Picking Cameras

Published Tuesday Nov 1, 2022.

Over the last year or two I’ve got more and more into photography. I’ve learned a little and read a bit, so when friends mention they’re thinking about getting into photography, I’m keen to pass on all of the things I wish I knew when I was getting started. The truth is: photography can be easy or devilishly tricky, depending on how deep you want to go and what you want to do.

So: ultimately, there’s trial-and-error. However, here’s some useful notes I’m collecting that might clear things up in the early days, or save a little headache / regret.

Note: I’m simplifying here and some things aren’t technically true, or sometimes phrased in a misleading way. There might be genuine mistakes (halfway through writing this sentence, I spotted one in the paragraph below) but writ large this is written with an aim to giving you a leg up, understanding a field with tricky terminology and lots of technical detail. Photography is quite an intense blend of science and art. I deliberately sacrifice some accuracy for accessibility, because if you do get into all this, you’ll be able to discover the subtleties for yourself. Getting bogged down in detail early on is a great way to get bored and lose interest, and then the detail doesn’t matter anyway! In my opinion, what’s important is making good decisions early on to accelerate learning on one’s own.

So, this should help you make good decisions for a beginner, even if for reasons that might have — occasionally — been white lies.

What are you shooting?

The camera you actually use, until you’re getting quite into things, rarely matters more than getting out there and practicing, and learning what you can from more experienced folk. There’s a real trove of tutorials and photography edutainment on YouTube. Search around and find somebody you like. Try to resist the urge to get Fancy Gear. Play with different types of photography. Maybe you find landscapes calming and enjoy getting out into nature; maybe you want to capture little everyday moments; maybe you want to find scenes on the streets and snap little urban moments; maybe you want to practice for special moments, the weddings and graduations and first-time-house-buyings; maybe you like abstract shapes and colours.

To find the type of photographs you like to take, I think it’s best to experiment. You’ll quickly learn what’s fun and what’s dull. Personally, I’m never satisfied with landscapes, but portraits of loved ones and everyday moments are fun to take. Turns out I love food photography. But if you can’t get out that much, finding photographers whose work you like might be a good way to see what inspires you. Think about why they’re inspiring. Some photographers I quite like, for starters:

The point is this: if you wanted to learn to write, you’d be reading, and getting a feeling for the genre you want to write and the kind of writing that speaks to you. Poetry, short story, non-fiction? Stephen King, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry? Doing the same will focus your photography practice. You won’t actually take photos if you don’t like the results, so it’s a good use of an afternoon to think about what you like.


Gear! What about gear? What camera to buy? That’s the exciting stuff.

Man, phone photos are great these days, even if — as noted in the recent editorial at the beginning of this essay — you can get better shots with a Big Big Camera. There are tradeoffs with these things. Excellent cameras can get expensive, bulky, and heavy quickly, and so often (if you like to shoot, say, urban scenes or everyday personal moments) you need to have it with you to get the shot! So: avoid the expensive purchases early on. Your phone’s probably great.

That said, just using a phone doesn’t teach you some things that are kind of interesting. Also, you’ve got a phone, so if you wanted to use that to get into photography you’d not be reading this anyway. So. I’ve bought a few rounds of gear and learned a little about what I like (and don’t), here’s some quick tips.


Lenses are quite tricky to figure out and make a surprising difference, so here’s some useful info.