Best photography kit for a beginner: advice from professional photographer, Mike

As we all know, taking on a new hobby can be overwhelming at times, when you don’t know where to start or how to prepare. We asked our experienced host Mike Southon, who runs incredible photography courses in France, for some insight into photography, along with a few questions to help out every aspiring photographer.

Here is what he has graciously shared:

Photography was once described as “Painting with Light”, which actually sums it up pretty well. The camera records the scenes and objects around us through the light they reflect or transmit… that of course is very clinical; however when we add colour, contrast, light and shade we start to add atmosphere and mood.

The clever photographer can use his or her experience to turn the recorded image into “art” – an image that captures the spirit of a place, the beauty of a landscape and the mood that existed at the moment the photograph was taken.

Learning how to do that is what the photographer aspires to do. Our photographic courses will help you learn to master these skills by understanding and controlling your camera, and using the light of the day to capture moments in time that help create images that you are proud of!

If someone is just starting out in photography, what are the top 3 things they must have?

  1. A camera you feel comfortable with. Ideally one which give you full manual control.
  2. An eye for detail – the best photos are composed in the camera, not on the computer afterwards.
  3. A desire to learn and improve. You can learn and be inspired by others, and also from critiquing your own work, constantly refining technique and improving your photography.

What type of camera should I be using?

A good photographer is not reliant on a specific camera; the simplest camera can be used to take great pictures. However, the more control your camera allows you, the more input you can have in the final image. Ideally a DSLR with manual control is a great start.

What accessories are beneficial for beginners?

A tripod (although not essential) is great for refining composition and allows you to take low light and night time images.

Filters that go on your lenses have a number of uses. A polarising filter is very useful, and various artistic effect filters suit some images and tastes. Of course, many filters can be replicated on the computer.

How many lenses and what types of lenses do I need?

The key thing about lenses is quality counts!

The price you pay for a lens will affect its sharpness, contrast, and light gathering characteristics. A great starting point however is a standard lens – one that sees the image as your eye does.

On a DSLR that would typically be possibly a short range zoom eg 18mm – 55mm. For landscapes, a wider angle is a great option and of course for wildlife a telephoto zoom (possibly 70mm – 300mm) is useful. Look at the aperture that the lens offers; it is worth buying the lens with the lowest aperture that you can afford.

Do you have any brands for cameras, lenses or accessories that you swear by?

I am a Nikon user, but many other brands offer great quality as well. Remember that once you buy a body, you will have to get all your lenses and accessories in either the same brand, or at least with compatible fittings.

The cost and availability will vary tremendously, so do your research before you buy!

How do I take care of my new kit?

A strong padded and waterproof camera bag is a must, with individual compartments for each item.

What is a great tip for a beginner?

Look and learn. Look at photos you like and try to see what input the photographer has had in creating the picture. Viewpoint, composition and timing will all be key. Do not assume a great camera makes you a great photographer. It is the other way round. The photographer’s skill will make any camera look good!

What makes the Dordogne area unique to shoot in?

We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful corner of France. We are surrounded by lush scenery, and enjoy a great quality of light. I wake up every morning and smile.

If you’re just starting out and would like some hands-on advice from Mike, you can join him for a 4-day photography weekend break near his home in Dordogne, France.