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Aspiring Photographer’s Gift Guide 2013

I get so many calls and texts this time of year from family and friends wanting camera suggestions for their loved ones.  I will give my best advice here on what you might want to purchase for someone who is just getting started as well as sharing what is currently in my camera bag for those who already have their cameras and are wondering what to purchase next:)

If you are looking for a great entry level SLR, at a FANTASTIC price, I would really suggest this:

Canon EOS Rebel SL1-This is supposed to be the world’s lightest, most compact SLR. My first SLR was a Canon Rebel and I still use it from time to time when I am wanting to travel a bit lighter.  Since mine is around 7 years old, I am guessing this new model is much, much lighter and more advanced than mine, so it should be a great choice for a beginner.  I don’t typically recommend buying the camera that come with the kit lens, but I believe there was only about a $15 dollar difference in price to get the kit lens rather than the body only, and I would say the kit lens is worth that much (I wouldn’t give much more than $15 for it though).

Probably the main question I get AFTER my friends have gotten their DSLRs is how to get that “blurry background look.” First off, to get the results you want from your camera, you are going to need to learn to shoot in Manual mode, where you set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO yourself, instead letting the camera haphazardly choose it for you.  Put simply, you can achieve that blurry background look, or bokeh, using aperture.  Second, the kit lens included with most of these Rebel dSLRs is pretty limited in what you can achieve aperture wise, so I would HIGHLY recommend this lens:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4– It was so much easier for me to learn to shoot in manual mode once I purchased this lens.  It will shoot as wide as f/1.4, and makes shooting indoors in lower light situations much more feasible.  A lot of people are put off by the fact that this lens won’t zoom.  While there are situations where you can’t get as close to your subject as you’d like and you really need a zoom lens, most of the time you can just move yourself closer or further away from your subject to achieve the look you are going for.  I still use this lens 80% of the time, and for almost all of my paid portrait sessions.  Once you have this lens, you will never wanna put that kit lens on again, which is why I wouldn’t even bother purchasing it with the camera unless it is just a few dollars more than the body only.

If you do purchase a new lens, I would recommend purchasing UV filters for them.  (All lenses are different sizes, so make sure the UV filter you purchase will fit the lens you have.)  UV filters serve two purposes, 1. To filter UV rays and 2. To protect your actual lens from surface scratches.  I would much rather replace a $15-20 filter than a $350+ lens.  This Tiffen 58mm filter is just right for that Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Okay, honestly if you are just getting started and wanting to learn photography, the lens and camera above are ALL I believe you need.  Really!  It’s that simple.  So many people think photography is about great gear and of course, gear is fun and some things will achieve better results than others (see:  “kit lens” above) but nothing can replace knowledge and practice.  Cameras don’t take incredible photos, people do.  You will most likely not be able to reap the benefits of more professional gear until you get the basics down anyway, so if you are on a budget (as I assume most everyone is), you CANNOT go wrong with those items.

On that note, to help you learn how to shoot in manual mode and what all this aperture and shutter speed stuff all means, I would recommend this book, Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera. I think that title is pretty self explanatory.  I am really tempted to order this myself because the copy I have is the older edition and was based mostly on shooting film, sorta pre-digital camera era.  It looks like the new one has more info on digital photography.

Now I will share what gear I CURRENTLY USE:

Canon EOS 7D Digital SLR Camera Body

Several years ago, I decided to buy a new camera body.  I was planning on buying the Canon 5D, Mark II which is a full frame camera that was sort of the professional standard at the time.  I really wanted that full frame, but the more I looked at the 7D, the more I knew that it would be my best buy.  For one thing, it was half the price of the 5D.  But what really sold me was its performance in low light with great ISO capability.  This really sold me as one of the main complaints I had with my Rebel was the noise and grain at its greatest ISO setting which was just 800.  The 7D goes up to 6400 ISo!!  The thing I shoot most is my own family and they are very often not sitting right in the most perfect natural light.  Early Christmas mornings, birthday faces lit mostly by candlelight and basketball games come to mind.  I have been really, really pleased with it.

Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens (mentioned above)

Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II USM

This is the lens I keep on my camera around the house.  When the kids are doing something and I wanna capture it really quickly, I like to have the zoom lens handy.  The wide end of this lens, 24mm, is great for getting photos of them indoors in tight spaces or when I need to be at arm’s reach of a little one.  It can get those shots, whereas my 50mm standard would be too “close,”  It also performs really well in low light.  It’s just a great all purpose kind of lens.  This is also the lens I used on the days I lugged my camera equipment to Disney World.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to switch lenses and I wanted a lens I knew would be able to capture a variety of moments in a variety of environments.

Tamron AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 SP Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Wide Angle Lens

The reason I own this lens is for my husbands real estate photos.  He shoots the wide angle HDR photos that make rooms look stunning.  Having great photos of your property definitely helps get showings, and showings are the only way you can sell your house.  So that is why we purchased this lens, BUT it has been fun playing around with the wide angle and I have gotten some neat shots with it.

Canon Speedlite 430EX II

This is the flash I have.  I honestly rarely use it, I much prefer working with available light, but it does come in handy when your kid insists on having their birthday party at a glow-in-the-dark bounce house place or something…:) I will probably need it for a nativity play in the coming week.  Definitely something I am glad to have in my arsenal, because when you need it, you need it.  Just don’t need it that often.

The next lens I buy will most likely be:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 iS II


I’d like to have this lens for shooting kids at the beach or in the pool.  Places where I prefer not to get too close.  It would also be handy for outdoor sports:)

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