Last time, I wrote about free and inexpensive ideas for the gift-giving season - even if the gift is for you. I hope you found something in there of interest. There are many things out there for minor ducats. Tonight, we're going to spend a little money. Everything here will cost you more than $150 - sometimes, much more. They say spending money is what we need to do to stimulate our economy, so don't think of it as being extravagant; think of it as patriotism. Obviously, the list here is endless, so I'm going to pick from a wide variety of products, with which I'm at least familiar.
Every photographer likes gear. Chances are you do, too, but how can I know what you want? There are lots of great lenses and new cameras, this year. Just remember, that lenses and cameras are only tools - you need more than a saw to be a cabinetmaker.
I could use a Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens (about $1,700) or the nifty, little Nikon JV1 camera (about $1,700, when you throw in the 30-110mm lens and dedicated flash). You may prefer the new Canon 1d x; it isn't shipping, yet, but you can pre-order it. When it comes in, it is expected to cost around $6,000. The Canon G12 is a small box camera (smaller than a SLR, but thicker and heavier than most point-and-shoots). It shoots RAW photos and has HD video for about $380. Where would you order these wonders? Now, I have an answer. I've used B&H and Midwest Photo Exchange. Both are great gear providers. You can find almost anything you could need/want at either place.
If you want to try all this fancy equipment before you buy it, or, maybe, just use it once or twice during the year, try renting some gear. My favorite, in this category, is Lensrentals.com. Every time I've rented cameras and lenses from them, I've been happy with the experience. The equipment has always been in excellent condition, and they deliver it on time with a pre-paid shipping label for the return. They have almost any kind of photographic equipment you could want to rent. I know lots of folks who say the same about BorrowLenses.com. Obviously, the cost varies on the type of gear and term of use, but they are both pretty reasonable. When I rented the $6,000 Nikon 200-400mm F4 zoom for two weeks in Alaska, it was about $575. It was worth every penny, since I really don't shoot wildlife often enough to pay $6,000.
After you take those photos with your new gear, you're going to need to process the photos. We've talked about Adobe Lightroom enough by now that you know it is our first suggestion. The suggested retail is $299, but you can find it cheaper lots of places - especially since rumors say that the next version will be out in the spring.
Two other great software tools: NIK and OnOne. Mark and I have tried and own both, but I prefer NIK ($499), and he prefers OnOne ($399). These prices are for their complete suites. You can also buy components separately for about $149 (NIK) or $99 (OnOne) each, but the better deal is certainly the suites. NIK has Silver Efex Pro for great conversions to black and white. I use their Color Efex Pro all the time for effects that are easy to apply and adjust. OnOne also has great effects, and I love their Perfect Portrait software. Both of these companies provide plug-ins for Lightroom if you aren't ready to jump into the Photoshop pool. There are many other programs that will assist in your post-processing, but these are the two I'm most familiar with.
Wow! I'm getting an itching credit card just thinking about this stuff. How will you learn to use all this stuff? Well - aside from the free links we wrote about last week - there are some great paid training sites. Educating yourself about photographic tools and techniques may be better for you than buying new gear. Remember the saw/cabinetmaker "wisdom" I laid on you earlier? (I know, pretty deep....) There are three entries I know about in this category, and each has a monthly or annual plan to allow you to view the training videos whenever you have the time. Kelby Training ($199 annually/$24.95 monthly) is the one I favor. Mark and I have met with many of the trainers and photographers there, and their work is top-notch. Lynda.com ($250 annually/$25 monthly) also has great content and photographer/instructors I've met and appreciate. This is no second-rate substitute. These two are sort of like the Canon/Nikon argument; it doesn't matter which you choose, you win.
I recently heard of another site from This Week in Photography (which we mentioned last week), and they were very positive about their product. Video2Brain ($199 annually/$20 monthly) has many detailed lessons for you to try. I looked through their content and sat through several sample lessons to compare. The lessons were easy to understand and represented the field well. All of these choices offer free sample lessons, so you might want to try them all out before you choose one.
Want to meet these instructors; learn first-hand; and have a great time? Go to Photoshop World! We harp on this every year. We have spent some 18 hour days there with lessons, photographer roundtables, and event parties. This Spring, it is in Washington, DC, 24-26 March. You can choose classes in Photoshop, Lightroom, Photography, and/or Design. You can go to any class you want, and leave five minutes into it to go to a different one if it wasn't what you thought it was. You get a book with the lesson notes from all the classes. (It's the size of an old telephone book, if you're old enough to remember those.) If you sign up before Feb 17, you'll save $100 on this treat. For NAPP members the Early Bird price is $499, vs. $599 for non-NAPP members. I told you last week that NAPP membership pays for itself in discounts. Mark and I signed up in October. We'll see you there.
I know I'm going long here, but let me complete the shot to print process. We both really like MPIX for normal printing. Their work is excellent. They are usually at Photoshop World to show you their work (as are the next two).
But, every now and then, you want to do something special. How about putting one of your photographs on canvas? Artistic Photo Canvas can do you right. I really like the gallery wraps. They are easy to hang and don't need frames which can cost more than the print. Canvas really enhances the feel of a nice portrait or landscape. When you go this route, go big. It makes a nice impact. I've gone as big as 48 inches wide. Prices vary with size, but you can spend more than $150 easily here - not too much more, but more.
And speaking of making an impact - how about printing on aluminum? Take a vibrant, colorful image and make it pop at Bay Photo. You'd be surprised what a difference you see here. They are stunning with the right photo. Again, go big, and you'll easily top $150. You'll get more than that value from the pleasure of the constant comments from those who see them.
I know this was longer than usual, but I could easily go longer. There are so many great ways to spend your money in photography. C'mon, you deserve it. Have some fun.