Taking a photography course for school, university or even just for fun? Here are some tools to make the learning experience as smooth as can be.
Depending on your course, your camera of choice might be a digital SLR, or it might be a film SLR. There are plenty of bargains to be had on the second-hand market, and our guide on buying a used camera has lots of pointers on what to look out for. Otherwise, take a look at the best digital SLRs for beginners to get an idea of what cameras are available.
Lenses are another important consideration. All basic digital SLRs can be bought in a kit configuration with a standard 18-55mm lens, but later on down the track, you might need macro lenses or perhaps a wide-angle lens for specialist shots. Check out our lens buying guide for specifics on what lens suits your needs.
Make sure to factor a memory card in to the purchase, ideally one with fast read/write speeds if you want to shoot images in RAW or dabble in video.
Remote shutter release
An essential tool for anyone wanting to work with stop-motion photography or long exposures, a remote shutter release will let you fire the camera's shutter without needing to touch the camera body. Some remote shutters also have timers, which allow you to leave the camera unattended and take shots at set intervals, useful for techniques like time lapses.
Each camera model and make will have a different remote shutter release, so make sure to check before buying. Also, if you want to save a bit of money, there are plenty of bargains to be had on sites like eBay, which sell cheaper, no-name brands.
Yes, this is a boring one. It may seem like something you can get away without having, but trust us; a card reader is one of the most useful tools for photographers who take a lot of images. Look for one with fast transfer speeds which makes the process quick and painless. There are even some USB 3.0 models available if your computer has a compatible port.
For digital photography, post-processing software is an essential tool for working creatively with images. Just like exposing images in the darkroom, software gives you the flexibility of being able to achieve certain visual effects. Depending on budget, there are plenty of tools to meet anyone's requirements. Some popular packages include Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, its cheaper sibling Photoshop Elements, and Corel Paint Shop Pro.
Tripods come in all shapes and sizes, offering support for all sorts of cameras. Our best piece of advice? If you need a tripod, don't scrimp — get the best you can afford. Imagine mounting your camera kit, possibly worth thousands of dollars, on top of a flimsy tripod that might have cost a grand total of AU$75. A gust of wind rushes past and ... you get the picture.
Most tripods come with a standard head, which is used to mount the camera onto the unit itself. Heads are often interchangeable and there are plenty of different types, such as ball heads, pan or tilt heads and video heads, all designed for specific purposes.
If you're mounting a particularly heavy camera configuration, check the maximum load capacity of the tripod and head to make sure that it can cope with the weight.
Photographic filters generally attach — screw or snap on — to the front of the lens to change the properties of the light entering the optics. There are many different types of filters available, but the more common ones that photography students might need include polarisers, Neutral Density (ND) or colour filters. Clear, UV or Skylight filters are used more to protect the front element of the lens rather than add any particular effects, so it may be a worthwhile investment if you are worried about damaging your equipment. After all, it's better to break a cheap filter than an expensive lens.
Before buying, check the filter thread of your lens (often written on the inside of your lens cap) for the lens diameter measurement. Some common filter thread sizes are 52mm, 58mm, 68mm and 72mm, to give you an idea of the measurement to look for.
Other bits and pieces
Buying a gift for someone who is starting a photography course? Why not think about getting some vouchers for canvas or high-quality large-format prints. For some cheap and fun accessories, take a look at our list, which includes things like spirit levels, portable tripods and flash diffusers, all for under AU$50.