If I were getting into Photography right now – My advice

Helpin’ out

I’m writing this because I’ve had many people ask me what kind of camera I suggest… more or less they’re asking what do I need to get into photography (pro or not)

So this is some of my advice and where I’m coming from

The Beginning

About 5yrs ago I jumped into photography. 6yrs ago I was dinking around with a Casio 4mp point and click in Europe and recognized how much I liked it… and then others gave me confidence by telling me they liked the travel pictures I took.

Out on a Limb

Then I went out on a limb and put a DSLR on a CC as a poor student and someone else went on a limb and had me do engagement pictures… then a bunch of other crazy people went on a crazier limb and had me photograph their weddings.

I had no formal training, I had no mentor, I hadn’t read books, It was just this year I started looking at other people’s photography blogs.

But hey it worked for me… in fact I’m even proud of all of my weddings, even that first year. I mean I could run circles around that version of me from 5yrs ago with one hand tied behind my back and a canon camera (haha)

An advantage

I think all along I kinda cheated… I had a bit of both worlds… I loved buttons and I came from a family of artists.

And I think many of you out there have similar advantages… you have a good eye for pictures. (The way to figure that out is if you really really like my work)

You come from an artistic background and that goes beyond photos… creativity is more than pictures… a dancer or painter or musician has creativity that Can spill over into other forms of art.

The Geek and the Philosopher

I’m going to talk about camera stuff in this post but if you come to the office and ask me what it really takes… I won’t really talk alot about tech stuff. I’ll get all philosophical on you… you’ll hear me blab about personality and the experience and some business stuff. I’ll talk about what’s important to you and to the customers and I know a bunch of other photographers that will go on about branding being everything.

To me it’s developing the artists within. Creative in everything… not just the pictures, but the way they handle people and the way they solve problems.

The perfect situation … yeah right!!

Anyone can take pictures in the perfect situation, with the perfect models, in the perfect light, with all the time they want… but it’s never going to be that way. So how do you handle crappy lighting, a fifth the time you planned for, models with anxiety or low self esteem. That’s all up in the brain.

Then there’s the geeky kid in me who believes the camera that is best is the one that you have AND which has the most buttons! haha

For the person without a budget

If you’re getting into this as a retiring doctor who wants to take off to safaris in africa or weekend trips in the Ferrari to the rockies then just go out and buy the best junk you can find… to the rest of us… to the other poor students in the audience this is what I would do. You have a crazy advantage, while the camera doesn’t make the art these new cameras certainly make your art so much better than my first camera did. Get a D3s with a 24-70, 70-200, a 14-24, 85mm 1.4 a 105mm 2.8 macro, a 50 1.4 and then finally a 200-400 f/4 but you’ll probably want a another camera to have as a backup and maybe 2-3 SB900 flashes and if you’re headed to hawaii pick up an underwater case for that camera.

Oh and get yourself what you need for the Jarvie Window setup

For those with real life budgets… a real question

Afterall these are the questions that an aspiring photographer most frequently asks of a full time photographer: What kind of camera should I get?

And I understand this… when we’re not in the professions when we haven’t eat, breathed and slept with photography on the brain every day and every hour for years we don’t know all the questions to ask.

It’s the same reason that we believe we have to go to classes, read a book, take a community college course, get a degree, even mentor or intern somewhere. We only know what we know… we don’t even know the box yet to be able to think outside of it.

I like toys

So let’s tackle that one… because I mean I think about lenses and camera a lot… one of my most visited sites online is NikonRumors a site that speculates on possible releases of the brand of camera I use.

I phone my store (Pictureline) where I buy most of my stuff and tell them to put me on the list when a new fancy camera comes out or a great lens. I think they’d know by now that they’d be in trouble if I weren’t first on the list for the new upgrade to my present camera (that has 250k clicks on it)

So yeah let’s talk cameras.

A friend asked if she should get this deal. I know canon and nikon discounts are infrequent and if you see something too good to be true it usually is… a $700 discount is big time… but those types of things usually come from the manufacture like this one… and this is a screaming deal and I told her so. But then I said but I don’t think you should get it.

I like the ease into it approach… because no matter what it’s alright to have a nice camera but there are cases having $7k in gear could be a bit much and backfire.


So if I were getting into photography right now like years ago… what camera would I buy? Well years ago I bought a D70 and I would do that again… except there is an upgrade to the upgrade to the upgrade of that one. D70 > D80 > D90 > D7000? well so it officially hasn’t come out yet but they’re saying september 15th it might be announced… don’t kill me if it doesn’t but hey that’s 2 weeks away why not wait and find out.If when they come out with this camera and it doesn’t live up to expectations I’ll let you know before you get it on pre-order.

Read more about the rumors


OK so I’m talking to the person who wants to go into photography and perhaps make money some day.

First lens 50mm 1.8 – really there’s no reason not to get this lens… except maybe if you want to get the big brother the 50mm 1.4 for a few hundred more.

K now this is where I might get a few photographers confrontational with me. haha

The next two lenses i’d probably get would be a 24-70 off brand then some type of dynamic lens like a 70-200 2.8 or maybe the new 85mm 1.4

OK I said 24-70 off brand… why? I mean I have a $1900 Nikon version but I used to have an off brand type and it sucks compared to the Nikon made version.

This is my thinking on this… if you need to save money on something get an off brand 24-70 and save some money for some other stuff like the 70-200 then when you got more money down the line sell the off brand version and get the nikon 24-70

As a sidenote I’ve bought 4-5 lenses used over the years and each time they’ve been great lenses and great deals… I’m not saying each case will be perfect… but I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t have the chance to meet the seller and handle the lenses in person.

I also sell my used lenses in person because I want them to see just how much they’ve been used and not BS them about just how much paint is missing off the lens.

Ok so you have some kit lens (why not, it’s not like you’re going to get much money selling it… and it’s an OK backup) you have a 50mm lens an off brand 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8 If you do a lot of single person portrait stuff maybe just stick with the 85mm 1.4 because that’ll give you nice unique pictures.

Also remember the 70-200 is heavy and maybe you’d rather stay away from that.

Other stuff

Many photographers are notorius for buying lots of bags… like they’re going out of style… I have 4-5 bags myself. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to find a bag you can grow into a bit. Maybe plan for that big lens.

Get a flash… doesn’t mean your photography is all about flash… but it comes in handy and photography is about being prepared for the perhaps situation. If you are going to be doing many jobs with photography I might try to convince you to jump straight into an SB-900 which is way spendy but is so worth it for so many reasons which I’ll just say trust me on this. But if you don’t care about speed and you won’t use a flash much or be in dark situations then don’t worry about the SB-900 there are talks of a new upgraded SB-600 coming this month. (Read the rumors)

A card…. dang cards are so cheap these days I personally use 16GB cards so I say why not? There are philosophies about why not but still… just get a 16GB… actually maybe 2 haha (You never know when you find yourself doing lots of video for some reason or go on a trip without a computer)

Oh if you’re having to shoot in very cold weather may I suggest these gloves

I’d also get a smugmug account to show off your work – I could get you a discount if you need one.

Getting busy? (Computers)

If you’re getting busy in photography you’ll notice it sucks up your time… what do you do… get a faster computer. Get a desktop if you can. That’s a good investment if your time is valuable to you.

If you’re traveling a lot with this stuff perhaps a laptop would be good, but don’t make it a habbit to edit with a touchpad and without a big desktop monitor plugged into it.

Photography is expensive

The camera will cost like 1k maybe a bit more (be thankful only that much)

The 50mm will be the cheapest thing you buy unless you get the 1.4 version

The fancy 70-200 2.8 or 85 1.4 will cost 1700-2300 – therefore lots more than your camera.

Your off brand 24-70 2.8 will be about $550 and when you sell it back you might only get $400 for it but that will help towards the $1700 that the nikon version will cost (Note I don’t know which off brand version is the best)

Your flash could cost $215 unless you get the big boy in which case double that amount.

But not TOO expensive

But just think of this you can build up in parts.

You don’t need everything NOW … you need to spending time and maybe money in the LEARNING field. Get that 50mm 1.8 for $130 dollars and use it well and don’t worry about having everything now. When you learn it… and have need for something bigger and better get the other thing.

So you want to do a wedding… are you doing lots? NO? Rent the lens… don’t drop $2k on something you don’t use a ton.

But what I’m saying is even if you don’t go pro having a $1k camera and a $100 lens is AOK and you’ll be happy and you won’t feel like you made a bad investment.

If I were leaning canon I’d go 7D and as a side note almost all Canon lenses are less expensive, so if it’s all about price that might be your direction.

Photography For fun

If I just want to take great pictures around the house and not do photography for pay… I’d get a D3100 Like this package add in a 50mm 1.8 and a small flash again I’d probably wait to see if they announce the sb600 upgrade in two weeks. I don’t love the lens it comes with… but that’s how it goes with beginner packages, the lenses aren’t a big part of the expense on these packages anyway. The next step after that is to get a lens that zooms… you know… for kids sporting events or wildlife as you drive through national parks. On the canon side the t2i looks great.


I wouldn’t skimp on this one… there really is only one option… that’s Lightroom. Don’t bother with photoshop until you get some job that convinces you that you need it and would probably end up paying for it. So you’re poor and this isn’t your job, you’re probably a student they’ll get it for $100 compared to $300

I’ve come a long way in my picture taking skills and I’m happy… I’ve also come a super long way in my ability to always be able to make whatever I took look better with a few seconds in the computer. Not minutes… seconds. Cameras have software too… and they’ll process it a cookie cutter way… you want to put your style stamp on the colors and contrast of a picture then don’t let the camera software be in charge of that look… you make it happen in lightroom. even if it’s just a pre-set. Do you want your camera to “Edit” your pictures or do you want to be in charge of that style?

Early Work

You can even see some examples of some of my first photoshoots re-edited by my 5yr older self Stell WeddingGibbons WeddingWhite Wedding

Film? Nope – I would gladly wax eloquent on this and explain why to the film people in the audience… but this post is about If I were getting into photography right now… and the answer is absolutely not. Let’s keep that one short.

Where would I go to get this stuff

OK so I added some links for your convenience throughout the post

If costco carries something they’ll usually package it up into a great bundle…trust those. Nikon selection right now isn’t the best but it changes

Use my store located here in Utah Pictureline. Talk to nick via twitter and tell him Jarvie sent you (it’ll make me look cool) haha

Or if all else fails the metropolis that is BH Photo

Maybe rent a lens from Borrow Lenses

You want to be a good photographer?

Now that you have that amazing camera now you want to be amazing? Well just read all 400+ of my blog posts 😉 Or come mentor here. haha

This is a huge post in and of itself… tons of posts… like I said at the beginning there is a lot of thoughts behind this. Lots of posts to point you to.

So I need a good one-liner advice to inspire you… be creative in the way you learn and that will probably end up with you being creative in the result of your learning.

But seriously you can be good enough to make a few dollars in this business easy enough… but it takes a LOT of time and work to become a great artist. Do you want to be great or do you just want to be good enough to pay off your camera that’s up to you.

BTW there is NOTHING wrong with getting a camera to just take pictures of your family, your friends and just as a hobby. Seriously… let me repeat… there is nothing wrong with just getting a camera with no thought of making money at it.

Recap to my friend that asked what to get.

Step 1 – D7000(rumored camera)

Step 2 – 50mm 1.8 or 1.4

Step 2.5 – Lightroom

Step 3 – A reflector (they don’t break the bank)

Step 3.5 – SB900

Step 3.7 – A SmugMug account to show off your work

Step 4 – Off Brand 24-70 f/2.8

Step 5 – 70-200 F/2.8

Step 6 – A new camera I’d suggest the d700 upgrade and relegate your first camera as backup

Step 7/8 85mm 1.4

Step 7/8 Sell the off brand 24-70 and get the nikon version

Step 9 – Get another flash

Step 10 – 14-24 f/2.8

Step 11 – 105 f/2.8

Step 12 – Jarvie Window Setup (8mm + Ray Flash)

Step 13 – A super telephoto like a 200-400 or a 300 2.8 (can we just say you better be rolling in the money by this step)

Step 10 and 11 depends on whether you like wide angle more than up close details

Somewhere in there you’ll have also gotten a couple of bags and a really nice computer you might also like the 24 1.4 or if you’re gonna do a lot of studio work or landscape I might have some other lenses you’d prefer instead

I used decimal points because I didn’t want to re-order everything… I write a super long post and then get lazy at the very end


  1. JSturr says

    Great work — thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Janet says


  3. Kumpu says

    Great stuff really, glad that someone actually cares about amateurs and their “stupid questions”

  4. Catherine Glazner says

    Love your advice! Thank you so much for giving us steps to follow, and different options. Right now I know NOTHING of photography and I am so excited to start. Will I make any money with it? Probably not. LOL. More thinking of this to be a hobby. But ya never know!! I have been wanting to get into photographer for SO long, but now 9 years of marriage and 3 babies later I have the PERFECT little clients. LOL. =)

  5. Arthur says

    Thanks mate, read it from start to finish and found it really informative and deep!

    I’m currently at a stalemate about starting photography (I’ve played around with dSLRs for the past few years but more as a hobby). I was thinking of getting a D3100 and some decent lens (in my budget) and growing into it rather than purchasing a D7000 up top. Do you recommend one option over the other?

    Just feel like I achieve more if I move upwards rather than start with classy gear and stay static :)

  6. ScottJarvie says

    I’d recomend the d7000 i think someone wanting to shoot and charge money for it could do so with the D7000 but not as much the D3100
    I just replaced my backup camera with the D7000 and I love it. Sometimes the controls are slower than the D700 but it’s still plausible in situations where you need to work fast.

  7. Arthur says

    Thanks mate, will definitely reconsider the d7000 option!

  8. Katie says

    thank you for writing this post, it’s exactly what info i need to make my first investment in photography!

  9. michelle says

    Wow. Great info! Thanks for taking all the time to write it out. I’m sure that took a lot of time.

  10. Eric Quinney says

    By far my favorite blog post – because that is where I am at! What great information and so very helpful to those of us starting out. As I start out my blog on my journey in learning all of this – I will def link this blog because this is where I got my start!

  11. Robbie Petersen says

    Through research and what not, I’ve come to most of these conclusions, but this is all great info. I’ve been trying to compare the 7D to the D7000 and its hard to tell the difference. I’ve used the 7D and really liked it. I need to try the D7000 and see how it shoots to compare. The question that I’d like to ask is, is it worth it to jump up to full frame cameras, like the D700 you have or is a DX camera still good? Do all of those lenses work on a DX camera?

  12. […] If I Were Getting into Photography Right Now – I realize that this post sounds like something only for beginners, but I promise it can help anyone (well…maybe not a super professional photographer who already knows all this stuff, so if you are, I suppose you’re allowed to skip this one. Though, if it were me, I’d read it anyway – just in case! :p) There are links to a few different places to get some really good gear and a little advice about lenses, cameras, software, etc. It’s absolutely perfect if you’re just starting out (and it was written in September 2010 so the gear he mentions is all still relevant). […]

  13. Tina says

    Thanks for your information. Its great to read and see what someone in the business thinks. I am just currently starting to do some photography on the side. I’d very much like to be a stay at home mom instead of working a punch in/ punch out job. I want to do photography more than anything else. Im super enjoying everything Ive done so far, but have SO MUCH to learn! Thank you again for your time and post!

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