The Photographer's Dilemma: Quintessential Tips for Frugal Photography


Digital photography is like a virus that is slowly overtaking my friends. Seriously. One person in my group of friends got a digital camera. He took some pictures and shared them with his friends. Everyone oo-ed and ah-ed over them, and then realized that they'd like to have some pictures of their own. They got themselves a camera (or a whole set-up) and began snapping photos. Some became seriously interested, and found themselves buying all sorts of gear (flashes, lenses, filters, tripods, bags, etc.). Several thousand dollars later, they can take any picture they want. And the people around them (like yours truly!) now want to take this newer, even-better sort of picture, too. But many of us don't want to spend the money it can take to get quality equipment. Here are some questions we've asked ourselves and some ways we've coped.

Do you really want to go digital?

Film SLRs that used to run $500-$700 new are now less than $100 on eBay. These are often in good condition with minimal use, but the owner wants to sell so he can go digital. And, many places that develop film (like Costco) will develop to negative and then scan the pictures to CD or DVD for a price similar to deveoping to pictures, so you can still have your photos on your computer. Also, if you get into it and want to do your own developing or find some obscure old equipment, places like Frugal Photographer offer a great selection at fabulous prices. The downside? You have to pay for film and processing, and you don't get to see your pictures before you take them. But if those don't deter you, film is still a good way to get a quality camera and quality pictures for much less.

Links for frugal film photography

Tips for Saving Money on Prints

Tuning up your own camera-If you scroll down, he also talks about why you might choose to shoot film.

Do you really need an SLR?

They're big and pretty, with nice features. But if you won't use the features or aren't sure how deep you want to invest yourself in digital photography, a point-and-shoot is still the way to go. Pages like this one give some examples of quality point-and-shoot cameras, and tell you how to learn to use them. Sure, if you decide to be serious, you'll have to upgrade. But you can milk your little camera for all it's worth before you do. And if you don't get serious? You can still take good pictures of the kids for the Christmas card.

So you want to go all the way!

1. Do your research. For instance, the big camera companies (right now for digital SLRs it's Canon and Nikon) update their equipment every year or so, but the updates often aren't worth the hefty price-raise. Instead, wait until they come out with a new model and watch the prices fall on the older ones. Canon even tends to offer rebates on the old models when the new ones come out, to help sell them off. Online forums are a great place to find these sorts of insider tips.

2. Make what you can on your own. Sandro offers a smorgasboard of links for making some of the more obscure equipment on your own. Some of the projects seem to require more than an average knowledge of things like electronics, but all of these projects are probably do-able with a little study.

3. Learn for free. Strobist , for instance, offers Lighting 101 , lessons on using light well in your pictures. Digital Photography School offers insights on all aspects of photography, with recent entries on fast lenses, cropping, and cameras for children. And these are only the most popular places to learn about photography for free. There's no need to take a class when you can learn for free on the 'net!

4. Get some advice. Here is an off-camera light kit that won't kill your bank account. Here are recommendations for a solid Canon kit. And these guys have reviewed just about everything there is to review in digital phogtography. As a last resort, enter the name of the product you're considering as a Google search with the word "reviews" and you should find something.

5. Consider selling your best photos. JD's guest Mike Panic already said it, so I don't have to. The link is a guide and some considerations to selling your pictures as stock photos. He has a lot more to say (and most of it is sound advice) at his own site.

6. And last but not least, if you've been dying to get some good pictures of fish, this appears to be the page for you (WTF!?).

Other Helpful Links

The Frugal Photographer

Digital Camera Savings?

(Photo by ssh)

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Andrea Karim's picture

A few years back, I got a beginner's SLR and spent easily well over the cost of a digital SLR in film development costs. I've decided to go digital, but I'm waiting for a kick-ass price on a D40.

The thing that finally made me change my mind was taking a photography class. We had to be so careful with the chemicals in the dark room - all kinds of warnings about ventilation and burns and whatnot - but then learned that the throwaway water drained right back int our water supply!

Guest's picture

The Sony Alpha DSLR uses the old Minolta Alpha Mount for lenses so most Minolta auto-focus lenses work with the Sony Alpha. Only the very, old non-Minolta, alpha mount lenses might have issues.

Purchase the Sony Alpha body only (the kit lens sucks) and stock up on Minolta AF lenses from eBay and/or Craigslist.

If you purchase a lens you don't like, just sell it back on eBay. I've actually sold lenses back at a small profit.

Paul Michael's picture

My wife recently made a Lightsphere using a water bottle we found in target for $2.99. It works very well and is a lot less than the $50 original. There are also instruction here on making your own softbox.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Thanks for the info on the Alpha, Tank.  Since I'm looking into digital SLRs, I'll check it out.

And Paul, between this and almost getting your meal comp'd, your wife sounds very cool.

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