Do I Need To Spend Thousands to Become a Successful Photographer?

The simple answer is no, you don’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands to become a successful photographer. To become a successful photographer you need to learn how to use your kit and accessories.

You don’t even need a DSLR camera. You can use an Android or iPhone. Believe it not the photography market is more saturated with iPhone and Android images than DSLRs photos. However, I encourage you to purchase a DSLR over that of a camera phone. You won’t regret it. Camera phones have limitations and their apps aren’t that brilliant.

YouTube is awash with photographers’ that harp on about how many cameras, lenses and filters they have bought in a single year which often perplexes me?

Why, if you’ve a perfectly good working camera and lens, would you then buy a few more? Its not the camera which is the problem (unless its broken) but the photographer that needs to learn how to shoot.

One can own dozens of cameras and lenses, filters and lights, state of the art tripods and computers and still produce poorly composed images that don’t sell. Old format, medium format, cropped sensor or full frame; its irrelevant! It’s how you use your kit that counts!

You don’t even need fancy filters, or flashes, you simply need a camera that works. Furthermore, I encourage all you newbie photographers to join a camera club or better still join the Guild of Photographers. Should you wish to join email me for a join up promo code.

So, where do you start? First and forth most shop about, look for used cameras, and if you’re a beginner or hobbyist, please start with the basics. A simple CANON EOS X7i/Rebel T5i/700D 18.0MP 35-135mm Lens will do you perfectly. You can buy them used on Ebay or Etsy for around £240 or even cheaper. Perfect for printing and posting onto social media.

The Canon Rebel hosts: One-Shot, AI Focus, AI Servo, Live View (FlexiZone – Multi, FlexiZone – Single, Face Detection), and Movie Servo which is perfect for the hobbyist or beginner and its light at 580 g (1.28 lb / 20.46 oz) perfect for people like me that suffer with Fibromyalgia and Lyme’s Disease.

Tripod wise, all you need is a tripod that’s strong enough to take the weight of the Canon Rebel. You don’t need a £1000 FLM tripod. A beginners’ Duragadget 125cm Tripod with telescopic legs will do, and is an excellent choice at just under £25.00. So, you’ve got a camera and tripod for under £300. What about filters?

When I started shooting with digital cameras I bought pretty much every filter on the market which I rarely use because many of them degrade image quality.

Do filters work? Some, not all do. I would rather you experiment first with the objects you have in your own home before you lunge into your wallet again buying filters that you don’t need or know how to use.

Below I’ve included a handful of photography hacks that you can experiment with using your new camera. Understanding the basics of photography is key before you venture onto landscapes, portraiture, pets, weddings, boudoir, modelling, etc. Furthermore I encourage you (again) to join a camera club; you won’t regret it. 🙂

Finally before reading on, please ensure you clean your camera after using any of the objects and/or creams below. Please ensure you practice safely, ethically and do not endanger yourself of those around you.


If you want an image with a sharp centre and hazy dreamy like edges fetch a sandwich bag from the kitchen, place the bag round your lens and make a hole in the closed end to fit your lens through. And make sure the opposite side is covering some of the edges of the lens glass.

The plastic is close enough to the lens to blur, which will create a sort of haze to the image. Another variation is to colour the bag with permanent markers first. This will give the haze a coloured tint, and there you have a homemade filter, made by you, and not Instagram or Facebook. Once finished please dispose of your plastic bag responsibly or keep it safe away from children in your box of imaging tricks.

Hazy dreamy shots can be created by placing a food bag around your camera lens.
Hazy dreamy shots can be created by placing a food bag around your camera lens.


Bokeh in an image takes the shape of the lens aperture. Change the shape, and you can change the bokeh. Bokeh filters do the same, and while you can buy them, they are also simple to make.

This camera trick requires a piece of paper, scissors and something to secure the paper to the lens. A hair tie works great. Cut out the shape that you want in the bokeh and place the paper over the lens. It helps if you leave some tabs of paper at the sides to help hold the paper in place with a rubber band or tape.

The paper changes the shape of the hole in the lens which changes the bokeh. Be aware, though, that you are limiting the light that’s coming into the camera. So if you are in a low light environment, you may need to adjust your exposure.

Credits: Adaptalux
Bokeh in an image takes the shape of the lens aperture.


Looking to create a fog or mist effect? Look no further, you don’t need a set of three £250 LEE filters to create mist, fog or blurry and dreamy edges. LEE do sell the set of 3 fog filters. I must admit I purchased them, and they’re not something I’ll be using everyday. However stay tuned to my site because I will be writing about those misty foggy effects on my travels.

Vaseline will do for now and its a very old school trick that’s been around for years. Smear a little on your lens and play around with how you want the image to look. Make sure though you clean your lens after. This is an old camera trick we used before fancy filters came out.

If you’re looking to create a soft mist like effect, add a pair of your mothers stocking to the lens and shoot away.

Smear a little on your lens and play around with how you want the image to look.


Need to diffuse the light on your fixed camera flash? If your camera has a fixed flash and you’re struggling to direct the flash away from your subject, use a piece of card. Pop the card in front of the flash and fire away. Alternatively make a diffuse from an old milk carton. Cut out a piece of the carton, just big enough to fit over the flash, and there you have a diffuse.

Use a milk carton to diffuse light on a fixed camera flash, or any flash.


Toilet rolls make excellent camera add ones to create a macro lens effect. A macro lens will set you back hundreds and in some cases a good thousand upwards. A used and clean toilet roll placed over the lens creates that macro effect; and its pretty much free. Check the video out below.

Toilet rolls make excellent camera add ones to create a macro lens effect.
Credit: Photo Tips Guide.


A lens hood is critical for protecting your expensive mirrorless and DSLR lenses. In the event that your camera slips out of your grip or suffers other damage, the lens hood will take most of the impact. In a pinch, a coffee cozy serves as a great lens hood. The next time you order coffee, save the hood. When you’re shooting in inclement weather or there’s a chance for rain or snow, protect your gear. A few popular hacks for rain covers include plastic grocery bags, Ziploc bags, bubble wrap, paper cups (simply cut the bottom out of the cup), and empty CD/DVD spindles.

A coffee cozy serves as a great lens hood.


I love this trick and learnt how to do it by a fellow in the Guild of Photographers. All you need is a small clean mirror to create the perfect reflection; you can also use a small piece of clear metal or your smart phone. To start, hold your mirror horizontally and line it up with the bottom edge of your camera’s lens. Then, look through the viewfinder or check the display screen on your camera. Your mirror or phone screen will reflect part of the scene you’re shooting onto the lower part of the image your camera is set to capture. Tilt and adjust your phone slightly until you create a reflection you like.

Hold your mirror horizontally and line it up with the bottom edge of your camera’s lens. (Credit: Petapixel)


If you’re strapped for cash, you don’t always need to buy a tripod. Books, rocks, cushions, gaffer tape, step ladders, or any static object will do. The internet defines a tripod as “a three-legged stand for supporting a camera or other apparatus; a stool, table, or cauldron resting on three legs.” So by definition, a table would be a great alternative tripod. Please practice safely here, and ensure your camera is secured to its static object.

If you’re strapped for cash, you don’t always need to buy a tripod. Books, rocks, cushions, gaffer tape, step ladders, or any static object will do. (Credit:


Lens companies work hard to reduce flare. But sometimes, photographers want that artistic lens flare especially when shooting sunsets in landscape photography.
Anamorphic flare is a horizontal flare that most associate with anamorphic, cinema lenses. You can actually create this effect with some fishing line or translucent string. Clear fishing line will create that horizontal lens flare. And it’s placed close enough to the lens not to interfere with image quality.

To try it out, place a piece of fishing line over the front of your lens. The flare will go in the opposite direction of the line. If you want horizontal flare, place the line vertically across the middle of the lens and vice versa. Secure it in place with tape or rubber bands. If you point the modified lens into the sunlight,  you’ll get that long anamorphic flaring.

Place a piece of fishing line over the front of your lens. The flare will go in the opposite direction of the line.
(Credit: Wondershare Filmora)


Its truly amazing what you can find in your own home to modify light of which you don’t need to spend a couple of hundred on professional light modifiers’. Placing a kitchen strainer over the flash will create spotted light. Any household object with a unique shape and, in particular, holes or openings will work. You can do this to create beautiful light effects for close-up shots in portrait photography.

You can also use a set of window blinds to create stripped light. Or use patterned lace to repeat the pattern in your light.

Or, as photographer Joe Edelman suggests, create your own gobo patterns. Cut up your own patterns out of foam board and place them over the light. That allows you to create unique lighting patterns. (Source: Expert Photography)

Use a set of window blinds to create stripped light. (Credit:


You may at some point need backdrops, and there’s a whole lot to chose from online. I always make my own which saves me at least £60+. Your average backdrop for pet or portrait photography will set you back between £80 and up to £250. This doesn’t include the stands or wall mounts neither.

I find with fabric backdrops they crease easily and they’re not easy to iron, they shine, attract a lot of dust and they’re often cheap and nasty. I now use 4mm MDF board, sized up for the relevant subject. Paint wise please use matte paint otherwise silk will shine.

MDF board is cheaper. Furthermore you can turn them into white or black fill boards, or add reflective foil to bounce light back. There, you’ve saved hundreds of pounds.

Credit: Mango Street.


One of the great lighting techniques in professional portrait photography is the ring light. This technique gives so nice effect on the eyes just like the picture below. It can be used not only for regular photography, but also, for video shots as well.

Note: This project was made by (Jafar Alobaid and Mahdi Albrahem ) in FABLAB Dhahran

Credit: Jafar AloBaid.
Credit: Jafar Alobaid.

So that’s 12 photography tricks that you can use with your new or second hand camera of which you’re not going to break the bank. Once you understand how your kit works, exposure, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and composition, everything else starts to fall into place naturally. As you begin selling images, offering a few hours here and there for clients, you’ll make more money to buy new kit.

As you move on and grasp the basics of photography you may be wanting to shoot some low key commercial projects. Please, before you even go down this route, get yourself and your kit insured. PLEASE DO NOT ignore this advice.

Photography insurance is just as important as vehicle insurance. Without it, you risk being taken to the cleaners should an accident occur and someone is seriously injured. Moreover, if your kit is damaged and not insured, you’ll not be receiving anything in return.

I’m not going to stray into drone insurance because this article focuses specifically on the basics of photography. You shouldn’t be flying any drone camera until you KNOW how to use a camera.

Do I need insurance as a photographer?

Firstly, whether you personally need insurance will depend if you are self-employed or employed by a company. If you’re employed by someone it’s worth reviewing the cover that they have in place first to see if it provides enough protection. 

If you work for yourself, it’s not only the equipment you should think about. There are two types of liability insurance that may be important to you.

Public liability insurance for photographers

This covers you for claims brought against your business by a member of the public if they suffer an injury or damage to their property as a result of your work. As a professional (or even semi-pro or amateur) if you’ve been given the task of photographing treasured events such as a wedding, christening or graduation ceremony, then you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a safety net.

It’s not great to think of all the things that could go wrong – but what about if someone trips over your tripod and breaks an ankle, or you walk backwards into the wedding cake or damage the marquee because your lighting equipment fused the electrics? Not only will you be dealing with some irate clients but you’ll probably be facing a hefty bill too. With public liability insurance in place, you can be confident that someone’s got your back.

Public liability limits start from £1 million, but you can typically increase your cover to £2m, £3m, £5m or even more. Your premiums will reflect this rise but usually only a little bit.

Employers’ liability insurance

If you employ any staff, you’ll need employers’ liability insurance. It’s a legal requirement and it’s there to pay out compensation to employees if they become ill or injured through their work.  You are required by law to display a copy of your Employer’s Liability Certificate of Insurance where your employees can easily read it. Failure to display the certificate can result a fine of £1000 from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Failure to have Employer’s Liability insurance could lead to a fine of up to £2,500 for every day you don’t have this insurance in place.

Professional indemnity insurance

It’s also worth considering professional indemnity insurance – this provides cover if clients make a claim against you for loss or damage because of professional negligence. Even the most diligent of photographers can’t predict their camera or memory card failing to download images properly; so to know you’re protected for nightmare incidents like this can be a huge relief.

If you’ve decided to join the Guild of Photographers then please scroll on over to their InFocus insurance page. As a registered member you’ll receive a discount when applying for insurance and you’ll be paying as little as £5 a month if that.

Camera clubs provide an excellent opportunity to improve your photographic skills and knowledge, a venue to challenge those skills, and a place to share what you have learned with others who have a passion for photography. Most camera clubs meet several times each month.

There’s hundreds of camera clubs registered in the United Kingdom, please join one from the list here: UK Photo Societies and Camera Clubs.

Thank you for reading, please share, and subscribe and stay tuned for my next article. If you would like anything in particular covered on the Norfolk Photographer drop me an email.

Thank you for reading.

J. J. Williamson.

Photojournalist & Historian.

Published by J. J. Williamson

Prints, frames, stock images and portrait services.

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