We all know that photography can be an expensive hobby (new lens anyone?!) and it can make us feel like we need to spend a huge trolley load of money in order to reach our goals.
You really don't even have to spend a fortune: some teeny, tiny, baby micro-investments can give you a big return, either on helping you progress your skills, or just by saving you time and frustration whilst you are learning!
Investments in learning can be anything from a small piece of photography equipment, to getting paid software instead of relying on the free stuff, or even taking a course to improve your skills.
I do appreciate that for many of us, photography is a hobby so there is not a lot of extra cash to throw down (nor can you write it off as expenses - boo!) but even if you only have a little bit of cash to invest in yourself (or even literally not a penny - I have a couple of free ones!) read on.....
This post will give you some ideas of small "micro" investments you can make - ranging from $0 to $100 - that will make your life easier, or help take your photography to the next level (or both!). If you are serious about growing your photography skills, why not skip dinner out one night, or pass on your favourite Starbucks coffee one day each week, and invest that money in your photography instead!
1) Books $15 - $30
I LOVE a good photography book, and you will be able to pick these up from Amazon or similar for under $30.
My advice when choosing a photography book is to choose one that is actionable - in other words it's not just a lots of words and pictures, it tells you what to go and do with the information you just learnt. That way you have something concrete to go out and learn or do: reading a book on an armchair is not the way to learn about photography, going out there and actually taking photographs is.
Here are some ideas of "actionable" photography books:
2) Grey Card - $6 - $10
A grey card is one of those little things that are worth their weight in gold when you are just starting out (and it's the only piece of kit I recommend you buy for my Auto to Awesome course) because it will help you with both exposure and white balance - two things we all struggle with when starting out.
You can pick these up really cheaply from Amazon - here's a couple to choose from:
I've even got a tutorial on the blog so you can learn how to use it here
3) Photography Plan Adobe - $10 per month
The Adobe Photography Plan costs just $10 a month, and in that you get TWO programs - Lightroom and Photoshop. Together, these programs give you absolutely everything you need to manage your image files, edit them, add further enhancements and share them. When Adobe first switched to this pay monthly format I was a bit disappointed - but now that I actually have it I feel it's totally worth it. That said, you can pick up Lightroom and / or Elements individually without ongoing payment, and that is a cheaper way to access them over the longer term, but with more upfront cost. (Bear in mind Elements is the baby sister to Photoshop, but you can still do a helluva lot with that program too!)
4) Your Time - $0
It's not all about investing in yourself with regards to money, but also your time too! Here are some suggestions of things you can do that only take time, not money:
Practice with your camera gear - There is SO much you can learn just by picking up your camera and playing with it. For example: whats the difference between taking a shot at 35mm or at 85mm, even when they are framed the same? Where is the "sweet spot" of your lens? Can you change your metering mode and see the different exposures you get? How slow can you let your shutter speed drop before you introduce motion blur?
Scout out locations - Start scouting out locations where you can take portraits, either indoors or outdoors. Where has the best light and at what time? Are there any potential issues or distractions? Can you see the image you would take in your mind?
Process your images differently - why not play with processing? Try something new or edit an old photo in a totally new way.
Take on a Photography Project - A good Photography Project can be a great thing to take on as it helps make sure that you are practising with your camera and learning new skills, whilst nurturing your creativity at the same time. If that wasn't reason enough, you'll also find that you capture precious moments that you might otherwise have missed. For that reason, I would say that one of the best things you can do to grow your photography skills is take on a photography project!
5) eCourses - $0 - $250
There are loads of online courses available throughout the web, and a quick search on google for online photography courses will give you a staggering 22,900,000 results, so you really can't complain about not having a choice :)
Sticking with my offerings though, and you want an in-depth, step by step program that tells you exactly what to do and when you to do it, then Auto to Awesome is your new best friend! You can check it out here.
6) Reflector - $20
Not an essential piece of kit when you are starting out, and not at all if you only shoot lifestyle / documentary images, but if you shoot portraits, then one of these will come in very handy. It allows you to redirect and shape the light, giving you more light on the face in back lit images, or adding more shadows (and therefore depth and dimension) to other images. Here's a link to the one I have:
8) Printing or Sharing Your Photos
I bet you right now you are thinking - what on earth does printing photos have to do with me getting better at photography? Well, there's something different about seeing an image in print than seeing it on your computer screen. For one, you really start to know which images you are drawn to and why. When I'm culling my images I think a LOT differently when I have to narrow these down to fit into a spread for my photo album or on my wall - sometimes the ones I THOUGHT I loved don't make the cut because although they are pretty to look at, they don't speak to me in the same way as a different image does. You might also find yourself changing the way you edited it, because it doesn't fit in with your home (and therefore your authentic "style"). In short, printing your images give you much more insight into why you take photos, and what your personal style is. And all for relatively little cost!