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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Advice for a beginner - Money foolishly spent?
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06/12/2006 10:41:47 AM · #1
I'm just recently getting into photography as a hobby, and I'm stunned at the pictures I see from the users on this site. However, I recognize that images like the ones I see cannot be bought, but are often times the result of skill and raw talent.

This brings me to my question. I've been fighting the urge to start dropping a lot of money in the hope of becoming a better photographer. I want to learn and develop a style. That being said, what, if any, would the more experienced photographers consider to be money well spent (from the list below):

External Flash (Oly FL36)
More CF memory cards
Card reader
Lens filters
Books (thinking of getting the Kelby Photoshop CS2 book)

That's a rough list. Basically I want to know if my photos will improve with the addition of some of the items (obviously the CF cards and reader won't, but is it money well spent at this point?). Like I said, I don't feel like I can buy this skill, so I'm looking for some guidance here. It'd be nice to think that if I go buy a $5000 camera and drop another $5000 in accessories that I'll be taking professional photos, but I know that I'd end up with the same boring stuff that I have now.

I just don't know if I'm lacking in the shots themself, the post-processing, or what. Any advice or feedback is welcomed.

06/12/2006 10:49:56 AM · #2
Cards and reader are cheap, so yes, make sure you have enough memory so you don't need to worry about running out of space.

A tripod is a must - some photos cannot be taken without it, many others are much improved by using one.

Lens filter: perhaps a circular polarizer, the others you can worry about later on.

Flash: there are some people like me who avoid flash whenever possible. In fact, I think it is a very good learning exercise NOT to have one for a while. It will force you to think of other ways to light the scene.

The books: I think you first need to understand your camera and the basics of photography, before you worry about Photoshop too much.

All just my opinion, of course, other's ideas might differ.

Personally I'd say shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot some more!!!
Then critically study them all and learn from the experience.
06/12/2006 10:50:29 AM · #3
It's difficult to say what will help you to improve without having seen any of your work but I doubt that any of the items you list will significantly improve your overall photography. Depending on what you shoot, the flash, tripod and possibly filters will probably be of some assistance but I'm guessing that the only catalyst for the improvement you're speaking of is practice and dedication.
06/12/2006 11:01:07 AM · #4
You definitely need to get a tripod. Get another CF card if the one you have is to small. A polarizing filter is also very useful to have.
06/12/2006 11:13:27 AM · #5
Equipment, equipment. There is more to survival. My son became an Eagle Scout and learned to survive in the "Wilderness" with just the basics.

If you gave some people a Hasselblad, they couldn't use it to it's fullest capabilities. Where there is a will there is a way. Many past masters in the last century had much less than what we have today. Sometimes we cna compromise and use our innovation. Money can't buy everything. Skills also take time and money.

I'm not full-time professional, but I try to do professional work. IMHO, study and practice techniques of the winners. A sturdy, tripod and/or monopod is essential still until the industry improves. As they say in the computer industry, you can never have enough disk space. The artist needs many sketch pads.

There are just as many great pictures without zooming lens, only in different categories. Once you've done the best with what you've got then get additional equipment. Analogy, if you don't have an 4WD-SUV don't try driving off-road.

Sorry if I 've only restated what's been already said.
06/12/2006 11:14:43 AM · #6
Gets books on photographic composition. this will teach you what to see and why, etc. i forget which one i got but it was MOST helpful.

flash is subject unto itself, worthy of great study and practice. leave this till later.

for a hobbyist you should have at least 2 CF cards. They are not expensive if you look about a bit - a guy i was out with got some 2Gb 80X card off newegg for a tad over $50. I have 2Gb kingston cards that ran about $60 shipped from zipzoomfly.com. and get a card reader, $20 or less. I got some generaic something off ebay for $10.

PS - you need to learn some of it. i hear kelby's book is good - i wish i had more time to wortk on my PS skills and even to PP images. I have found i shoot too much...went out on saturday and shot nearly 600 images. after tossing out the technically bad or dups i ended up with 241 decent shots. How to edit that down to the best ones, i have no idea. I ended up with about 122...i spent more hours in PP than i did shooting! and many of those 122 images could use more work (curves or contrast at least).

tripod - check ebay for a seller called amvona - search on AT-828 (one of their tripods, the one i bought). nice stuff cheap (on ebay, not as cheap from their website).

filters - i stil want some cokin filters, and a circ pl. one day...other things always seem to take precedence. depends on what you shoot - you shoot lots of landscapes then you may also want split grad ND filters. If you shoot people or pets you won't use them.
06/12/2006 11:21:51 AM · #7
Another good thing about a tripod is that it slows you down, and forces you to think about your composition. This is especially important if you are starting out. Thinking about how to take a picture and then taking it will give you much better results than just whipping the camera out and snapping off a few shots.
06/12/2006 11:30:22 AM · #8
Your current situation reminds me of my childhood. I used to play various games like badminton,soccer. My dad was a great sports man. I would always tell him get me a better racquet etc. Since we are from India and China dominate Asia in sports my dad used to tell me how chinese players trained with most useless equipment i.e heavy racquet , heavier shoes etc. Reason was that they mentally stopped depending on advantage of equipment for performance.

I think if you need to improve skills take part in as many challenge as i feel DPChallenge rally refines skill. It increase creativity. If you see challenges like single source lighting has so many entries including mine as it simply to shoot. While something unexpected has 161 entries.

Observing how other members interpret a challenge you realize how creative one can be.

Once you are creative and can visualize what you want than comes the step of converting mental visual pictures into Photograph. This is possible if one has good knowledge of various aspects of Photography.

Message edited by author 2006-06-12 11:31:12.
06/12/2006 11:42:36 AM · #9
Out of your list, I would suggest, in order of priority:

Books (thinking of getting the Kelby Photoshop CS2 book)
- But don't be afraid of getting books that don't refer to digital at all. Photoshop is good, but it's much better to get a good photo at original capture than take a lot of rubbish and then try to Photoshop it into something decent. Composition is a more important skill than compositing!

Card reader
- So cheap, it'd be silly not to get one. Won't help you be a better photographer, but it will speed up your workflow.

- VERY valuable, particularly for the reasons Raziel mentioned. Don't get a cheapy - it will hinder your photography as much as it helps. If you get a decent one, it'll last a long time and will make a noticeable difference to your images.

Lens filters
- In terms of the impact on your photography per dollar outlaid, a polariser will make the biggest difference. For anything else, down the track if you need it you will probably know you need it.

External Flash (Oly FL36)
More CF memory cards
- These are useful, but not necessary to learning/improving. Personally I think flash photography is a subskill in its own right after you've progressed in photography itself. If you have enough but not "unlimited" memory capacity when you're out shooting, you're less likely to just keep shooting without thinking - and be overwhelmed with the number of images when you come home to review them.
06/12/2006 11:43:25 AM · #10
the Kelby book is money well spent. I'm going thru it now & love it!
06/12/2006 12:28:39 PM · #11
Thanks guys. I hear what everyone is saying...

I'm going to try and create a gallery online so I can start getting feedback. Do I need to be a paying member here to have a gallery?

As for purchases, I'm thinking the essentials at this point are:

1) New case. I've been using an old case that's too small and doesn't protect things properly. I was looking at the sling bags Lowepro and Tamrac, but can't find them in any local stores to see which is best. Ideally I want something that's easy to move around with, so it doesn't become a chore to carry my camera stuff. Is this they way to go, or should i get a backpack that I can strap a tripod to (or is this usually only necessary if hiking)?

On the tripod note, I'd like to get something small for when I travel. Should I get a small tripod, or go the beanbag route? Example: I'll be in Vegas in Sept and want to get some shots there, but don't want to be carrying around a 5 pound tripod all over the strip. Suggestions?

Regarding the CF and reader, how do these look:

Card Reader (want something with CF and xD)

2 gig CF

Circular polarizer seems to be the one filter recommended most. Also seems like I should buy larger than my current lens, to allow for upgrades in the future, or no? Also, should I get the Cokin system w/ circular polarizer, or just a regular screw-in polarizer? I should probably do a search on this one...lots will turn up I'm sure.

Lastly, regarding the books, I agree that I'd like to get things right at the time of exposure. However, I feel like I'm pretty green to all that photoshop has to offer, so I'm looking to learn even just the basics of post-processing. Not necessarily looking to change the world. Am I better off scouring the web for the time being, and then getting the book?

Thanks again...any answers to the questions above are appreciated.
06/12/2006 12:37:33 PM · #12
Long post warning!

Some equipment does make the business of photography easier. Some of it makes it more arduous, but ultimately improves the end results.

The most valuable thing (something that I am missing) is time. Time to go out to interesting places, or to find interest in dull places. With a bit of time you can wait for the good light, search out inspirational places and people. There is no better tutor than practice: once you have the basics, it is a good exercise to try and think carefully about every photo (again, take time to compose it and get it just right). If it is not right, think about how and why, then try again.

I would hesitate before recommending any equipment until you have decided what you like doing. IMO (and increasingly so as I think about it), equipment is something that you should buy as you find a need for it (ideally you would anticipate the need, but I always find that I buy stuff as I discover a shortcoming and identify equipment that will help overcome that shortcoming). There is an attitude on this site that you should go out and buy a lot of bits and pieces before you start (I am sometimes guilty of recommending this), but I am increasingly of the opinion that you will never fully understand the need for, say, a tripod, or get one that satisfies your requirements in terms of portability and weight, until you have been in the position where you needed the tripod and did not have it.

I will give some examples:

I wanted to take photos for macro challenge. I tried with various (non-macro) lenses: failed, but learnt at what size and distant subject I should no longer bother with my normal lenses. Bought reversing ring and cheap 50mm lens to reverse: disastrous shot, and I learned the severe limitations of this method (the tiny DoF, the need for lots of light). Bought a close up filter for my lens: great images I was v pleased with, but still a shallow DoF that means I need a narrower aperture and more light. Next purchase if I want to further this field: either a dedicated macro lens or macro flash (or perhaps just a slave flash or two). I know how I will use them to get better results already. If I had bought all this together, I would have been swamped in stuff and would never understand how and when to use the different stuff I now have.

Another example is tripod: I did not need (or see the need) for a tripod for my travel photography for a few years. Then I bought a small tripod for taking self timer pics on holiday, which was great for those. Then I used it for some night photographs, and they came out badly, so I bought a remote trigger. Much better shots. However, in the studio and with a bigger heavier body the small tripod was too short and not sturdy enough for good long exposures, so I bought a bigger tripod (still v collapsible, and capable of being carried around, and I am nowadays enough of a photo geek not to mind carrying around a bigger tripod). Next purchase, if I decide to further this area, will be a full size, heavy studio tripod. Again, I will only get this if I really find that I need it. However, I would have given up with lugging a tripod around years ago if I had not started with something small and proportionate to my need.

The same goes for lenses: I started off with one small wideangle lens. My second was a cheap zoom lens (because that was my need), then a better all rounder, because I found myself switching too often), then a better quality all rounder with IS (because I wanted to do more in low light without using flash), and now L lenses (because I grew frustrated the the refractive aberrations in certain types of high contrast shots, and barrel distortion in wideangle shots). The L lenses would have been wasted on me years ago, when their size, weight, price and conspicuity would have probably killed my interest! My photos might have been technically marginally better, but little more, because I had no idea of how to use them. There are a few users on this site with L lenses, but no idea of how and when to use them, who consistently score badly as a consequence.

The danger with this site is in the recommendations to go and buy a lot of stuff that other people consider critical to them, because they do not understand fully what is critical to you. I therefore recommend you to read carefully the suggestions people make, but ultimately only to go and buy the stuff that you think will solve whatever your current shooting needs are. Ideally after you have missed some great shots, and have properly learnt why you need [x] and when you would use it in the future. Anything more, and you may overburden yourself (technically and in terms of weight!).

PS - as for developing a style: I refer to my first thought - the only way I know how or why a style develops is by spending time with photography.

Message edited by author 2006-06-12 12:39:39.
06/12/2006 12:48:08 PM · #13
Originally posted by PSUlion01:

I'm going to try and create a gallery online so I can start getting feedback. Do I need to be a paying member here to have a gallery?

Yes, you need to be a paying member to host your photos here. You're also welcome to link us to a gallery elsewhere if you have one (but it's worth the money to join here).
06/12/2006 12:51:58 PM · #14
to start with, get a card. that's all you need at first. do a lot of shooting, to discover what you need. then you can begin to buy what you really want, through experience gained.

good luck, it's a wonderful thing to be doing!
06/12/2006 01:33:30 PM · #15
try this link.

This has man project that a begginer should do
06/18/2006 07:23:23 AM · #16
Hello Michael,

-Longer post warning-

Take a look at my profile for a list of gear. The most important thing is always be thinking about seeing things in a different way. Always try to move around or stop and look or think about photos when your out or you at family functions. Spend as much time as possible looking at other stuff, go out with your camera gear, on a rare occasion you might get a decent photo at home, but all the magic is to be found all around you. Here is my recommendations for equipment. I run an imaging department for Best Buy here in Ottawa (big photography community) for the last two years now and I deal with the local pro shop personally and I sell Nikon and Canon SLR and all that stuff on a daily basis. I would say the number one thing to remember is people take photos, which you have gotten the message one, then it's understanding your equipment and the limitations to them. Then understanding in any given scenario how to set yourself up for the best results. Don't be afraid to experiment and try things, you have an excellent camera and if you don't mind investing the time you will improve. It's a process for everyone no matter their skill level.

Now the other big thing is having the equipment will make you better. Ie. having a tripod will make your photos sharper right away. Having a flash will make your indoor portraits or fill flash shots better, automatically. Shooting raw will give you more flexibility after the fact on white balance, sharpness etc. Using photoshop will allow you to fix little things like rotate canvas arbitrary after you use measure tool along a building to make sure the photo is perfectly straight, Photoshop will also give you some flexibility if framing your shots. So to start you might not frame as tight on a subject as you might after you grow more experienced but all these things will help.

As for what to buy don't buy all at once, piecemeal it and choose in order of stuff to learn so you don't get overwhelmed and also so you become adept at different things. Also keep in mind that you need different things for different photography genres, alla macro, or telephoto / sports / wildlife or wide angle for architecture and landscape, or a prime or 24-70 for portraits and fixed shots.

I would buy Manfrotto for tripod probably the single most important and best value for cost to impact the quality for your photos since you have a rock solid camera. Look at something in the 200 - 300 3 way head is most flexible, the 055 legs are very nice because they give full stability mid bar doesn't need to raised and you can see through your viewfinder with greatest stability and no back aches from hunching. Cheaper shorter tripods will force you to raise the mid bar up and also to hunch. 3 way heads work for almost anything, macro, portrait orientation, landscape etc. You would want a monopod with a 2 way head manfrotto 671 or 679 (can't remember which) would be a good choice for action or wildlife where you don't have alot of room or want to pack light. allows you to pan quickly in both vertices. Long exposure and macro it's critical you have a remote with your tripod if you don't want to annoy yourself with using your self timer.

cheap 50mm 1.8 prime is first lens i recommend anyone to buy, 100 - 120 range, Olympus should have one too migh be a bit more. (look at the "jay" shot on my profile for example of lens quality)

Photoshop CS 2 for digital photographers by scott kelby is excellent, don't think about this one buy it if your going to use photoshop.

Be careful with photo magazines and books, your better off taking a college photography course for the most part or shoot alot and do research read forums etc.

Flash is when your getting more into portraits or what a bit more reach with your flash.

I like the backpacks from lowepro for traveling around shooting very nice and allows you to have all yourstuff together unobtrusively.

mem cards are necessary to the extent that you can do 200 or so raw shots, but again as one of the other posters commented it is not so much about quantity but quality.

filters absolutely protect every lens with a uv filter I like hoya brand. Polarizer buy one on your main most used lens to start and try it out, keep in mind that some of what it does like greener greens etc you can do in photoshop.

Have fun shoot as often as you can, be creative, and don't be afraid to make mistakes and you will do well and go far. Using your equipment and having creative ideas and experimenting will go alot farther than for example switching to canon or nikon because they are technically better ;).

Happy Shooting,


ps. any advince or questions let me know be happy to help.
06/18/2006 07:49:04 AM · #17
[quote=Prof_Fate] Gets books on photographic composition. this will teach you what to see and why, etc. i forget which one i got but it was MOST helpful.

go to your local big book store indigo or whatever and look in their photography section give yourself a few hours to poke around, go to amazon.com and look at highest rated composition photography or choose genre your want to focus on ;)

for a hobbyist you should have at least 2 CF cards.

-I agree this is a reasonable amount if you do raw / action you should get 10mb/s card best sandisk ultra 2 / extreme 3 or lexar platinum 2 or professional series. I don't recommend anything else if you want reliability and never to be let down on this.

PS - you need to learn some of it. i hear kelby's book is good - i wish i had more time to wortk on my PS skills and even to PP images. I have found i shoot too much...went out on saturday and shot nearly 600 images. after tossing out the technically bad or dups i ended up with 241 decent shots. How to edit that down to the best ones, i have no idea. I ended up with about 122...i spent more hours in PP than i did shooting! and many of those 122 images could use more work (curves or contrast at least).

-This is a great comment and I want to point out the initial problem here without spending time learning the right things to do and how to fix things you might muddle around in photoshop quite a bit, if you want to become good totaltraining.com has some stuff that is specialized and then guru level stuff like their full package. I skim ps books now because I have taken the discusting time it takes to get good, however the problem that Prof_Fate is having (and correct me if I'm wrong) is he has too many photos to edit. I might take 50 shots and then I think to myself out of these what are the top 5 or 10 creatively and technically and I might wittle it down and work on those. Just becaue you have a good exposure doesn't mean you should spend time in photoshop with it. Go for what draws your attention or feels right. If you want to do the same crop and image resize and sharpness color adjustments to your photos you can do so with batch processing and actions which I can direct you to a link or something or where to look in the help to do if you want to do that sort of thing. Photoshop also has powerful picture packaging capabilities to creative licence with watermarking or preparing for photo print. So to recap get a book maybe checkout total training if your a visual learner, then choose the best photos the ones that you think are good and make them great with some key edits, scott kelby will show you the way. For all of you with ipod videos you can subscribe to the NAPP video podcast for free from itunes music store, awesome 45 min shows on all kinds of stuff saw some photography stuff on it just this week.

tripod - check ebay for a seller called amvona - search on AT-828 (one of their tripods, the one i bought). nice stuff cheap (on ebay, not as cheap from their website).

I recommend manfrotto investing properly B@H etc, I have henrys here in Ottawa I deal with, or Velbon Sherpa on the cheap. sep legs and head for manfrotto or if you want to step up from the velbon the 728 top of the manfrotto entry line is very good 3 way head included light, 140 range, versus 300 range for my rig. I was gonna get the 728 idon't regret the upgrade for a second though, have that tripod for the ages, and next is the monopod and two way head for action, and would be muggers having a beatstick that solid makes you a little less nervous toting 3k plus around.

For filters polarizers arn't as crucial as you might think, nice to have if you do buy one it has to be a circular one the non c. are for film.

Lowepro is great for gear bags, tamrac is nice too.

Card reader just get someting dedicated and fast, sandisk / lexar usually.

Find what works for you and inspires you and run with it that's the best advice. There is certainly a wealth of knowledge out there though.


06/18/2006 07:58:38 AM · #18
one last thing. Don't buy larger filters than your lens unless your oke with a nasty hassle with step up rings. It is always better to have the proper sized filter to your lens. The step ups are the poor man solution and your not doing yourself a favour, it would be like not buying a remote for shutter release because you think self timer is ok. Just buy it if you do long exposure / macro. and same can be said for the lenses, besides you will want a set for each lens anyhow, buy the filter after you get the lens. Don't listen to this tripe with the step ups they are a huge pain in the @$$ to take off and swap around, if it gets too tight prepare yourself to thinking about a pair of plyers to remove, not fun. I used my friends and just didn't bother with the filter at all it was such a pain.

Hopefully I can save you some wasted purchases and also more importantly time.

Message edited by author 2006-06-18 07:59:28.
06/23/2006 12:40:56 PM · #19
I will submit that the last post goes against general opinion and common sense to a certain extent.

There is another reason you might want to go with a larger filter... If you are stacking filters, you will encourage vignetting if they are all the same size as your largest lens...

For example, if I use my UV filter (habit, and that's certainly within reason to debate), and my circular polarizer, I might get worse darkening in the corners... Not a huge issue in many cases, I know...

On the other hand, if you just get a 77mm filter, you will find that most lenses you get at a later time will be safe with that size...

All of my filters are 77mm and I only needed to buy them once...

I bought a fairly expensive circular polarizer that I can use with any lens... Around 100 dollars US. I wouldn't want to be buying that class of circular polarizer for every lens in my kit... That would be just plain silly... It only cost me like 10 bucks us for each step-up/down ring. I plan to get one or two more lenses as well... They will all be fine to use my expensive circular polarizer...

I like that polarizer quite a bit... It's VERY clear, and lighter than other brands as well... Worth the money... Yup... Worth it to buy one for each lens? Nope.

Poor man's solution or not, most pro's use this method, so they can buy the best... once.

I had some fun today with the 'tight polarizer syndrome' too, but it was OK because I used my brain to get them apart without pliers.. An elastic band works wonders... But don't overtighten! :)

Message edited by author 2006-06-23 12:42:38.
06/25/2006 09:49:34 AM · #20
The rubber band is a good tip. But of course this is all subject to opinion, as for the filters I would agree that circular polarizers of good quality are expensive, the step up method works my friend uses it but he does envy the fact I have the sized ones for each lens so if you can't afford to buy more than one get the step up rings and the rubber band with the largest size you think you would buy a lens for at one point. As for using your brain I got my filters for almost cost (ebay etc) So I paid 35$ for a high quality hoya circular polarizer of the 67mm size, most expensive of the ones I have. In any case this is all a moot point if you don't take creative or well executed photographs, anyhow just another tool that you can use. I imagine you would also recommend not purchasing photoshop as well since it is obviously cheaper to pirate. Come on now if you can't afford things there is no need to challenge those who go the best route, as for pro's only having two filters that is ridiculous and not true I work with this stuff and also frequent other pro shops, most pro's have copious amounts of gear. I'll pass on shoe string budgets and rubber bands and continue to purchase things that make sense since there is value to it. Make up your own decision for what your going to put in to the hobby and what you plan on getting out of it, the biggest thing you can do is learn and practice the gear is only part of the equation.

Message edited by author 2006-06-25 09:53:50.
06/25/2006 09:54:23 AM · #21
Start with a DPC membership - cheap and the benefits are HUGE!
06/25/2006 10:29:49 AM · #22
External Flash (Oly FL36)-not needed for a beginner
More CF memory cards - yes you could use more
Card reader - yes it makes your life easier
Tripod - YES YES YES
Lens filters - UV and polarizers are a must
Books (thinking of getting the Kelby Photoshop CS2 book) - don't it's a total waste of money. Either use the internet or spend a few hours in your local Barnes and Noble flipping through the pages to just get the idea.

Now go feed the hungry
06/25/2006 10:53:54 AM · #23
Perhaps a book or two might be the cheapest way to go and you'll get lots of ideas and exercises. Freeman Patterson's books can be highly useful in this regard. Once you've got an idea of what you really want to shoot, then you'll find that you can identify more readily what equipment you actually need to achieve that.
06/25/2006 10:55:24 AM · #24
I would suggest looking at photographs and other art that inspires you. Not just here on DPC, but visit museums, galleries, look at art/photo books too.

If you want to buy books, fine. You might want to read some of the Freeman Patterson books. He discusses many exercises/assignments that you can do to develop your skills at seeing the world.

A tripod would be the only camera accessory on your list I can see as a must-have. Others are nice, but, start trying to see and it will become evident what accessories are most necessary for your way of working.
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