Just learning the ropes of photography? Here are some photography equipment recommendations that should get you started on the right foot.
I was thrilled to see how excited people are about this beginner photography series. If this is first post you’ve read, be sure to go check out the introductory post here.
While you can certainly take pictures just with the camera right out of the box, I think there is some equipment and accessories that can make your experience a little easier/better. Since I bought my camera, I’ve slowly accumulate a decent amount of gear.
When buying equipment, remember that you HAVE to make sure it is compatible with your camera. I will touch on this with a few different products below, but because there are so many different brands and kinds of camera, not everything is interchangeable. Something else that is important to remember is that you can have all the gear in the world and still take horrible pictures. Luckily, I’ll be getting to the actual taking pictures part of this series soon.
Become a better photographer - get our best posts, tips, and tricks straight to your email!
Here’s a few items I’ve found to be particularly helpful!
This series is focusing on DSLR cameras, though a lot of the tips can be implemented using your point-and-shoot. With that said, I shoot with a DSLR, so that’s what I have in my camera bag.
I got a Nikon D3100 in November of 2013. Had I thought a little more through it, I may not have gotten this exact model. However, it has worked well for me (though I am itching to upgrade.) The newer version of it is the Nikon D3300, and it’s a great entry level camera. We have more recently upgraded to the Nikon D7100, and I LOVE it.
There are tons of different cameras out there, but I’d say the two main brands of DSLRs are Canon and Nikon. I went with Nikon just because I liked the way they looked (silly, I know), but I’ve been happy with it. However, I feel like Nikon lenses are more expensive than Canon lenses, so if I were to go back, I might go with Canon.
Although I don’t have a ton of experience with Canon, I know that any in the Canon Rebel are great for beginners.
You’ll hear people talk about full frame and cropped frame cameras. After talking to several professional photographers, I’ve come to the conclusion that full frame is only really worth the money if you are wanting to shoot weddings professionally. I’m sure there’s a lot of debate on that topic, but full frame cameras are pretty pricey, so if you are just taking pictures for fun or a side hobby (even a small side business), a cropped frame camera should be just fine. Here is what Digital Photography School has to say about cropped versus full:
If you plan on shooting images that are going to end up on billboards or really large wall prints, then a full frame sensor that produces raw image files that are larger than 20 MB is ideal. An entry-level camera can produce large enough files to create billboard size images; they just won’t look anywhere near as good.
One thing I do recommend doing is just buying the body of the camera. Most cameras will come with kit lenses – these aren’t the best lenses out there. I have a few lenses I’d recommend you get instead, and you might save some money. However, kit lenses aren’t the end of the world, and you can still take some beautiful pictures with them!
And if you don’t think you want to invest in a DSLR (which is totally fine), there are some great higher-end point-and-shoot cameras out there. Many of them even have manual shooting features so you can have a little more control over your camera. Here are a few options:
I currently own four lenses:
The last two lenses are considered kit lenses, which came with my camera. You can still take great pictures with them – there’s just not as much flexibility. However, if you are just starting out and you want a lens that will zoom and take decent pictures, then you should be just fine with those. Forrest loves using the 55-200 for landscape pictures — especially when we are in the mountain.
The one lens I recommend everyone has is the 50mm – it’s commonly referred to as the “nifty fifty.” It’s a great, inexpensive lens that produces sharp images and can create beautiful “bokeh” (the creamy, faded background that is oh-so-popular.)
When picking out a lens, make sure it is compatible with your camera. The first 50mm lens I had wasn’t compatible with the D3100, and I had to manually focus something. And let me tell you – manual focus it not fun. I ended up get the 50mm 1.8 that was compatible with camera later on, and it almost always stays on my camera.
I also have a 35mm 1.8 lens, which I do really like. I don’t feel the images are as sharp as the 50mm, but I like using it when I’m in a smaller place, or I’m taking group pictures, and I don’t want to back up super far.
The next lenses I want to get are the 28-75 and 85-200. I feel like they are a step up from the 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses, but they will give me a little more versatility than my 50mm and 35mm fixed lenses. I will write a little more about different kinds of lenses in my terminology post.
Without an SD memory card, you won’t be able to take many pictures (if any at all.) It’s important to get a quality SD card – I highly recommend getting SanDisk brand I’ve bought cheaper, less well-known brands, and those have broken or become corrupted much easier. It’s good to have at least a couple on hand. I know some people get a new SD card every time they shoot, because it can act as a backup.
For a DSLR, I recommend getting a fairly large capacity – especially if you plan on shooting in RAW (more on that later.) I’d say at a minimum, get an 8 GB SD Card. However, if you are planning on taking a lot of pictures and don’t want to/can’t dump your pictures to your computer right away, a 32 GB should work really well for you.
You will probably notice that SD cards have different “speed classes.” The better the speed class, the better quality the SD card. The speed class basically shows how fast your camera will record the photo. If you are taking a lot of pictures at once, then you’ll want a higher speed class. Most professional photographers need these, so they never miss a moment due to the SD card not recording fast enough. When we bought our GoPro recently, the sales person at Best Buy recommended we get a pretty fast one, since GoPros are mainly for action shots. Here is a bit more information on SD Cards, their speed classes, and recommendations.
The secret to getting super sharp pictures? Using a tripod. While it’s not always ideal, or even possible, to use a tripod (especially if you are wanting to take pictures of your children running around), tripods allow you to have a lower shutter speed (low shutter speeds make it very hard to get a non-blurry pictures), and it just helps eliminate any of the inevitable shakiness that comes with holding a camera. Tripods are essential for taking sunset or night sky pictures. You want to avoid using the flash in these types of pictures, and the only way to accomplish that is by letting a lot of light in by putting the shutter speed as low as possible. This post has seven reasons why you need a tripod, and I agree with all of them!
I honestly don’t have a ton of experience when it comes to buying tripods. We own this 67 inch Amazon Basics Tripod, and it has worked pretty well for us. It’s tall enough, sturdy, and it holds both our camera and video camera. A friend of mine recommended this Ravelli – it’s only 14.95, and it can rotate to take both landscape and portrait pictures. Tripods are great to have, no matter what kind of camera you have!
You might be wondering – why would I need a flash, the camera came with one! However, the flash that comes built in with your camera is not always the best option. I personally like to avoid using any form of flash, when possible, simply because I love natural lighting. With that said, there are times when you need some flash (such as on a bright, sunny day.)
When you do need a flash, I recommend having a speedlight. You can get speedlights relatively inexpensive, and they work better than a built-in flash. Forrest bought me speedlight for my birthday, and I’ve enjoyed using it. Another thing I like about speedlights is that you can change the way it faces – that way, it doesn’t necessarily have to be directly on the subject. You can certainly buy more pricey and large lighting but speedlights are portable, versatile, and easy to use. Speedlights tend to be more powerful than popup flashes, and it also helps preserve the life of your camera battery when you use a speedlight (since it uses it’s own batteries, and not the cameras.)
But, if you just want to use your popup flash – go right ahead. Here are some tips on improving your flash photography.
One thing that’s nice about having a decent camera is that you can take great pictures (with the right settings) at group events. In the past six or seven months, we’ve had multiple situations where we wanted to take a group shot. Of course, I wanted to be in the picture, so I put my camera on a timer, and then ran back to get in the picture.
Obviously, this isn’t the most ideal situation. In a couple of the situations, I was the person in charge of setting the camera and running back. I always felt a little silly. A lot of DSLR cameras (mine included) don’t have the option for taking multiple shots on a timer, so every time it took one picture, I’d have to go back, readjust the camera, and run back again. Having a wireless remote makes this process so much easier. I’m kicking myself for forgetting it for our recent trip back East when we took a family picture with all of Forrest’s family!
I had a really hard time finding a wireless remote that was compatible with my D3100, but we finally found this one, and it’s worked really well. Here are a bunch of other wireless remotes – I’m sure there’s one for your camera. Most will say in the title if it’s compatible with your camera, but I suggest you look at questions and the description of the remote to double check. There were a couple remotes I looked at that said in the title they worked with the D3100, only to read in the comments that it wasn’t compatible.
Filters are a small piece of glass that you put on your lens. There are several different kinds of filters, and they serve different purposes. Some will help reduce reflection of glasses or the sun, others can enhance colors. In my opinion, the most important thing they do is protect your lens from dust, dirt, and, most importantly, from getting scratched or broken.
For people just wanting to use their camera a little bit better, you don’t need to worry about getting too many filters. I’d recommend buying a filter kit that is appropriate for your lens and using the UV filters. This will help protect them without affecting the photo. Polarizing filters can be pretty great for reducing reflections and enhancing colors. This post has a lot of great information on filters and what different ones do.
It’s important to make sure you get a filter that fits your lens. I was dumb when I got my first set of filters, and I got one that fit a few of my lenses, but not the main lens I wanted it to fit – my 50mm. Your user manual should have information on what kind of filters you should get (this is the correct size for a 50mm lens, in case you are wondering.)
Finally, if you really want to focus on improving your natural light photography, reflectors are a must! These can help make lighting a little warmer, to fill in shadows, and it can really transform backlit photos. I’m not the best at using my reflectors, but here is a great tutorial on using reflectors for photography. I bought this set of reflectors awhile back, and I really love them. They are only $10.
Be sure to come back soon for the next installment of photography for beginners. And don’t forget that you can get 35% off any of the courses that Rachel McHardy offers here using the coupon code clark35off. She has some amazing courses that are definitely what you need to get your photography off on the right foot!