Many new photographers can get overwhelmed with the vast quantity of photographic equipment available these days. The camera itself is only one aspect of your setup. There are many more items to consider. Some of it may be necessary, some of it may not. In this article, I am going to touch on some things to consider when you are just getting into photography. I encourage everyone to offer their own thoughts as well, as there are many different philosophies when it comes to the world of photography.
There are tons of articles about selecting cameras, so I am not going to dwell on this topic very long. The key issue that I want to emphasize here is that you shouldn’t fell overwhelmed by your camera. Only get as much camera as you’re going to use. If you’re just starting out, there’s no reason you can’t use a point-and-shoot camera. There’s plenty you can do with it, and if you’re not so interested in things like Macro Photography (really small subject material) or Depth of Field (only very specific things in focus), then it’s a good place to start. If you are interested in taking it to the next level, Digital SLR may be the way to go. But cost is a major issue here, so you’ll need to keep that in mind. Don’t blow your budget on the camera. You can always upgrade later when you need a better camera. Beside, the technology is only getting better. By the time you need to upgrade, there will either be better cameras available, or they will be cheaper.
Quick tip: Many local camera shops offer rentals. You may be able to rent a camera you’re considering to see if you really like the feel. If you can’t find a shop, take pictures around the shop.
Lenses — The Lens is the real power behind your photographs. Depending on the type of camera you have and the type of photography you want to do, the right lens will make a huge difference. Wide angle lenses are great for landscape photography. Sports photographers may want a longer range with a mid or upper range zoom lens. Some cameras come with a kit lens which may very well be a great starter lens, but may not be what you need. Lenses are expensive, so do your research. Look for sample photos and try it out, if you can.
Case — Get yourself a good camera case. One that’s sturdy. One that is easy to access in a hurry. Especially if you need a larger case for your D-SLR, make sure that you are comfortable carrying it around. Also make sure that you can access your camera without the possibility of dumping the contents of your bag. Very often, you won’t have a place to set your bag down to access your camera, so assume you’ll be pulling it out while the bag is strapped to your shoulder.
Memory Cards — While it is very tempting to buy one really large memory card for your camera, I would encourage you to consider otherwise. The truth is that memory cards will eventually fail. While that may be a long time down the line, you want to make sure you lose as little of your work as possible. Instead, I would recommend getting a few of the smaller cards. Note, however, that if you’re using a 10 megapixel D-SLR, a 1 gigabyte card could be considered a small card. When you’re considering your card options, you will likely get what you pay for. Pay attention to transfer rates. The speed of your card is going to impact how fast you can take pictures contiguously. This may be very important if you’re a sports photographer as you will use burst modes regularly. While you’re at it, get yourself a small media wallet for your cards. Many options are available that make it easy to sort your cards and stow them safely. The manufacturer of your camera case may make a media case that works well with your camera case.
Filters — Generally, filters are an optional accessory. The purpose of filters, in most cases, is to get an extra effect in your photography when you click the shutter button. However, depending on the type of camera you have and the type of photography you want to do, there area few essential filters to have. If you have a SLR camera with detachable lenses, get yourself a UV Filter, one for each lens. For digital cameras, the UV filter doesn’t really do a whole lot. But it’s a great way to protect the glass in your lens from dust, dirt or scratches. You can get a good UV filter for less than $20 (USD). Surely, that’s not much to ask to protect your $300 lens.
For landscape photography, another great filter to have is a Circular Polarizer filter. Have you ever seen those landscape photographs where the sky is a deep blue? This is what the Circular Polarizer provides. It’s also great at controlling reflections on water or glass. Two things to note: 1) There is also a polarizer filter out there known as a Linear Polarizer. These confuse your auto-focus, so you may want to avoid these. 2) Circular Polarizers can be expensive. Don’t be surprised to spend $50-100 for a good filter.
Tripod — Even the best photographers will not trust their steady hands. Every photographer should have a tripod. What kind of tripod you get will depend on your needs. Those with point-and-shoot cameras can probably get away with small light-weight tripods that can easily fit in your camera bag. If you have an SLR, you’ll want to make sure your tripod is strong enough for your camera. Don’t forget to take the weight of your lens into consideration. You don’t need to spend a whole lot of money to get a good tripod. There are high-end tripods with replaceable heads, carbon fiber shafts and all sorts of bells and whistles. But don’t spend money on those until you know you need it.
Tools — You should carry a small set of tools with your camera at all times. Pray you never have to use them in the field, but if you need them, you’ll be glad you have them. You’ll want to get yourself some small precision screwdrivers, a cleaning cloth, a blower brush, some lens cleaning fluid (made for cameras, not the stuff you use on your eyeglasses), some tape and a few small wire paper-clips (they come in handy sometimes).
Commonly Overlooked Items
There are a number of things that are often overlooked. These aren’t necessarily items that you will always want to carry with you. But you may want to create a little kit to keep in your car in case certain circumstanced were to arise.
Raincoat & Umbrella –Foul weather can be very beautiful subject material. That said, you’ll want to protect yourself and your camera. Always be prepared.
Large Flashlight — My recommendation would be to get a D-Cell Mag® Light. They’re virtually indestructible, and they provide a lot of light. Not only is it good to have in case you need to be out at night. But it can be useful in your work.
Notepad & Pencil — Meta data within digital photos make easy work of tracking details such as F-stops and shutter speeds, even your lens and focal length. But if you are serious about learning photography, you’ll want to jot down other notes about your photographs from time to time. How did you set up? How did you get to your location? What feeling did your surroundings create? You may even want to make a few sketches of where the sun (or other light source) was in relation to your camera.
It’s my hope that this little guide has been useful to you. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, everyone has their own philosophies. I would like to encourage anyone to offer comments and suggestions. The world of photography can be very rewarding. But you have to learn to think and function like the best photographers. The right equipment (and not having too much of it) will greatly help you create beautiful photographs.