Home » How to get started shooting great photos of models (and your kids) for under £450

How to get started shooting great photos of models (and your kids) for under £450

By Huw, written 1463000927

Good lenses will last you a very long time if you choose right, and they don't have to cost a fortune.
Everybody gets excited about cameras, but they are not as important.
Here's a shopping list, and the reasons why I am making these suggestions.

1) Buy any Canon or Nikon DSLR body. 

They are all good. I know about Canon, so that's what I'm going to talk about. Nikon are just as good. 

Ideal choice: a used Canon 50D (£250). 
Get it from somewhere like www.ffordes.co.uk  with a 6 month warranty, or buy it privately for a bit less money.

If you want to save a bit of money a Canon 40D (£200) or 30D (£125) are good alternatives.
You'll get more camera for your money buying used, and you won't lose much if you sell it later.

If you must buy new, a Canon 100D (£280), 1300D (£290), or Nikon D3300 (£250).
The 100D is a lovely small camera - I had one for a while - but I find a slightly bigger camera easier to use.

Why not M43 (Olympus or Panasonic), Fuji, or Sony? 
They are all really great cameras. Lots of people selling their Canon and Nikon gear to buy them. Great.
That means there are lots of well built Canon and Nikon cameras and lenses to buy used for very little money.

Why do I suggest the bigger Canon gear (50D, 40D, 30D), not the 450D and others which are smaller and lighter and take the same quality photos? The 50D, 40D or 30D are made of metal, they are better built (more expensive when new), and they have easier controls to use.

2) Buy a Canon (or Nikon) 50mm f1.8 lens. Not a kit Zoom.

Ideal choice: the new Canon 50mm f1.8 STM lens (£90) 

It's just come out, it's better than the last one. It's great - I have one.

Sell the kit zoom if you have one, or put it in a drawer for three months and really get to know the 50mm lens.
That's important.

A 50mm/1.8 is the only lens you need for shooting models on a crop frame body like those I suggested.
It's also great for photos of the kids, and it'll work indoors in low light. It's a lens you can keep for ever.
Most of the time, you can shoot it wide open, and you'll get nice mushy backgrounds, and a beautifully sharp subject.

3) Buy a Memory card

Ideal choice: Sandisk Ultra 16 GB (£13)

You'll get about 700 shots on that card. 

4) Buy a Card Reader to transfer your photos to your PC/Mac

Ideal choice: Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual Slot Reader (£23)


It's more expensive than most. It'll last ten years, and won't give trouble. You can get cheaper if you need to.

5) Buy a back up for all those photos. Do it now, before you lose any, not later.

Ideal choice: Toshiba 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive (£41) 


After each shoot, copy all the shots to the PC, delete the dud ones, copy the good ones to your backup disk (so you have two copies), and reformat the card. 

6) Buy one spare battery, so you always have one in the camera and one in the charger

Ideal choice:  Duracell Replacement Digital Camera Battery For Canon BP-511 (£14)


Put the fresh battery in the camera after each shoot, and put the used one in the charger.

7) Buy a filter to protect the lens

Controversial. Not everybody uses filters. I do. Then I can wipe it clean with a hanky if it gets dirty, and I don't worry about it.

Ideal choice: Hoya 49mm UV(C) Filter £7.40


8) Don't buy anything else. Nothing. Not for at least a couple of months. Then get a subscription to Lightroom.

So what have we spent? £439.

Not bad for a setup which will produce photos 90% as good as a kit costing thousands of pounds, and which will let you build on it later when you want to. 

Think I'm joking?

Canon 20D and 50mm lens at f4.0 (about £200 worth in total):

Canon 30D (£100) and Canon 85mm/1.8 at f2.8 (£150 used):

 Canon 5D2 and 135mm/2.0L at f4.0  (£2,000):

OK, I didn't have a 50mm and an equivalent expensive shot to show you - but you get the message?

This photo is from http://purpleport.com/portfolio/fossiec/ , used with his permission:


... and this is what he said: "This is my daughter with a Nikon 3100 and 50mm 1.8mm. This is what got me into taking photos and still is one of my favourites of her. "

and more:  

http://purpleport.com/portfolio/orsoncarter/  (one of the best photographers on here) uses:  "Canon 450D, kit zoom, 50mm/1.8, DPP processing and an eBay 3-head flash kit that cost about £140". One of his photos (with his permission):



Some Notes for Nikon buyers from http://purpleport.com/portfolio/stolenfaces/ , who has been using them as long as I've used Canon:

Nikon users need to be aware that entry level cameras (currently D3000 series and D5000 series, previously D40, D50 and D60)) don't have motors in the bodies so will only auto-focus with modern lenses. There are a lot of good value D lenses which don't have motors in the lens. G lenses and any that say they are AS-F will work on any Nikon digital camera (and some later film cameras). The 50mm 1.8 that Hugh recommends is Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens - if you do get a camera with a motor (for example D90, D300 or D7000 series) then the f/1.8 D is a fine lens which will be cheaper and readily available second hand. You may also need a 52mm filter, not a 49mm - check first!.

Full frame lenses (those without a DX designation) work on both DX and FX bodies. DX lenses will mount on both but will vignette on Full-frame.  

If you buy a camera which take SD cards as most do today this 32Gb fast card is good value and will work with any camera (that takes SD cards, obviously):




The expensive kit's better - but not 10 times better.

The cheap kit will make a nice 14" x 21" print for the wall.
The expensive kit will make a nice 20" x 30" print. 

I'll write a second article about using the kit quickly and efficiently, but for now:
- Keep the camera by the door, and get used to picking it up whenever you go out 
- You don't need a bag - just grab the camera and go 
- Don't baby it - use it, it's tough
- Set it for Raw, Auto ISO, and shoot at f.18.
- Manually select the focus point, and out it over your subject's nearest eye
- Shoot a lot. You card will hold 700 shots, and you battery should last as long. I will often shoot 200 shots in an hour. Nobody else gets to see the dud shots, so all they see is that I get lots of great shots ;)
Use Canon's free DPP software to process the shots for now - time for Lightroom or Photoshop later.

Most important - don't buy another lens for at least three months. Use this one until you know it perfectly. 

Planning for the future:

You could think about getting used copies of the Canon 17-40mm/4.0L and the Canon 70-200/4.0L zooms (about £300 each), and you've got a complete setup with two professional standard zooms and the 50mm/1.8 for low light and shallow depth of field. Best of all, if you move to a full frame Canon later, all your lenses will still work.