PBNJ Productions/Getty Images

New photographic equipment, and a few easy techniques, are making professional-quality photographs attainable even for an amateur.


It happens to every amateur photographer: You click and shoot to capture what appears to be the perfect shot, but when you review the prints or download your digital images, something is seriously amiss. Was it the camera? The exposure? Focus? Sunspots? El Niño?

According to professional photographers, the answer could be “yes” on all counts — except, possibly, the last two — with the added proviso that it doesn’t have to be that way. With a modest amount of information, a budget that will fit many (if not all) bank accounts, plus a little luck, amateur photographers can take pictures that rival those shot by the pros.

Nikon D700 DSLR
Good photography starts with a good camera, and better photography often requires a better camera than the inexpensive point-and-shoot digital many of us already have. Mirjam Evers, a New York City photographer whose work has appeared in major magazines — she is also a co-founder of Photo Quest Adventures, which offers digital-photography workshops in exotic locations around the globe — recommends the next step up, to a digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, model.

Unlike a point-and-shoot, a DSLR has no delay between the time you press the button and when the camera takes the picture. “Anyone who has ever missed their child smiling because the camera didn’t take the picture when they pressed the shutter release knows how this lack of control makes a difference,” Evers notes. Another plus: You can change lenses on a DSLR.

DSLRS come in full-frame and smaller-format varieties. Full-frame cameras have a sensor the same size as a frame of 35 mm film. A full frame lets you shoot in lower light, among other benefits. One trade-off: cost. Evers says you can expect to pay about $3,400 for a full-frame Nikon D700 DSLR, including a 24-120 mm lens. A Nikon D90 smaller-frame model, including an 18-200 mm lens, is roughly half that amount. Full-frame cameras are also bulkier and heavier.

A somewhat less-expensive option gets the nod from Eli Reed, a clinical professor of photojournalism at The University of Texas at Austin and a veteran photojournalist whose work has appeared in a comprehensive selection of elite publications as well as in his own published photo books. Reed likes the Olympus E-P2, a four-thirds micro camera that comes with a 14- 42 mm zoom lens and costs around $1,100. “They’ve really broken ground on this,” says Reed. “Particularly for someone who wants to have a camera with them all the time on vacation, it doesn’t make it a chore. It makes it fun.”

Nikon D90 DSLR
A wide-angle lens is often one of the first additions to a basic setup. “These lenses are great for large group shots and for landscapes to capture a sweeping view,” Evers says. Telephoto lenses, which magnify what you’re shooting, are popular for photographing wildlife, landscapes, and portraits. Zoom lenses let you recompose a shot without changing the lens or moving closer — a plus if you’re shooting, say, lions in the Serengeti.

One essential accessory is a tripod. Evers favors the Gitzo Traveler, a compact and lightweight model with carbon-fiber legs. She also devotes space in her camera bag to a selection of Lastolite Circular Reflectors, reflective fabric circles strung on springy wire rings that direct available light on or off a subject, then collapse to a fraction of their original size.