John's Top Ten Tips for Beginning Photographers

by John A. Lind
All the text, stories and photographs on these Web pages are Copyright © 2000 John A. Lind.
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1.  The Big-Name Body

You will find advice to start out simple with an older manual camera system, and then spend months fussing with learning how to take light readings, set exposures, and study things like "selective focus" and "depth of field." Ignore it.  You want to take pictures, now, and not waste big bucks on film figuring out how to do it!  The newest bodies have the latest automatic focus and exposure featues.  These were created by engineers with a collective experience counting into millenia after many years of careful research and development.  Their body of knowledge contains more about film, light and what a proper exposure is than you could ever hope to learn in several lifetimes.  Best of all, they put it into that computer chip in the camera body for you. The modern, computerized auto-exposure systems can sort out any possible scene and set a perfect exposure faster and more accurately than you ever could.  Add to that a similarly developed, parallel system for determining what needs to be in focus and what doesn't, and you have something no human could hope to compete with.  Spend as much as you can afford on a body that has as many features as you can load it down with, even if you never plan to use them.  Why take a risk that the one occasion will not come along and your camera doesn't have the feature created for just that situation?  Furthermore, you wouldn't want to feel completely obsolescent when some camera maker unveils its new model next year with new features you do not have!  Three of the most basic, essential features are a "safety" that will not let you take a picture if the light is too bright or too dim, a built-in flash so you don't have to budget for a separate one, and a built-in motor drive with auto-rewind.  This will keep you from wasting film on shots that won't turn out.  You'll never have to worry about forgetting to bring that big heavy flash unit with you (or finding a pocket to put it in), and a high speed motor drive will ensure you don't miss that crucial sports shot at just the right moment.

2.  The Mondo Zoom Lens

Prime lenses have gone the way of the dinosaur, and the short-range zooms are not far behind.  Why spend money repeatedly saving up and buying one lens at a time when you can get a single lens that will do it all?  The greater the focal length range, the better, as it will keep you out of the viscious "yet one more lens" cycle.  The choice today goes to the 28-300mm.  With one of these, it would be rare indeed if you needed another lens.  If you *must* have more than one lens (after all they are interchangeable, right?) then go with a 50-500mm and a 17-35mm.  If that slight gap between 35mm and 50mm makes you nervous, then go for the 24-70mm to cover the entire short end.  (Who knows when you might just need something at about 40-45mm, and don't have it covered.)  The aftermarket lens makers have an assortment of inexpensive super huge range zoom lenses.  This will allow you to sink as much as you can into the camera body.  If the camera salesman talks about lens hoods, this is a "pack" designed to get you to spend a little more money.  Forget it.  With the zoom range you have, a lens hood has the inherent danger of vignetting your pictures.  You don't want one.  What you do want is a "lens protector."  It does nothing except put a piece of glass in front of your lens to protect it from bangs, bumps, chips and scratches.  It's easier to replace a cheap "lens protector" than it is to replace a lens!  Get the cheapest one you can; it is intended to be expendable.  In fact, get a second instead of the lens hood so you'll have a spare.  It's cheaper than a hood, and who knows when you'll need it, probably when you least expect it.

3.  Tripods Are For Sissies

The salesman might want you to consider a tripod.  Baloney.  Real photographers don't need tripods.  They're heavy, cumbersome, and consume time to set them up and fold them up.  When a camera is mounted on one, you cannot swing it around fast enough to zoom in on that rare bird or action play on the field.  They just get in the way and impede getting the shot in the thick of the action.  If you're worried about hand holding a zoomed out lens, just remember to flip that sucker over to the action mode.  It'll pick the shutter speeds necessary to stop the action and take care of any camera shake you might have.

4.  The Film (or: What The Pro's Don't Want You To Know)

Film has come a long, long way over the past 100 years.  Now you can buy films, such as Kodak Max, for which you no longer have to worry about film speeds (do you see any marked on the box?).  Just plop it in the camera, the one you just bought with the auto-spooling motor drive.  Don't worry about things like film speeds any more.  With the weird looking bar coding on the side of the cannister, the camera will sort out what to do with it.  With this stuff you can get pictures anywhere at any time.  It will take anything you or your camera throws at it under any conditions, and you can still get a picture out of it.  Why all the advice for slower (read: older) films?  This stuff is the "secret weapon" the pros don't want you to know about!  After all, why should they want your pictures to look like their pictures.  Why would you hire them if you can do it all yourself?  The pros want to keep you dumbed down.  Since you've got the camera and lens for it, why not the film too?

5.  But Wait, There's One More Thing You Need, The Big-Name Bag!

Now that you've got the camera, lens and film that can do anything, you can do anything.  You need to take it everywhere.  But first you must have a bag to put it in.  Not a case, mind you, but a bag.  Fumbling with a case to get it out of the way of the lens is not what you want to do.  Pulling it out of a bag, ready for action, is what you're after.  You're going to want something that can hold all the film you're going to shoot too, and if you went the two-lens route instead of just one, then you need someplace to stuff the second lens.  Most camera makers have a bag just for your camera that has a nice huge logo on the side so everyone will know you're a real photographer with a real camera.  It does wonders in crowds, especially when you pull out that SLR body with the mondo zoom on it.  It has the cyclops intimidation factor a real photographer needs to get others out of the way.  People will defer to you taking a shot first before they step in with their tiny point and shoot.  Then they'll ask all about your fine camera and you can amaze them with the list of all its features and what they can do.  In the mean time, they'll miss that special shot, but you'll have it because they let you!

6.  Answer Your Calling!

Now you're really ready and can take it everywhere.  Any special event will be your calling.  Weddings are are especially important.  Don't worry about the slob they hired who lugs around the huge bag of all that old, beat up and worn out gear.  Pro wedding photogs don't make enough to buy the good stuff like you have; they have to "make do" with used cast-offs.  Get right in there with the action. After all, with the stuff you have now, you cannot possibly go wrong.  That first shot with the focusing and film drive motors whirring, along with the mirror slap, will tell everyone you are a real photographic force to be reckoned with.  And remember, that mondo zoom lens helps drive it home.  You'll get the better pictures because of it, and the bride and groom will thank you for it when they see them afterwards.

7.  How To Impress Friends and Relatives, and Preempt The Pro's

Even more impressive at weddings is making use of a one-hour mini-lab.  On the way to the reception, dump that film in from the wedding itself at one close to the reception.  Then slip out later and quickly pick them up.  This will amaze everyone.  Be sure to ask for matte finish prints that won't glare or show fingerprints as they're passed around.  Better yet, get two sets so the bride and groom can take one set on the honeymoon.  It's a real show-stopper; they'll drop everything they're doing just to look at them.  In fact, make sure you get a reception photo of them looking at the pictures.  They may not remember anything else from their reception, but they'll remember you!  Just think of the envy that will burn in that pro photograper slug they hired.  He won't be able to show them his pictures for a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, they'll want reprints of yours!

8.  With All the Right Stuff You Can Be the Next Ansel Adams

If you like nature and landscapes, then hit the parks with a vengeance like Ansel Adams did. Don't worry about fences, signs or instructions to keep on paths.  Those aren't intended for photographers with real cameras.  With the camera that can do anything, you can do anything.  You've got all the right stuff and you're just one person.  All those barriers and signs are there to keep the crowds out, the ones with point and shoots, not real cameras.  It's the masses with dinky point and shoots that do all the damage.  The object is to get that special shot nobody else will have, and you can get it with the equipment you have now.

9.  With All the Right Stuff You Can Be the Next Cartier-Bresson Too

If you like sports action, don't forget that camera.  You'll be able to get shots of all the soccer, baseball, football and basketball team members for their parents.  It's why you've got that auto-exposure, auto-focus, and built-in motor drive.  With all that going for you, it's impossible to miss that special moment in the crucial play.  If it's at night or indoors, don't worry.  That's what that flash is for, and indoors you won't have to worry about a messy thing called "color balance" if you use it.  That flash will take care of it for you by providing "daylight" type light. Get right up on the sidelines along with the photojournalists and pluck out those plum shots.  Your big-name logo photo bag, full-feature laden SLR and mondo zoom lens are all the credentials you need.  Also low, non-daylight type light, similar to indoor sports, are concerts and other stage events.  Don't forget that camera for them either.  With the flash built in you needn't worry about remembering it if you remember the camera.  That zoom lens you got will let you pluck out the stage close-ups no matter where you're sitting.  Just like indoor sports, the flash will balance all that artificial stage lighting back out to daylight for your film.

10.  Last, But Not Least, a Warning!

Be ready for the deluge of requests for copies of your prints.  When your relatives, friends and neighbors see what you accomplish with with your gear, they'll want some.  Check that "triple print" box (go quadruple if they offer that) at the one-hour lab and be ready for them.  It's a whole lot cheaper than getting reprints later, and will save you the hassle of trying to find the negatives for it.  Get enough prints done up front cheap and you won't need the negs.

If you believe I'm serious about all this, go HERE instead of [Return to Home Page]