With 2021 just around the corner, I wanted to share some of my favorite photography tools and resources and filmmaking recommendations to help an amateur photographer with their goals going in to the new year. These are resources that I have personally vetted, and can vouch for having helped me (a pro photographer and filmmaker) the most.
For anyone who considers themselves an amateur photographer and/or filmmaker in 2021, consider this the official list of everything you’re going to need to take your ambitions seriously.
1. First You’ll Need a Camera
Like many creatives who are no longer in their 20s, I started my journey as an amateur photographer shooting with a film camera. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was still fun!
Canon Rebel t2i
Several years ago I made the switch to a Canon Rebel t2i (a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera) and never looked back. This crop sensor camera served me well for many years until I upgraded in 2018
Canon 6D Mark II
It was then that I bought my first full frame body, a Canon 6D mark II. There are many articles out there that discuss the differences between a crop sensor and a full frame camera, but I’ll tell you the two things I was really excited about: better performance in low light settings and the newfound ability to effectively use a diverse set of lenses, like a wide angle fisheye.
These days you really can’t go wrong with any of the major brands (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji), and there is something out there for everyone. As a hybrid shooter between photos and video, it is especially important to me to have something both fast and versatile.
I’ve been happy with my upgrade, but as I look to purchase a second camera body in 2021, I am considering seeing other people and starting a new relationship with Sony.
Sony Alpha A7iii Mirrorless Camera
I’m eager to try the Sony Alpha A7iii mirrorless camera that I hear so many pro photographers and filmmakers rave about lately, but shhhh don’t tell Canon!
(Don’t worry Canon, you were my first love, and I’ll always make room in my camera bag for you, too!)
2. A high-quality lens
Obviously a camera body is an important piece of the photography equation. Beyond that, if you spend money on one thing….
I can not stress more the necessity of investing in high-quality glass and finding the best lens or set of lenses that will suit your style and wallet while giving you the most bang for your buck.
Warning! Photography is expensive, and an amateur photographer can easily give themselves a small heart attack suffering from an acute case of sticker shock when they realize that a lens can cost more than a vacation. Don’t despair, though, as there are options to fit every style and budget.
If you’re just starting out, chances are your new camera will come with a lens or two. Those are called kit lenses. They can certainly get the job done, and combined with skill and a little luck, produce some great shots.
50mm 1.8 Prime Lens
But if you’re willing to go one step further and make a small investment, I’d recommend purchasing a 50mm 1.8 prime lens — also commonly referred to as a “nifty fifty.”
This prime lens typically costs less than $150 and creates beautiful images in all kinds of light producing creamy bokeh, or blur behind your subject. A “nifty fifty” was my first upgrade as I began to consider myself less of an amateur photographer and delved more into the world of pro photography, and it was truly a game changer. Due to the wider aperture, all of a sudden I could take tack-sharp images in low light settings that I never could before. If, like me, you fall in love with photography, then there are a whole world of options to choose from to match every style.
Canon 24-70 2.8L
I have found that my favorite style of photography falls more in the realm of documentary-style storytelling, so I tend to shoot a bit wider than a more traditional portrait photographer.
“My go-to lens is my Canon 24-70 2.8L. It is on my camera about 90% of the time. “
Sigma 15mm 2.8 Diagonal Fisheye
However, I also love the wide distortion I get from my Sigma 15mm 2.8 diagonal fisheye
Lensbaby Sol45 and Lensbaby Twist60
If you do decide to take the leap and invest in some high quality glass, I recommend renting first. Gear is expensive, so it pays in the long run to try before you buy!
I have found the next few resources invaluable as I have moved along my photography journey, and I am constantly adding more classes and resources to my list on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of my wallet.
3. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (Premiere Pro for filmmaking)
Like most amateur photographers, my first years with a camera I just took the picture and whatever happened in camera was the same as the final image out of camera.
When I bought my first iPhone, I started playing with editing apps a bit and began to see what a difference editing could make, but it wasn’t until my son was born that I discovered the Adobe editing products.
When I began using Lightroom, I started to see a huge improvement in the polish my edits had, and this was even before I learned manual photography, which allowed me to adjust my camera settings to better compensate for the environment and mood each photo requires.
I highly recommend investing in one of the Adobe packages. If you do the bundle that includes Photoshop and Lightroom it is only about $10 a month.
If you want to create films, then Adobe Premiere Pro is a great option for an additional fee. If you are really passionate about it, then I think the cost is worth it and likely ends up being less per month than the average person spends on caffeinated drinks.
Like many new parents, I began to take more and more pictures when my daughter was born in 2013. But, it wasn’t until I had my son in 2016 that I fell head over heels for photography and developed an insatiable urge to learn as much as I could— a feeling that still remains four years later.
I discovered Click Community by following some of their ClickPro photographers on Instagram. They have been a wonderful resource for me, and some of their courses have provided the foundation for my photography skills and knowledge to no longer consider myself an amateur photographer.
They have a community you can join to meet and learn from other like-minded photographers, the majority of which are also parents.
Click Community offers month-long workshops and a large number of inexpensive self-paced breakout sessions on a multitude of topics and styles.
I have also purchased several breakout sessions on topics covering everything from documentary photography to capturing details and even filmmaking.
Careful though, because breakouts are like potato chips. Once you start diving into them, you can’t stop at just one! The good news is that they are all well under $100 and can be done at any time, so your wallet and your schedule will thank you.
I discovered Creative Live last year around the time my family and I moved to the Seattle area. It has been an incredibly helpful and inspirational resource that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to learn more about being an entrepreneur or a more savvy leader, as well as someone searching for tips and skills in one of the many creative fields they offer. Founded by Chase Jarvis and Craig Swanson in 2009 to “inspire and support people with tools to develop their creative skills” the company has grown exponentially in subsequent years and is now a bustling online hub for learners all over the world.
You can purchase each class individually (and they are great about having frequent sales) or you can purchase the Creator Pass and have access to almost their entire catalog each year.
They also believe in providing access for all and have free live streams of their classes each day and offer one free lesson per day in a class of your choice via their mobile app.
Some of my favorite classes are Master Your People Skills (or really anything else) by Vanessa Van Edwards, A Brand Called You by Debbie Millman, Filming Families: The Modern Family Video by Courtney Holmes, and lately I’ve been absolutely captivated by Family Photography: Modern Storytelling (as well as her other two courses) by Kirsten Lewis.
With over 1,500 classes available, there is something there for the amateur photographer and professional alike to enjoy and learn from.
There is something so powerful and special about creating a well-thought-out family film that I find absolutely thrilling.
It’s also been a bonus for my kids who get really excited when I tell them I have a new one to share and then insist on watching all of the others I’ve created too.
We have the Vimeo app on our Roku TV, so they are very impressed when they see themselves on the big screen and I’m pretty sure they think they are famous. (As long as they don’t start submitting riders full of outlandish demands I think I’ll let it slide!)
Enter: Everyday Film School, a growing community of like-minded filmmakers with several great classes to learn fromThis model has a monthly fee associated that allows you to gain access to a number of full-length courses for the duration of your membership and it grants you exclusive access to enrolling in new courses that roll out a few times throughout the year.
You also become part of a community of people who are always available to answer any question you have and cheer you along the way.
That course opened my eyes to a whole new way to help people tell their stories and try out some fun forms of content creation like stop motion, time lapses, and cinemagraphs.
The last three recommendations below will provide you with ways to find others to connect with, a variety of visual and audio inspiration, and some tips for how to foster and push the boundaries of your creativity.
7. Creative Communities: Find Your People
One of the best ways to grow when you’re learning something new is to find others who share your passion and are willing to act as a resource to answer your questions.
For every type of photography, there are dozens of communities and groups you could join, many of them for free.
Facebook is a great place to find active online groups with members from all over the world, or even groups filled with photographers from your local area alone.
Some of my personal favorite Facebook Groups are the Hello Storyteller Community, Filmmaking for Photographers and The Real Life -A Group for Documentary Photographers, but look around and find a group that works for you.
Another place I go for both inspiration and community is Instagram. I know people sometimes have mixed feelings about this because it’s easy to compare your progress to that of other amateur photographers and fall into a spiral of self doubt.
However, I really enjoy seeing the different images, and I have learned techniques and skills I didn’t know before as well as other opportunities for learning I might not have found otherwise.
Sometimes due to the odd algorithms of how posts are seen, all of the likes and comments, Instagram can feel a bit superficial, but it is possible to meet some pretty great people and forge some strong connections with others who share a passion with you.
Photography Retreats and Conferences (both online and in person)
Lastly, I recommend attending a photography retreat or conference. There are all kinds available, big and small for all genres of photography.
With the onset of Covid this year, most in-person events around the world have been cancelled, but that loss has allowed photographers to find other creative ways to share their knowledge.
There have been several interesting and well put together virtual conferences that I have found both inspiring and a great way to connect with a small group of people. This year I enjoyed the Call Me Artist retreat as well as some of the free Adobe Max sessions.
Discover What Inspires You
In addition to classes and some of the community options mentioned above, two of my favorite ways to do this are through podcasts and books.
8. Photography Podcasts
I jumped on the podcast bandwagon a couple of years ago, and I am so appreciative of all of the options available. I have always liked talk radio, and podcasts are like a radio station curated especially for you.
Sometimes it can take a little while to find the ones that fit the best, but when you do, then every episode becomes a special treat to look forward to. Each week, or each day, provides a little extra knowledge, inspiration, and entertainment to spice up some of the more mundane aspects of your life.
I personally enjoy things like driving and cleaning so much more when I have a good podcast to listen to. If you are someone like me who is often looking for new podcast inspiration, here is a list of some of my photography related favorites to get you started:
I started listening to this short daily podcast by Chris Guillebeau a few years ago, and it is a great resource for anyone who might be thinking about a side hustle or being independently employed.
A photography episode early on about a wedding photographer who made roughly $3,000 extra each month just by shooting one wedding is what made me consider taking on photography clients in the first place.
Later, in a fun turn of events, I met Oliver Asis, the photographer featured in that episode, who also does a phenomenal job with architectural, landscape, and miniature photography.
We became fast friends who cheer each other on and frequently connect over a mutual love of photography and travel.
Co-founder of Create Live, Chase Jarvis releases about two episodes a week featuring a diverse array of artists, entrepreneurs, and just all around interesting people.
A photographer himself, he frequently has photographers on representing a wide variety of genres.
I also recently discovered We Are Photographers which is affiliated with CreativeLive and is solely dedicated to featuring interviews with photographers from all around the world.
You know when you meet someone and you think, “this person is amazing and I just want to be friends with them?” That’s how I felt when I met Sarah this spring when I took her Clickin Moms breakout Filmmaking for Photographers.
I have since taken another course with her about creating films for brands, and we have also connected through Everyday Film School and Instagram.
She is always willing to share information and help others with anything she knows, and is incredibly friendly, talented, and hilarious.
I honestly think that there are many people out there like me who have met her and instantly wanted to be her friend, too. That’s why she is the perfect person to host a podcast.
The Shared Shutter is a new podcast from Sarah Kreig and her husband Dan that came out a couple of months ago and has consistently released 1-2 episodes per week, which honestly has been one of the more positive highlights of the Covid-19 pandemic. If you want to learn a few things and have a laugh, then go check it out!
It is hosted by Academy Founder Courtney Holmes and Academy Manager Allison Redmon, both incredibly talented filmmakers living in different parts of the world.
This podcast features interesting interviews and gear reviews, introduces new techniques, and issues fun filmmaking challenges throughout the year.
Hosted by Cathy Heller – It’s all about turning your passion into profit.
with photographer Twyla Jones – This has a lot of great information about different facets of the photography business, as well as great stories and interviews with successful photographers and filmmakers from around the globe
with Vicki Knights & Eddie Judd – Hosted by two delightful British ladies, this podcast features information and interviews from a wide variety of photographers and will make you both laugh and think.
This is a brand new podcast that started in November of this year by the multi-talented and very kind LeAnna Azzolini. It’s all about celebrating staying curious in life and never settling into one box.
There will be photographers featured, but also a whole host of other creative people as well.
9. Photography Books and Web Resources for the amateur photographer and professional alike
I grew up with a family of booklovers, so I have always enjoyed being surrounded by books and looking to them for inspiration. I am always up for a visit to the bookstore and can always find something of interest to bring home.
Here are some of my current favorites:
Strong is the New Pretty: A Collection of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker
The Heart of a Boy: Celebrating the Strength and Spirit of Boyhood by Kate T. Parker
These two books are full of stunning images and a powerful narrative that show that there isn’t just one way to be a girl or a boy and blows the traditional stereotypes out of the water.
I have tried many different types of photography, but there is something magical about photographing children, and as a parent of both a girl and a boy, I find this book to be inspiring and a force of good in a tumultuous world.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
I fiercely believe that everyone has a story to tell and that we all deserve to have our stories told.
I have been following this project as a guilty pleasure for years and love the idea of meeting a stranger on the street, taking their photo, and asking them to tell their story.
That’s exactly what Brandon Stanton did as he set out to create a photographic census of the people of New York.
It’s also a great success story of how it can be possible now to start with a passion project, gain a following for it on social media, and turn it into a beautifully published book.
Masters of Drone Photography by Fergus Kennedy
I have not made the commitment to picking up a drone yet, but I think about trying one out often. I have always been intrigued by shots taken from above because you get such a different perspective on the action happening on the ground below.
This is a gorgeous compilation of work from a number of different drone photographers taken in locations around the world. It should come with a warning label though, because if you don’t already want to try drone photography out, you probably will after flipping this book!
There are so many different photography books out there that any photography lover will be able to find something new to inspire them time and time again.
In regard to filmmaking, it’s not quite as easy to walk into a bookstore and look for inspiration. You won’t find compelling films on the shelves, just books about filmmakers or how a film is made. So I thought I’d share three very different places that I look to for inspiration on making films and telling compelling stories.
This is a small company based out of Portland, OR that was started years ago by a couple of college students in a dorm room who wanted to tell compelling stories about people.
Through a combination of skilled storytelling and incredible luck, they have grown into one of the leaders in the field when it comes to sharing stories through film.
Every project they touch results in a final film that is both stunning and captivating. I highly recommend checking out their short documentary series The Remarkable Ones (each film is under 10 minutes), as well as the documentary #standwithme.
Both projects will make you want to immediately pick up your camera and look for amazing stories that can change the world.
Vimeo has grown in popularity over the years as a fast and reliable site to store your video content. You can search for your favorite films and filmmakers, but there is also curated content under a wide variety of subjects.
If you are ever looking for inspiration or just want to fall down a more creative and useful internet rabbit hole, then it is worth perusing every now and then.
Despite all of those things, even the best professional photographers fall into a rut from time to time where it becomes hard to pick up your camera to take a photo or make a film. Even the most creative person in the world has moments of downtime as they contemplate what to make next.
The good news is that there are so many great resources and ideas out there that with a little effort, you can always find something new to try… which brings me to my final tip.
10. Advice: Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I will be the first person to admit that sometimes trying something new can be daunting, but it can also be incredibly exhilarating. Luckily the photography and filmmaking world is FULL of techniques and resources to experiment with.
Find new things to shoot through to produce different effects.
Popular options are things like a small piece of copper pipe, plastic bag, triangular prism, but the possibilities are endless.
Try a new technique either during or after the shoot.
Maybe you’ve always been curious about free lensing or you want to use Photoshop to create a whimsical composite turning your child (or yourself) into a woodland fairy or a pirate sailing the high seas.
Or maybe you want to try your hand at stop motion like Colette Peri, one of my favorite stop motion artists.
Take a class or learn a new program.
These options can take a little more time, but the end results can be quite transformative and alleviate even the most stubborn of ruts.
They might even introduce you to a photography style you hadn’t considered or produce a new revenue stream for you.
Pursue another creative endeavor.
I find that when I am creative in one area, it opens my mind up to the possibilities of being creative in others. Sometimes we all need a break to try something completely different for a little while.
The bonus is that often when that happens it results in also bringing an unexpected and new creative element to your photography and filmmaking work that might never have happened if you hadn’t stepped away for a bit.
One of the most wonderful things about being human is our ability to be creative and make beautiful art. There are so many ways to do this and there are no wrong answers or paths.
If you have an interest in photography or filmmaking, then try it, and hopefully these tips help you discover something that helps you along your artistic journey. It doesn’t matter if you choose to make money with it or not.
Embrace the possibilities and give yourself over to the joy of learning and creating something new. Not only will it bring numerous benefits to you, it will also help others.
Creativity is contagious, and the more we spread the enthusiasm and joy it brings, the more we can help to make the world a better place for us all.