How to be a better photographer on a strict budget


It’s a conundrum, isn’t it?

How on earth can you indulge in an expensive hobby like photography, if you have limited income? I get so many emails regarding this problem, and to tell you the truth, all I can recommend is to make a start, however you can….maybe buy a cheap box camera such as those made by Kodak, as those are capable of taking excellent photos, simple as they are. Or if even that is way too expensive, then make your own pinhole camera out of a matchbox, which anyone can do.

Regardless, if you are on a strict budget and have limited income, then you need to discipline yourself with a set of rules, rules which I’ve drawn up for you here today. As you read them you will see that most of the are just common sense, so it’s surprising how so few people follow them.

These are rules I myself followed when I was kid….dad only earned $30 a week in those days, so money was tight! And even though money was that tight, I still managed to enjoy my hobby.

So, without further ado, here are the Fimcamera999 Photographer’s Commandments:

1 Don’t buy new or specialised stuff. You are better off borrowing or hiring it, that is, if you really need it. Ask yourself that question….do you really need that $1000 lens? Also, if you really want something bad, then buy it used, either from a camera dealer or any of the online marketplaces. Ok, if you buy from eBay you may come up with a dud now and then, but that’s the risk you take. Or buy your stuff from me!

2 Think about what you are buying. Go ahead…do you really need that Leica M7 that costs $1500 or more? Can you take similar shots with a vintage Yashica Electro or something? Unfortunately, as humans, we are all designed to have urges…urges to buy, urges to eat, urges to…..ahem, well you know what I mean!  Try and control some of those urges (!). Go grab a cup of coffee, take a walk and when you come back home, that urge will have gone. Or if you really, really have your mind stuck on it, write it down in a journal, like I used to when I was a schoolkid…..I used to call it my “Get the book out” book, meaning whenever I wanted something, I’d get the book out to write it in there! And inevitably, when you look at what you wrote a month later, you realise you didn’t really want it anyways!

3 Don’t go buying books or glossy magazines. Yes, I know….those blonde girls look oh-so good plastered all over the glossy pages of magazines, but before you buy, think how much they are costing you. Ditto with photography magazines. In the age of the internet, there’s millions and millions of pages of information on the web that no magazine on earth could ever hope to include in it’s lifetime, so why go spending upwards of what is it….$10 these days for a top quality magazine?  And I speak from experience….come to my place and I’ll show you box after box after box of old photo magazines that I used to buy, and which I can’t bring myself to throw out! And I shudder to think of how much I spent in cash buying them over the years. One other thing about photo mags….I found them to be brochures from new equipment manufacturers in disguise. If you want to look at magazines, go plonk yourself down at the local library at read it there for free, or if they haven’t got it in stock, they’ll order it for you! I’m frequently to be seen at the Central library by Robson St here in Vancouver, head buried deep in some expensive photo book or magazine!

4 Don’t buy, make….if you can.  Who doesn’t like that beautiful background screen selling for $150? Who doesn’t like that lighting kit that’s selling for $500? We all do. But instead of buying a background screen, why not pop along to the local dressmaker’s shop (or raid the wife’s spare cloth supplies) and buy a few feet of coloured cloth and throw it over a wooden curtain rod…just as good as a manufactured studio screen. Why spend all that money on a high-class magnesium framed tripod? Use a couple of cardboard boxes or a small coffee table to stand your camera on.  Find a window in your home that gives you the best light for your shots…no need for that lighting set.

5 Don’t buy new film.  This depends entirely upon you….I used to save my pocket-money up to buy new films, but if you have very little money, then why not buy expired film? Did you know that the Use By dates on films are just there as a general guide? Film, if kept in the right conditions, can last many years longer than the date printed on the box. I’ve used films over 20 years old which have given me first class results. Two ways of storing film, new or expired…..if kept in a fridge, it delays the aging process…if kept in a deep freezer, it halts the aging process…simple.

6 Learn how to properly use your camera.      Before you go buying that brand new camera, are you sure you know how to use your present one fully and completely? Are you sure? It’s a well-known fact that 90% of camera owners know just 40% of the capabilities of their cameras. And the moment a new camera is announced, we all want it. But take a look at what your own camera can do…you’ll be surprised to learn that it can do almost everything a brand new one can!

Just an amusing little anecdote here for you….in my earlier life as an electronics guy, I was in charge of doing final functional testing on a sophisticated radar system, and we were constantly surprised at getting streams of complaints from the Air Force green-horns about this not working, that not working etc. Nine times out of ten, it came down to the users not reading the instruction manuals! So we used that well known phrase in techie circles….RTFM…..Read The F****** Manual! So too with your camera!

7 Do compare prices. If you do want to buy something, then there’s simply no excuse these days about not comparing prices or shopping around. As I said before, this is the age of the internet…information on virtually anything is just a click away, so when you decide to buy, get the cheapest price you possibly can by checking on the web. Taking film prices as an example, I pick up new 35mm films for $1 at my local Dollar Store; the same stuff at Walmarts wold cost at least $3.

8 Do try and make money from your hobby. Standing example….when I was a student, I used to offer a developing and printing service for monochrome films for local people. I advertised regularly in my community newspaper for free, as well as placing little postcards at local shops advertising my services, and the money I earned paid for my cameras, films and not to mention more than a couple of cold beers and fish n chips every week! Be enterprising. Sell your photos to agencies.

9 Do use a tripod if you can. This is one of the surest, most foolproof way of getting tack-sharp photos, period. More than lenses, more than films, more than cameras. If you don’t believe me, do this….choose a spot to photograph…anywhere…just your street, or a local building anything. Take your shot handheld. Then mount your camera on a tripod and take another shot again. If your second shot with the tripod hasn’t produced a sharper image, I’ll eat my hat!

10 Do have a camera with you…at all times. People like Cartier-Bresson didn’t just pop up from the woodwork….they achieved their fame by having a camera with them at all times…when the “decisive moment” presented itself, they clicked it! Decisive moments are here one second, gone the next…don’t miss them! And remember, famous photographs come from within the photographer’s minds….not from expensive cameras….you know what I mean!

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About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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2 Responses to How to be a better photographer on a strict budget

  1. MartyW47 says:

    Isn’t is easier and cheaper just to right click and “Save Image as”… ;)

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