When I first started considering photography and the different sort of photos that I wanted to take, I was a little put out.
It seemed like every article I read did nothing but tell me that my kit lens would be terrible and need an immediate upgrade, or that I would need to travel to tropical locations or live amongst the pandas to get a good flower shot, or that it was going to be years before I could even think about taking a good shot of anything at all…
It seemed like every different shot I wanted to take had fifteen extra bits of gear that I’d need and I would need a full-scale feature length training montage for me to be able to get it.
What I’ve since realized is that for the next five types of photo at least, this advice was way off. The shots that I’ve gotten are by no means professional but they’re well and truly good enough for me, the hobbyist taking his first steps in the game. They were good enough for me to spend the $1.50 to have each one printed anyway, which is really saying something.
Everyone talks about astro with hushed voices and reverence. Anyone in any forum or on any blog that dares proclaim good astrophotography an achievable feat is a moron, or a terrorist or worse… a moron terrorist…
First the location and the timing.
You need to be at least two hours from the nearest city, you need no moon, you need the galactic core on the horizon, you need no pollution in the air, you need to be at altitude, it needs to be cold, it needs to be clear… the list of discouragement truly does go on…
Then there’s the gear.
You need a telescope mount to track the stars, you need an expensive fast, prime, wide angle lens, you need an expensive tripod, you need a camera with insane dynamic range, you need a remote shutter release blah, blah, blah.
Then there’s you as the photographer.
You need to be able to spot constellations, you need to know your camera settings well enough to operate them blindfolded, (yes, I read this piece of advice) you need to pre-set your focus, you need to basically already be a photo god.
I want to make this clear. You don’t need any of that.
You don’t need any of that.
The above photo is the second Astro photo I’ve taken and I didn’t have any of that stuff. Literally not even one of them.
And I still got that shot.
Haters are gonna hate so I can already feel the seething rage spilling over from the forums. Let me pre-empt it by saying that I know the photo isn’t perfect. But no one can deny that I got a shot of the Milky Way and when people look at it they say “Wow”. I don’t even think they say it just to be polite so that’s really saying something.
Beginners CAN get good shots of the Milky Way, you can take your camera with your kit lens and your tripod out TONIGHT and get a photo of the Milky Way that’s probably better than mine.
Anyone that ever tells you to put the camera away or to stay home isn’t helping you. It is always worth giving the shot a go.
2) Highway streaking
Light painting is cool and highway streaking is cool too. Something about that seems to make people think that it’s particularly hard. I know because for some reason I assumed this when I was seeing all these amazing images and trying to figure out if my camera was up the challenge. I generally assumed that something which seemed at a superficial level to be quite complicated, would be complicated to achieve.
There is nothing technically challenging about getting a good long exposure highway shot. Keep the ISO low, use a high f-stop number and set the shutter speed to anything between 5 and 15 seconds.
That’s literally it.
Play around with these settings until you find a combination that you like.
You don’t even need a tripod.
A few days after this photo I went with a friend to a different overpass. I had a tripod with me but my mate just sat his camera on the handrail.
And he got better shots than I did.
These shots look AMAZING when you take the time to dial in the settings to get to the sort of image you have in your head. So, find an overpass, I recommend ones where the road bends because I find them more interesting to look at, take your camera to it and start shooting.
Flowers are harder than they look. One important lesson I’ve learnt in my first few weeks of photography is that your eyes are ninjas. Cameras just can’t keep up.
If you’ve ever taken a photo of a flower that’s looked like this:
When your eyes can see something closer to this:
Then you know what I’m talking about.
What I’ve learned as I’ve taken a photo each day is that your eyes can isolate a subject instantly and almost perfectly whereas a camera can’t. That’s why when your eyes settle on something beautiful and you try and take a photo of it, you get flower photo 1 instead of flower photo 2.
The associated frustration seems to put everyone off to the point that they don’t bother. A flower seems to become something that everyone fears. Added to this is the fact that flowers seem like an ‘obvious’ subject or are ‘played’ in some way and flowers don’t get the attention that they deserve from us beginners.
But here’s the thing…
Flowers do all the work for you.
Flowers are beautiful, they’ve evolved for literally millions of years to be as visually appealing as possible. They’re the perfect subject if you want to show people how truly beautiful the world around you is.
So how do you get good photos of flowers?
That is the only difference between the two above photos. Same light, same settings, same everything except…
The first I took at eye level, standing next to the flower I spotted on my front lawn.
The second I took lying down on the ground with the lens three inches from the flower.
You can take amazing photos of flowers right now, as in right this very second. Grab your camera and go do it!
Before I started and ever since, I keep coming across this advice that all these different shots require a macro lens. When I was doing reading on how to do shots like the one below in particular.
The problem with macro lenses is that they’re expensive. As a beginner with only the intention of remaining a hobbyist, I’m trying to keep the spending down and a lens that’s more expensive than my camera body is a serious financial commitment.
Everything I read and looked at told me that this sort of shot wasn’t going to happen without a macro lens or some extension tubes.
Well the proof is in the pudding.
I know the pro’s out there will say I could have isolated the eye in the shot better with a tighter frame but the reality is I don’t care. As a beginner, I’m doing this for me, the photos that I take as I’m learning are for me to learn from and if I like them then I can share them with others.
I love this photo, and I took it with beginner gear and beginner experience.
It makes me happy to look at which is enough.
5) 50/50 shots
I’m an avid diver and snorkeler and when I started seeing photos like the one below getting around I was excited.
But I was also instantly discouraged.
Obviously a DSLR camera isn’t designed to be taken on a snorkel much less a dive. And the housings start in the thousands of dollars
I couldn’t afford to get the shot.
Then I remembered my trusty GoPro 5 that I take on dives and snorkeling all the time.
Plug it into a $30 dome housing and away you go.
These photos aren’t hard, or expensive. You don’t need a DSLR or vast amounts of skill and experience.
All you need is enough of a desire to take a cool 50/50 shot to find the few bits and bobs required to make it happen.
You don’t need shipwrecks either (I’m in Brisbane, Australia so I’m lucky enough to have plenty of coastline), you could take awesome shots like these at a river, a dam, or even get some cool stuff in a bath tub. I’ve even seen shots like this taken with a phone camera and a glass mixing bowl. It is so easy to do.
These photo categories and their subjects seem intimidating and expensive. As a beginner, you’ll be told time and again how expensive the requisite gear is and how much practice and experience in the craft you’ll need before you even think about trying. Forums can be particularly bad for this.
Every photo in this post aside from the one I took with the GoPro, was taken with a Nikon D3400…
(the cheapest DSLR Nikon make)
…and the 18-55mm kit lens it came with.
I used a tripod for some of them but a cardboard box would have achieved the same result. I took all these photos as a beginner with the most basic gear. You can do the same right now.
If you’ve ever seen photos in any of the above five categories and been discouraged from trying, I’m telling you to pick up your camera and go and try them. Even if you’ve tried before and been discouraged by the results, go out and try again. You’re on the cusp of greatness you just can’t see it yet.
I promise you that you’ll be amazed at how well your photos can turn out.
Blake Parbery is an Australia based photography enthusiast who likes to challenge himself and perfect his photography skills by taking at least one photo per day. Follow Blake’s journey on his blog, www.mishapsinlight.com.