The frugal photographer

by J.D. Roth

Expensive hobbies and a frugal lifestyle can be tough to balance. Few hobbies are more expensive than photography. So what’s a frugal photographer to do? The three best cheap things you can do to improve your photography skill are:

  1. Learn your camera. Read your camera manual, and carry it with you. This is the cheapest improvement you can make. Learn what your camera can and cannot do. Make a lot of photographs.
  2. Take a class from your local art school or community college. For a couple hundred bucks, you’ll have access to a professional photographer, to other enthusiastic amateurs, and possibly to expensive darkroom equipment.
  3. Use a tripod. This is a sure-fire way to sharper pictures. You don’t need to spend a fortune; anything is better than hand-held. I’ve been using a cheap $50 tripod for five years and love it for everything except taking photos from the middle of a stream.

If you did just these three things, your photos would improve such that you wouldn’t need to buy any more gear. But if you’re like me, you’re going to want to invest in more equipment anyhow. If that’s the case, then consider some further advice:

The frugal photographer is patient, gradually acquiring inexpensive high-quality equipment. He understands the value of a tripod, a lens shade, and good light. He knows his equipment and what it can do. He is creative.

Great photographs come from skilled camera use, not from expensive equipment. You’ll do more for your final products by taking a photography class from your local community college than you will by purchasing that new $1000 wide-angle zoom lens.

For more information about photography on the cheap, check out The Frugal Photographer (especially “What is frugal photography?“). Make Magazine sometimes points to innovative and cheap photography techniques. For example, they recently highlighted the “starving student” off-camera light kit (mentioned earlier) and how to make a lens hood from a plastic bottle. Make also highlights more complex projects now-and-then, like this camera attachment to make 3D photos.

(Also: I’d love the read your cheap photography tips.)

Updated: 30 May 2006

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