First-Year Photo Student? Here’s What You Will Need!

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First-Year Photo Student? Here’s What You Will Need!

Congratulations! You are just about to start your adventure in photography and, while the school may provide you with a list of equipment to have on hand, it may give you some freedom in what you choose. Not to fear! We have put together our own list, complete with recommendations, to guide you. Let’s get started!

Camera

Okay, this is the obvious one. If you are going into photography as your full-time degree, you are going to want your own personal camera equipment. This is a serious decision that is going to be guided by many factors, and not one we can simply shoehorn into this article. That is why we put together another piece specific to this choice. If you are looking for some simple and relatively affordable options, I would consider the Sony a6000, Canon EOS 77D, Nikon D5600, or FUJIFILM X-T30. All of them have their own unique quirks and feature sets, so look at them and see which one is the most appealing to you. Even better, if you can make it into the B&H SuperStore, you can have a hands-on experience with each of them.

Canon EOS 77D DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens
Canon EOS 77D DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens

If you are fortunate enough to have joined a program that still uses film and you want your own camera, I would highly recommend perusing the B&H Used Department. Here you can find solid choices like the Canon AE-1 or Pentax K1000, options that served as plenty of photographers’ first cameras when your grandparents were wearing Huckapoo shirts. As for film, you can’t go wrong with Kodak Tri-X 400 Black & White Negative Film.

Kodak Professional Tri-X 400 Black-and-White Negative Film

Lenses

If you got your camera in a kit with a zoom lens, that is a great start, but I would recommend purchasing at least one more lens to go with it. The obvious choice is a 50mm. There are some great reasons as to why, and every manufacturer seems to have an inexpensive one that performs well. Personally, I would recommend a 35mm prime lens, the reasons for which I wrote about in depth, but you can’t go wrong with either choice. Having a prime will help you learn how different lens properties work, and the singular focal length will get you a little outside your comfort zone, exercising your creative muscles—and your leg muscles.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens

Tripod

Seriously, buy a tripod. Tripods are essential tools, even if many photographers do have a love/hate relationship with them. Invest in a good one too, since a good tripod can easily last decades and a cheap one can be more annoying that useful. Aluminum options are quite affordable, like the Manfrotto Befree Advanced or the Oben AT-3565, though bumping up to a carbon fiber model like the Manfrotto Befree GT Carbon is a way to save on weight. As for the head, stick with a ball head for now, since they are the simplest and easiest to use.

Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Aluminum Tripod with 494 Ball Head
Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Aluminum Tripod with 494 Ball Head

Memory and Backup

Assuming you are getting a camera that employs SD cards (which don’t at this point?) make sure to pick up at least two cards. These days you can’t go wrong with 64GB+ options. Go with a reputable brand, such as SanDisk, with the Extreme PRO line; or Lexar, with the Professional series. Please get a case for them, too. This will help you stay organized and keep your photos safe, which is really the most important part. My favorite is the Pelican 0915 Case. You may want to pick up a dedicated card reader (the Xcellon USB Multi-Card Reader works well) if your computer doesn’t have one built in.

SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I Memory Card

I also know from my college days that many of you will keep your entire life on your laptop. Don’t do this. Get a proper backup drive and something from which to work. It is hard to beat LaCie, with its ubiquitous orange-bumpered rugged drives. Ideally, you will want one purely for backups of your computer and files, as well as a working drive to carry around with you. An easy choice is the 4TB Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive. Plenty of space for your files, though if you can splurge a bit, I would say the Rugged RAID Pro is my new favorite. It has RAID 0 for speed or RAID 1 for extra safety, and there is even an SD card slot so you don’t need to drag one of those around, too. If you want something a bit faster, going with an SSD such as the OWC Envoy Pro EX Rugged Portable Thunderbolt™ 3 SSD will do the trick with write speeds up to an incredible 2500 MB/s. That will help you quickly manage your photos.

LaCie 4TB Rugged Mini Portable Hard Drive

Camera Bag

I’m not even going to attempt to tell you what camera bag to get. Find one that fits your own personal style and kit and if I’m being 100% honest, it will take you many years and a closet of bags before you find one that comes close. Right now I split my time between the Peak Design Everyday Backpack (check out the review) and a more classic Domke F-2 Shoulder Bag. What if you already have the perfect bag or pack? Well, that is when I recommend the Domke Wrap. I love these things because they let you toss your gear anywhere and feel comfortable about it. These wraps offer solid protection and padding, and come in plenty of sizes and colors for organization.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Peak Design Everyday Backpack

On-Camera Flash

You can’t survive without learning about light, and the best place to start is with on-camera flash. These come in handy when you need an extra bit of light, or perhaps are dealing with difficult natural lighting that needs augmentation to create a successful image. One quick example is to pop a flash to fill in shadows when countering backlighting. A good place to start is with an affordable all-manual pick, such as the Bolt VD-410, since you will be forced to learn how different settings affect your photographs. Keep in mind that digital is dirt cheap these days, so definitely take the time to experiment, and maybe add some gels for fun color effects.

Bolt VD-410 Manual Flash
Bolt VD-410 Manual Flash

Filters

If anything on this list is optional, it is filters. However, they can come in handy and are worth experimenting with because they add yet more firepower to your arsenal. Your best bet is to go for a kit, like the Hoya 58mm Digital Filter Kit II, though make sure you get it in the right size for your main lens. This kit is available with UV, circular polarizer, and ND filters, which represent the basics. UV filters are generally used for protection, while circular polarizers have a unique ability to reduce reflections and provide the appearance of a more saturated image. The ND filter is going to be a more interesting tool because it reduces the amount of light entering the lens. That’s weird, right? Logically, you would want more light, in most situations. However, for capturing long exposures or even blurring motion on bright days, an ND filter can be a lifesaver.

Hoya 58mm Digital Filter Kit II
Hoya 58mm Digital Filter Kit II

Batteries and Power

A spare camera battery always comes in handy. Keeping some rechargeable AA batteries on hand will also benefit in the long run because many accessories tend to use them for power. The standard is the Panasonic Eneloop, although more affordable choices are available, as well (I’m looking at you, Watson). Another useful tool for students, in general, is a portable battery pack. If you want something that can do it all, the Sanho 27,000mAh HyperJuice Battery Pack has enough juice to keep a phone powered for days and can even output 100W to power up the latest MacBooks.

Panasonic Eneloop Pro Rechargeable AA Ni-MH Batteries with Charger
Panasonic Eneloop Pro Rechargeable AA Ni-MH Batteries with Charger

Paper and Preservation, and Some Fun

Hopefully, at some point you will learn how to print your photos. You may find yourself looking at our incredible selection of inkjet media and be completely lost regarding where to begin. You can certainly read some Helpful Tips for Finding the Perfect Photo Paper, but the only real way to find your favorites is to pick up some samplers. Good options include Epson’s Signature Worthy Paper and Hahnemuhle’s Fine Art Photo Paper, both of which provide a wide selection of paper types. After you make the prints, you likely aren’t going to be framing every last one, so a good accessory to purchase is an archival storage box. This will keep your prints safe and protected.

Epson Signature Worthy Paper Sample Pack

Even if you aren’t going for pro-quality prints, everyone will love to see prints of your work. One of the best and easiest ways to start sharing physical copies is with one of the latest portable printers, such as the Canon IVY. Using ZINK Technology, you can easily connect the printer to your phone and start popping out 2 x 3" prints to share with your friends and family. If you want something even more fun, the IVY CLIQ and CLIQ+ are cameras with ZINK technology that allow them to function as modern instant-print cameras. It can be a lot of fun.

Canon IVY Mini Mobile Photo Printer

Software

Digital photography has completely changed how we work. No more long hours in the darkroom carefully dodging and burning your prints—now it’s hours in front of a computer screen. It’s hard to tell which is better. Fortunately, digital editing has become very powerful and much more reliable than the classic methods, thanks to software such as Photoshop. Adobe is the de facto standard for image editing and, if you are concerned about investing in the monthly subscription that is Adobe Creative Cloud (though I would highly recommend it), the company does still produce its lightweight Photoshop Elements 2019 (Student & Teacher Edition). This offers all the essential and powerful tools you may need to get started and doesn’t require a subscription to get working.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019

Does this cover your basic back-to-school needs? Anything we missed on which you need a solid recommendation? Want to find everything listed here in one convenient place? Check out this Back to School! For Photo Wish List and please feel free to ask us any of your questions in the Comments section, below!

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