Advice for Beginners Series … Begins

Recently I had someone ask me for advice about buying a new camera.  They were looking for something more advanced than the point and shoot model they’d had in the past and wanted a more advanced digital SLR camera.  While they have no interest in using it for the same type of photography that I do, it brought to mind something that I’d first considered back when I worked with Melissa in late March.  Working with her again almost four years after our first shoot gave me a chance to consider some of the things that I’d learned between the two shoots.  So I’m beginning a series of posts today written for anyone thinking about or just starting to do nude photography.  I hope to cover equipment, basic concepts, locations, finding models, working with models, and some tips and ideas to get started.  My goal is not to cover every detail or concept about creating great nude photos, but to share some tips and advice from what I’ve learned over the last four years.  Basically these are the things that I wish I’d known back when I first started.

In this first post we’ll start with equipment.  This will be a short one because to be honest equipment doesn’t matter as much as most people think.  I say that as someone who will spend hours researching any technology related purchase. There are basically two types of cameras.  The first types consists of point and shoot models that are mainly designed for simple operation.  They make most of the decisions for you and are often very compact.  These are great for the types of photos that most people want to make.  That is quick shots to capture memories with friends and family.  The second type is the SLR or single lens reflex camera named for the mirror system that directs light from the lens to either the viewfinder or image sensor/film.  When the camera uses an image sensor instead of film, they are usually referred to as digital SLR or DSLR cameras.  The first obvious difference of the DSLR from the point and shoot is that the DSLR camera will be larger.  It also features interchangeable lenses that can be changed depending on the type of photos being taken.  They also normally offer much greater control when taking the photo.  The other big advantage is that what you see through the viewfinder is exactly what photo you will take.  Many DSLR cameras also offer a way to preview effects such as depth of field that will be seen on the final photo which is critical in certain types of photography.  You may have guessed that you’ll want the control and features that a DSLR offers for any kind of advanced photography.  Artistic nude photography in particular often needs careful lighting and control that only a DSLR can provide.

There are many brands of good cameras and other equipment out there and I’m not going to get into what brand is better because ultimately it doesn’t matter as much as most people think.  You can go out and buy the same guitar and amplifier as Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughn, but when you play it’s still going to sound like you playing the guitar. Likewise you can buy the exact same camera gear as your photography hero, but you will be the one taking the photos. You need to know and learn how to get the most out of your equipment. Technical ability is the start, not the end of producing work that you’re proud of showing to others.

As I stated, you’ll want the control and extra functionality that a DSLR offers, but don’t feel that you need to buy the top of the line pro model and a dozen different lenses before you take a single photo. Start small and keep things affordable.  Photography equipment can be expensive and it’s easy to spend a lot of money very quickly if you’re not careful.  By starting small you can learn your equipment and when you start to hit the limitations of the equipment that you have, you’ll know it’s time look at an upgrade.  A couple of sites that I like and use when considering new purchases are Digital Photography Review and Digital Camera Resource Page.  Reading a number of sites to get a variety of opinions will serve you well and before buying any camera you should definitely hold it in your hands to make sure you like how it feels and can work the buttons and controls easily.

And just for the record, I use a Canon camera.

Once you have a camera, you will likely want at least one light.  Natural light and sunlight can go a long way (and for some things may be all that you need), most photographers of the nude will want at least one flash.  Again starting small with a single light is a good path to take. For good examples and demonstrations of what can be done with just one flash, check out Strobist.  The Lighting 101 article there is a great place to start, but ultimately you will need to learn lighting by practice and experimentation.  Learn to use one light and use it well before you begin to buy or bring in more lights.

One other piece of equipment to consider is a light meter.  There is a lot of debate on whether you really need one given the digital camera’s ability to let you see results instantly on the back of the camera.  After a long time in that camp, I’ve recently started using a light meter in shooting and am finding it quite useful, especially when working with rapidly changing outdoor conditions and complex lighting effects.  I’ll discuss using a light meter in a later entry, but for now I’m going to suggest getting a light meter, but also state that you can get along without one for quite a while.

I’ve tried to suggest frugality in your equipment.  You do get what you pay for to a degree in photography equipment.  In most cases lenses, cameras, and lights that cost more do so because they have better quality or more features (though there are always exceptions).  That said, for a beginner, you probably don’t need many of these advanced features.  The key is to buy solid equipment when starting out, but to be smart about spending money.  Good reviews are your best route here as any advice I give today on models will be outdated next week.

In our next article in the series, we’ll discuss the three basic concepts of photography you must learn: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.