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Buying a Great Instagram Camera Setup on a Budget

Posted by on January 3rd, 2019

I’ve talked about a lot of different ways to enhance your Instagram presence. How to add text to photos, how to properly use hashtags, and so on. There’s one thing I preface every post with, though, and that’s the need for quality content.

It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear; if you’re in a dancing competition, you’ll still lose if you can’t dance.

Creating high quality images is priority #1 for anyone on Instagram. My goal with this post is to give you the tools necessary to do so, regardless of your budget level. Hopefully something on this list will help you improve your game.

Level 0: Zero Budget Enhancements

This first section covers enhancements you can make when you have no budget to work with. You don’t want to spend any money, period, or maybe you have a budget that caps out at $10. you can do a lot to enhance your photos with nothing, but it may take some clever DIY work.

DIY Light Tent/Box – A lightbox will allow you to take photos in an isolated setting, free of other light sources and uncontrolled shadows. It reflects and floods a camera flash and gives you that “item on a white void” effect that so many product photos have. You don’t need to tediously clip the background out of every image in Photoshop; this allows you to not have a background in the first place.

DIY Light Box

You will need some supplies, and some of it might not be stuff you have lying around, but it’s all very cheap. You’ll need a sizable cardboard box, some white fabric, glue and tape, and a white Bristol board. You’re building a box with a heavy light source on top, fabric sides, and a board for the backing. Darren Rowse has an excellent tutorial for putting this together here.

DIY Beauty Dish – A light diffuser that spreads out your camera flash, this device provides a harsh light that falls off quickly, for a stark effect best used for beauty photos. A great guide for making one out of a foil turkey pan can be found over here at DIYPhotography.net.

Software Background Isolation – Sometimes you want to change or enhance the background of a model. Unfortunately with a tool like Photoshop, you need to spend time isolating the model and clipping the background, which can be very tedious with hair and other soft focus parts of a background.

A recently launched online tool called Remove.bg comes to the rescue here. It uses machine learning to identify the difference between background and person, and leaves you with your model isolated on a transparent layer. You can then apply whatever changes you want to your background and put the model right back on.

Remove Background of Image

Unfortunately, the image resolution is limited to 500px squares, but that’s what you get for using a new, experimental, and most importantly, FREE tool. It’s a good place to start when you’re looking to achieve certain effects.

DIY Macro Lens – Macro photography is incredibly cool, and also really difficult to pull off without an expensive macro lens on a powerful camera. Or is it? Really, all you need is a focusing lens from some device. I find that some old webcams, old laser pointers, and a few other optical toys have suitable lenses. This video shows you how to make a macro lens with nothing but an old laser pointer, a hairpin, and a bit of tape:

It’s surprisingly effective!

Level 1: Phone Accessories

Many people using Instagram are relying on their phones to do the heavy lifting in photography. Modern phone cameras are quite powerful, particularly compared to digital cameras from entry-level lines a few years ago. Phone cameras definitely have their limitations, however. They don’t have the support of a full camera or a full flash tool, and they lack a lot of accessories that put real photography over the top.

We can mimic a lot of effects with a few relatively cheap phone camera accessories. The items I’m going to list are all quite cheap, so if you have a budget of $50-$100, you can deck out your Instagram Mobile Photography Kit and step up your game significantly.

Remote Shutter Control – One absolute killer for mobile photography is the need to tap to take a photo. You work so hard to keep your image steady, but the tap by definition is an impact, and that impact jars your camera at the exact moment you take the photo. This is part of why so many amateur photographers with cameras on their phones come out with a bit of blur.

Remote iPhone Shutter

You can go a few different routes here. Some headphones with volume controls can be configured to trigger your camera shutter when a button is pressed, giving you a remote button to take your photo. You can also get wireless remotes for a bit more of a fee. Heck, you can even sync one up to a selfie stick. Some have Bluetooth controls, so you don’t need to actually use the stick as anything more than a remote.

Stability – Image stability is incredibly important, and it’s also quite difficult to achieve with a phone camera. Phones are not known for their ability to balance, and even if you think you’re being calm and still, you’re moving enough for it to be noticeable in a photo. Any of a thousand different tripod devices can be of great benefit here. A variety of “GorillaPod” tripods can be used to wrap around poles and other objects, or work as a basic tripod. Meanwhile, a tripod adapter allows you to attach your phone camera to a real tripod, if you have one lying around.

Cheap Gorilla TripodsExtra Lenses – The lenses in phone cameras are suitable for some kinds of photos, but they tend to lose out when you’re looking for macro photography and a few other kinds of photos. Thankfully, pretty much every mobile device made in the last decade has a range of auxiliary lenses that attach to the device, lined up with the camera lens, to provide additional focusing and clarity. You can buy lenses for a variety of purposes, from fisheye and wide angle to macro lenses.

iPhone External Lense

Don’t forget to get a nice clean microfiber cleaning cloth! Cleaning your lenses, making sure they’re free of dust and scratches, makes certain your photos are as clear as they can be.

Level 2: Entry-Level Cameras and Accessories

Maybe you have a bit of a budget to spend, but you’re not ready to invest on the level of a full photographer. Entry level cameras are expensive if you’re used to phone accessories, but the items I’m listing are still cheap as far as photography is concerned. This is one of those hobbies where a camera bag full of lenses, accessories, and a nice camera might have a total combined value of over $50,000, so don’t be too surprised at some of these price tags.

I’m aiming this section at people who are willing to make an initial investment and have around $1,000 to spend. If that seems like a lot, just think about what you’re getting out of Instagram. An increase in photo quality means an increase in quality fans, which means more conversions, which means more customers. How many new customers does it take to pay for one of these items? That’s up to you.

Canon T6i – Canon is one of the go-to brands for cameras because of their quality and their price point. They’re some of the best cameras you can get for a relatively cheap price, and they make a ton of accessories that help you upgrade without needing to start from scratch. The T6i is one of the best entry-level DSLR cameras with connectivity to their various accessories. You can view it on Amazon here. Keep in mind that you need at least a basic lens, you can’t just get the “body only” order, but a couple of lenses for different purposes is quite a good investment.

Canon EOS Rebel T6iSony a6000 – This Sony camera is a mirrorless camera. Mirrorless cameras tend to be lighter and more compact, and they’re a bit better for video than cameras with mirrors. They might be a worthwhile investment, but they’re also relatively new, so there’s more inconsistency amongst accessories. You can see this Sony mirrorless camera here.

Sony A6000Additional Lenses – As with your camera phone, you want additional lenses for specific purposes with your professional cameras. The difference is, where a lens for a phone might run you $50, a lens for a Canon DSLR is going to run you $400 or more.

One of the best general-use lenses is a 50mm. These tend to be quite expensive, though, so you might consider variable focus lenses with a lower price tag. Check out what Canon has available here. Consider your needs, and consider a macro lens or a telephoto lens as well.

Canon LensesLight Accessories – I could write an entire blog post just on lighting accessories. Some of the most useful to an Instagram photographer may include:

  • Lightbox – A light tent or lightbox can be had on Amazon for anywhere from $50 to $150. There are a ton of different brands and styles available. Think about if you need something portable, something stable for your table, or something else.
  • Flash – A separate Flash accessory for your camera will give you much greater control over the light where you’re taking a photo. A Speedlite flash for Canon cameras will run you $300 or so, though you can find kits with additional tools, like light rings, for less than the cost of buying them individually.
  • Diffusers – A wide variety of different diffusers and light manipulators will help you control the final look of your photos. Simple diffusers can be found for $15 or so on Amazon, while more complex light rings with fancy controls and camera compatibility can run as much as $500-$1,000.

Additional Accessories – Lighting isn’t all; you want other tools and accessories to enhance your photography, and to keep everything stored safely and securely.

  • Cases – Don’t forget storage! A high quality camera bag, protection for your expensive device and lenses, is 100% necessary. Look for something designed for your camera, and if you can, stop in at a local photography store to test the fit. Don’t forget a solid camera strap!
  • Storage – Digital cameras require digital storage, and none of them have enough on-board memory to handle a good photo session. Make sure to get a handful of SD cards, or whatever memory card is required for your camera. I also recommend a case for your cards, and potentially an external hard drive to clear more storage when necessary.
  • Tripods – I recommend one solid tripod that you can collapse to store easily and adjust without special tools. Thankfully, there are approximately ten trillion different tripods you can choose from throughout the entire history of photography, so you’re spoiled for choice.

Extreme Stretches – This last section is going to be pretty expensive, but if you have the budget for a few additional toys, these are some fun ways you can take your photography above and beyond.

  • Drones – One of the biggest trends in modern photography is taking photos and videos that aren’t normally possible with the use of a drone. A camera drone is going to run you $1,000 or more, but something like the DJI Mavic lets you take smooth videos, aerial photos, and all kinds of incredible shots with relative ease.
  • More Lenses – You can never have enough lenses. Every lens has a specific purpose, and you can’t very well take a good photo with the wrong lens, can you? It’s no wonder photographers are in debt, when individual single-purpose lenses can run you $2,000+.
  • Upgraded Cameras – If you have the budget, a better baseline camera will have better capabilities and a much wider range of potential tweaks to take total control over your photography. The Canon EOS R is a mirrorless upgrade to their DSLR mentioned above, while the Sony a7 III is a sizable upgrade over the a6000. Both cost a little over $2,000, to give you an idea of the possibilities.

Remember: you don’t need a top of the line camera and an expensive lens to find Instagram success. You just need a good eye, a decent camera, and a suitable environment.

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