Photo Tip # 5: Purchasing Photo Gear

I like taking pictures with dSLRs.  This requires me carrying a big camera.  Inevitably, when enough people see you carrying around a large camera, you get asked a lot of questions.  While the questions can vary, more often than not I get asked for camera purchasing advice.  Purchasing advice can be split into three categories: what to buy, how to buy, and when to buy.  Below are some little tidbits that I usually share with people, hopefully it's helpful to others out there on the interwebz What To Buy

The most important factor in buying photo gear is to figure out your budget.  Most people pick up photography as a hobby or simply because they want better looking pictures.  I think it's important to stick with budgets because, well, we all work hard for our money and these days it doesn't go as far as it used to.  Just be realistic: figure out how much you think you'll use it, how much you are willing to spend, and how you can spend.  You'll come up with a number.  The great news is that digital photo tech has come a LONG way in the last decade, and you can easily get a camera and a lens or two for well under $1000 that will take GREAT pictures.  If you end up really getting into photography and really liking it, you can always upgrade later.  So figure out a budget and stick to it.  Buying a camera is a very subjective purchase.  There's no right or wrong camera, rather a camera that's right for you.  I always recommend going to stores and checking out cameras in person because I'm big on ergonomics.  Other things to keep in mind are size, choice of lenses, image quality, user satisfaction, etc.  You can also read reviews on places like,, or a million other places on the internet.  If you REALLY can't decide on something, you can always rent first.  Sites like rent out camera bodies and lenses.  The biggest thing to remember: better camera won't necessarily make you a better photographer so don't get too hung up on what to buy.

How to Buy

For buying, there are several ways to go about it.  Locally, there are "big box" retailers such as Best Buy, local "mom and pop" photo shops, and second hand markets such as KEH, Ebay, and Craigslist.  Here are my thoughts from my experience.  Big box retailers can be good sometimes, although the selection is often limited and I find the salesmen aren't particularly knowledgeable.  They are also going to try and sell you extended warranties, extended warranties for those extended warranties, etc.  It can get annoying.  Big box retailers for me are great if you know EXACTLY what it is you want.  If you're not sure, this might not be the best place for you.  Local mom and pop photo stores can be a great resources.  The staff are going to be more knowledgeable than staff a lot of other places, they are often convenient, however the prices aren't always going to be the best.  I buy at these stores when I need something in a pinch or a high priced item that I want the assurance of being able to return to a brick and mortar store if I need to.  Craigslist and second hand markets can be a good resource, but any time you buy used from someone else, you never know EXACTLY what you're going to get.  However, if you do your homework places like Craigslist can be a great resource.  If you choose to use Craigslist, never give out any personal information unless you have to and play it safe: always meet people in well lit, well populated public areas, bring a friend, etc.  Just be smart about it.  Another store for used goods you can check out is KEH and there's always ebay.

Buying online you can find great deals on new gear, however the internet can be a big scary place sometimes.  The biggest thing to avoid with the internet are "gray market" items.  These are new items from the manufacturer being sold in a region the goods were not originally destined for.  Often they have great prices, but if anything goes wrong, you could have a lot of difficulty seeking warranty service.  Three major online retailers I trust are Amazon, Adorama, and B&H Photo and Video.  Amazon has great prices and I have always received US gear from them.  Adorama and B&H sell both US and gray market items, but will specify what is US and what is gray market.  Most often than not, only cameras and lenses are gray market or US.  To see if your online retailer should be trusted for other things, you can always contact the manufacturer of whatever you're going to buy and find authorized resellers.  That being said, I've had good luck with Amazon, Adorama, and B&H.

When to Buy

I already alluded to the strides that camera tech has made in the past decade.  Technology moves fast and newer, better gear always comes out.  Camera product cycles generally range from 18-24 months (although some cameras lately such as the D700 and 5dmkII are pushing 36 months).  Something to keep in mind when buying is just do a quick google search on the release date of the camera you're thinking about buying.  If it just came out, great, go for it!  If the camera you're thinking about buying has been on the market for two years already, you might want to wait until the "new" version comes out.  That way, you can either get the new version for usually approximately the same price, or you can find the old one cheaper on clearance.  Just keep in mind that time waiting is time you might not be shooting and time you might not be learning to do something you want to do.  It's not always worth waiting depending on your circumstances, so just keep that in mind.  Sites like Nikon Rumors and DP Review will give news on photo gear and new product announcements, so you can always check in on sites like those too (although that might be overkill for most of you).

Anyway, that's all I've got to say in terms of that.  I'll edit this post if anything comes to mind.  Just as a disclaimer, I am not affiliated in any way with any of the sites mentioned in this post and as such, I have no conflicting interests to disclose.

Photo Tip #4: Know Your Gear

One thing I LOVE about Nikons is the Creative Lighting System (CLS).  Recent Nikon cameras and speedlights can be linked via line-of-sight infrared (IR) communication and you can trigger your Nikon speedlight off-camera without buying any additional equipment.  The system is great and if you own a Nikon dSLR and Nikon speedlight (SB600/700/800/900), it's a great introduction to off-camera flash that you can play around with.  By setting the speedlight as a remote, you then use the built-in flash on the camera to trigger the speedlight.  You can tell the built-in flash to either fire or just be a trigger.  I don't have time to put together a tutorial, but if you're interested and not sure how to do it, just look at your manual[s] or google "Nikon CLS" and you can figure out how to do it.  It's relatively simple and straightforward, so go out and use it!  You'll be amazed at the results you can get just with a little tinkering.  One piece of advice: take note of what channel the speedlight is on!!!  Last night, I embarrassingly made the rookie mistake of not keeping track of what channel the speedlight was on and what channel my camera was sending messages to.  As a result I got very frustrated and didn't exactly get the shot I want.  This takes me to today's photo tip:  know your gear before going out in the field!  You've got to be familiar with every aspect of your gear before going out in the field if you're going to get the shots you want.  Read your manuals and find willing guinea pigs to try out your gear before going out on jobs.  That way if you run into trouble, knowing your gear will help you effectively and efficiently troubleshoot.  I figured out my problem last night relatively quickly (probably within 3-4 minutes), but I only had a couple minutes to get the shot I wanted, so by the time I figured out what was wrong the opportunity had passed.  While I'm disappointed in myself, identifying the source of problems and learning from your mistakes will make you a better photographer.  I hopefully won't be making this mistake again, and by sharing my experience here I hope you won't either!

Photo Tip #3: Improvise!

In conjunction with the post below, I wanted to make note of another tip that I think is worth mentioning.  Whenever you go on a shoot, whether it's for fun, for a client, for your family, for whatever, you have to be able to adapt to and make the most of your surroundings.  I am a grad the sciences.  I don't have access to a studio, nor do I care to rent out one (I'd rather just drop my $$ on gear).  So what do we do then in order to get studio-ish shots??  One word: improvise!  The shots below were simply taken in my apartment, but you'd probably never guess if you didn't know me.  I just rearranged a little for the shoot, took some pictures off the wall, gave my model some props I had lying around and started shooting.  Neat what you can do with an old photo frame that woulda been thrown out, one of my guitars, and my office chair.  Sure, when you improvise you are also going to increase your need for photoshop....some hooks needed to taken out of the wall, a couple blemishes on the chair, etc, but Photoshop CS5's "content aware fill" makes this unbelievably simple.  If that doesn't take care of it, the spot healing brush or the healing brush should do the trick.  I also increased the contract a little to brighten the wall (yes I could have blown out the entire wall in photoshop but I kinda like the look of it left the way it is).  From expensive cameras to lenses to studios, not all of us have access to all the stuff the big boys do, but you can make some "big boy" shots with a little creativity and making the most out of what you've got.  The digital medium is great for experimenting since you don't have to buy film and pay for processing, so get out there, do a little improvisation and experimenting and see what you get!