I bought my first camera when I was 18, a Canon 350D with kit lens at roughly US$1000. I paid for it myself.
My family wasn't very rich. My school and after-school lunches up till I was 15, largely came from the charity of schoolmates and a kind cafe owner (to whom I'm eternally grateful).
From 15 to 19, I represented Singapore in air rifle and started making money for my wins. I saved what I received from the Sports Council's yearly reviews, minus what I'd spent on artbooks which I think were fundamental to my artistic development.
It wasn't easy to sustain a 5-day-a-week training schedule on top of school and other curriculums, and without breaks throughout the years. But it was enough to know that I lightened the burdens my mother carried, even if just a little. It was probably that thought that pushed me to become independent as a child and teen, to never be a weight to anyone again.
Though of course, the history of my rebelliousness begs to differ, but you get the drift. :D
Now onto the slightly more practical things --
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 doesn't need the latest model on the market (but of course you're welcome to it if you can afford it), and I think this sum is rather manageable. (If I saved the 50 cents of allowance I had each day from primary school, it would only take me about 3 years. If doesn't take a lifetime and isn't something so pertinent I can't live without, it's manageable in my opinion.)
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 or behavior so there's that. But if they won't, a couple weeks of part-timing through summer break should work too. Just don't splurge on parties, clothes, 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 find it pretty cool to think about how I could work to get something I want for myself, and I'm sure you'll treasure your camera even more if it's bought with your own hard-earned money.
Here're some shots taken using the 350D + kit lens with natural/ambient light:
|Nono, not Twilight, thank you very much.|
|The moment after...|
|Days of Our Lives|
|Headphones are Stylish.|
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 it more awesome. Sure, all of those 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 all there was to do really, was to experiment and take lots of photos.
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.
Here are some shots done in my 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|
A real cheap studio kit from most camera stores costs lesser than US$300 it seems. If you're not trying for 'studio' looks, a 50mm F/1.4 (US$350) could be a good investment too for ambient/location shooting too. 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)
The actual shooting stuff aside—wardrobe was pretty much just things from my closet. Helped by the fact that I was doing fashion design, I had a bunch of incomplete pieces from sewing classes that were perfect for layering and 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. And basic stuff go a long way.
In the first year, I'd say it's more about learning framing, light and shadows than anything else.
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 experiment.
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.
So there you go, 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 to try.
I hope this post helps and clears up some of the mysteries! You are also totally allowed to judge my lousy Photoshop skills on these way too old 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~~
Related read for this entry: My Education