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 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.
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.
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.
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!