Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two down and eight to go

Its summer and that means I’m on the road teaching photojournalism workshop. For me this is a great time to meet new talent, pick up a few friends, learn cool things from my students, shoot some sweet images and teach with some of the industry top folks. Hard to believe I actually get paid!

If your coming to one of my classes I have a few I recommendations on what you’ll need to bring to the workshop.

Your gear, favorite lens and all the strobes you got, big/fast memory cards,’ll have actual shooting assignments!

Read the following twice: Battery chargers, I know it seems like a no brain’r but every summer some poor shooter shows without one thinking charger are all the same and they could borrow one. It’s a roll of the dice, I say don’t risk it!!

Laptop, cords, power strips and card readers (all my readers disappeared at the first workshop last month).

Imaging Software, we prefer Photoshop CS 4 but will take any version you have. In New Mexico you’re going to need Final Cut (pro or express).

External Hard drives with plenty of open space. Some assignment you’ll be capturing RAW images files, RAW files eat up heaps of space!

Thumb drives, you’ll need them to get my slide shows and handout copies (I get too many request to burn them, I still really like you though).

Open hearts and minds, at times I can get a bit philosophical about my passions and encourage the same of you. Group discussions are likely to last for hours followed by a visit to the local coffee shop.

I dig homemade cookies, if you're good in the kitchen bring your best it could mean extra credit!

I hope to see you in one of my classes!

The Dallas Photojournalism Workshop,
Dallas, TX Workshop July 5-9

Photojournalism Advisers University
Orlando, FL July 10-16

Visual Media Workshop
Charlotte, NC July 25-30

Journalism Conference
Houston, TX August 5-10

Media Workshop
Saint Louis, MO August 28-30

Photo Workshops
Minneapolis MN September 14-17

North East Universities Journalism Workshop
Providence, RI Septembers 24-27

Greater New Mexico Creative Arts Workshop October 1-4

Syracuse University Visual Journalism Workshop
October 22-26

Here I am selling the benefits of metering in Dallas.

Teaching assistant Bryan Stewart looks like a photo coach in our strobe demonstration class.

Backlight fashioned from hotel drinking glases

Dallas Photojournalism student (soon to be Manhattan Model) Dalton Gomez does a high fashion hair toss.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life through a Fisheye

So, I’ve been getting questions from my clients on why I’ve been out of town more these days. Aside from teaching my visual story telling workshops, which keeps me on the road mostly in the summer, teaching my on-line course and my usual out of town assignments, I’ve been working on a very cool project with a friend Logan. He is a documentary filmmaker and has been working on a film for the Imax Theaters. The working title is “The Sky Lines of Texas”. The project showcases the amazing environment and skies throughout the state. The project is due to be completed in the next nine months.

My self-portrait using a full 180 degree fisheye lens on a still camera.

Logan is a good friend and from time to time he helps me shoot and edit my own tutorials for my workshops and talks. We meet often to share ideas and talk about concepts for upcoming projects. When discussing his upcoming Imax film he told me his ideas and ask for some direction on cool Texas locations. He mentioned the problem of shooting so many locations in the limited time he would have access to the rented camera gear and crew needed to shoot such a project.

I mentioned my ability to shoot interval-timed exposures. This means that my still camera can be set-up to shoot an image every 1 to 15 seconds for as long as you have card space. This was great news to Logan. It meant he could focus on shooting the motion stuff while I did the still time lapse images. Definitely more bang for the buck! The idea was to use the still images along with the motion images together in the final film. Another reason this plan was so perfect is because it helped Logan keep the crew small and efficient allowing quick movement from location to location. Often only staying in one area long enough to capture a sunset then moving to another location to capture a sunrise. The gear used to make an Imax film is very expensive that means “ time is money”!

Logan with one of two digital cameras used to make the "Skylines of Texas"

This project is for the Imax dome theaters, which presented a challenge. My still camera would need to have a complete 180-degree lens, which is a very specialized 4mm lens and not often used. In fact as far as we could tell, never used for an Imax film. After a few calls to the larger rental houses, no one was able to help which says a lot because DFW has some of the best gear rentals houses in the country. Logan had better luck and found out that the lens used for the Imax camera is a Nikon mount. Turns out this lens is a rare piece of glass and is made in small factory in Japan. We're were able to get our hands on a second 180 lens for my camera and we hit the road.

This is a raw unedited sample of some of the recent images we've shot. I have to say I'm very impressed with Logan. In the first place this 20 something guy is completely self taught, an amazing director, producer and shooter. In the next place he was able to rework the still images from my camera and correct the perspective to a normal lens. You'll see the original capture in the top of the frame as you view the images.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thousands of images in 7 categories submitted from 50 states, 3 judges, 8 hours, 7 first prizes and 1 Grand Prizewinner.

One of the neat perks of teaching is having opportunities to judge photo contest. This week I was asked by my colleague and close friend, Gary Lundgren to judge the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest. This is a National Photojournalism Contest held yearly in Minneapolis.

Judges Jeff Kocur, and Jill Chittum take a first look at the contest entries, in the background are Jostens staffers.

The contest is open to all student photojournalist from around the country. I was one of three judges whose job it was to select the best images for 7 categories each with places from first to fifth. Once we had first place winners from all the categories we chose the best single image to be best of show. Sounds pretty easy but it was very challenging. We had thousands of images to view, a few discussions and even a few show of hand votes. I remember entering contest as a photo student and how long it took me to prepare my images. Keeping that in mind, we took care and time to view each photo from these young photographers.

Jostens leased a nearby conference room with plenty of natural light, this improved the viewing quality of the entry prints.

Once the judges made top selections the contest staff removed top selections to another table for final judging.

Gary Lundgren, the contest coordinator discusses the rules and categories with the judges.

Gary gave us basic options for judging and a quick overview of contest categories. The criteria was not discussed, as we all were veterans of many contests. We all knew what makes an award-winning photo, which inspired me to make a list of qualities that set a winning photo apart from other images.

Ten strategies for shooting award winning Photos

- Content is King: First and foremost in the world of photojournalism is good content. Great images communicate a message.

- Strong composition: Simply said composition is the way the elements are arranged within the image.

- Action and Reaction: Nothing reads as quickly as a peak action moment or an amazing reaction shot.

- Get emotional: Good images have an emotional quality and can capture the spectrum of emotions, from happy to sad.

- Keep it real: The best images are genuine. Nothing is worst than a photographer faking or setting-up a shot. It’s much better to wait for things to evolve naturally.

- Crop it: Often times an ordinary image can become extraordinary by an effective crop.

- Technically Speaking: Winning images are free from any problems with exposure, sharpness or noise.

- Gimmicks and tricks: Avoid trendy styles, filters or Photoshop enhancements that often get in the way of a solid image.

- Clich├ęs are out: Uncommon images show a different take on the common picture and stand out from the others.

- Don’t overwork it: One last important thing that is often overlooked when entering contest. Don’t try to win! Yup, I said that. Here’s what I mean. I’ve judged plenty of contests and I know some photographers where it’s all about the awards. They study the winners of previous contests and shoot images that are only slightly different, following a script of sorts. As a judge, what attracts my eye is something original and different. If your main goal is recognition you may win a few contests but your passion and originality will suffer. Additionally, you’ll miss out on developing your own unique style and” burn out” could be waiting just down the road. I’m not saying don’t enter contest, they offer many benefits but just don’t let awards be your main motivation with photography.

As for the winners of the contest I judged this week, I’ll post examples of a few of the outstanding winners once the results are release publicly. I found myself inspired by the amazing images of these young photographers. It helped me reconnect with the passion and enthusiasm I had as a young photographer and its something I strive for on every project I shoot. Lastly, a very special thanks to Gary and the contest staff for all the hospitality and for asking me to take part in the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest.

Myself, Jill Chittum and Jeff Kocur discuss the top images and select the Grand Prize winner award.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Guess who's on The Ellen Show?

Ok I know this is photography blog but I had to post a update on my friend Brennin who I wrote about in last week post. He was featured on The Ellen Show today and was very excited when I talked with him. His clip is part of Ellen's bathroom concert series, she will be bringing the winner of a viewer poll to her show. Again, Brennin has a lot of talent as a song writer/ singer. This exposure could help him so if you like the clip vote for Brennin at the link under the video.

Please help get Brennin to The Ellen Show. Click here to place your vote.

To find out more about Brennin Hunt click here

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tips on discovering your Self-Assignment


Brainstorm to begin the process of identifying and researching your potential self-assignment.

- Make a list of people, places, events or themes you enjoy photographing. Take a look at your shots from the past few months. Note any recurring themes or subjects.

- Don't overlook good visual possibilities around you. Think about family members or friends with interesting hobbies, skills or sports. My students have developed self-assignment from wood workers, skate boarders, music teachers, bike shops, a kite makers and even Civil War re-enactment actors. Checkout local crafts fairs, music festivals or other events on the web or the newspapers.

- Move past the fear of approaching strangers if they could make interesting subjects. I find if you have genuine curiosity about a person's passion they will be more than happy to be photographed.

- Narrow your list to two or three different self-assignments.
Develop "contact notes" That should include your subjects phone numbers, e-mails locations.

Contact your potential subjects consider the following questions:

1. What kind of access can you have? The more time you can spend with your assignment the better the images will be.

2. What are the lighting conditions? Working in good light will allow you to focus on capturing good images.

3. What are the visual possibilities? Are you planning on a simple portrait or is it possible to capture a series of photos?

These questions will help identify your best visual options.

Its always a good idea to let your subject know your building a portfolio and you’d be happy to share photos with them.

So get out there and start shooting! If you’re a professional you’ll find a rekindled passion and if you an amateur you’ll see you’re shooting skills take off.

Here’s a few more of my self-assignment examples.

I was teaching a Photo Workshop in Nashville took a few hours off to test some new light set-ups. I talked with my friend Brennin Hunt who is a Nashville songwriter and performer when I asked if I could do a few test shots he quickly told me he needed some updated promo photography for his manager. To find out more about this amazing songwriter and performer click here.

After the shoot with Brennin we went to the famous Martin’s BBQ in Nolenvilles for some tasty pork sandwiches. Once I entered this local favorite I knew I had to do a few shots.

While on an assignment in Taos New Mexico I took the day off and visited a few local galleries I found Metier Weaving in Dixon south of Taos. I asked the owner if I could capture her while she was working, she agreed, I got a nice available light portrait. Whether I’m working or not I always carry at least one camera with a single lens.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Get Creative with Self Assignments


I'm always looking for good visual opportunities whether or not I'm getting paid to shoot. Even when I'm traveling to teach a photo workshop or on a road trip with friends I carry my gear with me and its paid off! Some of my best images were not part of a paying gig. This brings me to the concepts of self-assignments. I think the best way of growing, as a photographer is to develop self-assignments. I learned the concept as a newspaper photographer. Many of the staffers I worked with would have side photo projects. This was a way for over-worked staff photographers working under quick deadlines to avoid total photo burnout. In the world of commercial photography this is called testing. The idea is to find a story, theme or an idea that you have an interest or passion about and shoot it your free time. The self-assignment is something you can have complete freedom to shoot without having to worry about speedy deadlines, photo editors cutting out your favorite images or designing strange crops. They sometimes were published but more often were not. Self-assignments are not just for professionals-they can be helpful to amateurs as well. Doing a bit of research and charting a strategy can improve your chances of getting better images.

While working with a local high school’s Photojournalism class I over heard the students talking about a player they had on the schools basketball team. When I asked for details they told me the amazing story of Dominque Dorsey, a star player who excels despite a partial limb. No one had ever thought about doing a sports portrait of him. You can read a story the Dallas Morning News did here. Of note the story didn’t include an image, I think an assignment editor missed an amazing visual opportunity.

Consider some of the advantages of self-assignments

- Expand your portfolio; I’ve used techniques and idea's I learned on self-assignments when discussing concepts with clients. I have even brought some of those self-assignment images to creative meetings. It shows in a subtle way you have a real passion for what you do.

- Gain confidence in your shooting and people skills; I’ve learned some neat tricks about lots of things while covering a self assignment; dealing with subjects, using unusual angles, lighting with an edge just to name a few. It's always better to make mistakes and learn on your own while covering a self-assignment. Best to be on your top game when someone is paying.

- Flex your creative muscles; with no clients looking over your shoulder and wondering, "I'm paying for this? Or ugh, does this guy know what he's doing. You'll be able to expand your creativity. The more you use your creative eye the easier it will be to access while someone is paying your rate.

- Get a leg up on concept development and assignment planning; an important aspect of being a successful photographer that's never really talked about, (I'll post more on this in future post). Many people have a misconception that a photographer just shows up and start shooting. Most every project I shoot requires a great deal of work before I even pick-up a camera. Contacting the subjects, scouting the locations, working with reporters/clients and doing basic research are just part of the pre shoot work needed to yield the best possible images. The more you understand the work required prior to shooting the more your clients will value you as a photographer.

- Get some paying assignments; As an example, I was teaching a photo workshop in a small downtown area. I asked the students to develop and shoot a photo story along Main Street. The class assignment's goal was to help the students focus with limited time in capturing images, much like a working photojournalist. As I walked up and down Main Street helping with questions I noticed one shop had been overlooked by the student shooters. I decide to shoot a few portraits of the shop owner, only took a few minutes. I gave her my card within a few days I got a call from the owner saying her shop had been featured in a national magazine and the editors wanted to buy my images for publication. Point is you never know where paid projects will come from. I've picked up many paying projects while shooting self-assignments.

Johnny Bryant in her famous cookie shop.

Click here for tips on Developing your Self-Assignment

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Finding a visual story

Today I completed a project for a new corporate client. The project started off as simple posed images of some of the key leadership people both in a group and singles shots, the client preferred a boardroom…boring as all get out. I do accept project like this from time to time, if my book is open as a freelancer its hard to turn down work. Typically a project like this is about a day or day and half worth of shooting. The client wanted images that could be used on the company website, for a wall display as well as short slide show they planned to show in the lobby to potential customers who were waiting.

I requested a pre-shoot concept meeting, which is very important when working with a new client (more on that in future post). During the meeting with the marketing directors I proposed shooting images that told the visual story of the people behind the services that were provided to customers, not just photographing the big cheeses in a boardroom. We talked about shooting the leadership team in more casual approachable way. Because of my background in photojournalism I'm always looking for ways of telling stories and this concept seemed like a no brainer for me. I often find when working with new clients it up to me to educate them with how I work best and my shooting style. I always find a way/angle to use my skills that can best serve those who are paying my rate. The marketing dept agreed to the shift in concept, less formal images and more of a documentary style. This expanded my role from one day of photography to four days. The client saw real value in the concepts and like me left the meeting excited about the photography we were planning.

Because we had a fast approaching deadline that meant getting started right away and moving very quickly. This is the type of photography I'm accustom to. I call " hit and run photography" you show up unannounced spend a few moments getting the basis jest of what the subject does and began shooting. In some cases shooting in natural light in other situations using only small flashes. In an ideal world I would have spent more time getting to know my subjects and working with the light more. A basic rule is the more time you spend with a subject or on a story the better the images will be. This situation was not ideal. Being a photographer means thinking on your feet. This is a large company with over 3000 employees with many different departments. It's not at all possible to photograph every one and all departments. I spent most of my shooting days shooting very general shots of each the predetermined departments and capturing what is called environmental portraits. In this situation that means basically showing up and shooting the employees right where they are, no quick trips to "check make up", no "let me put this on" no hair adjustments just simple and quick images.

Now that the project has been delivered, the client is very happy with the results and has even mentioned how important the pre-shoot meeting was for them. She said it helped her understand the importance of a clear direction for any project. I always find those clear honest meeting can be the difference between a successful shoot and a shoot where the photos just get the job done. I'm happy because I was able to get a few really nice images for myself but most of all I've been asked to take part in other projects. The client said, "We were going to use just copy and an file photos for that series of ad's but, I think new photo's would be better". Now, they’re thinking more like me!

So the basic lesions here:

1. Always, always find the time to meet with the client before the shooting. Often the client will not see a need for this but its makes the direction of the project clear and ultimately shows the client you care.

2. Listen to what the clients needs are. Ask questions that will help you understand more about the role your images will play and solve potential problems while covering the project.

3. Find a way for your shooting style to work for your client’s specific needs.

4. Be flexible when it comes to working with new clients. I was able to move a few booked projects to other days to accommodate a fast deadline.

5. Above all I care about the work I produce. Sometimes that means letting go of some of your own more creative idea's and shooting something that will better serve the clients needs.

Here's one of the images I shot while working with a new client. This is an environmental services employee changing the pressure of a cooling tower. I arrived to find him working on the towers in the background. I quickly set-up a small flash with a remote trigger. As I waited for him to move to the tower near camera angle, I had set up a single flash, I shot a few test images for proper exposure. Once he arrived I got maybe 10-12 quick frames before he moved on.

Working quick means no time to set-up light stands and lights. If I'm not working with an assistant I'll use tables, book cases, door frames or anything I can find to position a flash on. For this shot, I used part of the cooling tower to set a single flash on.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Where to buy photo equipment?

I wanted to talk a bit to those getting started in photography about buying gear. I always recommend buying a basic digital camera with manual options. It’s a good idea to avoid the fancy cameras with over the top functions that will rarely if ever get used. If you’re new to photography the best way to learn is on a basic camera shooting in manual. If you read my blog you’ve no doubt heard that a few times.

You do have a few options to consider before you buy. First, buying new or used. Buying used equipment can help keep your budget in check and build your system faster. I have found some pretty amazing deals on used equipment. Of course you must evaluate the equipment carefully as used gear has an implied “as is” meaning once you hand over the money it its yours. New equipment is the safest way to go by a long shot. If you’re on a budget this means it could take time to get your system in place.

Consider the below before you buy your photo gear

1. Known retailers: Local shops are a good choice as they stand behind you’re purchases. If your buying gear online using a known retailer, a company that has a track record is always a good bet.

2. Online auctions: I’ve known many who have brought gear on eBay and only a few who have been unhappy with little recourse. It can be a risky proposition buying equipment online. If you’re set at buying on eBay follow the common rules, checking sellers feedback, looking into the return policy of the seller asking specific questions about the condition etc.

3. Craig’s list maybe a better option because you can meet the seller at a local coffee shop for example to check out the gear before you buy it. Again, be sure to take a good look at the gear you’ll be buying. Test lenses, cameras and other equipment, I had a student even meet a seller with his laptop and tested the camera by taking general exposures and downloading the card to his laptop just to make sure the camera was working properly.

4. Still another place for deals on used gear, I’d suggest checking out the other local options such as camera stores for consigned equipment. I teach photo workshop all over the country when I stop in to the local camera stores I go right to the used gear area, often in the back of the store. It’s a good place to find gently used gear where a hobbyist with a big wallet and an eye for the latest and great equipment will trade up for the newest models.

5. Camera Shows/Swap meets: In larger towns like the one I live in you can find camera shows or photography swap meets listed in the newspaper or online. I make these shows at least once a year and pick-up all kinds of odds an ends from light stands, extra flashes to a out of print photography books. Most of the dealers there are at every show, it seems the more I get to know them the better the prices I get. At these types of shows everything is negotiable, on the last day of the show the prices are almost always better! In some cases the more you buy the better the price.

6. Pawn Shops: One of my photo assistant’s makes a habit of stopping into these shops and its shocked me at some of the things he has found. I remember him showing me a case that included an underwater film camera with two lights plus the case, he paid 250.00 clearly the dealer was not aware of what he had. My assistant is a diver and uses the gear twice a year for his trips, takes the film to a local lab and has digital scans made.

Photo swap meets can be a great place to add to your photography system. Often these events are organized by local photography clubs and can be a great place to pick up low cost gear. You’ll find all kinds of things you never knew you needed. I buy everything from light stands, extra gear bags to tripods. I even picked up a really cool mini spy camera. To find out more about the DFW camera show click here.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Selecting the Digital Camera best for you

To make the most of your digital camera, you will need to have a good understanding of how it works. If you're new to digital photography or if you're interested in improving your shooting skills, the following information explains the capabilities of digital cameras.

Keep in mind the more you know about your camera the better shooter you’ll be. In photography, camera operations should be second nature. Being skilled at its operation will enable you to concentrate on capturing story-telling images and not be occupied with camera functions.

A variety of Digital cameras are available for every level and type of need, from point & shoot to advanced amateur to digital SLR's.

The three basic categories of digital cameras are:

1. Point and shoot cameras: These are small, compact cameras with built-in flashes, auto exposure/auto focus, and a fixed lens.
They are great for snap shots, but limit creative control. Some point and shoot cameras have a "shutter lag" which means there is a delay between the time you press the shutter button and the time the picture is taken.

A sample of typical point and shoot cameras with common features.

2. Advanced amateur camera (often called pro- consumer): Offers many features of pro -digital SLR'’S. They can be used in full auto mode and most importantly allows manual controls. Some have the ability to switch lenses while others have fixed lenses. Many entry level DSLR’S include both a hot shoe to attach a flash and a onboard flash with modes such as fully automatic, fill flash, or no flash options.

A selection of advanced amateur cameras.

3. Digital SLR cameras: These are the highest levels of digital cameras. They offer fast focus and shooting speeds. They are larger cameras and offer interchangeable lenses while also accepting external flashes. They provide more power and flexibility, high-quality sensors and processors, a wide range of sensitivity settings (ISO), and a full range of controls used for exposure options. Most have a wide variety of
available accessories.

Examples of common Pro Digital SLR'S.

Arm yourself with information, do your research to find the best fit for you. For more information and specific comparisons check out this resource, its one of the best gear review sites I've found. Digital Photography Review

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Buying a new camera?

In this post I'd like to answer a few questions I get often from students in my photo classes. It's a question of gear. What camera is the best for me? That one question is always a hard one to completely answer as there are many things to consider when evaluating the type of camera you're looking to buy. The following is a list of questions I always ask before offering advice.

1. What type of camera do you have now? What brand are you most familiar with using? If you've always used a Canon for example I always think its best you stick with a Canon.

2. What is your level of experience? If you're just getting started, look for basic easy to use models with more auto controls. If you’re more experienced, you'll want a camera that offers both auto and manual controls.

3. Think about how you plan to use the camera. Are you using the camera for general purposes such as family and friend photos? Will you be traveling often? A smaller more portable camera may be better. Do you want to shoot sports or actions shots? If so, you'll need a camera that can handle shooting fast. The image buffer is temporary storage while your image is written to the card. Bottom line for shooting action look for camera that has a faster buffer.

4. What context will the images be used, a website, an online album, a publication? Do you plan on making prints? If you have a need for prints or you are shooting for a publication you'll be looking at a camera that has a larger file size. Megapixels will play a role in your decision.

5. How often do you plan to use your camera? Are you more of a hobbyist or do you plan on making a career out of your passion? If you're looking at becoming more of serious photographer you many want to get a camera that will allow you to start building a system. Building a gear system can take time. This often means buying an entry-level camera with manual options. Once your skills grows, your can upgrade your camera body for a model that offer more advanced features and use your first camera as a back up.

6. How much money do you plan to budget for your new camera? Having a basic budget will help you better target which models you'll be able to afford. Often camera manufacturers will release the latest and greatest version and will discount the last year's models. The newer camera may only have a few upgraded options so it may be worth your time to check out the older models.

Ask yourself the above questions, the more completely you consider your needs the better choice you'll make for a camera.

A few helpful tips

Always talk to friends about the kind of camera they are using and ask them about their experiences. This can be a great way to gain insights on a popular brand.

Do some research to compare model-to-model to narrow your focus to three or four top cameras. Here's the best link I have found to compare cameras features and options.

Visit a local camera retailer with list of top selections even if you plan on buying online. Handle the cameras, this gives you a good sense for how the camera feels in your hand. I encourage students not to buy a camera on the first visit to the camera store. This will help avoid being influenced by a fast talking salesperson.

Shop around for the best prices before you buy. I always recommend buying from a local retailer over an online source. In my own experience I have found retailers will be very helpful in providing a quicker turn around when it comes to repairs. I'm a big believer in building relationships and it's always good to know a camera store around the corner. I recently helped my sister buy a camera from a large camera store in my city and was surprised to learn with the purchase of every camera came a weekend workshop held at the end of every month. She found the three-hour class very helpful.

Another mistake made by first time camera buyer is spending their entire budget to buy the high-end camera with low-grade lenses. By that I mean buying a camera as part of a kit that includes cheap lens. Retailers will use these kits to market good cameras with cheap accessories. Here's what I mean, a lower quality lens for example something like a 18mm-150mm f 3.5-5.6 (pay special attention to the aperture range) this lens is more cost effective but you'll find it's has limits. If you're on a budget go for a less expensive camera and invest your money on a good lens. You will probably not read other photo blogs that make such a statement but ask any working photographer and you'll hear, "It's about the glass"! I always look for lenses that have a minimum lens opening (aperture) of f 2.8 this allows for more options especially in low light. Yes, better quality lenses cost more but in the end you'll be much happier.

When buying a lens take a look at some of the off market lens. I know photographers who swear by Sigma, Tokina and Tamron. Often these lenses can be almost half the cost of the name brand lens with very little sacrifice on sharpness and quality.

Remember all cameras' do the same thing; capture images! Avoid being a gear hog. That's someone who always has to have the latest and greatest camera with all the bells and whistles. The best part of photography is making great images and without a good eye even the best camera will be worthless. I shot this image while working in Durango. I'd hadn't planned on shooting in water so I went to the local Wal-Mart to buy a cheap 10.00 disposable waterproof camera enclosed in plastic. I simply panned with the movement of the boats as they came down the river.

"It matters little how much equipment we use; it matters much that we be masters of all we do use". Sam Abell, National Geographic Photographer

Read the next post for a helpful basic overview of digital camera and their categories.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean