Don't be scared. We're not trying to make you into a professional, a hobbyist, an enthusiast, or, heaven forfend, one of those camera-toting stooges who spends weekends huddled in a darkroom, forever entering contests and neglecting personal hygiene. Certainly not! All we want is for your drunken party snaps, vacation photos, and candid pics of family and friends to have a certain style and panache that will make you the envy of all.

After reading this SYW, there will be no excuse for redeye, decapitation, strange cranial growths, and various other sorts of visual ickiness. You will be an expert amateur (how's that for an oxymoron?) who has fun photos that everyone wants to see.


Unless you have a photographic memory, or are going to poke a pinhole in a shoebox, you are going to have to buy a camera. Or you might already have one, of course, in which case, good for you, but you might not have the right kind. The choice of which camera to buy will have the kind of impact on your photographs that we in the photography business refer to as "not much." Of much greater importance is how you see the image, use the light, compose the frame, and know your equipment.

But you might as well start with an advantage, so why not just get a decent camera to begin with? There are two main types for you to choose from: 35mm and digital.


The 35mm camera has been the traditional and most popular camera for many years now, and it is still the choice of professionals and artists everywhere. But you are neither of those, so don't feel compelled to buy one just for that reason. However, 35mm cameras are plentiful and cheap, and there are lots of outlets vying to process your film for rock bottom prices. Those are better reasons.

The 35mm camera comes in two types: the SLR and the "compact, point and shoot," automatic style of camera.

SLR: SLR stands for "Single Lens Reflex," which means that what you see in the little eye-hole (the thing you look through when taking a picture) is exactly what goes onto the film, but it is reflected up to your eye-hole by magic, smoke, and of course, a mirror. This gives you more control over the final image. It is possible to get an SLR camera which is also fully automatic, but you'll have to shell out mucho dinero for that kind of rig. If you are a pro or a yearbook geek, then this is the one for you, but it's overkill for most of us.

Automatic: Automatic 35mm cameras have an eye-hole that is separate from the camera lens. Be sure to get one that is centered over the lens so that at least your framing will be the same. If your eye-hole is off to the left and the lens is in the center, you will have your whole picture shifted off-center. Someone will have half her face cut off at the edge of the frame. Men have been killed for less, so it's best to avoid it.

The SLR is a lot more hands on and complicated to learn, which gives you more control over the way the picture is taken and allows you to change lenses for various effects. But then again, it is a lot more hands on and complicated to learn, which is why only professionals, hobbyists, contest-enterers and geeks from the AV club use them.

The Automatic is your best bet as a 35mm camera. It automatically reads the light, sets the focus, triggers the flash, and advances the film, which leaves you free to lurk around, waiting to capture your friends' most embarrassing drunken moments. The difference in quality for an amateur's photographs will be negligible, and it allows for more spontaneity and fun. It's the John Wilkes Booth of cameras: point and shoot. (Note for those with no sense of humor: Lincoln's been dead for a long time now, so we feel no shame in making jokes. Please don't sue us.)


The newest thing to come along in the photography world is the digital camera. And as a practicing web site and corporate citizen of the cyberworld, we would be remiss if we did not throw the full weight of our recommendation behind this option. Digital cameras record images as an electronic file rather than on a chemical film, and these files are then downloaded onto some form of electronic box for further developments (pun intended).

The pictures you take with a digital camera have the advantage of being easier to display on your computer, easier to call up in a word processor to use for newsletters and similar projects, easier to send by e-mail, easier to post on a web site, easier to print on a color printer, easier to ship home to your friends from an Internet café or public library when you're travelling…

Notice the repetition of the word "easier?" This is the key to this option. You have instant pictures, with no wait for developing, and it's FREE. You don't have to wait six months to finally finish a roll of film and then have it developed; you can download 10 pictures or 100. Some cameras even have an LDD display on the back of the camera that shows you what the picture looks like right away. And in this MTV world of instant gratification, you deserve that. If you don't like the picture or it didn't work out as you planned, just delete it on the spot and try again.

There are also several weirdo functions like "image enlargement without zoom lens," "mini-zoom to 2 or 4 times magnification," and "auto light meter" that add to the ease of use of the unit. And you could take naked pictures of yourself and/or neighbor, and not be embarrassed that the 14-year-old Fotomat developer will see what kind of sicko you are. That's worth the price alone.

Here's the catch: a digital camera is still a lot more expensive than a compact 35mm camera, but you will never have to pay to have film developed again, so imagine the savings there. So make a choice and move on knowing that there's more to great photos than the perfect camera.