Happy back-to-school season! I am so relieved that my children are going back to school today that I decided to write a blog post to celebrate.
I frequently get asked: can you recommend an affordable camera to use myself and get halfway decent pictures?
There is no easy answer to this question, because first of all, there is no such thing as a camera that can replace a professional photographer. A camera cannot find good light for you, cannot think for you. One of the worst things you can say to a photographer is “what camera are you using”, implying that their pictures are only decent because of the quality of the gear they are using. A good photographer can take incredible pictures with any camera you put into their hands, because their skill is independent of their gear.
There are some photography tips, tricks, and recommendations I can offer, and I will explain them to the best of my ability.
(**Disclaimer: My recommendations skew Canon because that is the gear I have always worked with – Nikon makes amazing cameras and lenses too, but I find them to be slightly more expensive and not any better/worse than Canon, so I will keep my recommendations to what I know.)
Photography Tips and Gear Recommendations:
- Whatever camera you get, take an afternoon and get to know all of its features. If you take the time to play with it while looking through the manual, you will have a much better chance of using that camera well.
- The lens is more important than the camera itself. If you are buying a camera that has a separate lens, skimp on the camera body (i.e. you don’t need the top of the line camera body) and instead pick out a great lens. My favorite budget lens that takes lovely pictures is the 50mm f/1.8. It runs about $110 and gives incredible results for that $$. I will always recommend a “prime” lens over a “zoom” – lenses that zoom in/out suffer from a loss of quality and low light performance, in general. When you buy a camera+lens “kit”, the lens they provide is usually garbage. Often it’s something like a 18-55mm (meaning zooms from wide angle to mid) f/4.5-5.6 (meaning it doesn’t open up very wide to let light in and won’t perform well in lower light situations.) Don’t waste your money on a kid lens. Buy a camera body separate and choose a decent lens to purchase separately.
- Choose a camera that fits your needs. Consider: (a) how much do you rely on your phone camera? Do you like the pictures it takes? (b) when would you be using this camera – on trips? In the backyard? How large/small do you need it to be for it to be useful for you? (c) are you hoping to take pictures of mainly scenery, people, or things? Your answers to these questions will determine which camera is best for you.
- A photograph can only capture light that reflects into the lens and onto its sensor. It’s just a recording of light. So the most important thing about a photograph is the LIGHT. If you’re indoors, use the indirect sunlight from the biggest window possible. If you’re outdoors, find a spot where your subject has something over their head, so that they are in the shade but the light isn’t predominantly coming from above. Here is an illustration of this point:
To help scoop more flattering light onto my subjects, I rely on a reflector like the one listed here: (click HERE to see it on amazon – it’s so cheap!)
- If you are going to travel and want to take pictures of mainly scenery, buildings, and people in front of cool scenery, I recommend a relatively wide angle lens. For a lightweight option, I recommend THIS lens.
- If you mainly want to take cute pictures of your kids at home and around town, I recommend a mid range lens, anything from 35-50 mm. Personally, I love my 50 mm lens and use it more than any other lens. Some people recommend an 85 mm lens for portraits – I do not. Depending on how much you are looking to spend on a lens, I recommend one of the following: THIS inexpensive option or THIS wider angle option or THIS slightly more expensive option **Note – when buying a lens, used is perfectly acceptable, as long as you read up on the seller and the lens condition.**
- If you are going to be photographing objects, I personally recommend a longer MACRO lens. This will enable you to take sharp pictures of your items with a blurred background, so your stuff really stands out. Macro means it can focus on stuff close to the lens (necessary for smaller items.) THIS is one good, inexpensive option, and HERE is the one I recommend – you can buy it used (after reading seller ratings!)
- The cameras I recommend are the following (in order from most to least expensive): (a) The Canon Rebel T6i (b) The Canon Rebel SL2 (c) The Canon Rebel T6 (d) The Canon 50D (I used to have this!) **Note: when buying a camera body, it is best to avoid a used one, or look for one that has barely been used. Unlike lenses, they do not last forever.
- Learn to focus first and take the picture second. Pressing halfway on the shutter button and holding your finger like that will let you stay focused and ready to click as soon as the subject is just right. For example, if I am taking a picture of a kid, I will focus on their face and keep my finger on the button halfway, and as soon as they look up and/or smile, I will click it the rest of the way to take the shot. If you wait until that perfect moment to press the shutter button, you will often miss the moment and capture only the aftermath!
- Finally, once you have taken your pictures, what do you do with them? Image editing software is a MUST. The camera will not get it right every time, and there is software out there that will help you polish your pictures to perfection. The software I use all the time is Adobe Lightroom, and I highly recommend it. It makes it so easy to go through a whole bunch of pictures and fix them all with just a few clicks. You can fix simple things like a color cast (orange or blue tint to your picture? Fix it with the color temperature slider!) brightness (bring back highlights/shadows, or just brighten/darken the whole picture overall) and cropping/rotating pictures VERY easily, or you can even download presets to give your pictures that “filtered” look. It’s so easy to use, and this version does not require a monthly subscription.
The best way to learn to take better pictures is to just go out there and practice. Honestly, that’s how I learned. I took pictures, then looked at them critically and figured out what I did/did not like about those shots. Then I worked on improving my technique for next time.
The tips provided above are just my personal opinion ….. they are not the rules of photography, they are just my best advice. You can find your own style and do what works for you!
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