“Help, I Got A Camera For Christmas!”
Someone who loves you gave you a new DSLR for Christmas, they must really love you, but now what do you do, how do you get started? If you flipped through the user’s manual then things may seem a little overwhelming. Did you feel like yelling “Help, I Got A Camera For Christmas”? Like Johnny Cash and his Cadillac, we’re going to take this one piece at a time!
If you’re new to digital photography, you should the introductory how-to book I wrote about it: “Take Control of Your Camera: Extraordinary Photography for Everyday People” Currently an ebook available for the Kindle reader or Kindle App (available for practically everything, including your iPad) and priced under $5. You can’t go wrong.
How about some gear, if you climbed onto the Internet after taking a few photographs you may have noticed that there is a LOT of gear available for cameras. If you flip through any of the photography magazines it can be overwhelming. So here’s my getting started list of gear that I would recommend for someone with a shiny new DSLR:
- Black Rapid Camera Sling: There is a large number of different camera carrying options out there, from the logo’ed neck strap that comes with your camera, to padded straps, slings, belt hooks…the list continues on and on. I prefer camera slings, some cameras and lenses are heavy and using a neck strap (even a padded neck strap) hurts after a little while. With a sling I have a camera right where I want it, ready to go. After trying a few brands I’m sticking with Black Rapid. They make a quality product and the biggest seller for me is their latch. The off-brand slings have poorly made latches that fail. Failed latches mean dropped cameras. Dropped cameras means broken cameras. Black Rapid also has a latch lock, buy that along with the latch.
- Manfrotto 290 (with ball head): Manfrotto makes a high quality tripod and has for years. The 290-series tripod I linked costs $200, which some of you might consider expensive for a tripod, but when it comes to tripods more than having three legs that extends matter. First the construction is of a good quality, which means the chances of failure is lower. The cheap off-brand tripods can and will fail. Often at the quick release plate latch. Failed tripod means a dropped camera, a dropped camera means a broken camera. Ball head mounts are my favorite. The mount allows for horizontal or vertical positioning of your camera and small adjustments to help you capture a level photograph and it allows for that operation quickly. The newer “pistol grip” heads might be popular, but I’m still a big fan of a high quality ball head mount with twist locks.
- Camera Level: $10! Yes an inexpensive piece of photography kit that is super useful, a great stocking stuffer too. The level slides into the hotshoe (flash mount) on the top of the camera and helps you compose a level photograph. Sure you can navigate the camera menus and find an electronic level, but the simplicity and ease of use (on 3-axis) I can’t help but love this little guy. I own one and have given some away to friends, it really is a great piece of kit!
- UV Filter: All of the lenses I own that have screw on filter mounts have a UV filter on the front of the lens. They’re cheap (the 52mm is $9) and they add protection to your lens. It won’t save your lens if you drop your camera, it will, however, protect the front element (the lens glass) from scratches. Cheap insurance for expensive gear!
- Circular Polarizer Filter: If you ever take a landscape photograph you need a circular polarizer. If you ever take photographs of anything outside with bright sunlight, glare or reflections you need a circular polarizer filter. I can’t think of a single landscape photograph I’ve taken during the daylight hours in the past five years in which I didn’t use a polarizer filter. It makes that big of a difference!
- Camera Bag: You don’t get a link on this one, there are just too many options and it really depends on personal taste and where you are going! If I’m walking around a city with a camera bag I like to use something that doesn’t scream CAMERA because that is only inviting thieves. I like a messenger bag for that function. For that I use Maxpedition, which doesn’t make camera bags yet. For hiking I tend to use Lowepro lens cases attached to my Camelbak. For urban exploration I tend to use a Maxpedition sling bag with lens cases attached via the MOLLE straps. It all depends on what I’m doing and where. For basic protection of my gear while traveling, I depend on a number of Pelican cases, which is extreme to some, but my gear is expensive and I want to take care of it!
- SD Cards (camera memory): The film of the modern era, SanDisk is the brand I use, but there are many top quality brands out there. I tend to buy smaller capacity cards (32gb) and switch cards more often, that way if a card fails (and they WILL fail) I don’t lose all of my vacation photos! SD Card Case: I like to use a protective case to carry my SD cards in. I have a system in which the unused cards are placed in the case facing downward and the cards that have images on them are facing upwards. That way I don’t accidentally erase a card that had photographs on it!
- Adobe Lightroom: Lightroom is the software I use to keep my photographs organized, how I handle 95% of all my post processing needs (as I shoot RAW exclusively) and although there are some alternatives on the market, they struggle to keep up with the leader. Lightroom allows for post processing and minor editing for photographs in a clean and quick workflow. Photoshop is a powerful piece of software (even Photoshop Elements), but it is more suited in the creation of images than the quick post processing workflow of photographs.