The Sort of Photography Investment Beginners Should Make

When you're first starting out in photography, the temptation to buy that top-of-the-line, five-dimensional autofocus, spacetime-warping camera is strong (that temptation never actually goes away), but there's a better way to go about things. This great video examines how to think about buying your first real camera.

Coming to you from James Popsys, this helpful video examines how you should think about buying a first serious camera. You've likely heard that it's not good to buy an expensive camera that's far more than your current capabilities command, which remains sound advice. I think it's particularly important to consider if you're planning on making money from photography and/or the purchase will place financial stress on you. It takes time to build a viable photography business, and the vast majority of the time, you don't need that monetary burden to be successful. But as Popsys mentions, it's not only this, but the fact that the camera is only a small part of the financial investment in photography, which includes lenses, stands, filters, lights, and most importantly, education. In retrospect, I actually appreciate that my first DSLR was a Canon Rebel; I learned far more by having to learn to shoot with its limitations than I would have had I simply bought a top-of-the-line model. 

Lead image by David Bartus, used under Creative Commons.

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David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I would also add if you want to be a photographer, first assist a pro for a minimum of 3 years. Kids these days want to jump in before testing the waters. Gaining real-world scenarios and soaking in all the information from an established photographer will help you leaps and bounds over buying a bunch of gear. When I was starting my senior year in high school and with the help of my art teacher and realizing that I wanted to become a photographer, I started shooting for the school paper and then a couple of assignments for the local college and assisting pros. I went to a small college that had a 2 year associate degree in commercial photography in Cincinnati and continued to assist pros for four years before landing a sweet studio job in Chicago. I think that most people that want to be a photographer nowadays think it's as easy as getting some pro gear and booking jobs because they watched a couple of youtube videos. Good luck on that business strategy. Now, that has worked for some very talented and extremely motivated/competitive artist. But in today's market that is supersaturated, it's rare that that can be achieved. Here I go again... blahblahblah. :)

Anonymous's picture

No. Just no.

We can safely assume that a person wanting to turn pro has some talent. So, scrub everything you just said and replace it with:

Do a diploma level course in business and marketing.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

You think some newb with a camera and a business and marketing diploma is going know how to give a proper quote, have enough experience, solid portfolio to win an ad campaign or get a photo assignment from a marketing agency? Good luck with "some talent" and a business and marketing diploma.

If you surround yourself with established pros and gain their trust, over time, you become their number one assistant and everything will start to fall into place for you. They start having you co-shoot assignments, give you smaller jobs that build your experience, for portfolio, mentor you, etc.

Time, knowledge and patients get you ahead of the competition and open far more opportunities.

Anonymous's picture

I think that you are manifestly timid; I have my suspicions that you are also a hack, but not having seen your work...

And yes, I think that a person who understands the fundamentals of business and marketing would be able to quote properly, given that such a thing is a well recognised and straightforward business skill.

Edit: now, the article is directed to a new photographer, as opposed to your reframing of the question as someone who has several years experience, and who wishes to enter the industry.

Believe it or not, brand new people sometimes don't aspire to become working professionals.


David Stephen Kalonick's picture

"manifestly timid" and your suspension of me being a hack comment does sting. Can I get an online comment section referee to call the below the belt point deduction? Dick. lol

You're correct that they could give a proper quote. But for a company to even consider them is another argument without knowing what their work looks like etc.

I go off the deep end on articles that I read too much into and try to provide some tips and my original comment is in the wrong post. Correct again.

"Believe it or not, brand new people sometimes don't aspire to become working professionals." Very true and I'm wrong on assuming. Correct #3

White flag is up; this conversation is going nowhere. Maybe we can continue this in another FS article. Headline: How to become a Professional Photographer

If it takes a person three years to learn how to at least be at a level where they can make money, especially with all the free learning sources available online, then I would say that person should probably consider another career.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I would like to add a correction to my original comment because this Clint guy doesn’t know when to stop.

***Please move my comment to the how to become a professional photographer article. ***I would also add if you want to consider becoming a pro one thing that may help is assisting a pro for a minimum of 1-3 years. Watching a bunch of online tutorials will also help.

Are you happy? Or do you want to keep going? 😂 I feel like you were that dude in school that always had to be right.

Anonymous's picture

Buy the best lens you can afford and any camera that goes with it.

Wish I knew this when I started. I could have so much money from buying crappy lenses. I know it now though!! Also don't be afraid to buy older lenses! There are several older lenses that are amazing and super cheap!

Anonymous's picture


Do you have a recommendation on where to find these older lenses? Is it mostly Craigslist and Facebook?

Anonymous's picture

KEH has a good selection and good reputation. Their ratings system generally favors the buyer, and their returns are easy.

Thanks for the advice!

Anonymous's picture

I live in a town with a high percentage of photography enthusiasts, so I'm lucky to have some great local shops. I've also had nothing but good experiences with KEH.

Thanks for the advice!

Yep KEH is great place to find them. Allen is very correct about their rating system. I feel the same way about Adorama as i do KEH. All the lenses i have bought through them are used glass and i either got exactly what i was expecting or better. Craigslist is another obvious choice but you have to look every day to find good deals and what you find depends heavily on your location. it's REALLY hard for me to find anything that is useful living in Oklahoma but i if browse criagslist in any city in Texas i find good deals every week.

Where in Oklahoma? I grew up in Tulsa, small world. Also, thanks for the great advice.

Woah cool! i grew up and still live in Norman. Dude the medieval fair is going on this weekend!!! The Norman Music Fest coming up too!

ewww Noooorman? Went to school in Stillwater. (and of course found a Fiance that went to that Norman school)

I agree about KEH. I bought a used Canon New F-1 with a few accessories from them.

I first purchased a canon rebel t5i and then the t7i for most people a crop-c camera works great.. Buy some good glass (Lenses) and go have fun. You don't need to follow all the marketing hype to enjoy a wonderful hobby. If you don't keep it fun and affordable you won't enjoy it as much.. Peace

amanda daniels's picture

This is so true though! I did start with a canon rebel t6i and a kit lens. I watched so many videos and joined FB groups and i always thought I was missing out and needed better gear to be better. I did purchase a 50mm lens and that was it for awhile but I kept fighting with myself telling myself I didn't need bigger and better and that I needed to learns things first. But for a beginner it is hard to not make this mistake. 3 years later I have a 6d and a 5d mark iii and some nice lenses, but the truth, I wouldn't even have known how to use the mark or the lenses properly 3 years ago.

Digital Cameras have come so far. Nowadays you can get beautiful results with almost any entry level body and a decent lens. Even a 4 year entry level Nikon (3300) has a native ISO range of 12800. Put a decent piece of glass in front of it and you're set! Basic rule is to invest in the best you can afford with the capabilities and features that matter to your style of shooting... then go out, shoot and fail. Invest your time in failing and learning from your failures to get the results that you want.

I wasn't a beginner when I bought my first DSLR in 2013; yea, I'm late to the technology game. I bought my first SLR, a Canon A-1, in 1980, and added a used Canon New F-1 in 2013. I did a feature set of the features that the film SLRs had, 6 FPS with their respective motor drive, full frame. The closest match in Canon's portfolio at the time was the 5D Mk III.