Photography can be expensive, it can be cheap, and it's usually somewhere in-between. So, which genres are the hardest to shoot if you don't have much money for equipment?
A common platitude in the world of photography is that you don't need much to create great images. It's true enough, and there are areas I've even fought to make that known. While it is a useful piece of information to remember when you look at another photographer's work and kit bag and your eyes turn green, it isn't absolutely true.
The first area I found that had a complex gradient of results and equipment was macro photography. As anyone who has read some of my originals will know, I got into photography with the sole purpose of creating macro images of insects, like some friends of mine on a car forum were doing. When I first looked up the equipment one of the better photographers in this group was using, I almost prolapsed. He was using the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens, a Canon 5D Mark II, and a Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite. This was over a decade ago, and the total price for those three was around $5,000. I couldn't possibly raise those funds for a new hobby, so I bought a cheap Canon 350D secondhand on eBay that came with a kit lens, and then I bought a macro filter.
To my surprise, I was able to pull off some images that I was proud of. No, I couldn't make the compound eye of a hoverfly look like a mesh fence, but I could still create photographs that were close enough to tiny subjects that I could see things my eyes were missing. I was proud of the shots, and I was creating them with about $300 worth of kit.
As time moved on, I got the typical urge photographers get regardless of genre: I wanted more of what I had. That is, as a macro photographer, I wanted to get closer to the subject. As a wildlife photographer, you want more reach on your lenses. As a portrait photographer, you want a wider maximum aperture, and so on. I invested in a secondhand, rather cheap macro lens and was then creating more images I was thrilled with. I decided all those people harping on about gear being relatively unimportant might have a point. But do they?
Well, yes, in some genres of photography you can pull off a lot with very little. Nowadays, we've seen myriad cover shoots of glamorous models taken with just an iPhone, to the point where the concept has become tired and unimpressive. But is this true of all genres? No, certainly not. So, which genres are the hardest for beginners to shoot on a low budget? Here is what I would consider being the three most difficult.
Before I became a photographer myself, I was mesmerized by the work of one of my closest friends' Dad, who was an internationally published sports photographer with a number of photographers working under him too. His arsenal of the kit was utterly staggering and went from an ultra-wide-angle through to borderline f/2.8 telescopes. Unfortunately, with sport, you need to cover all sorts of different ranges, lights, and speeds of play, and it requires a preparedness that transcends experience alone.
Earlier this year, I interviewed San Francisco 49ers photographer Terrell Lloyd and got another glimpse into just how tricky it can be. He always has two or three bodies, each with a different length lens on it. Here are the lenses he takes to a game:
For bodies, he's always using Canon flagship cameras and has done so since 1996. His lens list is a veritable feast:
Now, this isn't to say that to do any sports photography, you need a used Mercedes worth of camera gear, but it's undeniably a difficult field to get good shots in as a beginner. If we overlook the technical difficulties of ever-changing light, distance, and weather in conjunction with the pace of most sports, you still have to have a lens with good reach to even get a shot in most scenarios. Certainly a genre of photography which, if you want to eventually be shooting high-end images, you will need deep pockets and investment.
Astrophotography is at a strange point in time, not unlike many other genres. It's more accessible than ever before, with mobile phones entering the arena recently. However, the best astrophotography still requires a great many components. With regards to equipment, you will likely need a wide and fast lens, a body with a great sensor, a strong tripod, perhaps a star tracker, and so on. That's without the requisite need to travel to a dark spot, which can be anything from local for the lucky, isolated few, to long-haul flights! Much like the other categories, you can, of course, shoot this genre with entry-level equipment, but if you want to be shooting great images, you'll likely need to invest!
Wildlife photography is one of the most alluring genres for most people. If you live somewhere rich in species, then you'll constantly see opportunities to capture them. If, like me, the most interesting thing you'll see in the wild is a badger, going to places with diverse wildlife is exciting. In Costa Rica, at the start of this year, I wanted to capture everything I saw like I was in a live-action version of Pokémon. The problem was, if I'd been using my full frame body and my farthest-reaching zoom lens, I still wouldn't have been able to capture almost anything. You need such a long lens to get a remotely enjoyable image of wildlife that on a 35mm equivalent sensor, I'd have needed a lens of at the very least 300mm, but more realistically 600mm or more with a teleconverter. That sort of glass is about as expensive as it gets!
In addition to that, you'll need your long lens to be fast and still potentially need a body that can handle high ISO well. I was fortunate enough that in Costa Rica, I was shooting with the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 III, which has a micro four-thirds sensor, so when I was shooting with a 300mm prime and 2x teleconverter, I was shooting the full frame equivalent of 1,200mm!
Over to You
What genres do you think are the hardest for beginners to shoot well without lots of equipment? Is there a genre you struggled with when you first started? Did you find a way around the gear barriers some genres put up? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.