The Ultimate Savings Guide for Beginner Photographers: 50+ Tips and Resources

Wondering how to save money while getting started with photography? The tips and tricks here can help: This is a beginner’s guide to photography aimed at bringing novices to a higher level without breaking the bank. We’ve outlined all the ways you can save while getting into photography as well as some digital photography basics to help you get started on your own. We’ll give you plenty of tips for saving and then go through some of the basics of how to get started in photography. It’s important have some cursory knowledge of photography so that you can decide on what sort of equipment you’ll need as well as how to take care of it, so that you’re not constantly buying and re-buying equipment. But there are many aspects of photography that might cost money, from creating prints to setting up your website, and we’ve covered it all here. We’ve also highlighted some of the best photography classes as well as tutorials and other places where you can learn. Here are some great resources that will help you take your photography game from zero to hero!

Tips for Saving on Your Photography Hobby Tips for Saving on Your Photography Hobby

Photography can be an expensive hobby, especially as you’re moving from being a beginner to more of an intermediate photographer. Tips for saving money may include methods for saving on your first camera, ways to create your own DIY light equipment, or advice on how to set up your own website. We’ve covered a lot of bases here, including dozens of tips to help you no matter how far along you are in terms of experience.

Save on Your Camera Gear

  • Try some basic photography without buying a new camera at all. You certainly don’t need to make big purchases to get started! You can learn how to shoot professional-quality photos on your iPhone before you take on some of those really big costs.

  • Rent different cameras you might like. Sites like LensProToGo or BorrowLenses will let you rent cameras and equipment as needed. This can be a great “test drive” before you potentially drop hundreds of dollars. They’re also great places to rent lenses and other equipment, but we’ll get to that later!

  • Buy used or refurbished. Before buying at full price, see if you can buy it used with companies like B&H and Adorama. Some of them might offer opened-box deals and certified refurbished products that have been barely used at all. Also, while on these sites, keep a look out for rebates.

  • Consider bartering with a more established photographer. Photographers love upgrades, and they often love buying new equipment. Being on the cutting edge sometimes means buying a new camera every few years. See if a local photography studio or professional photographer would be willing to barter with you, loan one out for your work, or let you buy their old stuff used. This can be much better than dealing with websites because you’ll be able to touch and see the equipment. You’ll also be able to have one-to-one talks that may glean insider knowledge on how much and how often it was used.

  • Attend workshops, conferences, and demo days. At professional photography networking events, you’ll often be able to find coupons and deals from big producers. Don’t bother trying to buy the newest equipment as they showcase it, but do keep a eye out for what looks interesting and see what sorts of deals they might have.

  • Follow retailers on social media. Occasionally, you’ll be able to find flash deals that way. Try Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

  • When upgrading, do exchanges and trade-ins. Some camera retailers may buy back your old equipment.

  • Don’t be amazed by all the latest and greatest features as a novice. Many photography professors actually insist that their students learn on 35 mm film cameras and develop their own film. While this might not be necessary for the hobbyist, your starter camera doesn’t need to be the newest, best model — just something you can easily learn on.

  • Find a model that actually fits your needs. Familiarize yourself with the basic camera settings before you make your big purchase. Many DSLRs can also shoot video and even come with Wi-Fi, which may be cool features to check out or unnecessarily drive up the cost if you’re not interested.

  • Use a coupon browser as you shop to figure out the “real” prices. There are many different ways to trim down your costs, and this barely skims the surface! Use the Cently browser extension to find creative new ways to save as you’re shopping around and apply coupons automatically.

  • Once you’re ready to take the plunge on a new product, be sure to hunt for a coupon. You can save a lot by using websites like CouponFollow when you buy your gear. For instance, if you are able to find a GoPro promo code you can pack on savings on an action camera purchase. GoPro often runs a HERO9 Black Bundle Deal with $200 in savings when you subscribe. Additionally, you can score discounts with Adorama coupons from time to time.

Save on Other Types of Photography Equipment Save on Other Types of Photography Equipment

  • Go light with the lighting. You can easily spend thousands on photography lighting equipment, but you don’t have to. Many photographers can learn camera basics with a few soft lights, maybe an on-camera flash, some natural light, and simple kits. You don’t have to go wild in the beginning! Before you start spending a lot of money, make sure you fully understand lighting, and go cheap before you go expensive. Here’s a guide to creating a beautifully lit photo with a flashlight, a white cutting board, a plastic bag, and a subject.

  • Make your own DIY reflectors. Reflectors allow photographers to bounce and shape the light around an object. Good reflectors can be more than $30, but you can easily get a very similar effect for $1.50 with aluminum foil or with bead foam.

  • Experiment with DIY photo filters. You can make a DIY “filter” out of zany stuff like plastic wrap, Christmas tinsel, and water droplets. You can also use stockings, sunglasses, and glow sticks.

  • Create your own backdrops. Backdrops can be hundreds of dollars, but you can have a lot of fun finding your own creative solutions. Consider buying fabric or using curtains instead of dropping hundreds of dollars as you’re getting started.

  • Make your own scrim. These are great for outdoor shooting to reduce the harshness of natural light, but they can be expensive. Make your own with PVC pipe.

  • Create your own light box/light tent. There are pros and cons to using a light tent, but it’s especially useful for product photography. Fear not! You can create one pretty easily.

  • Only get a tripod if you’re a fan of shooting stills and portraits. Portraits, wedding photography, and even landscape shots can be vastly improved with a good tripod steadying the frame. While image stabilization can help with a lot of things, there’s nothing like a steady shot without any shake. Be sure if you take it with you on the go that you clean off mud and debris before you put it away.

  • Only buy the lenses you need. Lenses are incredibly varied and fun to play with. Almost any student can get excited with a wide-angle lens, but you likely won’t need one. See what you can accomplish with the lenses you have before making a big purchase, since lenses can cost thousands of dollars.

  • Consider renting specialty lenses for special projects instead of buying. There are six types of lenses that your ordinary photographer might use: the standard, zoom, macro, telephoto, wide angle, and fish-eye lens. Unless you’re experimenting with a new style, chances are good that telephoto and fish-eye lenses will be unnecessary. Instead of buying that kind of extreme lens, consider renting it just to try out that type of photography.

  • Take really good care of the lenses you have. We have more notes on how to take care of and clean your lenses below.

Save on Software Options

  • Use open-source photography-editing software. GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an open-source image editor for most operating systems that’s totally free.

  • Buy one-time-purchase software. If you prefer to pay a one-time payment instead of a monthly fee, there are very affordable and easy-to-use platforms for editing RAW photos, such as ON1 Photo RAW.

  • If you love Adobe Photoshop, consider seeing if you can get a student discount. For decades, this company has been the industry leader for professional photographers. Adobe offers Photoshop and Lightroom for a cool $9.99 per month and even lower rates for students. And you can learn Photoshop basics all over the Web.

Save on Prints

  • Skimp on free prints, and use watermarks. A smart, simple way to save as you’re starting to share your work is to make sure it’s not being used without your permission, stolen, or given away for free. Make sure you’re charging for prints, and watermark your work online to protect it.

  • Create prints yourself. With a quality inkjet printer, you can often make your own prints at home. Here’s a quick guide to how to do that.

  • Outsource prints with affordable online photo-printing services. There are many affordable places to print online, like Shutterfly, where you can get good-quality prints, photo books, and canvases. Other cheap options include York Photo, Snapfish, and WhiteWall.

  • Or print cheaply using brick-and-mortar outlets. Big businesses like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and FedEx all have affordable printing services for consumers.

  • Get prints with your Amazon Prime account. If you have Amazon Prime, you can get very cheap photos printed with their printing service.

  • Print onto different things, but don’t spend a lot. If you intend to sell your work, you can often get more money if you print your work on things like canvas bags or shower curtains. Consider a site like Redbubble if you’re thinking about creating merchandise, since it’s free to get started and you won’t be charged if you don’t sell.

Save on Your Photography Website

  • Use a free blogging site when you’re getting started. For instance, you can get a Tumblr, Blogspot, or Wordpress site without having to spend any money at all.

  • Alternatively, get a cheap domain. Often new domain purchases can come at a discount. See if you can find a GoDaddy coupon (for example) to add extra savings. 

Save on Education

  • Skip school (at least for photography). Do you have to go to school or take classes in order to become a professional? Here’s a controversial take: no. You can get basic photography lessons without having to pay tuition.

  • Find free or open-source courses. It doesn’t have to be all YouTube tutorials, either. MIT offers some of its courses online for free, including this one about photography. They also have a decent photojournalism course. Another lecturer, Marc Levoy, offers at least a semester’s worth of free lectures on digital photography. PetaPixel has dozens of free online photography courses on dozens of topics. Also, check with photography-related businesses; for instance, Canon, the maker of some of the most popular DSLRs, offers tips and tutorials on how to use their equipment, which are great for learning some cool techniques and finding out how to use different settings to your advantage. Another option is to join a learning community, like Cambridge in Colour.

  • Find very low-priced courses and subscriptions. There are hundreds of photography tutorials for beginners on skill-sharing sites like Udemy, covering everything from lighting to Photoshop. Some of them allow you to pay for classes by the course, like Creative Live, and others give you access to everything for a yearly fee, like Phlearn. Try finding expert advice for the exact type of photography you’d like to know about. For instance, landscape photographers might like The Luminous Landscape.

  • Consider taking a course at the library or your local community college. Of course, we’ve listed where to learn photography online, but another option is to check out your local library, continuing education program, or community college; these often have photography classes open to the public for a relatively low cost. It can be a good idea to do a combination of both, getting in-person guidance and practice alongside your explorations online.

  • Once you’re at a higher level, see if any professional organizations you join also offer special events and courses. For example, the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) offers all sorts of courses and retreats. Possibly the biggest nonprofit organization for professional photographers, Professional Photographers of America (PPA), offers savings options, professional development classes, and tons of events. This group also has requirements for certification, which may be a good idea to check out. For those looking for real-world media training, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) also offers connections, training, and professional IDs.

  • Consider becoming an apprentice. Shadowing a professional photographer can give you a lot more real-world knowledge than starting off on your own after college.

Tips for How to Use Photography Equipment Tips for How to Use Photography Equipment

It’s a good idea to learn key terms and perhaps even take some courses on digital photography for beginners before actually making your big purchases. You’ll need to learn what you need as well as how to take care of it before you invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Here’s a very basic rundown of need-to-know photography terms and history as well as a few notes on how to take care of your equipment.

Photography 101

Understanding photography requires some terminology and cursory knowledge. It’s important to get that knowledge before you start spending the big bucks on fancy equipment. But don’t get overwhelmed; you’ll likely learn a lot of these terms naturally as you learn how to do photography. Guide yourself through these camera basics so that you can move on to actually working with your hands!

Basic Photography Terminology

  • Aperture: A camera aperture is the opening in the lens that light passes through to enter the camera. You can change the size of that opening, controlling how much light you allow to hit the lens, and this causes several different effects, including influencing how much of the image is in focus. Aperture is measured in f-stops. Here’s a short tutorial on how to use aperture to your advantage.

  • Aspect Ratio: This describes the width:height ratio of the final image. Usually, the default aspect ratio is 3:2 for full-frame 35 mm film or 4:3 for DSLRs. This term is used in film as well; for example, high-definition TV usually has an aspect ratio of 16:9.

  • Bokeh: What is bokeh? Coming from the Japanese word “boke,” which means “blur,” this phenomenon describes the appealing way bright orbs of light are created in an out-of-focus image. Typically, people love to use a bokeh background with an in-focus subject. Here’s a tutorial on how to create the effect.

  • Burst: “Burst mode” is when a camera continuously snaps photos as you hold the button down. A fast burst rate on a camera is important to anyone looking to do high-speed photography.

  • Composite: A composite combines multiple images into one, usually via layering. This is important to learn about when learning how to do touch-ups on photographs with software like Adobe Photoshop.

  • Composition: This is a somewhat vague, art-related term that describes how elements are positioned within a piece and can relate to art, photography, film, and design. Understanding the term within the art world can help to contextualize it within the world of photography.

  • Crop Factor: This is a bit of a more complicated term, describing how some cameras with a crop sensor might cut off some of the image with a full-frame lens. Knowing whether or not your camera has a crop sensor will help you find better lens/camera pairings.

  • Depth of Field: In photography, depth of field, or DoF, describes how deep your image stays in focus — specifically, it’s the distance between the nearest and furthest objects in the frame that appear in focus. If the side of your photo is the x axis and the bottom of the photo is the y axis, the depth of field affects the clarity of the z axis, or the illusion of how far back your photo goes. See this helpful guide for what that actually looks like.

  • DSLR: Photography for beginners typically involves working with a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, which is a very common type of camera.

  • Exposure: How much light is reaching the camera sensor? That is the exposure, and it also affects how light or dark the final image is. For those daring enough to experiment with manual settings on a camera, the “exposure triangle,” which includes the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, controls your level of exposure.

  • Focal Length: The distance between the center of the lens and your camera’s sensor, measured in millimeters, is the focal length. It’s important to know the focal length of whatever lens you might buy because it affects magnification and the angle of view; for instance, a wide-angle lens typically has a focal length of less than 35 mm, and a telephoto lens is typically above 135 mm.

  • Focus: Focus describes the “sharpness” of the image. If an image is sharp and not blurry, it’s described as “in focus.” It sounds simple, but the science behind it is actually pretty complicated.

  • F-Stop: F-stop, or focal stop, is a unit that measures the widening or closing of your camera’s aperture. (See the “aperture” photography definition if you’re confused.) F-stops follow a sequence of multiples of the square root of two. A wide opening, for example would be an f/1.4, and a narrow, smaller f-stop would be f/22 or higher.

  • Histogram: A histogram is a helpful chart in digital photography that reveals the tonal range of an image, helping to tell the photographer if they got a good exposure or a “blown out” shot as well as showing the different color profiles of the image. Here’s how to read a histogram.

  • Hyperfocal Distance: Landscape photographers want a very deep depth of field (or DoF), and this is a metric describing the maximum DoF.

  • ISO: ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization; this standardized measurement indicates your camera’s sensor’s light sensitivity. A high ISO, like ISO 3200, allows you to work in low light conditions, whereas a low ISO, like ISO 100, allows you to work in bright conditions without blowing out the final image.

  • Kelvin: Did you know that light sources typically have a temperature? A kelvin is a unit of measurement for that temperature, which is important to white balance. A bright, sunny day with a blue sky is close to 8,000 K, on the blue end, and candlelight is close to 2,000 K, on the red end.

  • Long Exposure: When you use a slow shutter speed, this is called a long exposure.

  • Metering Modes: Metering modes are sort of like automated features that your camera comes with. Metering is how the camera determines the correct aperture and shutter speed. You can often expect spot metering, center-weighted metering, partial metering, and matrix metering options to come with your camera. There are pros and cons for each type.

  • Negative Space: This is another art term. This one describes the space around the subject in a piece. Design and art are filled with examples that have fun with manipulating negative space, and photography also has those kind of opportunities.

  • Noise: “Noise” or “grain” describes visual distortions in images, typically in the form of snow or tiny colored pixels. It’s very easy for novice photographers to get noise in low-light situations.

  • RAW: RAW is a type of digital file before the processing or photo-editing stage. Typically, you have a RAW file before you have a JPEG file. “Shooting in RAW” gives you uncompressed images to work with, which can give you more editing opportunities down the line.

  • Rule of Thirds: The rule of thirds is a principle in art, film, painting, photography, and design that breaks up every image into a matrix of nine cells, with important objects placed at the nodes between them. It can definitely elevate the quality of your compositions.

  • Saturation: Saturation refers to the color intensity of an image.

  • Shutter Speed: This is an important photography 101 term. The shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open, exposing your camera’s sensor to light. Slow speeds tend to blur moving objects, and fast speeds freeze them. Shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are all part of controlling the exposure of your image.

  • White Balance: White under different types of light does not look white. Outdoor light will make the white seem blue, whereas indoor light will make it seem orange. A white balance is a quick adjustment that can compensate for that color temperature difference.

Examples of How to Use Your Camera

Here are some ways to use this fancy terminology to help you decide on real-world purchases and take better pictures:

  • Sports and Macro Photographers: Do you want to shoot at a face pace or close up? You might want a camera with an intense shutter speed and fast burst rate.

  • Landscape Photographers: Do you want to shoot at long distances? You’ll want to familiarize yourself with hyperfocal distance and the camera’s DoF.

  • Portrait Photographers: Are you going to shoot a lot of things without a tripod? Consider a camera with better image stabilization.

  • Fashion or High-End Portrait Photographers: Do you want to create polished photos that are meticulously edited? Make sure your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW.

  • Photojournalists and Wildlife Photographers: Don’t forget to see what the battery system is like if you intend to go on long trips with your camera. Also, as you’re learning how to use a camera and doing fancy camera work, you’re likely going to drop it a few times: Consider a DSLR with weatherproofing or shock-proofing.

Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

  • Invest in a sturdy camera case. If you intend to travel anywhere with your camera (and who doesn’t?), find a case that will protect it from dings and wear.

  • Get (and actually use) your lens hood. The silly little pieces of plastic at the end of your lens can help protect it from both dings and UV light. If you don’t want a clunky lens hood, consider getting a UV filter.

  • Watch out for sensor dust. Specks in your images can be a lot of things, but sensor dust can happen after many months of use. You have to be really careful when attempting to clean off sensor dust.

  • Regularly clean your camera. Clean out the camera lens, eyepiece, and screen. Here are some essential camera tips for getting everything clean.

A Brief History of the Camera A Brief History of the Camera

Another easy way to further your photography education is to learn about the history of the camera. Here’s a brief history to get you started:

The modern camera as we know it today was invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. He developed the machine that created the first permanent photograph in 1825. Before then, the camera obscura and the pinhole camera were used effectively for hundreds of years.

The First Photograph

This is the first-ever photograph. It was created after an eight-hour exposure on pewter that was coated with asphalt.

Later on, during the Victorian Era, photographs were done by professionals on dry plates or silver-plated sheets of copper. Those early cameras were operated by a professional working fast with dangerous and expensive equipment, and they were only really available to the upper middle class and elite classes.

The first modern box camera that used film and could be purchased cheaply by anybody was George Eastman’s Kodak camera, which was introduced in 1888. Eastman went on to introduce an even more popular product in 1900, known as the Brownie, which sold for a dollar.

Many modern photography classes require students to learn how to use traditional film for a variety of reasons, but most photographers use digital imaging technology in their everyday lives. But knowing a little bit of how we got from pinhole cameras to what are essentially complex computers can help a photographer learn how a camera works. This can help you take better and more complicated pictures. (Learn more about the history of photography with this podcast!)

Only you can decide if you want to take this hobby and turn it into a professional side gig. But regardless of where you are in the process of becoming a photographer, don’t forget to have fun, not stress, and enjoy yourself! We hope you enjoyed this beginners’ guide to saving on photography.