Recommendations for a beginner photographer

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by dkersten, Aug 7, 2012.

  1. dkersten macrumors 6502a

    Nov 5, 2010
    Hey guys! I've been searching this forum for awhile now and have some questions.

    I am looking to get into the photography game as a hobby. I have virtually no experience with cameras other than in my cell phone and a cheap digital camera. I have very little knowledge on the features of a camera or lens technology.

    So my question(s) to the more experienced photographers here are:
    1) How did you learn about photography? Are you self taught or did you take a college class on photography or something similar?
    2) I want to become experienced enough to buy and use a DSLR effectively eventually. Do you recommend springing for a beginner DLSR right away or do you recommend a "bridge" camera or perhaps one of the new mirror-less cameras?
    3) What books do you recommend for an absolute beginner?

    Other information about me. My main goal is to become enough of a competent photographer to take some good pictures while I'm studying abroad in England next year. So initially my photos will mostly be of the more famous English sites (Parliament, Big Ben, the Eye, etc. and also as a huge soccer/football fan Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield, any other stadium I can go to). But eventually I would like to get into more nature shots and possibly sports (although that would be a long way off).

    Any and all recommendations are appreciated.
  2. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    1 I'm self-taught, though, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have learned much faster (and wasted less film :() by taking a class.

    2 I'd go for a second-hand DSLR by Nikon or Canon, with a walkaround zoom lens (I have 18-70mm).

    3 Others will recommend books. I'd recommend spending a bit of time with a photographer who can help you out with the basics.

    There'll be plenty to photograph in England... and not just those 'iconic' subjects either. The light over here is very changeable, which a lot of landscape photographers enjoy...
  3. NZed macrumors 65816


    Jan 24, 2011
    Canada, Eh?
    So my question(s) to the more experienced photographers here are:
    1) How did you learn about photography? Are you self taught or did you take a college class on photography or something similar?
    a) Self-taught.
    2) I want to become experienced enough to buy and use a DSLR effectively eventually. Do you recommend springing for a beginner DLSR right away or do you recommend a "bridge" camera or perhaps one of the new mirror-less cameras?
    a) I started out with my mother's automatic film camera. Then my mother's p.a.s camera(point and shoot). Then got my own DSLR in 2009-2010.
    Perhaps buy those G12 or G1X to try them out first.

    3) What books do you recommend for an absolute beginner?

    I bought one book teaching you about basics of photography. It was all about rules and laws. They are quite important but I like to think freely and open minded. ;) Photography is a form of art, after all.

    2 of my cousins are photographers, one's a professional. I learned from them.

    Other information about me. My main goal is to become enough of a competent photographer to take some good pictures while I'm studying abroad in England next year. So initially my photos will mostly be of the more famous English sites (Parliament, Big Ben, the Eye, etc. and also as a huge soccer/football fan Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield, any other stadium I can go to). But eventually I would like to get into more nature shots and possibly sports (although that would be a long way off).

    Those sites can be finished in one day. Theres a whole country to explore!
  4. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    Self taught, and observant. I had a "box camera" as a child in the 1950's. Used range finder cameras in the 60's and got my first SLR in the late 60's. Did my own developing and printing then as well. Note that you won't really learn anything until you take pictures.

    HOWEVER I have taken a few classes. There's always more to learn. Highly recommended. Getting critiques is valuable to improving your skills.

    The basics of composition, light, focus, and exposure you can learn with basically any camera with adjustable controls. But if you intend to get a DSLR eventually, you might as well start out with one. That will give you the most flexibility.

    "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson is a great book, but it does assume you know what a shutter button is, so it isn't for an "absolute beginner". You might want to consider buying from a local camera store that has classes.
  5. graemenail macrumors newbie


    Jun 15, 2012
    I made the jump from iPhone to dSLR. I bought a second-hand Sony a550 about 2 years ago.

    I am self-taught. I read many of the articles on Cambridge in Colour, and Phototuts+ as well as spending time using it and trying things out.

    You've mentioned you're coming over here to study in sunny England. I'm assuming this is university? If so, they probably have a photography society - which you can probably get in contact with through their website. No doubt they'll help you while you're here!
  6. driftless macrumors 65816


    Sep 2, 2011
    Self-taught, I developed my film back in college in the late '70's. There is a wealth of books, etc., available for those wanting to learn. If you are student I echo the suggestion of taking a course. If not, most junior colleges offer courses as well.
  7. zombiecakes, Aug 7, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2012

    zombiecakes macrumors regular

    Jul 11, 2012
    Theres no reason to get anything but a DSLR (well mirrorless is fine too, basically the same thing). You can get an old 6mp Rebel for $150, it is devoid of modern features, has a bad LCD, and low resolution but it takes excellent pictures when coupled with a nice lens and the resolution is plenty if you just plan on posting on Flickr and doing small prints.

    Get whatever you can afford but keep $100 for a 50mm 1.8 lens. Dont blow all your money on the camera, lenses are more important. If you are wanting to take nature photos from far away then you will probably want a large telephoto lens which can be a few hundred.
  8. khollister, Aug 7, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2012

    khollister macrumors 6502a


    Feb 1, 2003
    Orlando, FL
    Photography is a great hobby which simultaneously exercises both sides of your brain - welcome aboard!

    In no particular order ...
    1. Get an entry level DSLR - you can do so much more.
    2. I am largely self taught and mentored by experienced photographers many years ago. There are many avenues for self-paced learning these days, but taking a college or other course can be good if you prefer a more structured learning environment.
    3. The Bryant Peterson books "Understanding Exposure" and "Understanding Shutter Speed" are excellent introductions to the basic technical subjects of photography. The classic text "Photography" by Barbara London and John Upton is fantastic, but is quite expensive these days.

    What I feel strongly about is focusing on learning the theory and basic principles rather than going for the "cookbook" approach that emphasizes getting some immediate results, but doesn't leave you prepared for growth because you don't understand why something works (or doesn't work). In spite of the insane price ($120 for the paperback!), I can't recommend the London book enough. It is intended as a comprehensive college-level textbook and also has great photographs in it.

    I also highly recommend you start with Adobe Lightroom 4 (it is what you are likely to end up with anyway) and Martin Evening's Lightroom 4 book is the classic as well.
  9. dmax35 macrumors 6502

    Jun 21, 2012
  10. someoldguy macrumors 68000

    Aug 2, 2009
    Tried to teach myself in H.S. back in the 60's ,when I took some college classes in the late 60's , I found I didn't do such a good job. Since then , shot a lot of images , read , asked questions . Understanding Exposure is a real good
    book, also check out the Cambridge in Colour website .

    Don't mess around , get a used DSLR right off , around 6 or 8MP. plus a "kit" lens. 18-55 or whatever . If you can ,also a 50 1.8mm

    Probably most importantly , take lots of pictures , and try to figure what went right or wrong.
  11. codymac macrumors 6502

    Jun 12, 2009
    I was given an old Brownie Hawkeye as a kid. Shortly after my dad converted our back bedroom into a darkroom when he bought a new AT-1 "for mom." I learned the basics then, took classes all through school, and ended up with a bachelor's in the subject. This was before digital seriously hit the consumer market.

    Get something that allows you to manually control everything (it doesn't need to require it, but does need to allow it). Go for a Canon or Nikon DSLR, if possible, and remember that there's a huge used market (ebay, forums, pawn shops, craigslist, etc.) for SLR/DSLR bodies and lenses. If you have to choose where your money goes, as we all do to differing degrees, put the bulk of it towards good lenses.

    Learn the fundamentals on the surface and apply them while taking lots of photos, and I mean lots of photos. More in depth knowledge is great, but don't let not fully understanding how light is recorded keep you from recording it.

    I've known plenty of excellent photographers over the years who didn't really know much in depth about photography and plenty of bad ones who did.

    If you pursue it, you may be interested in history at some point. If so, pick up a copy of Beaumont Newhall's "The History of Photography" (ISBN: 0870703811). This is pretty much the standard history text on the subject.

    Remember that you can rent lenses too.

    Above all, get a camera and get shooting.
  12. I AM THE MAN macrumors 6502

    Apr 10, 2011
    1) I've used a film camera and eventually when my family bought a digital camera, I started using that for a few years until it broke. Then, went ahead with a Nikon CoolPix L110 and just about a year and a half ago, bought the Canon T3 and I couldn't be much happier with my decision. So for me, I've been self taught.

    2) Going straight to a DSLR is fine but it just takes patience to understand the camera.

    3) I would recommend "Understanding Exposure" and other books from the author!

    Hope I helped!
  13. dkersten thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Nov 5, 2010
    Thanks for all the information guys! If anyone has any other input feel free to add.

    Anything would be helpful from what lens you use for different activities, to what memory card to use, to what bag you use. I'm all ears
  14. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    Start out with a "kit lens", typically 18-55mm, see where you feel limited, and buy additional lenses based on that. Lens choice depends on subjects, your shooting style, and how much money you've got to spend. :)

    I tend to use lots of smallish memory cards (most are 4GB) rather than one or two monsters, so I don't put "all my eggs in one basket". You can never tell if a card is going to fail. I always want to have both a spare card and battery.

    The bag really depends on how much gear you've got and how much you want to carry. It's quite a personal decision.

    I'm into landscape photography and a major piece of my equipment is my tripod. If a tripod fits your style, don't skimp. A good tripod and head will easily cost more than an entry level camera, but it will last your lifetime.
  15. sugandha macrumors newbie


    Aug 8, 2012
    It is a great profession. You can start with a good quality camera like Sony DSLR or Canon etc.All the best for you. If you want any online shopping for best deal then you can go through ebay, shopbychoice, flipkart etc............ :apple:
  16. Phrasikleia macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2008
    Over there------->
    1) Both: lots and lots of college courses in the visual arts (BA through PhD), including many classes on the history of photography, but I learned the technical aspects of photography and post-processing on my own (the latter over many years and long before I ever got behind a camera with any serious intentions). It is possible to learn the essentials of technique without any formal instruction, but a good course will teach you a lot more than that and will accelerate the learning process considerably.

    2) The best way to learn to use a DSLR is by using a DSLR. Mirrorless cameras are close enough, though, so long as they have interchangeable lenses. Avoid the "bridge" cameras; they are too limited.

    3) I always recommend "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson. It is very well written and well illustrated.

    NB: Advancements in camera technology and software are making it easier and easier for people to create technically competent photographs. A lot changed with the shift away from film, especially with regards to processing, and a lot will change in the future, I'm sure. The skills that remain constant are the creative ones: composition, timing, conceptualizing, visualizing, etc. If you pursue these skills above all else, the rest will follow.
  17. MCAsan macrumors 601


    Jul 9, 2012
    In most metro areas, there are usually photo clubs. Join them to get lots of practical coaching and advise. Check with local photo shops to see if they sponsor or know about local photo clubs.

    Check with local branches of colleges and universities to see if they teach photography courses either for regular credit or as part of adult continuing education.

    Do a search in Amazon for photography books. There is likely a Dummies book for beginning DSLR photography.
  18. breezie macrumors member

    Jun 23, 2010
    Be careful and budget yourself because it gets freaking addictive.


    I went out earlier this year and got a T3i with a personal budget of under $700

    Within the first month I picked up a refurb T3i with 18-55mm kit lens for around $500, a case-logic sling bag, lens pen, giotto blower, and a decent Manfrotto tripod which kept me right under $700 as planned.

    A month later I picked up a Canon 50mm f/1.8 ($100), Black Rapid RSSport Strap ($70), canon remote ($30), and the book: Understanding Exposure ($15).

    A month later I picked up a new Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 ($1100), EW-83J Lens Hood ($50), B&W UV Filter ($70), a macro kit, and another giotto blower (small).

    A month later I picked up a Canon 430ex II flash ($275) and upgraded my crappy case-logic sling to a Crumpler Million Dollar Home ($100) – luckily these two were gifts from my super supportive fiancé.

    Now I have my eyes set on a 600ex-rt, 35mm f/1.4L lens, more lighting gear – and maybe a 60d.

    How the hell did a $700 hobby past $2k in half a year!!!!???
  19. driftless, Aug 8, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 8, 2012

    driftless macrumors 65816


    Sep 2, 2011
    Interesting as I started to type this post I received an email from the New York Times about Photography Workshops and Private Critique Sessions. I point this out organizations other than schools may offer one or multi-day photography clinics. For example, our local arboretum offers nature photography clinics. You may want to research your local options.

    Don't forget magazines, there are a zillion both in print and on the iPad. Some are pretty specialized, my coffee cup is sitting on the current copy of Nature Photographer.

    Your camera will probably come with a short zoom lens which will allow you to get started. After that you might want to pick up short prime, 35 - 50 mm (35 equivalent) and then a longer zoom 40/50 - 200/300. Those three lenses will give you a lot of flexibility. After that your style and what you photograph will determine the next lenses to purchase, i.e., more primes, longer zooms, macros, or all of the above.

    SD cards are cheaper, get at least a 8 - 16 GB.

    Bags are numerous and a personal preference purchase. Short term you can purchase an insert and use an existing messenger bag or backpack. Once you decide how, where & when you want to carry a camera, whether you want to carry it on your back or slung over the shoulder you will be in a better position to pick a bag. My only recommendation is to make a selection that allows you to carry your camera always or most of the time.

    I am fan of mirrorless cameras. In addition to interchangeable lenses if you decide to go that route make sure that the camera has all the necessary controls (basically knobs) on the camera body. Some models have been out long enough so that you might be able to pick up used or refurbished models. The big photo stores, like B& H often have good offerings and the cameras will have been inspected by their staff.

    I also like Bryan Peterson's book and have many. I suggest that you start out with Bryan Peterson's Understanding Photography Field Guide as it is a primer in addition to Understanding Exposure. That book will give you an overview of the basics like formats, exposure, aperture, shutter speed & ISO, learning to see, designing an image, life, close-ups, etc.
  20. Alameda macrumors 6502a


    Jun 22, 2012
    There's a photography website called that's just fantastic.

    Personally, I don't think you can get into photography without using an SLR. I'm certain that there are people with more natural talent than I, who can take better pictures with cheap cameras. But you can't easily control or understand focus, exposure and depth of field without a DSLR.

    Craigslist is a good place to find a used camera, if you're patient -- look for someone middle-aged or older who's bought one and never used it. There are lots of people with barely-used DSLR cameras. Because they're fragile, you want something without a scratch. Meet the buyer in a public indoor place, like a Starbucks, and you should have already discussed price via email -- you can get an idea of market value from eBay.
  21. Phrasikleia macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2008
    Over there------->
    Fantastic? Hmm...the term "snake pit" is what comes to mind for me, at least for the forums there. The reviews written by the site writers are quite good, though.
  22. h1r0ll3r, Aug 8, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2012

    h1r0ll3r macrumors 68040


    Dec 28, 2009
    1. Self taught. I'm too lazy to take a class however I know I would GREATLY benefit from doing so. I'd recommend taking a class or joining a club of some sort. Meetup has numerous events for photographers in your area. It's a great place to learn from more seasoned photographers as well as make new acquaintances. Might also benefit you to join a photography forum like POTN or some other one. POTN (Photography on the net) has been a really great resource for me in learning just about everything. They also have a section where you can post your photos and get constructive criticism on your photos (note: some of them can be brutally honest so be warned)

    2. I took the plunge and straight out bought a brand new DSLR (Canon T3i). I was of the mindset that, while I didn't possess the skills to truly understand/effectively use my camera that, after time, I'd learn real fast and get up to speed with the camera and its functionality. As of this date, I still don't have that skill however I'm getting closer :eek: Had I the chance to do it over, I probably would've gone with a mirrorless camera to start off with. While they're not a DSLR, their quality is quite comparable with a unit that's a lot lighter than your typical DSLR. If not the mirrorless camera then check your local pawn shop for a cheap DSLR. You can probably get one for about $200 bucks in decent shape most of the time.

    3. The ONE book that every photographer seems to recommend; Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It details pretty much everything about photography so it's a really good read for a newbie. I think you can get it through iBooks as well if you're interested.

    Above all else, shoot shoot shoot. Whatever you read in a book or learn in a forum isn't going to make much sense until you get out there and do it. Take an afternoon down to your local park or something and shoot away. Or just take a stroll downtown and take some pics of the area. I'm at the point now where I will take my DSLR pretty much everywhere just to take some shots with it. It can be quite addicting to a point. But just get out there and start shooting. Once you get home and look over the pics, then you can figure out why that image came out blurry or under/overexposed or why the image seems out of focus or whatever. Then the real learning can begin.

    LOLOLOLOL....we must've been separated at birth or something cuz that's the same thing I did. I started off with T3i + kit lens and a crappy bag about 7-8 months ago. Up to this point, I've bought/sold 4 bags, bought/sold about 6 lenses and a whole bunch of accessories/knick knacks.

    Currently I'm "content" with my 10-22, 17-55 f/2.8, 55-250 and 430 EXII flash. I budgeted about ~$1,000 for my camera gear however it's gotten well past $2,500 so far.
  23. a.jfred macrumors 6502

    May 28, 2010
    Austin, TX
    1) I'm another self-taught photographer, but I spent a LOT of time reading (camera manual, tips & tricks, hint sheets, books,, etc) and hanging out on forums (flickr forums dedicated to the camera I use(d), DPS).

    2) I'd recommend going with something a: you're comfortable with and b: will keep you busy for a long time. I was fortunate enough to play with a DSLR before making my purchase. I had a "bridge" camera, but it frustrated me to no end, because it simply wouldn't do what I needed/wanted to do. I played with different cameras in the stores (different models, all within a relative price range of what I looking to spend) for a good month before deciding on which one to buy. It wasn't the exact camera I wanted, but it was what I could afford, and (important to me) it felt right in my hands. I used it for a good 5 years before I finally upgraded (again, because I'd hit up against the camera's limitations).

    3) Books? Understanding Exposure is a good one to read. The #1 book I highly suggest everyone reads (and keeps handy; I have my loaded as a .pdf on my iPhone for quick reference) is the manual that comes with your camera. Far more use to me is finding photos that I want to take and reading the EXIF info & how-tos.

    The biggest thing is to keep practicing. It's rather like authors who give the advice "how to become a good writer, keep writing", to become a good photographer, keep taking pictures. Take pictures with everything you have available, even if it's your camera phone. The more you keep at it, the more you think about the photo you're taking, the more you'll find the niche you like; but don't be surprised if you find your tastes wandering after a while. I love macro & nature photos, but I'm finding myself wanting to do more - street photography & photographing people has never held much appeal for me, but of late, my interest has been piqued in landscape & night photography. I've always been more of a natural light photog, but more and more, I find myself wanting to learn how to properly use flash. I still have no interest in HDR, but I want to learn how to properly stack/stitch photos (for star trail photos) I think of it as a growth-spurt. You'll also find your taste may change over the years, and what you think was a great photo no longer holds much appeal for you (as is evidenced for me as I weed through my flickr account and do a bunch of mass deletions).

    My first camera was an Olympus e500, and my go-to lens was my Sigma 105mm EX DG Macro lens. I was spoiled with Olympus' 2x crop factor (meaning that 105mm lens was the 35mm equivilent of a 210mm lens). My new camera is a Nikon D7000, and despite having it a month, and spending 5 years taking pictures, I'm still figuring it out, and feel like I'm re-learning how to take pictures, but it's a fantastic journey.
  24. nburwell macrumors 68040


    May 6, 2008
    1. I originally learned the basics of photography from my grandfather. I then endured a lot of trial and error learning on my own. I purchase a lot of photography books to help me along the way. You can take classes to help you as well, but I don't think they're necessary in the beginning. Workshops down the road (depends on what photography you get into) are definitely beneficial.

    2. I would recommend you start with a beginner DSLR. That way you can get a feel for the body and the individual features and controls of the camera and lens. As get further along in photography, you can always add to your lens lineup to suit your needs. A mirrorless would work too, but I think you would gain a better understanding and feel by utilizing a DSLR.

    3. As for book, you mentioned Understanding Exposure, which I feel is a must have book. I would also check out some Photoshop books as well, since I presume you will edit your images on your computer.

    Lastly, I would highly recommend you shoot in RAW, unless you don't plan on editing your images or want to print them straight from the camera (then you would have to shoot in jpg). But shooting in RAW gives you the greatest flexibility when processing your images.

    Best of luck!
  25. BigRed1 macrumors 6502

    Dec 13, 2011
    I am still learning after a long absence from doing much of anything with photography.

    I would strongly recommend looking at mirrorless options. I traveled Europe back in the '90's with a Canon AE-1 and a mid-zoom lens. I think my neck/shoulder have just about recovered. I think the new Panasonic G5 looks pretty nice (integrated EVF) and the G3's are available cheaper every day. I have an Olympus EPM1 (available for $290 refurbished), and I like it quite a bit, but would prefer something with an electronic viewfinder.

    One of the smaller mirrorless cameras with a compact kit zoom lens or a pancake lens can fit quite easily in a jacket pocket and produce startlingly good results. It'll be a lot easier to always have a smaller camera like this with you and you will look a lot less conspicuous taking shots with it.

    The new canon mirrorless cameras seem odd to me - I hear the autofocus is pretty slow and there is no EVF, but they do have adapters that allow you to use the big canon DSLR lenses if you'd like.

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