5 Things You Shouldn't Spend Money on as a New Photographer

5 Things You Shouldn't Spend Money on as a New Photographer

If you are new to photography, you are probably realizing you can quickly sink a lot of money into this pursuit. Here are five things you should avoid wasting money on.


It seems like every photography personality has presets to sell you. Please don't buy them. They all promise the same thing: a quick shortcut to photos that look like those of your favorite photographer. 

They are not going to make your photos look like those of your favorite photographer. A photograph is an amalgamation of so many things: choice of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, control of lighting, subject matter, composition, use of color, posing, crop, focal length, time of day, editing techniques, and more, and the look of your favorite photographer comes down to the ability to consistently control and apply all these concepts and techniques. 95% of the time, applying a preset to a photo will actually make it look worse, because that preset was designed for someone else's technique and style, and applying the same editing to different photos produces different results. Think about it. If it was this easy, anyone could buy a camera, get some presets, and set up shop. 

Presets are not a way to bypass learning technique or developing a personal style.

Presets are not entirely without use, but the paradox is that if you haven't learned much about photography yet, they're not going to help you, but if you have, you are not going to need them. Once you are experienced, there are a couple scenarios where they might be useful. First, if you frequently find yourself shooting the same sort of images and making the same sort of edits, then creating your own presets you can apply on import can save you a fair amount of time. Second, they can be a nice jumping off point if you are looking for some creative inspiration, but then, you need to be able to take control of the edit. 

Basically, once you have full control of your image creation and editing, then you will know if you actually need any presets. Until then, it's better to work on developing your technique and style.

The Best Camera and Lens

Camera gear is cool. Yes, it is made for taking pictures, but I'll be the first to admit a modern camera is a pretty nifty gadget. That being said, you don't need the best camera or lens when you are first starting out. I promise. When you are newer to photography, the truth is that you simply won't yet have the technique to pull the best image quality out of that top-end equipment, and you may find it more difficult to use. For example, using an ultra-wide-aperture lens requires rock-solid technique, and you might be frustrated by the experience.

You don't need this right now.

Photography is an expensive hobby. Be sure that your interest is going to hold out for the long-term before you drop a bunch of money into it. The worst possibility is having to sell a ton of equipment at a loss after six months when you've lost interest. Furthermore, it takes a while to become truly proficient — normally a few years. At the rate technology advances, by the time you have become more skilled and you're ready to invest in some top-end equipment, the next generation of gear will have hit the market, and you will be able to appreciate the latest and greatest instead of holding on to years-old equipment that you've only now come to appreciate. 

"Creative" Lenses and Accessories

A lot of the photography gear industry is built around devices that are made to make beginners think they're shortcuts to proficiency or style. These are things like lenses that add strange effects like Vaseline-esque defocusing or stylized bokeh. They look neat at first, but the majority of the time, you will tire of the effects quickly and be frustrated by their lack of quality. It is similar to the presets: if these were truly shortcuts to creating notable images, you would see professionals using them. Truth is, I have never seen a professional using these devices. That being said, if you actually enjoy the look of these and want to incorporate them into your creative style, go crazy! Just be sure that you approach their usage with the right mindset: these are ways to explore your creativity, not shortcuts to success.

Niche Equipment

One of the best parts about photography is just how varied it is. There are dozens of genres, and anyone who is passionate about the pursuit can find a place. A lot of those genres require some specialized, niche equipment. Don't run out and buy a thousand-dollar equatorial mount because you saw a great Milky Way image or an expensive macro lens and lights because of that neat bee on a flower photo you came across on Instagram. You might find out you're a "History Channel" macro photographer. I use this term in reference to the fact that I liked watching the History Channel when I was a kid, but when I tried being a history major in college, I quickly discovered that the actual work of a historian was not for me. You might discover that the tedium of focus-stacking 50 barely different images of the same subject is boring for you or that spending six hours in a field in the middle of the night for one nebula photo isn't your cup of tea.

Figure out what genre(s) you really love before you start investing in specialized equipment.

Instead, take the time to explore what makes you happy as a photographer using the gear you already have. You can experiment more than you think with basic equipment. Want to try macro photography? Grab a cheap extension tube for your nifty fifty and spend a few weeks photographing your garden. Want to try astrophotography? That same 50mm f/1.8 will be fine to experiment with. Will your images be as good as they would be with specialized equipment? No, but that's not the point. The aim is to find out if the genre is something you really want to commit to long-term, both in terms of desire and cost, and your basic equipment is often enough to help you make that decision.

Education From Unqualified Teachers

It took me years of education and qualifications before anyone let me in a classroom. The problem with photography is that there is no similar structure that requires educators to prove their qualifications. Anyone with a convincing sales pitch can set up shop and start peddling their workshops or tutorials. A lot of unqualified photographers do this as a means of generating income when their influx of clients isn't enough to support them. I've seen it a few times in my local market, and it's legitimately infuriating to me knowing that people are dropping a lot of money to travel to "workshops" or purchases tutorials from people who have no business taking their cash. Before you invest in education, carefully evaluate the person you're buying from. Are they someone with an established, successful business? Does their portfolio show consistently top-end work? Do they have a sample lesson posted somewhere so you can evaluate their teaching style? Buying bad education is not only a waste of money; it can also force you into bad habits that take years to undo. 


When you are new to photography, it can be tempting to invest in top-end equipment or quick-success items. The truth is that there are no shortcuts, and even modern low-end cameras and lenses are more than capable enough for pretty much any sort of beginner photography. Save your money, invest in quality education, and spend your time practicing! 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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There is too much free knowledge being given out on youtube for anyone starting out to pay. Really good free information. Id say the importance of learning the camera first needs to be more prevelant. There needs to be more "Whats the real first steps of photography"
Learn how your camera, and your lens works. I mean, this is called Fsstoppers.

No offense, but you've been complaining that Fstoppers won't feature your work for a while now, even ranting on articles celebrating the work of other photographers and ruining their moment in the spotlight. You seem very fixated on Fstoppers never "giving lesser more creative photographers like [yourself] a chance." I'm sorry you feel that way, but we spend a lot of consuming a lot of work and do our best to give an even representation of the best photographers from each genre. The fact that your work hasn't been featured doesn't mean we deem it "worthless" or that it's a "personal attack." In fact, I encourage you to pursue whatever creative avenues make you happy; read the line in the article that says: "That being said, if you actually enjoy the look of these and want to incorporate them into your creative style, go crazy!" I'm not sure why you want validation from us so badly, but no one here is stopping you from doing what makes you happy, nor is anyone personally targeting you. How could I even have been personally attacking you when I didn't even know you were a teacher before you made that comment?

Do what makes you happy, whether you get internet points from us or not.

You need to stop associating the wealth of your work with the validation of others. You rub everyone the wrong way in how you voice your opinions. You always start off in an attack and you imply that your work is above those of people who enjoy a more edited work. If you want to bring positive attention to your work, do so without ever bringing other works down. The way you talk about others work, is very rude and is probably what is making them feel like you are personally attacking them. Hence harsh words on your work. I do remember your work before your deleting rampage. Id say you need to do more work on your compositions, subject matters, and finding the light.

If you are looking for exposure im not sure this is the right way of getting the site to give you it.

"In their eyes if the image hasn't been manipulated to it's extreme and enhanced it's not good enough for the Fstoppers community"

Might have a point here. Just scroll down below the article and look at the photos.

As for the rest of his rant.... As we say in the south: "Bless his Heart." ;-)

Right! NEVER try too hard to please fellow photographers [with your photos]. That sucks for me :)

I have read both the article and your comment twice and am quite frankly stumped as to how the former could be construed as a personal attack on a legitimate photography teacher. Surely you of all people would meet the criteria that the author puts forward?

And why is it a problem for a freely available community platform to generate income by promoting their own products?

Maybe you need to pause and consider whether your work is complete garbage* and whether you are a person nobody else likes because you are just a horrible human being. Maybe you also need to realise your personal struggles in no way alter the poor quality of your work.

Also, how is it you think you will be featured when you have no images on display on Fstoppers?

Your comments are mind bending, even by the standards of photography sites. Get over yourself.


*his work may be found here:


His work is not garbage to me. Although they seem raw and have unused potential for post processing (meaning he still could have made the photos better in post)

If you don't like how this site operates, Go elsewhere. That's what I do. They can't please everybody all the time, even me. ;-)
As for your work, whatever it looks like as You have an empty profile, put it on Flickr if you aren't on there already. It's so diverse that you should get the recognition you are looking for unless it's really bad.

He has left this site...several times, but, keeps coming back.

His comments are one of the main reasons I visit Fstoppers

Hilarious comments, folks ;-)

Imagine a site writing articles that promote their brand and products. The temerity! It's shocking I tell you.

I’m glad your opinion is free, because I’d hate to be the fool that spent money on hearing it out.

Last I checked this website was fstoppers. NOT broken canon art and photography

Wish I'd read this 21 years ago. Thanks. After 21 years of serious, paid photography, I know Alex's advice is golden. Read and learn newbies. 😁

I'd remember that, thanks :)

Care to elaborate on your assessment of fstoppers’ tutorials?

When I started I wanted the best camera and lens I could buy so if the picture sucked I couldn't blame the gear. It worked.

Right on. You do not need to spend money on any of those things. I have three second hand lenses and a used Nikon D3. All works perfectly fine for years. Good article.

Good tips Alex. Thank you. Confession: I skipped over those big paragraphs in the comments.

Spot on Big Name. Models and dreamy landscapes and almost nothing in between. All one has to do is scroll down like I did. I mean they are superb work for what they are but that's all there is genre wise.

To me, they almost all look the same, not only here but on most sites. The photos are mostly of superb quality, still they bore (me). I wonder whether any reader here actually takes a look at the galleries.

90% T&A? No. That's all you're seeing because you're drawn to it.

-- https://fstoppers.com/popular/photos

Top Rated:
-- https://fstoppers.com/top/photos

Editors' Picks:
-- https://fstoppers.com/editors-picks/photos

"Have you ever seen an ugly chick in a photo of the day? Its all super models.". Fucking LOL! And?

It's kinda funny actually but I also get irked when someone complains over these trivial things and all they have to show for is a blank portfolio and a link to a website that looks like it's trying to be an Fstoppers competitor.

What portfolio? It's empty!

Though, looks like you did have items in there not too long ago. Hilarious, you labeled one of the images "Photo of the Day". You couldn't get in the legit way so you tried to fake it.

And, that quote, "I'm a big name, and you're not". Oh, really? Is that why you tucked tail and ran. Let me guess, you weren't getting the attention you think you deserved.

Hahaha, you're so delusional, explains why you had "I'm a big name, and you're not" in your bio. Turned out to more like "Big Baby".

Well that was fun. I too am finding lockdown a tad frustrating.

Well .... these comments were entertaining.

I was a culprit doing many things mentioned in this article :-)

Bought a pro camera and equipment before knowing about composition and other skills. It took long time to realize the mistakes and then invest in books, learn the important aspects of photography and start taking pictures.

For someone with poor financial control, YouTube is not a good source of learning because you ultimately end up buying into gears (this is what happened to me).

Books are fantastic to learn and they are often elaborate, taking pages to explain concepts. But not many would prefer books and so, it's good to have other options.

This comment section 😂😂
History will always be my first love, though photography is a great pursuit. One day I hope to combine the two!

May I add a 6th item to the list?

6. An Obsolete Film Camera. It presents too many unnecessary barriers to success and learning. The young lady in the title image, for example, appears utterly flummoxed by her “new” camera...which is actually a 50 year-old Canon Canonet QL. (Psst...ya gotta put film it it.)


Learn by looking at the work of other photographers, including books if you can (even from the library). Not all photos are on the web. And then go out (or in) and shoot as much as possible with whatever camera you have. Don't show your work to others too much, and instead learn to judge your work for yourself. Rinse and repeat for the rest of your life.

Great advice.

This is a solid article and as a pro shooter I can agree with everything you said.

Great article. I really, really dislike the presets market and find the entire thing a massive wash. Someone recently (maybe a client?) mentioned they were getting into photography and asked me how I felt about buying presets.

It's almost like they were starting up a chainsaw and the buzzing sound as my response.

As far as buying niche equipment in the hopes of immediately being awesome, I've definitely purchased more than my share. Remember the rogue flash-bender? I'm sure it has an application, but one that never pertained to me.