Getting Back Into Digital Photography
August 19, 2008 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Getting Back Into Travel Photography. Five Questions

I had a SLR camera when I was a teenager, but gave up the hobby because of the price of film and developing. Now, many years and a unrelated advanced degree later, I am a researcher and have not touched a non-point-and-shoot in years.

For my research I travel to quite a few "exotic", "adventurous", and "remote" locations. I had never really thought about taking photos while doing my field research until a few months ago when I hung out with a freelance journalism in the field for a couple weeks. He had a decent DSLR and playing with his camera rekindled my love for photography.

So, as a birthday present to myself, I want to take the plunge and buy a DSLR (maybe a Nikon D40 or D50) and get back into photography.

I am hoping the hivemind can help me answer these 10 questions:

1. I am a novice photographer, what blogs can I read to improve my skill?

2. I am skilled in and own Photoshop and Illustrator, is there any other software I need?

3. What types of non-camera & non-lens equipment (bags? covers? etc...) do you recommend for a novice? (I don't need specifics, just general types)

4. In general, what are the differences between Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc... for entry level DSLR?

5. Later on, should I consider joining istockphoto to help offset the cost of my photography hobby?
posted by Spurious to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend the Nikon D40 with a wide angle lens and a mid to tele, like their 18-200. But go to Ken Rockwell's website and all your questions will be answered.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 11:51 AM on August 19, 2008

In answer to question #1:

Digital Photography School is good at a novice and early-intermediate level.

But really:

Get on Flickr and join active groups related to your interests (travel photography in general, and also the regions you're interested in, as well as the cameras you're interested in). Follow the discussions in those groups and learn a lot from your fellow photographers.

In answer to question #2:
Adobe Lightroom is much more geared towards the needs of photographers than Photoshop is, and I recommend it highly (but still using PS as a supplement when you need things such as layers, masks, etc.).

#4: Read reviews and comparisons on Digital Photography Review.

For all questions: Read some of the many previously asked threads on AskMe under the "photography" tag.
posted by matildaben at 12:03 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ken Rockwell's something of a divisive figure in the photography crowd. He gives some good advice, to be sure, but he also does things like review equipment he's never used. The acknowledged standard reference for camera reviews is Digital Photography Review, much-cited in AskMe answers.

You won't need any software outside of Photoshop unless you're trying to do some crazy automated remote capture or other such things. If you're careful with your exposures, you won't even need Photoshop.

As far as non-camera equipment, get a tripod. This should be your first non-camera purchase. Since you're doing travel photography, you'll also need a decent bag. They make some pretty decent backpack-style bags that have a padded area for camera and lenses and another area for general hiking gear.

The main difference between the various brands is the lens lineup. If you have any lenses, or have a line on a good collection you can scoop up, it might be a good idea to buy the camera that fits. Otherwise, the differences at the entry level are pretty minor. They all have slightly different control layouts and design philosophies. Try whatever you can get your hands on and see what you like.
posted by echo target at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2008

1 - I read Digital Photography School and look at other photoblogs (which I won't mention here but will share with oyu if you ask). Personally, I find that reading too much clouds things up because on contradictory suggestions where neither side is technically right. There's also a forum there, which I think is great on a few levels.

2 - I have Picasa solely for organization and minor edits (cropping mostly since I really don't feel like opening Photoshop just to crop something).

3 - Get a bag that's big enough to hold what you have and with room to grow into. You'll want to get more toys. Make sure it's not so big that you won't want to carry it around though. And I like many small pockets/sections over a few big ones because it keeps my stuff separated better. I'm planning on getting one of those rain guards, but until then I keep some plastic bags in there. Rubber bands and/or pony tail holders are great to have because there are so many uses for them (ie using a rubber band as a grip to remove a stuck on filter).

4 - Nikon changed where the autofucus system is, so you can't get older lenses and keep the autofocus. But that's becoming less of a problem as the D40 has aged and the newer lenses are starting to become more common on a used basis.

I was told that Canon handles low light situations better when I was shopping for my first DSLR. Not sure how true that is, but I thought I'd share anyway. DP Review has good reviews, I'd start there. Go play with the cameras and see what you like. It won't be a good fit if it technically does everything that you want but it isn't comfortable to hold.

5 - Personally, I'm not a big fan of stock. Which might be because I can't seem to sell any, so take this with a grain of salt. I'd focus on getting the photography part down before you try to make some money off of it. And if you are able to make money later, selling prints is also something to consider.

You could join a stock place, but until you're getting photographs that are good enough to sell there you won't make any money. And until you take photographs that are pretty amazing, you won't make enough money to really offset much.
posted by theichibun at 12:12 PM on August 19, 2008

Just following on from what theichibun said re: #4. What Nikon did with the D40 was take out the focus drive motor, so any lens that doesn't have its own motor won't be able to autofocus. If you have older lenses or want to buy them on the cheap, it's worth noting that the D80 (a superior camera to the D40 anyway) has that motor and thus will be able to autofocus with a wider array of lenses. With the impending release of the D90, it's likely that the price on the D80 will fall to a more palatable level (currently on Amazon the body and kit lens goes for just under $1000). You also might be able to get a deal on it used, as there will surely be people dumping their D80s for an upgrade.

When you do choose a camera, though, it's critical that you actually get your hands on a few different models. When I went to buy my first DSLR, I was pretty set on the Canon Rebel XTi. After playing around with that and the D40x, I wasn't so sure. After trying out the D80, I was absolutely sure.
posted by sinfony at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2008

I've always enjoyed: MorgueFile

And: Noah Grey's site.
posted by poq at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2008

A couple things to think of.

If you do indeed travel to 'exotic' and 'remote' locations if you don't a laptop with you then be sure to stock up on memory cards.

If you are going to be exposed to the elements when you are at these locations then you may want to consider a used pro camera body. The caveat being don't buy one from a pro, buy one from an amateur who thought he should buy the best camera around and then realized he made a mistake. (Thank god for you guys). The only reason I say this is because (for Canon at least) the pro bodies are weather sealed. They resist moisture, dust, etc...but you still need to protect them to save you any potential grief.

I can't recommend one system over the other but have used Canon my whole life and been very happy. I can however recommend one lens to anyone just getting into it out be they Canon or Nikon users. A 50mm F1.8. Cheap and awesome. Better than any crap zoom that camera dealers push on consumers.

Second the tripod. And if you get one, get a cable release too.

Websites I have found helpful:,, and

But the best way to get better, is to just shoot like mad. Try everything. Don't use the automatic modes, use manual if you can, or start with aperture priority.

Have fun.
posted by WickedPissah at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2008

1. Not your skill, but your knowledge of photography - is really awesome for that. For skills you can check out I'm not exactly a fan but there is some good information there. It doesn't teach you how to take photos on the run though, which is what you need. The basics of digital photography are pretty basic. I had a really great class that went through every little detail of how to use a DSLR. It was pretty awesome. That was at NESOP in Boston. Don't know what to tell you that way, I learned all I needed, then just needed to learn how to do it without thinking about it.

2. Lightroom is pretty awesome. I can't really imagine doing without it now. That said, I shoot tons and tons, so I have a lot of files to organize. Picasa might do pretty good for a while. But Lightroom works pretty amazingly (although I'll say that I'm not totally into their raw processor - but that won't mean much to you right now. It's great)

3. I bought a pretty cheap Calumet bag at Calumet. It's not perfect, but it's remarkably good. The annoying thing about bags is that you have to try a bunch before you even realize what you are looking for. I've been shooting heavily for about 5 years, and I'm on my 5th bag. But this one works pretty well. Backpacks are cool except it sucks to get your camera out of them. Shoulder bags screw up your back, but you can get your camera out in seconds.

I'd love one of these :

4. I'd hit a Pentax K20 or K200 if I were starting over again. Canon and Nikon stuff is definitely good, but I think Pentax gives you much more for your money. It's got a lot more personality. And it's weather sealed, which is a huge deal.

5. Honestly, it's a really expensive hobby. Seriously consider if you wouldn't be better off with a $500 point and shoot (which would be awesome). You are not going to pay this stuff off, most likely, unless you start shooting weddings. There's so much stock photography around you have to be really good (i.e. be shooting stock all the time, really original stuff, totally amazing pictures). Probably everywhere you've been has been covered, and stock generally doesn't pay all that well. Unless it does. You never know. But I would not keep this as part of your master plan.

Also I'd tend to ignore anything that Ken Rockwell says.

And for some reason the reviews on Fred Miranda, taken as an average, are always correct.

And yeah,, those people know what they are doing too.
posted by sully75 at 2:22 PM on August 19, 2008

Ps you could do worse than starting with this camera:

at a good price if you hurry. I bought one as a backup to my 5d and I'm definitely enjoying it. No weathersealing though. That sucks.
posted by sully75 at 2:26 PM on August 19, 2008

Wow, that's an amazing deal for an XSi (the Canon 450D).

Are you biological field researcher? If so, you might want to consider what sully75 said for the weather-sealed cameras. Canons are generally known for their low image noise, but only their top-of-the-line cameras (the 1D series) are said to be weatherproof. The 40D is to some extent, but nothing like the Nikons.. the D300/700 and D3, along with the older D2 series are all sealed.

..however, you are just starting out, and I think it'd be rather brash to through all that money into a $1000+ kit, so the Pentaxes are good because they provide you with a weather-sealed body at a much lower price. TheOnlinePhotographer has an extensive review on the K20D (it should be noted they often favor the Pentaxes).

One drawback about Pentax is that support is not as big. Everyone and their grandmother has a Canon Digital Rebel, while a Pentax K20D/K10D is slightly more rare, but I'm sure you'll still find a group online if you need it.

sully75's got a lot of great advice that I won't repeat.
posted by hobbes at 2:35 PM on August 19, 2008

You've gotten a lot of good advice already, but I'll address point 5. I'm a longtime iStockphoto and Getty contributor. A large chunk of my income comes from them - so real money CAN be earned.

However, you'll need to be technically proficient or better - iStock's standards are rising all the time. You'll also have to work up to earning a significant amount. Not an avenue I'd take if offsetting the cost of equipment is a goal. Not that should stop you from contributing! You should also have a firm concept of what stock IS. More often than not, its clean nicely lit stereotypical images - ask yourself it that's something you're going to enjoy shooting. And shooting ALOT of, if you want to succeed.

One of the main frustrations that I read about with new contributors (not just to istock) is imagery that the photographer thinks is great but gets rejected. That rejection gets frustrating quickly. One need only visit or the yahoo microstock group to read up on this.
The standards for stock are much different and you'll need to accept them in order to be happy - and successful.

Feel free to email if you have any questions!
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:31 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. The biggest obstacle you'll have in terms of reading online to improve your skills and knowledge is that everybody has an opinion. Many opinions tend to be expressed and presented as facts. Some actually are facts.

You could do a lot worse than spending a lot of time on, digging deeply into the site's many tutorials and forum posts.

2. At some point you will want a DAM (Digital Asset Management) program. At least initially, Google's free Picasa2 for Windows or iPhoto for MAcs will serve you well. You can't beat teh price of either.

Hopefully you'll never need an image recovery program in case your memory card(s) become corrupted. There are a number of downloadable freeware apps which can be used if this happens. With modern (as in reasonably current generation) DSLR cameras this problem has become less of an issue as time has passed.

3. The problem with many bags and cases which use foam dividers is that the bulk of the dividers takes up a lot of room, so you end up with a disproportionately large and bulky think which won't hold a lot of stuff.

You can use nearly anything as a camera bag or case if you put each component of your system into these. Myself, I've always gone with bags that are easy to shoot and work out of, and this means I'm a 32 year user of Domke bags.

4. Virtually all current DSLR cameras are amazing values these days. Go to a brick and mortar store and handle as many as you can. I'm frankly hard pressed to recommend anything other than Nikon or Canon unless another company's competitive camera has some "can't live with it it" feature for you.

I'm a very long time Nikon guy, and every time I'm handed a lower end Canon DSLR my first thought is "plasticy and cheaply built". However, they sell a ton of them to very happy users and that's fine with me.

5. The short answer is that unless you are a good photographer with (more importantly) a far above average sense of what sells you'll be along time recouping your investment in hardware by marketing your work through microstock agencies.

I've been a full time professional photographer for over 30 years and I look at the income I receive from the 500ish photos in the six microstock agencies I use as bank account interest on an account that has pictures in iinstead of money.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:37 PM on August 19, 2008

You might want to consider the Micro Four Thirds DSLR. This is a whole new camera body/lens standard that will be coming real soon.
posted by netbros at 6:53 PM on August 19, 2008

#3 - If I was going to get into travel photography, I would definitely get hold of a GPS photo tagger (e.g. here) to ensure that all my photos were tagged with their location from day one.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:28 AM on August 20, 2008

Not sure it is mentioned upstream or not, I highly recommend Lightroom by Adobe. It will make you feel super professional.
posted by Soulbee at 1:02 PM on August 20, 2008

« Older The Conference Room Is Too Loud   |   Keep my rolls puffy and pretty! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.