I’ve had this conversation around once a month for the last eight years. It’s about TIME that I make a post for it! Almost always, when someone is asking me about cameras, what they really want to know is about background blur. Stay tuned for some very basic tips for getting started with photography.
01. Photography is not a one-size-fits-all. Certainly, I can give you some hot tips for getting started with photography, but the time you put into learning whatever gear you choose is going to have the biggest impact on the look of your photos. That being said, if your primary goals are along the lines of hobby photography, portraiture, and intense depth of field (blurred background), then I’m going to make some recommendations for where to start.
02. DISCLOSURE: I’m going to post Amazon affiliate links, & I don’t like Amazon. My real true recommendation is that you look around for a used option! I even wrote a whole post about how to shop used here! That’s how much I think you should consider used gear. It’s more environmentally sustainable, and you can save so much money. But Amazon has a killer return policy. I usually shop camera bodies and flash used. I get lenses via Amazon because their return policy is better. And oftentimes their prices are better. If you can swing it, definitely check out the brand’s promos and prices before just shopping my links. Amazon is the worst, with the best prices and policies. Do what you will!
03. Also, I only use Canon, for no reason other than it’s what I started on and still use. If you want to check out other brands, have your way!
04. And last but not least, I have never one time in all my years seen an actually good kit bundle. Buy a body, and buy a lens, a la carte. The kits are full of crap that no one uses. You’re going to spend a lot more money buying everything you wish you had gotten once you learn a thing or two about your camera.
Without further ado, here are my honest non-technical informational recommendations based on my past experiences. Don’t come for me! & you’re welcome.
Canon Rebel Series. Entry hobbyist dream. Very affordable. My first DSLR camera I shot on was a Rebel t2i that I used for four years. My friend bought it from me and still uses it, and blows me away with her photos on it. You can do great things for a teeny tiny price tag in comparison to other entry systems.
Canon 6D Mark ii. This is the lowest end full frame camera body that you can buy. It’s an AMAZING camera, and has some features that are more advanced than its big sister 5D Mark iii.
Canon 5D Mark iii or Mark iV. What I use & loveeeeeeeeee. Canon wouldn’t be my first choice for video or film, but I love very much for photo.
Entry & hobbyist, budget friendly
Budget friendly first. I’ll include prices so you can get an idea of the range. If you’re looking for sharp photos with a blurred background, say no more. I shoot pretty much all fixed prime lenses, meaning they don’t zoom. If you want intense focus and background blur, this is what you want, too.
50 mm 1.8 $125 The lens I would most recommend for a newbie trying to get into portrait photography. You won’t find a cheaper lens with any system that is going to work this well. This lens was fabulous to learn on.
50 mm 1.4 $399 A big time upgrade from the 1.8. If you can swing it upfront, buy this instead of the 1.8. It’s a lot better quality, can blur more, and does better in less light.
24 mm 2.8 $149 Honestly my FAVORITE travel lens. It’s a much wider angle with a much lower aperture than cheap 24mms usually have. Compare to the 24 mm on this next list to see what I mean ;’-)
Professional; less budget friendly
These are more splurgy lenses. You’ve now graduated from plastic to glass. It’s a wonderful world! Canon, take my money. (P.S. if you’re not well versed in photography, this is why photographers charge what they do. It costs so much money just to be in the game!)
50 mm 1.2 $1400. This is my favorite lens that I use the most. Mine is five years old and works as well as it did the day I got it. I love her very much.
35 mm 1.4 $1800 My other favorite lens. I shoot the majority of wedding days with only these two lenses.
24 mm 1.4 $1550 Ideal if you’re doing landscape work. You can get very wide angles (like a city scape or mountains). A very very very dreamy (& painfully expensive lady). She’s so fun. I love her very much.
135 mm f/2 $1000 In lieu of the lens below. These top 4 lenses are the wedding dream team. I LOVE this one for close ups & special moments. First look, first dance, toasts, etc. I haven’t used it in the wild yet, but it would be amazing for photographing wildlife, or sporting events.
70-200 mm f/4 $1300 The only non-prime lens I occasionally rent for weddings. It’s so heavy and not my cup of tea. I prefer prime (all the individuals above). However, if you’re shooting a ceremony by yourself, or nature photography far away and don’t have time to lens switch, it’s a good option.
P.S. The only other lens system I’ve used is Sigma. Was not a fan. I got the 50mm 1.4 and the 35mm 1.4 and returned both. Personally, I had MAJOR issues with chromatic aberration and focus. It’s almost half the price of Canon. Many dear photo friends of mine, and professionals that are much more successful than me use and love Sigma! If you can NOT w/ these prices, check out Sigma alternatives. Do your research and shop around!
If you aren’t doing event photography or going for a particular look, you shouldn’t need a flash. I’m sharing this because it’s SO HARD to find info about good flashes. Of all of my tips for getting started with photography, this one is worth its weight in gold. LOL. I hate off-camera flash (personal preference. the look and the setup makes me weary). And there are so many on-camera flashes that are so hard to use and learn. These recs are a gift, from my heart to you. I find them very easy and intuitive to use, which has been the exact opposite of most of my experience working with flash.
Canon Speedlite 430 EX
Profoto A1X Air TTL
After using camera harnesses, I will never again not use one. Over the neck straps KILL my neck and posture. If you’re photographing in nature, following your kids around, or seeing clients, do yourself a favor. Get a camera harness. Being hands free using your body structure (back/shoulders) instead of your muscles or hanging on your neck is a MUST.
My favorite styles are leather and pretty, but there are toooooooons of good alternatives.
Two of my favs:
Holdfast. Pinchy & hair-pully. Very secure. Aesthetically cool.
Rose Anvil. Amazing dreamy, perfect fit, minimal and trendy. Approx one million dollars.
Pick your poison.
Again. Learn from my mistakes. Guys, the camera bag world is a RACKET. I’ve owned and bought many a camera bag over the years. I won’t blast any brands. But after much trial, error, and spending, my #1 recommendation is to get a camera insert and then get a bag you actually like. Camera cases are literally the worst, ugliest, bulkiest, most expensive unattractive, least fun part of being a photographer. Ask me how I really feel about it! 😉
I use a Madewell leather tote and backpack with camera inserts.
I also use a think tank case that I keep everything in for weddings. It is so nice. Upgrade to the bigger size if you’re an event photog. The small one is too small for 2 bodies, 3 lenses, & all your accessories you need. But a wheelie bag is a game changer.
What To Do With All That Info
To put it all together, unless you are getting into photography because you want to make money doing it and will be needing pro gear, SAVE YOUR COINS, and get an entry level camera. I’ve never seen an article that shoots it as straight as this with tips for getting started with photography.
If you’re just wanting better photos of your family, travels, photos for blogging, content, sport events, get an entry level camera, like any from the Canon Rebel series or the 6D Mark ii and a 50 mm prime lens.
If you’re getting a camera becuase you think you want to try to make money off of it & sell portrait sessions, my unpopular opinion is to go ahead and get a full frame camera like the 6D or 5D, because you’ll quickly outgrow your entry model. Bundle with a 50 mm 1.4 lens or better.
There you have it. My tips for getting started with photography! I encourage you to be realistic with yourself. Photography is a wonderful, life-giving creative outlet, but it’s a big commitment in time and money. I hope you feel a lot more empowered and equipped to make the best choice for you.