lastly, once you’ve got your camera, a decent lens, and a general understanding of the fundamentals there are two words of advice I give to everyone … Just Shoot. Bring your camera everywhere. Take photos of everything — the sky, flowers that you love, the people in your life, what you order at the restaurant, a new pair of shoes. I cannot tell you how many photos I have of Cheyenne and Tommy at random moments, many with ugly faces sent my way because they were so sick of me photographing them, hehehe (yes one of these days that will be a post all its own!). It even got to the point where Chey yelled at me one night because I started photographing her while she was asleep but of course the shutter click would wake her up, hahaha. I know, I totally expect the Mother-of-the-Year Award for that one πŸ™‚

Clearly she was not having it on this day πŸ™‚

But you see, that’s the beauty of digital cameras, you can shoot and delete as you please. By shooting everything and anything, you will begin to really learn how to compose your shots and use the light around you to perfect your exposure. I promise you, the more you shoot, the better you will get. Ooooh and one thing I would STRESS to any new photographer, get off automatic mode and learn to shoot manual from the very start. I forced myself to shoot manual from the get go and I really think it is one of the biggest reasons why I’ve been able to learn and progress quickly. Anyone can shoot in auto mode even a 4-year-old, LOL. So instead, be a true photographer and control your vision completely by learning to shoot in manual mode. Trust me, you won’t regret it!!!

Thanks to my colleague Vince for taking this photo of me!!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with some wisdom that so many other great photographers have taught me … it’s not all about the equipment. At the end of the day, a camera is only as good as the photographer behind it. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking a $2,000 lens strapped to a $3,000 camera is going to automatically give you incredible images. It just doesn’t work like that.

Some of my best work was shot with my little Rebel XSi .. my rebel with a cause. In fact, I remember going to so many workshops early on and always having the “dumpiest” little camera in the group. And I’ll be the first to admit that I often felt intimidated when others pulled out their fancy Canon 1D’s and 5d’s and incredible L lenses. But despite that, I didn’t let it stop me and simply kept shooting and learning. And often times I’d later find out that my little Rebel churned out images that were just as good as theirs, sometimes even better *holla*

Now since then I’ve upgraded with two newer cameras — a Canon 7d and a Canon 5d Mark II, but this was after I decided I wanted to pursue photography for more than just a hobby and really knew how to use a camera. And yes, Β I know buying three SLR cameras in the span of 7 months is quite ridiculous. But I fully expect Canon to send me a special Christmas card with cookies attached as a huge thank you for keeping them in business πŸ˜‰

Well I think that’s the gist of it and hope it helps answer some of the questions I’ve received. If not, please feel free to email me at any time because I’m totally happy to answer any other questions you might have. And again, thanks for thinking I was cool enough to even answer such questions, it’s truly humbling and it makes me feel “first grade show-and-tell day” special πŸ™‚ *hugs*



Leave a Comment 

  1. Martha says:

    MS, Thank you for posting this. I showed Jay your website the other day and told him you are just starting out and he said your work was awesome! I can’t wait to show him this info you posted…he wants to learn as much as he can! πŸ™‚

  2. Erick says:

    Great read!!

  3. msam007562 says:

    Martha, hearing you say that is like music to my ears *thank you* πŸ™‚ Please tell Jay to email me with any questions he may have ~ I’d love to be able to help in anyway that I can!!!

  4. […] am to so what I do. Never in a million years would I have guessed when I picked up my first camera, a Canon Rebel XSi, almost three years ago that I would end up being a documenter of love + life. I am so grateful to […]

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