Starting Out With Photography

Starting out with photography, be it skateboard photography or any other genre, is quite easy these days. Technology, the variety of cameras and knowledge base is endless and it all is at +/- affordable price. All you need is - a desire to pick a camera and start taking photographs.


Words and photography: Maksim Kalanep

And you might already own a camera - like one built into your phone or tablet. These are great for being on you at all times. That is usually is a downside with all the traditional cameras - they are bulky and attracting too much attention and you keep forgetting them at home or just don't want to mess with them. Built-in cameras are compact and most of the time you can't tell if you are using them or not, as they are part of a mobile device. The main drawback of these cameras is usually an image quality and lack of manual controls. However, all 2016 and newer devices have great sensors in them and provide consistent results in good lighting conditions.

Playing with your phone camera is a good start before you move on to a dedicated camera.

Choosing you first 'proper' camera can be a bit challenging. You've got a huge selection to choose from both in film & digital formats. So going through major brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. and their range of cameras, reading specs and watching Youtube videos to learn how one is better than the other is definitely worth it. You learn quite a lot while doing that, even though it's time-consuming.

It's not essential to do that, you might as well pick one randomly and it still will be a good choice. Or buy one second-hand. Competition is strong & brands are packing maximum features into all of their latest releases.

So now when you have your phone or 'proper' camera - it's time to go out shooting and practising. Cameras will come and go, but the experience will stay.

Basics are the same in photography and once you familiarise yourself with one system, you can adapt it to another. So just pick your film, digital or phone camera and start playing with it - in auto or manual mode, not so important. You'll get it both right and wrong. Learn from the results you get and analyse why it is the way it is. Digital workflow helps this a lot since you get an instant feedback. If you get stuck - you can always find the answers online. So don't hesitate and have fun.

Eventually, you will find which system & format works the best through trial and error. It all is a non-stop process and changing your mind and preferences is part of it. So don't be surprised when one day you decide that you need a 'better' setup or you'd love to try another format. Or you no longer need a 'proper' camera as the phone camera is that good.

Below are some tried and tested examples of where to start & what to expect both in terms of workflow and associated costs with film, digital and mobile photography.

Film Photography

What you need:

  1. Compact camera - e.g. Olympus Mju II, Olympus XA, Rollei 35, Kodak Disposable, Fuji DisposableContax T2, Fuji Natura S, Fuji Klasse, Ricoh GR1, Nikon 35Ti, Nikon 28Ti, Minolta TC-1.
  2. Or affordable system with interchangeable lenses - e.g. Nikon EM + 50mm LensCanon AE-1 + 50mm LensNikon F100 + Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D Lens, Nikon FM2.
  3. Film - black & white or colour film to shoot on - e.g. Kodak T-Max 400, Kodak Portra 160.
  4. *Chemicals and all the tools to develop film, once it's been shot - e.g. Ilford B&W Film Processing Kit, Kodak B&W T-Max Developer, Paterson Film Processing Kit.
  5. *Enlarger, paper & chemicals to print those developed negatives - e.g. Ilford Paper, Ilford Chemicals.
  6. Digital scanner to digitise negatives and prints - e.g. Plustek 8200i, Epson V850, Nikon Coolscan 9000.
  7. Computer to connect that scanner to and store those photographs in digital format - e.g. Apple MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface Book, Apple iMac, Microsoft Surface Studio.
  8. External hard drive or cloud service for backup - e.g. WD Elements, Lacie Rugged, Dropbox, Google G Suite, Apple iCloud, Amazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage.
  9. Accessories - light meter, batteries, bag, negative sleeves, light box, storage boxes for prints & negatives, screen calibrator, etc.

*You can outsource processing, digitising and of course printing, but at a significant cost, especially when it comes to hand printing and scanning.

Blondey McCoy's 'Fourth Fancy' negative strips

Blondey McCoy's 'Fourth Fancy' negative strips

The cheapest and probably the easiest option when you shoot in B&W is to develop yourself and scan on a dedicated film scanner. B&W chemical kits are cheap and you can develop at home. Getting a scanner might be on an expensive side, but the more you scan, the lower the final cost becomes. It is time-consuming, though.

Printing is cheap and easy when you have digital files. However most who still shoot on film do it to have the entire process in analogue form - where lens gathers and focuses available light, it hits the emulsion of film, film gets exposed, later chemicals fix that projection permanently as a negative image, then light goes through that negative image in the enlarger and hits light sensitive paper as a positive photograph, chemicals fix that image on paper and the final photograph is born.

If the financial side of shooting on film is not an issue, you just take your finished roll to the local pro lab and collect prints or digital scans and then get on with the next roll of film.

When shooting on colour film - be it slide or negative colour film, taking it to the lab is probably the best option, since you'll need way more chemicals, also temperature control tools and more time just to develop it. Plus most labs do 'develop only' options, so you can digitise developed rolls of film on your own scanner to save money. All modern scanners do B&W, colour negative and positive films.

Digital Photography

What you need:

  1. Compact camera - e.g. Sony RX100 IV, Panasonic LX100, Ricoh GR 2Fuji X70Fuji X100TSony RX1R II, Leica Q.
  2. Or system with interchangeable lenses - e.g. Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D700, Nikon D3Fuji XT2 KitNikon D500 Kit, Nikon D750 Kit, Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D810, Canon 1DX Mark II, Nikon D5.
  3. Prime lenses - e.g. Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM, Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G, Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ED, Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art.
  4. Memory cards - e.g. SD Card, CF Card.
  5. Computer or phone/tablet with software to process digital files - e.g. Apple MacBook ProMicrosoft Surface BookApple iMacMicrosoft Surface Studio.
  6. Software - e.g. Adobe CC Photography Suite - Photoshop + Lightroom.
  7. External hard drive or cloud option for backup - e.g. WD ElementsLacie RuggedDropboxGoogle G SuiteApple iCloudAmazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage.
  8. Accessories - spare batteries, memory card reader, bag, tripod, screen calibrator, etc. 

Shooting digital is way cheaper than on film these days since you skip all those steps of buying film, developing it and then digitising it.

You can always preview your results in real time. That is not possible with the analogue photography where you wait from several hours up to several days to see if there is anything there on the film.

When shooting digital you are not limited in any way, except for the battery life, and you might end up taking hundreds of photographs. The maximum a roll of film can hold is 36 exposures, in some cases like medium format just 12 shots. So you are more disciplined when shooting on film. But at the same time, you can always curate your files on memory card right there on the spot in camera and erase what is not required.

On top of being cheap and instant digital photography gives you a full control over image making. You can capture a raw file and develop it in software to your liking or emulate almost any type of film, change exposure, recover over or under exposed shot, adjust white balance, etc. Where film on the opposite will always render the same look, specific to that type of film stock.

And mistakes in setting the right exposure can easily ruin the overall quality of the film. Sensors in digital cameras are more flexible to exposure mistakes, especially if you shoot in raw format.

Another huge advantage of digital cameras is their ability to shoot in dark conditions and indoors thanks to modern sensors. Film sensitivity to light goes up to ISO 1600, when shooting in colour, and up to ISO 3200 when shooting in B&W. However, both stocks will show significant artefacts and grain at those settings. Plus film stock is always day balanced. 

Modern digital full frame cameras will give you clean results at those high ISO settings and you can always adjust white balance in post-processing.

The only thing that might scare you off with digital photography is the first investment.

Buying a digital system might seem expensive compared to buying second-hand film camera system. But within the first weeks of using a digital camera, you'll realise how much more you can save in the long run. With digital you mostly invest once, memory cards are reusable and so is the space on your hard-drive, so there are no other costs on daily basis.

Mobile Device Photography

What you need:

  1. Phone or similar device with a built-in camera.
  2. Apps for processing digital files within your device - e.g. VSCOAdobe Photoshop Lightroom MobileColorStorySnapseedManual.

More or less everyone nowadays has a phone or tablet with a built-in camera. The beauty of that is that it's always there with you when you need it.  And even better - those devices act as small computers so you don't have to own anything else to take photographs. You can shoot, store, edit and publish all within the same device. Dedicated cameras can't do that. 

The quality of those photographs taken with mobile might be an issue, however, it all depends on how you intend to use those photographs. In good lighting conditions, results will be on par with any high-end camera. That's how good these tiny cameras are. In low light, it will be a different story, but still usable. One thing that tiny cameras won't be able to match is the ability of dedicated cameras to render beautiful out of focus areas, as well as separate the subject clearly from foreground or background. Cameras with small sensors and optics will render everything more or less in focus, so the results might look a bit busier than you might want it to be.

So if you own a phone with a good built-in camera - you are all set and ready to start shooting. The native photo app will be fully automatic, mostly not giving you any options to choose settings, but both Apple & Android App Stores have many great free apps like VSCO, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Mobile, ColorStory, Snapseed, etc. so you can start experimenting with shooting and post-processing straight away. If you'd like to shoot in RAW and have full manual controls - you can try paid apps like Manual.