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Great Outdoor Photography on a Budget

Posted by Rachel Wendling at May 31, 2017 12:29 PM |
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Capturing a great image, including one good enough to win WTA’s photo contest, does not require spending thousands of dollars on expensive equipment. This month we offer some advice for photographers on a budget

By Doug Diekema

Capturing a great image, including one good enough to win WTA’s photo contest, does not require spending thousands of dollars on expensive equipment.

This month we offer some advice for photographers on a budget.

Photo of Mount Shuksan, taken with an older model Nikon. Photo by Doug Diekema.

  • Taking great photos doesn’t require expensive equipment. You don’t need the latest and greatest camera to take phenomenal photos. The work of famous photographers from the past was captured on film using cameras more basic than many of today’s inexpensive digital point-and-shoots, and the results were stunning. Almost all of the digital cameras on the market today, including some phone cameras, produce photos with greater resolution and lower noise than what could be achieved on film 15 years ago.
  • Buy used equipment or older models. A camera that took amazing photos when it was introduced five years ago still takes amazing photos, and buying used equipment can save hundreds of dollars. As long as the camera or gear hasn’t been abused, it will likely provide years of quality service. Shop for used or refurbished cameras and lenses at your local camera shop, on Craigslist or eBay, or through online merchants like Adorama.
  • Learn to use what you have. Upgrading is unlikely to enhance your photography unless you’re already using the features on your current camera. Getting the most out of the camera you own may be smarter than spending money on a new camera with features you don’t need and won’t use. Consider upgrading when you’ve mastered your current equipment and feel limited by its capabilities.
  • Invest in your skills. The most important ingredients in an awe-inspiring photograph are the skill and vision of the photographer, not the camera. Expensive camera equipment won’t generate great photos unless the photographer has learned the fundamentals of composition, exposure and lighting. With digital photography, editing skills have also become important, just as darkroom skills were essential to Ansel Adams’ work. Consider investing in some books and classes about photography skills, developing a creative vision and learning to use a good editing program.

This photo was taken from Gobbler's Knob in Mount Rainier National Park with a Nikon D90. The camera and lens cost more than $1,500 when they came out eight years ago. Today, the combo can be found used for $300 to $400. Photo by Doug Diekema.

Shop Smart

For those looking to shop smart, spend your money on the features that matter most. Where will you get the most bang for your buck?

  • Lens quality: Whether you use your phone, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR, the camera is only as good as the lens attached to it, and lenses vary tremendously with regard to sharpness, distortion and the amount of light they allow to reach the sensor. When shopping, pay as much attention to the quality of the lens as you do to the camera body.
  • Sensor size and quality: Image quality is not just about the number of pixels it contains. Sensor size and quality are much more important determinants of how good your photos will look, because the sensor impacts resolution, dynamic range, low light performance and even depth of field.
  • Buy a camera that fits your needs: Invest in a camera that does what you want it to do, but allows some room for you to learn and grow as a photographer. Weight, size and how a camera feels in your hand all matter. Zoom range, burst rate (important for sports and wildlife photography) and battery life should all match how you plan to use your equipment.
This article originally appeared in the May+June 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.