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So you wanna take better pictures?

I frequently get e-mails from people asking me for advice on how to take better pictures.  They often want to know what kind of equipment to purchase and where they might be able to go for classes or lessons, etc.  I certainly don’t mind getting these e-mails, nor do I mind answering them, but it seems my answers are often very similar from one e-mail to the next  . . . . so . . . . I thought perhaps it would be useful to the masses if I posted a generic response here on the blog.  I’m certain there are others out there who have the same questions, but have just never thought to send me an e-mail or ask a professional directly.  So this blog post will be the first in what I plan to make a series of helpful (or at least I hope they’re helpful) answers to questions about taking pictures, and equipment and lighting and learning photography in general.  My plan is to search through some old e-mails from people, post their original questions and then post my responses (don’t worry, I’ll keep it anonymous).  Then, if any of you blog followers have additional questions, please post them right here in the comment section of the blog and I’ll try to address those in future posts as well.

So, here’s an e-mail I just received on 3/13/2011:

I’m interested in photography. I was wondering if you had any suggestion, as far as a class to take, or what camera to buy.   I love to look at wedding photography sites, really have no intention of learning photography and use it professionally. I have time now, and would like to learn how to take awesome photos of my family. Thanks for your time and any suggestion is appreciated.

And here’s my response:

As far as equipment suggestions, you can really learn the craft with just about any camera that allows you to change the settings manually.  I bought my wife a great little point and shoot camera that I take on vacation with me and leave my DSLR at home . . . it’s really that good of a camera, and it’s easy to carry and put in a suitcase or purse, etc.  So if you want something like that, I would recommend the Canon G12.  It’s a convenient camera because of it’s size and portability, and it takes great quality pictures and you can change all of the settings manually just like a DSLR (plus it takes pretty good video as well which my wife loves for footage of our kids around the house).  Plus there’s no additional lenses to purchase, so you don’t have to worry about spending a whole bunch of extra money for “accessories” after you make your initial camera purchase.

If you’re wanting something larger, more professional and something that you can change lenses on (not to mention more expensive and addicting), then you’ll want to buy a DSLR (DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex”).  The Canon Rebel series offer a nice affordable starter camera (it’s what I started on back in 2006).  I would probably recommend the Canon T2i as a beginning DSLR.  The link I’ve just posted is for the “body” only.  It does not come with a lens.  You can purchase “kits” that come with a body AND a lens, but most of the time, the lenses that are included as part of the kit are just cheap pieces of junk so I would buy the body by itself and then buy lenses separately.  Lenses are where you can really start spending a lot of money though, but they are very important.  Much more important than the camera body itself.  I would much rather have a $2000 lens on a $50 camera than the other way around.  Think of it like this . . . if you have 20/20 vision, but you put on a pair of cheap, dirty, fogged up glasses that are the wrong prescription, that 20/20 vision doesn’t really matter much, does it?  Same thing goes for lenses.  A poor lens on a great camera body will result in poor images.  So I would always recommend purchasing quality glass.  But because of the variety and different uses for different types of lenses (wide angle, prime lenses, telephoto, and on and on), that’s a whole different discussion that can lead to thousands and thousands of dollars of equipment purchase (so we’ll save that for another post)

Having said all of that . . . there’s no need to break the bank when you’re just learning (unless you just have cash to spend).  So if you’re going to purchase a DSLR and a single lens to get started with, I would probably get the Canon T2i that I mentioned above and a simple 50mm prime lens (a prime lens means a non-zooming or fixed focal length lens).  The 50mm 1.8 is a cheap, but surprisingly good quality lens for the money (warning: it feels very cheap.  It’s very light and feels like it’s made of plastic, but I promise it’s a pretty darn nice lens for the money).  If you have a bit more to spend, I use the 50mm f1/4.  It’s a bit more expensive, but more sturdily made, and better quality.  But if you’re on a budget, the cheaper 50mm is a great option too.  You can’t zoom either of these 50mm lenses (but you can zoom with your feet and you’ll learn a whole lot about composition and how to “see the shot” by starting with a prime lens . . . . in my opinion).  Plus this lens is cheap and can be used on any future Canon camera if you decide to upgrade down the road.
As for education, first of all READ the MANUAL for your camera (perhaps a couple times).  Become VERY familiar with your camera and how to use it’s manual features.  Don’t just set it on the “Green Box” and start clicking . . . you’ll take some “o.k. pictures that way, but you won’t really get the full use and potential out of your new camera unless you move away from the green box).  Next, I would recommend buying a book called Understanding Exposure.  It’s a great book for starters (in fact it’s a great book for any level of expertise.  I should probably read it again just as a refresher).  After you master those two books, you’ll be well on your way to taking awesome pictures.

So that’s where I would start, but my best suggestion is to just get out there and start shooting.  That’s the best way to learn.  Shoot Shoot Shoot and have fun.

Hope this helps.
All the best – TZ


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