What Can a Photographer Do With $200?

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon5 Comments

$200 Isn’t Much For a Photographer, Right?

This topic resonated with our listeners because with the post getting so many comments telling Facebook to let more of the group see it!

I am betting your reaction is similar to what mine was and many others had to the post.  $200 just isn’t a lot for a photographer.  However, the more I thought about it, and saw comments on the post from other listeners, the more I liked the topic and the suggestions.

I think one of the reasons this topic resonated with me was because this is how I have had to approach my photography for the past 8+ years.  I am a hobbyist photographer.  I do photography because I love it.  I am not trying to have it provide my full-time income.  I am constantly seeking out the best ways to stretch my dollar so that I can be better as a photographer and that is what I bring to this podcast and to my Photo Taco podcast.

What I see so often from mainstream photography media is the constant advice on how much money has to be spent to be a good photographer.  The message I see coming hard and heavy is spending thousands and thousands of dollars on equipment or you just can’t create good images.  I am going to repeat what I have been saying for years, great images can be created with small investments.

So let’s go through what a photographer can do with $200!

Depends On What a Photography Already Has

First off, the answer here depends so much on what you already have.  If you are thinking about getting into photography and don’t have a camera, $200 doesn’t really get you going there.  As I look here in October 2020 I see some starter camera kits are available on Amazon like a Canon T7 for $450 a Nikon D3500 for about $500, or a Fuji X-T200 for about $480.  All of them are over that $200 price range.

So let’s assume you already have your camera.  Your camera and a kit lens or two (called kit because your first camera usually comes in a kit that has a lens and other things like poor memory cards and card readers).  If a photographer got to invest $200 from there, what could they do with that?

A Nifty Fifty Lens

My first suggestion is a better lens than the one that came with your camera.  A 50mm lens is a great choice here.  Called a nifty fifty because it has been so popular as the first quality lens for those starting out in photography.  It has been my recommendation for the best first lens to buy for many years.  Canon offers an EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens for about $130. Nikon offers an FX 50mm f/1.8 for about $130.

Photo Editing Software

$200 is more than enough to get you access to photo editing software.  If you don’t use any photo editing software today, you really need to understand that at least half of what is done with photography today is done on the computer.  I guarantee any image you are seeing shared online that amazes you and you want to emulate has been processed in photo editing software.

My preference is the Adobe Creative Cloud Photographer’s Plan (not the Lightroom Plan) that gives you access to Lightroom Classic and Photoshop for $10/mo.  Powerful software with so much help available to learn how to use the tools they provide.  The software isn’t perfect, none of it is.  I cover a lot of the bugs and problems of both Lightroom and Photoshop.  It is also a subscription, which none of us like.  Still, well worth the $10/mo and you can get 20 months of it for the $200.

There are a lot of other good options in the price range.  Skylum offers Luminar 4 as a pretty compelling alternative to Lightroom Classic for about $70.  Again the software is far from perfect, performance has been a particular challenge with the software, but photographers can accomplish some amazing things using the software at way less than the $200.  Skylum has also been hard at work on a new Luminar AI product that can be pre-ordered for about $75.  It is a complete re-write of the Luminar application and looks to have some promising AI assisted editing features that could drastically reduce the time to learn and do the editing of your photos.  Stay tuned to this podcast and the PHoto Taco podcast for more information as I get my hands on the software.

Other strong players in the photo editing space include On1 Photo Raw for about $100, Capture One for about $20/mo or $450 to own it, and Afinity Photo for about $50.

Finally there is some specific post processing software that photographers should consider in this price range to deal with noise and sharpening.  Topaz DeNoise AI ($60 on sale October 2020) and Sharpen AI ($80).  I did a thorough analysis of DeNoise AI and in my Topaz DeNoise AI vs Lightroom and Photoshop Photo Taco episode.  I think DeNoise AI is a valuable tool every photographer who has any chance of shooting low-light and therefore high ISO should have in their toolbox.  Can’t guarantee it will provide superior results to other tools every time, but I got better results on a lot of test images.

Any of these choices would add a lot of value to your ability to create great images and fit inside that $200 limit!

Photo Editing Training

Speaking of photo editing software, it is pretty tough for most photographers to become productive in their post processing software.  In fact, I see posts almost daily in the Facebook groups asking for resources to help them figure out how to use the photo editing software they have chosen.  Most photographers find the software confusing and intimidating.

To help with that, check out a Photo Taco episode I did with Aaron Nace of Phlearn.com called Taking the Intimidation Out of Photoshop.  Yes, we talked specifically about Photoshop in the episode, but the advice on how to approach getting productive in Photoshop applies equally well to any photo editing software you have chosen.

Even better, Phlearn just recently offered a 30 Days of Photoshop course for free that is well worth the time for every photographer wanting to up their post processing game.  If that free course helps you, then I can highly recommend the Phlearn Pro subscription.  Yes, I know, yet ANOTHER subscription Jeff is telling photographers to invest in.  It is only $100/year, so you could get two years of the tutorials for our $200 limit, and they are some of the best Photoshop tutorials I have seen.

Another great option here is the post processing video from my good friend Nick Page.  Nick offers a four course bundle that includes video training on Dodging and Burning, Essential Photoshop for Landscape Photography, Mastering Luminosity Masking, and Milky Way Post Processing for $195.  Again, Nick specifically demonstrates the techniques using Photoshop, but the techniques can be applied to other post processing software as well.

Flash Kit

If you are interested in doing portrait photography and don’t yet have a flash kit, I would invest in that area with the $200.  Flash did more for my portrait photography than anything else.  More important than expensive lenses or a camera body, the ability to control the lighting of your model with flash changes the game.

In fact, I dare say that the editing software I just said I guarantee has been used for any photo you are impressed with may not be true if it came from a photographer who really knows how to use flash.

You can check out How to Get Good Exposure Indoors With a Flash, Beginners Guide To Flash, Flash Shutter Sync With Levi Sim Master Photography episodes on the topic to get some help here.  You may also want to check out the Inexpensive Flash Photo Taco episode along with Flask Kit Guide.

Like everything in photography, you can spend thousands of dollars on flash, but you can get going in a very meaningful way within that $200 limit.  This should absolutely be where a portrait photographer spends that money if they don’t already have flash.

Memory Cards and Batteries

Photographers are in nearly constant needs of memory cards and batteries.  Neither of these things last forever.  In fact, as this suggested in the Facebook group it made me remember it has been a while since I mentioned good memory card hygiene that reduces the chance of you running into that dreaded memory card corruption problem where you lose an entire shoot.

I first went over these memory card hygiene tips back in 2018.  Not going into detail in this episode, and not following these steps doesn’t guarantee you will lose photos, but if you want to give yourself the very best chance of not having a problem here is what to do:

  1. Avoid deleting your photos from your camera.
  2. Format the memory card in your camera, NOT in your computer, and do it before every shoot.
  3. Wait 5 seconds after opening the door to the memory card before pulling it out of the camera.
  4. Use a good card reader.  My current favorites are the Kingston USB 3.0 Multi-Card reader for about $25 or the newer SanDisk ImageMate Pro Multi-Card reader (USB-A $60, USB-C $37).
  5. Use high quality memory cards.  SanDisk Extreme Pro are my favorite (32GB SD $15, 64GB SD $20, 128GB SD $37, 256GB $67).  ProGrade is my second choice due to higher prices but another brand I can get behind (64GB SD $35, 128GB SD $55, 256GB SD $100).  Sony has a new line of memory cards they brand as “Tough” that have had really good reviews, though I am not convinced they are so much tougher than other brands to justify the cost.  Another I would consider is Transcend, though I have personally had more failures of those than the others.  Lexar was a brand I used to highly recommend, but the company was sold a while ago and I can’t speak to the new company that is running that brand.  The one I would advise avoiding is Amazon Basic brand SD card.  Disaster waiting to happen.
  6. Replace memory cards after three years of use.  I watch for sales on Amazon and buy a card every time there is one.  Then find my oldest card and take it out of service.

Batteries are similarly priced.  Name brand, like batteries coming from the manufacturer of your camera, are more expensive but by my experience tend to keep a full charge longer.  Meaning over time third party batteries wear out and don’t store a full charge faster than the name brand do.

That said, I have found the batteries from Wasabi Power to be a really good price to performance advantage over the batteries from the manufacturer.  They don’t last as long, but the price difference is enough to make it worth using them.

Photographers can easily get stocked up on memory cards and batteries within that $200 limit.  Well, unless you have a newer camera that takes a CFexpress card.  Then you are probably going to go over that $200 limit with a single card (SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB CFexpress $230).

Circular Polarizer or Neutral Density Filter

Thanks to Craig Abbott for suggesting this in the Facebook group.  It wasn’t an option I had thought of right off.  If you do landscape photography there are two filters you should have; a circular polarizer (CPL) and a Neutral Density filter.

Check out the Photography Lens Filters Explained! episode of Photo Taco to learn a whole lot more about the topic, but the CPL filter helps reduce reflections and the ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera when the outdoor light is just too intense.  Then take a listen to the Lens Filter Talk with Matt Bishop Master Photography episode.

My favorite brand for filters is Breakthrough Photography who have excellent CPL and ND filters that don’t negatively impact image quality.  With the Breakthrough filters going for about $100-$150 a piece, they aren’t cheap, but as with everything in life you get what you pay for.  The cheaper filters often do more harm than good to the image quality and can be a real problem if they get stuck on your lens.

Do yourself a favor and buy the filter in the 82mm size and then use inexpensive step down rings (K&F Concept $30) to adapt that filter to any lenses that have a smaller filter size.  That way you only need one filter and can use it with every lens that supports a screw on filter.

What Would You Do With $200 For Your Photography?

There are my ideas, and some ideas from the Facebook Group.  Now let me know in the comments below what it is you would do with $200 for your photography!

Reminders

Comments

  1. Re 200 dollar pod cast
    I would strongly suggest that people invest in lens cleaning cloth

  2. I bought the Sony Tough not because it said it was tough. I bought it for the speed of 300mb/s read and write. There is a recall on the SD cards as it fails in video and I need to find a time I do without the card.

  3. Hi Jeff (and all people reading this),

    you mentioned post-processing software, but only the paid ones. Now, there are quite a lot of apps out there that are actually free (open source based) and I would love to know if you
    1) have tried any of them
    2) would recommend any in particular (that you were happy with)
    3) you think the paid ones are better, and if so then why

    Thanks a lot for your thoughts on this.

    PS: I used to use Lightroom, then switched to Darktable and nowadays I am using Raw Therapy and am very happy with it, I have to say. It can do everything that Lightroom can (probably not comparable with Photoshop though) and for basic post-processing I find it very good and sufficient. However, I am not a pro and would love to hear other people´s opinion.

    1. Author

      So glad you are doing photography! I have used both Darktable and Raw Therapee some. Not bad, especially for the price (free). I also used GiMP when I first started. None of the free tools hold up in an end-to-end workflow for photographers who do any level of serious work. All of them have some major downside you have to kind of work around.

      Not that paid software is perfect. I would need to have an updated page to let photographers know when bugs have been worked out in new versions for it to be useful if that was the case.

      Still, for organizing things, pushing the pixels, and getting the very best out of images there is a reason there is paid for software. Especially when photographers are just starting out. There is so much training and free help out there to get someone going the free applications tend to make the learning go much slower.

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