Photography is an addictive hobby. What starts with a single, basic point-and-shoot camera often blossoms into a full-blown obsession that sees people stocking up on enough camera equipment to qualify them for an episode of "Hoarders."
But you don't have to take equipment to extremes to make wonderful pictures. Whether you shoot digital or film, there are a few photography essentials that will keep you well-stocked and ready for just about any shooting situation.
We'll start with a few bits of photographic paraphernalia that are helpful no matter what kind of camera you use. Novice photographers especially often overlook the importance of a really good camera bag. Cheap bags lack sufficient pockets and padding. Quality bags, however, are really roomy and help you organize all of the little things that you have to pack with your camera.
Those little things are critical to creating great pictures. They include items such as a blower brush (a rubber bulb with soft bristles at the end) and cleaning paper for your lens, extra film or flash cards and batteries, your camera manual, and a plastic bag for protecting your expensive gear in case of a sudden downpour.
Other items may come in handy, too. If your camera has a hotshoe (a little metal square on top with electrical contacts), you can attach an external flash. External flashes offer much more flexibility and range than a simple pop-up flash, letting you direct and control light in endless ways.
If you own an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera that lets you attach different lenses to the camera body, you'll want to invest in a variety of lenses, from wide-angle lenses that let you capture big landscapes to telephoto lenses that greatly magnify distant objects, such as skittish wildlife.
And last but certainly not least, a tripod is perhaps the quintessential piece of gear for amateur and professional photographers alike. A tripod provides a solid, stable platform for your camera, reducing blurry images caused by shaky hands or a stiff wind.
There are plenty of other essential supplies you need for your camera. Keep reading to find out more about important equipment that will help you take your pictures to new artistic heights.
Digital Photography Supplies
Digital cameras are a distinctly different kind of technology compared to their analog, film forebears. Here's an overview of equipment that's vital to taking pictures with digital cameras.
Power is a primary concern with digital cameras. The gorgeous, glowing LCD screen that lets you immediately review your images is very useful, but it also sucks a lot of power. So whether your camera uses rechargeable lithium-ion packs or AA batteries, make sure you always have spares on hand, lest the fun come to an abrupt and disappointing end.
Flash memory cards, which store picture files, are equally critical. Flash card prices have dropped rapidly in the past few years; today, you can buy one with several gigabytes of storage (enough to store hundreds or thousands of images) for less than $10.
Digital and film cameras use contrasting technologies, and perhaps the most obvious difference is the process that occurs after you shoot. Film goes into a processing machine or darkroom, while digital images transfer directly into a computer for editing.
Some cameras let you edit shots as you take them, but before you can really work on digital images, you have to move them to your computer, either by connecting your camera to a PC via USB cable or by inserting your flash card into a flash card reader. Some readers are built directly into computers, while others are separate, external devices that use a USB cable. External readers are handy in that you won't drain your camera's battery as you transfer files.
Once you have the images on your computer's hard drive, you can manipulate the pictures. Image editing software isn't always necessary, especially if you're skilled at creating nicely exposed photographs. However, many photographers use editing programs to adjust brightness and color or to add any number of special effects.
After you tweak an image to perfection, don't let it waste away on your hard drive. Making a hard-copy print gives you a chance to hold your pictures and really see them in a personal way that no monitor can duplicate. You can print digital images at your local superstore or pharmacy, of course, or you can invest in an inkjet printer and produce prints at home.
Film Photography Supplies
Because of the digital revolution, your options for this medium are dwindling. Kodak, for example, recently discontinued its iconic Kodachrome color film [source: PC Mag]. So, when you invest in film, pick a common type that's backed by a major brand and in good supply at your local superstores, not gathering dust in the back of your town's last camera shop. If you choose rarer films, be prepared to spend a lot of money to ship your negatives to a specialty lab.
If you're intrigued by the old-school idea of developing your film in a darkroom at home, you certainly can, and the learning curve may not even be as steep as attempting to understand Photoshop, which takes years to master because of its many capabilities. And there's one big advantage to home development -- you can use less common film types that store labs no longer work with, such as medium-format or large-format films.
To develop film at home, you'll need a hand-held developing tank and a variety of fluid chemicals, including photographic developer, stop bath and fixer. You also have to buy photographic paper in order to make prints from your negatives.
Your darkroom should have hot and cold running water and cabinets that let you safely store chemicals and other accessories.
You'll need patience and a willingness to deal with the trial and error that is an unavoidable part of film developing. Unlike in Photoshop, when you develop film, you can't hit CTRL-Z to undo your mistakes.
And you should be prepared to spend significant chunks of cash on the consumables you use, such as film and paper. Paper alone is a significant expense, at a minimum of around $30 for 100 8-inch by 10-inch (20-centimeter by 25-centimeter) sheets.
If film development sounds like it might be a hobby in and of itself, you're right. It's a detail-oriented and costly process that requires investments of both cash and time, and it lacks much of the instant gratification of digital imaging. Still, film is a powerful art form that rewards dedication and skill.
It doesn't matter if you choose the path of digital photography, film photography or both. There are thousands of accessories you can buy to accentuate (or totally overload) your photography fun.
But try to keep things simple. Photography centers on capturing light in a way that's personal and meaningful to you. If you focus less on geeking out over equipment and more on understanding what pictures mean to you, you'll impress yourself with the images you can create.
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