Prioritizing your Photography Expenditure
It would be easy to spend far more than any of us could afford on photography, whatever we have we could always see something else we would like to acquire, new cameras as they come out, more lenses, gadgets, filters, bags and cases, flash units, tripods, hides, ........ and of course a larger car to allow us to move it all about. In reality we regularly do not need a lot of this, and very little of it will allow you to get better photographs. What it is more likely to, if you know how to use it fully, is to open up more choice, more ways that you can take a task and perhaps allow some images that you would not have been able to get under the lighting conditions without them.
Take your average enthusiast, with several thousand pounds worth of equipment, but no individual training, and challenge them and one of the tutors from Camera Images, with just the most basic of entry level kit to undertake a days photography, and you would find the Camera Images tutors would get most of the best images. When its a comparison between equipment and operating skill, the skill will always come first.
As a photographer, you of course need a camera and lens, but the next priority has to be getting to be able to use it. You want to get the best from what you have, and then with the knowledge and skill expand your equipment over time. Perhaps if you don't have as tight a budget you could get a little more to start, perhaps two or three lenses and the like.
We are asked from time to time will a certain new camera allow someone to get better photographs, will a new lens make a difference, what should we rush out and buy now ?
The problem is of course that no two people have the same interests, or will ever take the same photos, so its always an impossible general question to answer, but what we do know is that there is a general priority that can be set, that will allow people to get better photographs.
Assuming that you already have a DSLR camera, and a basic zoom lens, then the items you can do, to get better photographs, in order of effect is:-
Training to be worth having, needs to be 1 to 1, to allow you to handle the camera and be able to ask questions. Group courses, video, and sitting into something for a few minutes at a photo show are unlikely to move you any great distance ahead. Although more expensive than going to a group presentation, you achieve so much more in the time, that it is far better value for money. If things are very tight financially you could just go for a 3 hour, getting Started course, this concentrates on getting you operative with what you have, rather than the full days course most prefer that also allows you to handle a range of other lenses and know what to perhaps consider in the future.
Shooting Raw, costs you nothing more. If you are concerned about storage for the larger files then take them as Raw images select the best to keep as Raw and reduce the others then to Jpg's. Raw images are easier to adjust, so easier to overcome problems with, are future proof and produce far higher quality images.
Editing. Digital photography is a two stage process, capture the images and edit it. You can get very low-cost and free software, as well as trial versions of the larger packages. Our preference is Nikon Capture NX2, as this is far easier and quicker to use than others and will allow you to get images edited well and very quickly. Camera Images can train you on how to use this fully in a day. Photoshop and the junior version Photoshop Elements is the best known package and does more, but is nothing like as fast or easy to use. You need to get some serious practice in before you will feel you are achieving a lot with this. We use Capture NX, Capture NX2, Photoshop Elements 6, and Photoshop CS and CS3. Magazine adverts and some work on fine art limited editions require CS3, most of the rest we use capture NX2 for. We use either CS3 or Elements occasionally for odd things that Capture NX2 can't do, but if we didn't have them it would not have much effect on our general photography.
Vibration reduction lenses allow you to operate at a slower speed for the focal length, than you would normally without camera shake. It is normally more of an advantage on longer telephoto lenses, or when using very slow speeds in poor lighting conditions. Once you get to understand lenses, perspective, depth of field and more then you will start to see the advantages of VR lenses, otherwise it will perhaps just stop you loosing as many shots through camera shake.
Then its back to gaining more advanced skills, being able to know the exposure before you reach for your camera, being able to meter on anything including snow and clouds, as well as general items, getting colours completely right, getting complete mastery of lenses, and more. The Photography Skills Masterclasses allow you to look at each of these items separately, with any camera or equipment make, while Camera Images have a range of courses and can mix and match anything wanted for Nikon users. Remember to stick to 1 to 1 training.
More lenses naturally come next, perhaps specialist lenses, these allow you to get photos in situations you would not normally be able to. This tends to be the expensive step to make, but of course you can get one at a time and there are always other options if you are on a tight budget.
Next we are into multiple flashes, or creative lighting. These can be used indoors or out, to allow you to now create your own lighting situations. Often used in combination with reflectors and perhaps mixed with other lighting. We have currently 9 Nikon flashes that work together as a part of our creative lighting kit plus a further 10 mains electricity flash units, we can do portraiture and studio work with either the creative lighting kit or the mains based kit. With nine flashes and loads of reflectors, we have a lot of flexibility and can light just about any situation. You won't need this many. A lot can be done with two and a reflector or two.
Camera body features come next, perhaps upgrading to the latest model, and using features that are only available on later or top end models. The camera we have will continue to do what it has been doing, so we don't have to upgrade, however eventually its likely that after several generations we will want to. If budgets are tighter you can always miss at least one generation.
It may be nice to have the latest kit, to have more lenses than you can carry, but its not going to make a lot of difference to your photography on its own. Our objective here has been to look just at the prioritisation of what you can do that will make a deference. The actual choice of what equipment you have needs to be based on your needs and ideally on you first understanding what items and facilities, provide so you can make an informed decision yourself.