By Cindy Thompson

So, you want to be a photographer, but you have so many questions! 

Do you need an expensive camera?  How about those gigantic lenses?  How do photographers take those gorgeous family portraits?  Could your photos measure up to the professional’s?  It seems overwhelming, but if you break it down into bite sized pieces, you’ll be able to make smart choices. 

Think about your goals before choosing your equipment. 

Some amateur photographers only document treasured moments involving family and friends.  Others want to fill their walls with gorgeous landscapes.  Some specialize in portrait or wildlife photography.  Maybe you’d like to garner an income from this passion.  It may be helpful to focus on one goal and and achieve it before moving on to the next. 

Choosing a focus can help you zero in on what type of equipment you’ll need. 

You don’t necessarily have to have an expensive DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera to get good pictures.  If your subject is close, motionless, and you have great lighting, you can get a satisfying photo from almost any camera.  To take high resolution pictures in more challenging situations, you’ll need to move up to a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses. 

Choosing lenses can be tricky. 

A telephoto lens is great for wildlife and action photography.  A wide angle lens is perfect for sprawling landscapes and buildings.  A normal or standard lens “sees” like the human eye and offers more versatility.  Macros are made for shooting up close and enlarging tiny details.  Affordable prime lenses have a fixed focal length and provide sharp photos even in low light situations.  You can buy a camera that includes “kit lenses” or you can purchase the DSLR camera body separately and customize your lens choice.  Beware, some online retailers bundle good cameras with cheap lenses and accessories.  It is usually best to match the brand of lens to the brand of camera.  If you already own a “starter” DSLR camera, many professionals believe that investing in better lenses or “glass” can be a good option to investing in a more expensive camera.  Expensive lenses can open wider to receive more light and detail than their cheaper counterparts. 

Choosing the right shooting mode on your DSLR camera is also important. 

It is possible to take amazing photos using the automatic settings on your cameras.  Most cameras have settings for landscape, portrait, close up, and action photography. Try taking photos with and without a flash to see which effect you like best.  Don’t forget to review your photos in the viewfinder to see how you did, a habit known as “chimping”.  Zoom in to scrutinize the details or check the bar graph, known as a histogram for proper exposure.  Is your photo sharp and well lit?  As you become more adventurous, you’ll want to learn about aperture (how much light gets through to the sensor), shutter speed (how long the shutter stays open), and ISO (sensitivity to light), and then experiment with the manual settings of your camera.  Mastering the the manual settings takes experience, be patient.

Perhaps the most important skill of all is learning how to create a photo that’s never been seen before or one that evokes emotion. 

Can you frame the subject of your photo somehow?  Consider the background of your photo and eliminate undesirable elements.  Use early morning or late afternoon light to give the photo a warm feeling.  Can you select a setting or lens to blur the background of your photo?  Use the rule of thirds to position your subject in an interesting way.  Take the same shot from several different angles.  Create a scene that will make someone stop and take a closer look. 

The choices you make will provide you with the best opportunities to successfully express your art. 

Settle on a few goals for this hobby or career.  Choose the right camera and lens for your interests.  Utilize online, video and print resources to educate yourself on the inner workings of your camera.  Attend photography programs, take a class, or participate a workshop to learn from fellow photographers.  Consider lighting, background, and composition in every photo.  Find great lighting even if it means getting up at 4:00 am to stake out a good location. 

Whether taking photos to document precious moments in time, for pleasure, or as an income, as you become more knowledgeable you’ll be sure to reach your goals and have fun in the process.


Photographer, videographer, editor, writer and former librarian, Cindy Thompson has a passion for contemporary art.  Working creatively with words, photographs, and film from concept to finished product is a job she looks forward to every day.  She specializes in video editing and landscape photography.  Cindy is a founding member of The Curiosity Library and is based Down East Maine. 

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