My Photography Journey: Choosing a Camera and Lenses

My Photography Journey: Choosing a Camera and Lenses

Hi everyone! I asked on Twitter whether anyone would be interested in me doing a bit of a personal series on my blog and it seemed like a popular idea. Over the next few months I'll be sharing my journey from getting my first DSLR in 2009 to being a freelance photographer in 2018. So here we go with Part 1!

I decided to kick off with 'choosing a camera and lenses' as I often get asked by friends and family for kit suggestions. Obviously everything that I share here is all my own opinions and experience, and what works for me might not work for you, but do let me know if anything I've shared has been particularly useful.

Getting Into Photography

Just a quick background about how I got into photography in the first place to kick things off. I've always been really interested in art & design and studied art at A-Level and then at Ravensbourne College of Art & Design. I didn't initially pursue a creative career though (I think that at the age of 18 I was quite keen to start working full time) but I still did a little drawing and painting in my spare time.

When you're working full time it's hard to find the time for art (or so I found) and I had a real urge to start being more creative again.  That's when I decided to buy my first camera. I figured that I could take a camera out and about with me wherever I went, so photography wasn't something that I would have to set aside specific time to do. Up until that point I had never had much interest in photography at all, which now I find hard to believe as it's such a huge part of my life!

I enjoy shooting a wide range of things now - mainly events, portraits and weddings but I also love travel photography! I worked for MyM Magazine for 2 years writing about and shooting Japanese and alternative fashion and pop culture, so that's a big passion of mine too. 

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Hong Kong Travel Photography www.emilyvalentine.online

Choosing My First Camera

I knew I wanted to get a good quality digital camera that had interchangeable lenses. In 2009 phone cameras were still pretty basic and I wanted a step up from a point-and-shoot. I did lots of research online and eventually decided on the Nikon D40. I found Ken Rockwell's website during my research and he raved about how good this little camera was. At around £350 for the camera and a basic 18-55mm lens, it wasn't going to break the bank so seemed like a good option.

What Brand Shall I Buy?

I wasn't really aware of the whole Nikon vs Canon debate at the time of buying my first camera, but out of intrigue I've read lots of articles on the subject. I won't even begin to start to discuss that here, as my personal opinion is that it really doesn't matter which brand you buy - both are excellent. I would suggest trying out one of each and seeing which you personally prefer. 

Once you buy a DSLR in a particular brand it's harder to switch as you begin to invest in more lenses as they're not interchangeable. You might even want to go for a mirrorless camera, as they're much lighter and less noisy - Sony, Panasonic, Olympus and Fujifilm do some excellent ones. Figure out what you want to shoot and then buy a camera and lenses that will fit with that. For example, if you want to shoot wildlife you'll need a great zoom lens, if you want to shoot interiors you'll need a good wide angle lens.

Honestly, if you have a top of the range mobile phone such as the latest iPhone or Samsung, then ask yourself whether you really even need a separate camera yet! Unless I'm shooting an event or a portrait shoot or at night, then I'll usually just rely on my phone camera. I have a Samsung S7 and it's great.

My instagram page is usually a mix of phone and DSLR photos - I enjoy using both equally!

My Current Camera

I currently use a Nikon D750 which is a full frame camera that retails at around £1000 now. You definitely don't need a camera that expensive, but for me this was a great choice, as I'm able to take sharp photos in very low light (with some good fast lenses too). Before my D750 I had a D7000 (a crop sensor camera) which I believe has now been replaced by a slightly newer version. The D7000 coupled with a 35mm f1.8 lens served me very well for years.

I'm not here to go into technical jargon but if you're wondering what full frame and crop sensor cameras are, what the difference is and whether it matters which one you get then this is a good article to look at.

Lenses for Portraits and Events

I have a bag full of different lenses that I've tried out over the years, but the two I use the most are a 50mm f1.4 and a 24-70mm f2.8. The 50mm produces really beautiful depth of field and is brilliant in low light. The 24-70mm was a recent investment. Now that I'm shooting a lot more weddings, being able to change focal length quickly is invaluable, especially when I have limited space to move around - if you're in a studio or during the wedding ceremony for example.

 Shot in the studio with a 24-70 f2.8 lens

Shot in the studio with a 24-70 f2.8 lens

 Shot on location with a 35mm f1.8 lens

Shot on location with a 35mm f1.8 lens

Unless you're making a living doing photography, you don't need an expensive 24-70 f2.8 lens and there are much cheaper alternatives out there - the only downside being that they don't stop down to f2.8. 

My personal opinion is that the lenses are more important than the camera, so if you are short on cash then get a slightly cheaper camera and spend more on lenses, or just one really decent lens.

Flashes

Another essential bit of kit for me are my flashes. I have a little Nikon SB-400 and a SB-700, which is HUGE! Both are so useful and I wouldn't go to a wedding without either. The SB-400 is nice to use when you don't want your flash to be too conspicuous but just want to add a bit of 'pop' to your photos or brighten up a dull room. The SB-700 is particularly useful during evenings at weddings - the rooms are usually very badly lit. See the photos below - the rooms were very very dark - without a fast lens and a flash you'd just see two grainy, blurry blobs rather than a beautiful bride and groom!

wedding photography www.emilyvalentine.online
Wedding Photography www.emilyvalentine.online

Summing It Up

Don't stress about your camera kit. If you're just getting into photography then the most important thing is to have lots of fun. I can't tell you how many times someone's uncle has come up to me at a wedding to ask me what camera I use, before telling about their £6000 camera. Buying an expensive camera will not make you a good photographer - it's been said a million times, but I can't emphasise this enough.

Experiment as much as you can - get a polaroid, some weird fish eye lenses for your phone or even a disposable camera. You'll naturally gravitate towards shooting certain things, so before investing in a big fancy camera, find out what you enjoy shooting and then build your kit over time.

I never got into photography expecting to make money from it, and I make a lot less money than I used to in my office jobs, but the flexible lifestyle that self employment has given me is worth more far more than money. But more about that in a future post!

I hope you've enjoyed this first article - if there's anything you'd like me to cover in future posts or if you have any questions the just leave me a comment below. 

Travel: Hong Kong, a City of Contrasts

Travel: Hong Kong, a City of Contrasts

Pre-Wedding Mini Shoot: Katty & Ian in Greenwich Park

Pre-Wedding Mini Shoot: Katty & Ian in Greenwich Park