It’s no secret that photography can be an expensive career or hobby. Purchasing and maintaining photography equipment can add up super fast. However, on the bright side, photography equipment is becoming gradually more affordable due to its popularity. In this post, I will share photography equipment recommendations for beginners and bloggers.
1. CAMERA + CAMERA KITS
For starters, I recommend investing in a good DSLR camera for getting started in photography. Cell phone cameras can be great cameras, of course, but cell phones come with limitations such as storage limits, file compression, and output. A DSLR will give you more control of your settings and file output. DSLR cameras can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands. Since this post is focused on affordable equipment, I’ll recommend my favorite affordable cameras for beginners. I’ll start with Nikon since I’m a Nikon user, but I’ve also shot with Canon and Sony cameras and can promise these are excellent brands too.
- Nikon 3500 DSLR Camera – This is my top recommendation because it’s the latest version of my first DSLR camera (D3100) that I got when I was a beginner photographer. I still use my DSLR 3100 as a backup camera and it still works perfectly after 7 years. So, I can only imagine how much more awesome the D3500 is.
- Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera – This is another great starter camera that’s very similar to the D3400 but it also has a swivel screen. The swivel screen feature is very well worth the slightly higher price especially if you are a blogger, vlogger, or selfie lover. I’ve also used my boyfriend’s older version of this camera (D5100) and would often be pretty jealous of the swivel screen feature.
While my personal preference is mainly Nikon brand, I’ve had experience using Canon and Sony cameras, and can confidently say that these are great camera brands as well. Which brand you choose is more about your specific photo/video goals, budget, and interface preferences.
- Canon Rebel T6 EOS | Canon EOS T7i DSLR Camera
- Sony Alpha A68 DSLR
The next most important category of equipment you’ll invest is Lens. Lens plays a crucial role in how your camera captures the light, focal length, and detail of images. There are so many different lenses that are ideal for different purposes. Some lenses are well known for portrait taking, landscape and street photography, low light, and all around purposes. Additionally, lenses’ prices can vary from a few hundred dollars to even costing way more than your camera body. The positive thing about lenses is that even if you spend a lot of money on a lens, it tends to have a long lifespan (if you take care of it) and can use between multiple camera bodies as you upgrade within your camera brand. (Meaning if you have Nikon lenses, they are typically compatible with newer Nikon cameras but may not work with camera bodies from other brands such as Canon or Sony.)
Kit lenses are the basic lenses that are typically included with a DSLR camera bundle/kit. These lenses are great for general photo taking, and I would recommend learning how to make the most of your kit lens. But its great to invest in additional lenses for specific uses.
Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths which means it will not zoom in or out. While this may seem like a huge limitation, please consider that there are a lot of benefits to shooting with prime lenses. The benefits of prime lenses include:
- Larger aperture for better prices
- Great for lowlight situations
- Sharper image quality
- Being more lightweight and easier to store
My favorite prime lenses for portraits or low light situations are Nikon AF-S DX 35 mm/1.8G and a Nikon Nikon AF-S 50 mm Nikkor f/1.8. A 50 mm lens is a great staple for most photographers. Here are some other great prime lens options:
Nikon + Nikon Compatible:
Nikon AF-S DX 40 mm (Micro Lens) | Sigma 30mm F1.4 Art DC Lens for Nikon
Canon + Canon Compatible:
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 | Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens | Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 (Telephoto)
Zoom lenses have varying focal lengths that allow you to zoom in and out of a composition without needing change your position. While these are typically more pricey than prime lenses, they also have many varying benefits especially if they offer larger apertures.
A popular zoom lens between multiple camera brands is the 24mm-70mm lens/f/2.8. This lens typically costs at least $1k, however, it replaces multiple prime lenses and works well with most types of photography. There also are great alternatives to this lens. My favorite alternative is the Tamron 28-85mm/f/2.8 for Nikon. It’s been my primary lens for 5 years now, for a far lower price. I use it the most with my Nikon D600 for shooting nightlife, portrait, and still life photography.
A computer (preferably laptop) is essential for storing, organizing, and editing your photos. Although this post is focused on affordable equipment, I don’t recommend going the cheap route. Computers that are best suited for editing, retouching, and digital art usage will need more processing power which is rarely cheap. The essential basic computer specs I recommend are (i7 processor, at least 8GB of RAM, and a good video card). The two computers I use for retouching and digital art are my MacBook Pro 2012 and an Alienware M17 Laptop (my newest baby :D).
Here are some more powerful laptop options
Lenovo ThinkPad Ultrabook | MSI Gaming Laptop
Microsoft Surface Pro | MacBook Pro | ASUS VivoBook S | Apple iMac
4. EDITING SOFTWARE
Getting it right in camera is key, but editing software is essential for even the smallest of adjustments (cropping, color adjustments, etc). And if you want to perform more advanced editing and retouching, a powerful editing program is a must-have. I recommend the industry standards, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Bridge (for organizing).
- Adobe Lightroom – best for batch editing, quick editing, and beginner level use.
- Photoshop Elements – the lighter version of Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Photoshop – great for minor and advanced editing and retouching. A little more complex to learn than Lightroom. (Included with Lightroom in the Creative Cloud Photography Annual Subscription)
- Adobe Bridge – great for organizing photos and files in general
Tripods are essential for getting steady shots when shooting at a slow shutter speed/long exposure. They are also extremely useful for shooting self-portraits, still life, flat lay, and studio work. I highly recommend using a tripod and arm for flat lay photos. Leaning over constantly will damage your back over time. Just like many other photo equipment tripods can range in price. This is another investment where I recommend avoiding the cheap route. A cheap flimsy tripod can result in a broken camera and lens which would ultimately cost you way more. So, be sure to research and evaluate your needs for a tripod, the weight of your camera, and how much weight your tripod and tripod accessories will need to support. Manfrotto is my favorite tripod brand. I use a Manfrotto MK293A3 Tripod Kit + Manfrotto Magic Arm for still life and flat lay photos. The magic arm is a tripod extension that allows you to take capture steady photos at various angles including overhead shots. A more affordable tripod option to consider is the Manfrotto MKCOMPACTADV – Advanced Tripod w/ 3-Way Head.
6. ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING (CONTINOUS LIGHTING + STROBE LIGHTING)
It’s important to learn how to shoot with and manipulate available lighting. However, it’s great to start experimenting with controlled artificial lighting. There are two types of
Continuous lighting is basically light that remains on once you switch the light source on. It can be modified by various objects, tools, and positioning. Common examples of continuous photographic lighting are fluorescent lights, hot lights, and LEDs. LED lighting can create beautiful effects but can also be expensive for high-quality LEDs. Affordable continuous lighting options include fluorescent lighting kits, cheap work lights, and smaller LED panels.
- Work Lights – Work lights are cheaper lights you can find in hardware stores. Since they are not created specifically for photography purposes, positioning them can be a little challenging because of how they are built. A great work light is the LEPOWER 2 LED Work Light.
- Continuous Lighting Kits – Continuous lighting kits typically contain fluorescent lightbulbs, lighting stands, and light modifiers (umbrellas or softboxes). Cowboy Studio offers beginner level studio lighting kits for affordable prices, such as the Photography & Video Portrait Umbrella Continuous Lighting Kit.
Strobe lighting is lighting that flashes when it’s triggered. If your camera has flash on it, then you already have a strobe light available. The benefits of using strobes are the brighter lighting output. The main con of using strobes is that you can’t see exactly what your image will look like because of its quick flash. Altogether strobes are my favorite to use, the common types of photography strobes are on camera speedlights and off camera strobes.
- Speedlights – A speed light is an on-camera flash which includes your built-in flash or a flash you attach to the hot shoe. Speed lights are generally more affordable than studio strobes and are more compact and portable. There are also various modifiers available for speed lights. I primarily use my Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Flash for both lowlight event photography, and studio still life photography. The SB-700 costs a few hundred dollars for a high powered flash output. If you aren’t planning to shoot in low light, you can invest in more affordable flashes such as the AmazonBasics Speedlight or the Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlights.
- Studio Strobes – These are off camera strobe lights that are triggered to fire by your camera through a connecting wire or sensor. These cost more for quality strobes and are less mobile than speedlights. Studio strobes generally have a larger selection of light modifiers available to use. I started with using Cowboy Studio ProStudio Strobe kits as a beginner.
7. LIGHT MODIFIERS
Whether you are using available, natural, or artificial lighting; modifiers allow you the most control over how light behaves in your image. Modifiers help shape, soften, bounce light, and more. There are several types of modifiers such as reflectors, softboxes/diffusers. While there are many more types of modifiers, these two types of the main ones I would focus on as a beginner.
REFLECTORS + REFLECTOR KITS
Reflectors allow you to bounce and reflect light. You can use a variety of objects for this purpose such as foil and poster boards. However, I prefer using all-in-one disc reflector kits such as the Neewer 43” 5 in 1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Reflector kit, which includes a reflector, a diffuser, and more.
Softboxes and diffusers soften the light in your image. Similar to reflectors, you can use a variety of objects to diffuse lights such as bed sheets and fabrics. But it’s easier on my workflow to use diffusers and softboxes created for photography use. Here my favorite light softening modifiers.
- Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere – My most recommended for Speedlights. I have been using a Gary Fong Lightsphere Kit with my SB700 for low light event photography.
- Table Top Photography Studio Lighting Kits – These are tabletop studio kits that typically include a small softbox tent, small work lights, and backdrop options. Great for small product photography if you have an online shop or Etsy shop.
- Softboxes & Umbrellas – Softboxes can be purchased to either fit speed lights or studio strobes. Umbrellas are generally easy to use between different types of lights as well. I enjoy using Octagon softboxes because they can create a large soft lighting effect on an object. Umbrellas are awesome because they can be used for both diffusing and bouncing light. Just make sure when you invest in umbrellas and softboxes, that you are also purchasing good light stands to place your Speedlight or Strobe on with the modifier.
8. MEMORY CARDS
Memory cards are where your photos are immediately stored after capture. They are essential at all times unless you are tethering directly to a computer. Memory cards have become so much more affordable since I started shooting 7 years ago. So I recommend purchasing at least 3-5 memory cards that are at least 32 GB or 64 GB to prevent needing to constantly swap out cards during a shoot.
9. EXTERNAL FILE STORAGE
Always make sure you’re making multiple backups of your photos and your files in general. Losing images forever is heartbreaking and can potentially damage your business or reputation. So its best to invest in multiple hard drives external, portable and even memo sticks. Not only will these storage devices provide forms of security, but they will also help you prevent file clutter.
- Desktop External Hard Drives– typically come in larger file storage sizes, however, it’s best to not move these around. From my experience, the more you move them, the higher the risk of them crashing.
- Portable Hard Drives – These are ideal if you need to carry a lot of your files around with you. They’re not as likely to crash due to moving around, but still be careful with these. I’ve accidentally sat on one before and lost all my files on it two days later. (Thankfully it was backed up though haha)
- Thumb Drives – Thumb drives are great for transporting and moving small amounts of files at a time. These are ideal for temporary file storage.
10. CAMERA BAG
Protect your equipment from different types of damage by investing in a good camera bag. Not only will this protect your equipment it will help you stay organized and appear professional because you won’t be fumbling with all your goals and gadgets all the time. Here some of my favorite bags available on Amazon: