Saturday, March 26, 2016

How To Get Started In Photography For Almost Nothing

Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a Sony RX100 II pocket camera.
I had an epiphany after Google announced that the entire Nik software collection is now available for free. Now more than ever the financial obstacle of getting started in photography has been removed.

It used to be that you might be highly interested in photography and you might be highly creative, but if you didn't have the money to invest in gear you were out of luck. There was a very real financial investment that you had to make. If money was tight for you, well, you'd better find something else or hope that your great uncle would give you some of the stuff he didn't use anymore.

Even though the price of photography gear has steadily decreased over the last decade, it can still be quite expensive. Especially if you want anything labelled "pro"--gear that people will tell you is required to create pro-looking images.

But do you really need to spend thousands of dollars? What if you don't have much money? Is there a cheaper path to getting started?

The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
Captured using my cell phone, a Nokia Lumia 1020.
Digital photo technology has come incredibly far. It's to the point that cheap cameras are just as capable as "pro" cameras were 10-15 years ago.

For example, the Sony RX100 II is a pocket camera with a Zeiss lens attached that can be found for about $500 if you shop around. It has a 1" sensor, which some people will tell you is too small to do serious work with. But this camera is every bit as good as older expensive gear. In fact, Anuar Patjane Floruik used this camera to capture Whale Whisperers which won National Geographic's 2015 Travelers photography contest and second place in their 2016's World Press photography contest (both contests are extraordinarily difficult to win).

You may be saying, "That's great, but I don't have $500." Don't fret! There are plenty of great options. For example, more and more photographers have been turning to their cell phones for photography. I've captured some good images with my Nokia Lumia 1020, and I paid only $100 for it over two years ago. Maybe you already have a digital camera on you right now.
Vintage Half Dome From Olmsted Point - Yosemite National Park, California
Captured using a cheap Canon PowerShot N point-and-shoot.
Some people want something a little more versatile than a fixed wide-angle lens. There are some pretty decent pocket zooms that don't cost much money. I paid only $150 for my wife's Canon PowerShot N and $200 for my Panasonic Lumix ZS40. Both are capable of capturing good images just as long as the photographer is capable of capturing good images.

"But don't I need a DSLR?" No, you don't. There are plenty of photographers who are not using DSLRs, and some even think of that type of camera as being antiquated. But should you find yourself wanting one, there are several good inexpensive choices, including the Nikon D3300, which deliver good image quality for a reasonable price.

A final option is to buy used gear. Digital cameras don't hold their value real well, so you can find good second-hand gear for a fraction  of the cost of buying it new. Film cameras are especially cheap, and you can find a good working 35mm camera with a lens for under $50.

Red Chairs - Cambria, California
Post-processed in part using Nik's Color Efex software.
I started off this post by mentioning that Google's Nik photo editing software collection is now available for free. This package used to cost $500. You can use the Nik software collection as stand-alone programs (instead of as a Photoshop plugins). Photoshop is expensive (but more accessible now that they've gone to a subscription service), but it's certainly not required.

You can use Paint.NET or GIMP (both of which are free) for layers and clone-stamp and such. RAWTherapee is a very good free RAW conversion software. There are some good software options that cost zero dollars.

You don't need to spend $700 or more on software like you once had to. It used to be that you had to spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds on Adobe programs (like Photoshop and Lightroom), and then you might spend a few hundred more on other software. Now spending any money is 100% optional.

The Compaq Desert - Mojave, California
This was captured using a cell phone and edited using Paint.NET.
It used to be that you needed to go to school and/or study under an already established photographer to learn everything. But now we have something called the internet. You can find for free videos, articles and even books on how to improve your photography.

You can find all sorts of DIY projects for making a studio. You can find tons of interesting photography hacks. Everything you need to know and could ever want to know about photography is available on the web for free. You've just got to find it. All it takes is a little research and a willingness to try something new.

To conclude, you don't need much money, if any, to get started in photography. Instead of investing in gear, invest in experiences. Develop photographic vision, because that's what really matters. Now is a great time to get started in photography, no matter what your financial situation might be.

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