In mid-february of 2014, my friend Tine and her husband Max gave me 500 bucks and i ran out and bought a camera. I had helped out in their shop for a while and obviously talked about getting a DSLR often enough that eventually they told me that they wanted me to go and get it. It's been a year since then and it's been quite a journey.
I had been interested in photography for quite some time and be it only to be able to appreciate a good picture like the ones my friend Jörg Wüstkamp had taken in the 80s. We lived together in those days and i had witnessed the whole darkroom thing, which i never considered to be something i wanted to get into. My friends gave me a Kodak Retina II back then, but i had my pictures developed elsewhere. When digital photography came to me it was in the shape of my first smartphone and as the cameras in those phones - and the apps - got better, so did my pictures. And i was lucky enough to be traveling a lot with what i was doing so i ended up with photo opportunities in locations other than my own backyard. But it was all just a prelude for what was about to come.
So on February 18, 2014 i had the money in my pocket and was on the bus to Krefeld to buy my first DSLR. I had been thinking about what to get a lot and spent quite some time on the internet researching what i would have to invest and find information from the pros on what is really important. I had borrowed a Canon EOS 350D from a friend before, but that didn't do anything for my decision. I ended up going for a Nikon D3200 with a 18-55 kit lens. One of the main reasons was the 24.2 MP count. I knew that resolution wasn't important and didn't have to be that high unless you wanted prints to be really big. But somehow i already knew that i wanted prints. And that i wanted them really big. It's one thing to see your image on a computer screen, but especially with black and white images it's a whole different game looking at them printed really well. And - oh well - really big.
Actually i spent a little more than the money my friends had given me that day. One of the guys whose advice i had found to be valuable and presented in a way i really liked was Jared "Fro" Polin from FroKnowsPhoto. Not only did he conform that the D3200 would be a great beginner camera, he also said that it would be a good idea to get a 35mm prime lens to go along with it. The absence of zoom would make you think about composition a lot more. You would have to move around to get the shot you wanted instead of just zooming in and out. The 35mm f/1.8 by Nikon was - and still is - cheap and really sharp, so i bagged that one too.
After reading through the whole boxed set of "Digital Photography" by Scott Kelby i knew what i needed next. I actually didn't have to read all the way through, because Scott urges you really early on to "get married to your tripod". By the time i got it for my birthday in October i had shot thousands of images working in Greece all summer and i lost quite a few there just because you can't handhold 1/6th of a second. No coffee or not. You live and learn. So in October i finally got the tripod. First i wanted a bigger model by Manfrotto, but what i got really was a travel tripod, the Manfrotto BeFree. Lightweight (and yes - i know carbon is the hype and even lighter) and the maximum height of 56.7" (144cm) folds into 15.75" (40cm). That's something i could imagine being married to.
Now that you have all that gear and some small things too like SD cards, micro fiber cloth and the must have Giottos Rocket Blaster, how on earth do you schlepp all that from A to B? Obviously you gotta get a camera bag. I got a small Crumpler New Delhi, which holds the camera, two lenses and the small things. The BeFree came with a bag i can sling over my shoulder - good to go. If i go on a longer trip, i bring the Manfrotto Tri Backpack. It holds everything plus there's room for a small laptop and i can even strap the tripod on the back of the pack. Again - good to go.
After a year i can say that the choices were right. Although the choice to get a tripod could and should have come earlier, i was and still am happy with the camera, the lenses (i even learned to appreciate the kit lens a lot more), the tripod and my bags. I have bought some books like the aforementioned set by Scott Kelby and one about Lightroom (also by Kelby), but I'll get to that and more ways to learn and get information later. This was only about the gear, but really that's not what it all should be about. Even though this part is at the beginning of the article it is by far not the most important thing.
Sure, i love my camera and especially the 35mm prime, but i wouldn't love it more if it was a D4s and my lenses all gold-lined pro models. It's a means to take pictures, just like my guitar is a means to make music. I love the end result a lot more. If i did it well and managed to transport some emotion with it, make people feel something. If you're touched by the music i play or by the pictures i show you, that's what i wanted to achieve. But that too is for later in this article.
Like i said i was never really tempted to get into analog film development. But digital image editing? Very much so. I was always interested in anything computer so in general i was looking forward to that aspect of photography as well even though the prospect of having to learn Photoshop seemed somewhat overwhelming a task. Cue Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Lightroom for short. It could do all i really wanted to do and i liked the idea that it was designed for a photographer's workflow. And at the time it was the one professional piece of software that i could afford. These days you can get Lightroom and Photoshop for under ten bucks a month as part of the Creative Cloud plan from Adobe. So i did and i never looked back.
When i was still shooting most of my pictures on my smartphone and did the editing there or on my Nexus 7 tablet, i was using Nik Software's Snapseed app for editing the images. When Google bought Nik Software, that's when i heard about the Nik Collection for the first time. A set of filters to use with Lightroom as the host application it also has a reasonable price tag. To be honest - you don't really need it. I don't think there is anything you can do using the Nik Collection that you can't do in Lightroom 5.7. You just might be faster doing it using Nik. And it's not like you don't need Lightroom anymore if you have Nik installed. But i can get good results with Nik and i can get them fast. And the conversion to black and white using Silver Efex Pro is just plain killing me every time i use it.
After a year i am delighted that i can use Lightroom, a bit of Photoshop at this incredible deal and Nik, which cost me less than 150 Euro. It even runs on my old Dell Dimension 9150, but i am going to have to upgrade the hardware sooner or later. Less than 8GB RAM and a 32 bit operating system are just asking for trouble since Lightroom will run out of memory on more demanding tasks eventually. And Adobe already announced that Lightroom 6 (whenever that is coming out) will only run on a 64 bit OS. So that's that then for the Dell.
So much about gear and software. In the next part i'll talk about learning resources and social media / photo sharing. But that's for next week. For now I'm done writing. Back to the pictures ...