Top 5 pieces of equipment you'll need when you start an online photography course

By Geoff Harris

When starting an online photography class or online photography course, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to have a very up-to-date camera and lens or the very latest whizzbang editing software.

After all you don’t want to be embarrassed if the tutor or other members of the course make some sniffy comments about what you’re using.

In fact, you are worrying about nothing. You are the most important thing you need to bring along to online photography classes – your creative eye, your open mind, your willingness to learn and yes, your ability to take constructive criticism.

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That said, you will need the basics in terms of equipment to be able to take photographs and get feedback on them. Here’s a quick run-through.

A digital camera that does the job

By ‘does the job’ we mean that it can take JPEG images of a decent resolution – anything with a sensor over about 15Mp should be enough for this. Your course tutor may ask you to shoot in raw too. Raw files are the original unprocessed image as recorded by the camera; JPEGs are often compressed to keep the file size down, so you don’t always get the full resolution.

So what if you do need to invest in a new camera? If you are looking for a cheap compact model with a built-in lens, we recommend the Sony RX1000 III (£380 new). Good budget interchangeable lens cameras include the Canon EOS 2000D (an SLR, £329) or the Panasonic Lumix GX880 (a mirrorless camera, yours for £299).

A wide-angle and telephoto lens

If you already have a camera, check what kind of lens it has. If the lens is built-in, make sure you can zoom in and zoom out enough to be able to access different focal lengths.

You want to zoom out in order to soak up a wider scene, and zoom in to capture specific details – or sometimes to blur out the background in a portrait. If you are doing a specialist online photography class, such as on macro/close-up photography, you may need a special lens – check with the course tutor first.

For DSLR and mirrorless camera users, a 24-70mm lens is a great workhorse; Sigma and Tamron do good quality lenses in this range at keen prices, or check out the wide variety of options on offer at a reputable second-hand supplier, such as MBB or Park Cameras.

A way of downloading and editing your images

If the tutor in an online photography class sets you an assignment, you will need to be able to get the images from the computer to them. You might be able to download the images from the camera via Wi-Fi, but it’s often less hassle to get a cheap all-in-one memory card reader – Kingston and SanDisk make reasonably priced examples, and they all work via USB.

Unless you are doing a specific course in photo editing, you might not need to buy an Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom subscription. That said, these are both very useful programs, particularly for processing raw files, and the current monthly subscription for both is a reasonable £9.98 a month. Photoshop in particular has become much easier to use of late, with the process of replacing skies, for instance, far more beginner-friendly.

A tripod or some kind of camera support

While many cameras and lenses now have built-in image stabilisation, which means you can shoot at slower shutter speeds while still getting sharp shots (in poorer light, for example), some kind of camera support is still recommended.

With landscapes and cityscapes, a lightweight tripod can help you become more mindful about your composition, and also get some attractive special effects – such as ‘starburst’ streetlights, which usually requires quite a narrow aperture setting. Or, invest in a mini tripod or beanbag, which are easily carried around in your bag. These can be used on a wall or similar structure to provide support as needed, and can be less cumbersome than a full-sized tripod – Joby supplies a full range.

Some basic filters and a decent bag

Last but not least, consider getting some basic lens filters. These needn’t be complicated or expensive. A polarising filter, for example, screws on to your lens and is a great way of deepening the blue in skies or cutting glare on water. It will also help to protect the lens if you lose the lens cap. A variable ND filter, meanwhile, comes in handy for getting slow shutter speed effects (e.g. motion blur on people or water) in daylight. Good brands include Tiffen, Hoya and Lee.

Get a decent bag with separate compartments for your cameras and lenses too – don’t just lug around expensive gear in a rucksack so it all clanks around together. Even minor scuffs can significantly reduce the value of a lens when trying to sell it second hand.

If you're looking to step up your photography game, why not join bestselling photography author and photographer Michael Freeman on his new and improved photography foundation course. You'll learn all aspects of photography, and develop your own portfolio and style as you learn.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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