Years ago, photographers seeking to graduate from mere snapshot takers to something more artistic faced a sizable requirement: a whole room at their disposal with bulky equipment, rows of sinks and vats of chemicals - all bathed in an eerie red-orange glow.
Then digital technology stepped in and changed the rules. And while the more accessible computer has nearly replaced the rarefied darkroom, the intimidation factor of photography hasn't been completely washed away. Digital terms like megapixels have been added to the photo vernacular of shutter speed and f-stops.
"Learning any new technology can be scary or frustrating," says Karen Klinedinst, a Baltimore graphic artist who takes pictures as a hobby. "But learning is just part of the fun."
Klinedinst developed an interest in photographing nature while attending college in the 1980s. Her interest and skill blossomed in 1997, when one of her photos was published in a book. Today, Klinedinst still uses traditional techniques but has made the transition to digital cameras and organizes her own galleries.
But making that change or starting fresh with digital photography can be a daunting experience for nontechnophiles.
Tim Hickey of Severna Park Photo Inc. in Annapolis suggests that buyers search for a camera based on a number of features.
Hickey says a good intermediate camera will have between 6 and 10 megapixels. Megapixels affect cropping, which involves zooming in on a section of a photo and increasing the size of it. "A camera with more megapixels will allow more options when editing photos," says Hickey.
A camera with an interchangeable lens brings even more versatility, he says. If a lens is interchangeable, different-size lenses can be purchased. Lens sizes correspond to zoom capability.
"Different-sized lenses are used for different purposes and settings," says Scott Morrison of Cooper's Camera Mart in Baltimore. For example a wide-angle lens enables a photographer to take panoramic shots, and a telephoto lens can
capture images at a great distance.
"Most higher megapixel cameras can be bought with an 18 to 55 millimeter lens, which can be substituted for others."
Hickey suggests purchasing an SLR camera. SLR, or single-lens reflex, cameras are of higher quality and offer more flexibility. According to Morrison, if people are serious about photography, they should expect to pay between $600 and $1,000 because they need more than a simple "point-and-shoot."
"Buying an intermediate-level camera is much more complicated because cameras have so many options available with them," he says.
Though it may not seem important, the brand should be considered. Morrison says Canon includes the most features for a low price. But opinions differ. Terry Hall of Wolf Camera and Video in Baltimore suggests that first-time users consider buying a Nikon. Hall says Canon cameras have more features than an intermediate Nikon, but Nikons are usually less complicated.
"I've found Nikons to be much more user-friendly," Hall says.
He recommends talking to a knowledgeable person at a camera store before buying anything. "Find what you plan on photographing," he says. "That way, someone can help you find a camera and lens that is suitable for you."
One of the biggest advantages of digital photography comes after the pictures have been taken. With no film or chemicals to fumble with, photographers can produce their work with a mouse click. But a quality printer is essential to this streamlined process.
Hall and Morrison agree that Epson and Canon make the highest-quality photo printers for the lowest price; but the price will differ depending on the printer's size.
The most economical printers cost $100 to $500, and the size of the prints can go up to 9 inches by 13 inches.
To get the most out of a new camera, David Potts, manager of Scrap Masters Inc., a scrapbook supply store and digital photo cafe in Bel Air, suggests that first-time users enroll in a digital photography class. Most community colleges offer classes for photographers of all ages.
But if your schedule is rigid, online classes might be best. The Web site betterphoto.com offers classes where students can take part in lectures whenever their schedules allow it.
Also, Flickr, a social-networking site similar to MySpace, allows aspiring photographers to share work with peers and receive feedback. Its Baltimore forum is at flickr.com/groups/charmcity/pool.
Although finding a good printer and a quality, intermediate-level camera is important, the quality of a camera won't make a good photographer. "Don't be overzealous," says Potts, who adds that he has seen some people purchase expensive cameras without learning how to use them.
"My 8-year-old could take better pictures than some of those people."
Baltimore City Community College
The college's basic photography class runs 12:20 p.m.-3:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 4-July 21. The cost is $281. Call 410-462-8300.
Betterphoto.com's online Digital Photography Class for Beginners starts July 4 and costs $297. Participants can chat live and ask experts questions. Other classes are offered regularly and are taken during your own personal time.