I bought my first camera when I was 18. It was a Canon 350D with kit lens that cost roughly 1000USD, I paid for it myself.
Growing up, my family wasn't very well to do. My parents argued about money. I remembered once when I was 4 or 5, I was so scared and angry in the next room when they were fighting, I swore to myself that day, that I'd become financially independent as soon as possible and then forever, so I'd never be a burden or need to rely on anyone again. Never again.
I started doing little arts and crafts stuff to sell to classmates and friends when I was 8 or so -- hand-carved eraser stamps, drawings, embroidered birthday cards. When I was 15, I made Singapore's national air rifle team. This allowed me to win prize money through winning international championships and games. I saved what I received from the Sports Council's yearly reviews, happy that I could pay for my own food now. And sometimes, I'd spend some on artbooks which I think were fundamental to my artistic development.
The savings grew and stayed mostly untouched. It was enough to know that I lightened the burdens my mother carried in bringing up my little sister and I on her own, even if just a little.
And then when I turned 18 -- not that I buy into birthday significances too heavily or anything -- I thought, hey, I've been saving for a while now and I'm kind of interested in trying out photography, and just maybe, it's ok to get something for myself this one time. So I bought the 350D as a gift for myself.
Fast forward a couple years, these days, a second hand entry-level DSLR goes for less than US$500. New sets of slightly older models are rather affordable too. I believe someone new to photography isn't in need of the latest model (but of course you're welcome to it if you can afford it), so I think this sum is rather manageable. (For example, if I saved the 50 cents of allowance I had each day from primary school, it would only take me about 3 years. And since it's not something pertinent to my survival, I think that's pretty okay.)
As for students, with the popularity of photography, I want to believe that most parents would be pretty happy to purchase a new camera for their child in return for good grades and/or behavior. If they won't, a couple weeks of part-timing through summer break should work too. Just don't splurge on parties, clothes, coffee, alcohol and all the stuff that suck cash away. At the end of the day, it's really down to how much we want something and if we're willing to work for it.
I also find it pretty cool to think about how I could work to get something I want for myself. The process of it is like a dedication and you'll treasure it so much more when you've bought it with your hard-earned money.
Here are some shots taken using the 350D + kit lens with natural/ambient light:
|No Twilight comments please~|
|Self Portrait - The moment after|
|Days of Our Lives|
|Headphones are Stylish.|
The Kit Lens
I had some questions in the beginning, just like everyone else—whether an expensive lens would make my photos better, whether getting strobes will help, whether working in a studio will make a photo more awesome. Whether any or all of the above are really absolutely necessary in taking good pictures.
Sure, all of these things definitely make a difference, but as a beginner with barely trained eyes, there was a lot to learn with just the kit lens. 18-55mm is a pretty good range, so after a friend's advice, it's what I stuck with for a long time.
My First Light
Something else that was interesting to explore was working with a light source. I got myself a second hand 1kw Arri hotlight from a friend for US$500, and rented Bowens and Profotos when I had jobs. You'd be surprised at how much you can do with just a single light alone. I experimented with it plenty and learnt lighting that way.
Here are some shots done in the family's living room with one light. I always had to clear our sofa away, but it made just enough room for all of these:
|This Side Up.|
|Newspapers are Good for You|
Other Lights & Lenses
A real cheap studio kit from most camera stores costs lesser than US$300. If you're not going for 'studio' looks, a 50mm F/1.4 (US$350) could be a great investment for ambient/location shooting too. (I use an F1.8 now which is $100). There's a lovely depth of field when the aperture is wide open, and you'll get these really beautiful blurred out backgrounds and bokehs. (No examples with the 350D here, I didn't get a prime lens till much later)
All in all, in the first year, I'd say it's more about learning framing and how to work with what light you have than anything else.
The actual shooting stuff aside—wardrobe was pretty much just things from my closet. It helped that I was doing fashion design and had a bunch of stuff from sewing classes that were perfect for layering for photography.
But if you don't sew, fear not. Stores like H&M offer a wide range of basics you can buy to work with. I talked about it a little in my fashion photography tips post, feel free to check it out. :D If all fails, (like my super super early pictures), just do self portraits, use model's own clothes, etc etc. If you know how to make it work with basic things, imagine the wonders you can do with resources down the road!
Starting from the most basic, there's the usual photo-processing software that comes with the camera you purchase. I knew a pro photographer who used Canon's Digital Photo Professional to process his pictures, so don't scoff at the free stuff. But if you want to move on to Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One, or other programs, you are definitely encouraged to try them out.
For me, I use Lightroom for cataloguing and colours because it's easy to use and you can use it for processing. The student edition is only US$79.
And that's about it! US$900's pretty much all you need to start, and enough to last a while. It's not free, but nothing so astronomical that you can't work and save for if you make an effort. Like the saying goes, "If there is a will, there is a way."
I hope this post helps and clears up some of the mysteries. You are also very much allowed to judge my lousy Photoshop skills on these way ancient pictures. But wow, seriously, 18 feels like a lifetime ago now.
I'll do a part two if anyone's interested to see the rest of my equipment upgrade journey? Now back to packing~~
What Do You Use Now?
Seeing as how I haven't written a part two after four years, here's the quick breakdown:
After the 350D, I upgraded twice:
1. The first 5D a year after I got my 350D.
2. The 1Ds Mark III a year after the 5D.
I still use the 1Ds Mark III today, 6 years later.
For my current gear list, read this.
For a list of my photography articles, click here.