Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Whether you're a parent who wants to be able to capture photos of your own family, you want to dabble into landscapes or you just enjoy documenting the world around you, this post is for you! If you're looking to branch into weddings and/or looking to become a professional photographer, I'll cover that in a different post.
Cell phones these days have amazing cameras, but if you're looking for something a little higher quality or looking to really learn the art of photography then you'll want to invest in something a little more versatile. So you're ready to get started, what do you really need? Here are the top 10 things I recommend for beginner photographers for under $1000.
Essential Gear for a Beginner Photographer
Battery and Charger
Memory Card and Memory Card Reader
External Hard Drive
Camera Cleaning Supplies
What about tripods, flashes, reflectors and all of these other things I see in a camera bundle? Unless you're looking to get super serious, you don't need any of that yet. My advice is to take the time to learn about using the camera and creating a good image and then decide if you want to dig deeper. Otherwise anything extra will most likely only collect dust.
Recommended Gear to Purchase for a Beginner Photographer
When I was first starting out I remember feeling overwhelmed on the exact brands and gadgets to buy and why so I'm going to tell you exactly what I would put in my bag if I was just starting out.
1. Camera Body
If you're looking for something super easy to use and aren't interested in investing in different lenses or other equipment, I suggest you go with the Nikon Coolpix W300. This digital camera is super compact and is perfect for throwing in your purse, backpack or diaper bag and taking along for a day at the park or any other adventure. This camera is waterproof and shockproof which make it great for parents with young kids or adventurers who enjoy hiking and exploring. It also has some basic filters built into the camera so you can skip the process of editing. You'll still need a memory card, a memory card reader to upload them to your computer and an external hard drive to store them on, but otherwise you can skip the other gear for now. I love this camera because it's super versatile, durable enough to handle an active lifestyle and doesn't require any formal training to use it.
If you do want to dive in deeper I recommend going with an entry level DSLR. A D-what? DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. In the simplest form this means that it is a digital camera that allows for you to remove the lens rather than having a built in digital lens. If you're brand new into photography I recommended starting with the Nikon 3500. This camera is designed for photographers who are just starting out so it offers an auto mode while you're getting comfortable with the camera and also has built in guides on the screen to help you learn how to use it. Is it better than my smartphone? Absolutely. The sensor inside this camera is about 15 times larger than what a smartphone has so the photos are much higher quality which is great for longevity and printing your photos.
2. Camera Lens
So you've got your new camera body, so what lens do you need? If you buy the Nikon 3500 starter kit it will come with a 18-55mm kit lens. This is perfect for learning the basics and for photographing kids, pets, etc. There's an option to add on the 70-300mm lens for only $100 more if you buy them all together. If you're interested in being able to shoot from further away and are interested in building up your collection of gear then this is a good deal. What do the numbers mean? I'll cover that in a different post, but essentially the smaller the number, the closer you can be to a subject. The higher the number, the further away you can capture a subject. Having the option to shoot from 18mm-300mm is super versatile and will cover many scenarios for a beginner.
If you're looking to be able to create bokeh, which is the look of having your subject in focus and the back blurred out behind the subject then you'll want to upgrade to a prime lens. For beginners I recommend the Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. This lens will help you achieve that dreamy bokeh feel and is much better in lower light situations. One thing to note is this is not a zoom lens so you'll have to physically move your body if you want to be closer to or further from your subject.
3. Battery and Charger
If you purchase this Nikon bundle, the camera will come with one rechargeable battery and related camera battery charger. Just in case you leave one at home or you forgot to charge it, I always recommended having at lease one backup.
4. Memory Card and Memory Card Reader
Alright so you have the camera, lens and battery that should be good enough, right? Not quite but we're almost there! You'll need a memory card that the camera can use to save photos on. Without one you'll only be able to take a handful of photos in a demo mode on the camera. Depending on how many photos you plan to take, the SD 64gb memory card should be the perfect size to start. Memory cards are small and fragile so I recommend purchasing at least 2-3 memory cards so you always have backup in case one fails, breaks or is lost.
You'll also need a memory card reader. Some computers have them built in, but if not then a basic USB SD card reader will do. If you're working on a Mac then you'll want a memory card reader with a thunderbolt cord.
5. External Hard Drive
Once you take your photos you'll need a place to store them. Most laptops don't come with a ton of storage so you'll most likely need an external hard drive. I recommend the G-Tech 1TB External Hard Drive. This drive doesn't require any set up and has enough storage to last you a while. This particular version is built tougher than regular hard drives to help protect it against falls. As someone who works with external drives every day, I highly recommend making sure the drive has some sort of shock resistance because drives can easily fall off desks or wherever you're working and one small fall can ruin a normal drive completely and risk losing your photos.
6. Camera Bag
Just like with anything else there are so many choices when it comes to camera bags. Based on your needs and your style here are a few different bags that fit different lifestyles:
7. Camera Strap
If you're a little clumsy like I can be, you'll definitely what a strap to keep your gear safe! Similar to bags, you can get a basic strap or one that's more fashionable. Here are a few I enjoy:
8. Camera Cleaning Supplies
You're investing a good amount of money into your gear so you want to make sure you protect that investment which includes regular cleaning for your equipment. At the minimum you're going to need a lens cleaning cloth. This is not the same as just using your t-shirt or a tissue to wipe the lens I highly discourage doing that. Your shirt/tissue could cause scratches across your lens or introduce dirt or dust inside the camera. In addition to the cleaning cloth I recommend caring with you a small camera cleaning kit in case you end up dropping the camera, a bug flies into the lens, etc.
9. Editing Software
So you've bought the camera, you took pictures, you uploaded them to your computer, now what? You can technically share and print your photos as they are, called straight out of camera (SOOC), but if you want to give them a polished look you'll need editing software. Your computer may come with basic editing software built in but if you're looking to learn the ropes of what professionals use, I recommend purchasing an Adobe Lightroom subscription.
Last but not least, now that you have this great camera gear you'll want to spend time learning how to use all of it. Everyone learns a little differently so here are some different options to get you started:
Quick Reference Cards. I find it hard to learn photography concepts from a book, but these photography quick reference cards are a great alternative. They break down basic photography concepts in to easy to understand chunks and can even clip right on your bag to have all the information with you when you're out shooting!