Lots of great question, folks! If I missed any questions, please let me know, so I can answer those as well.
The two lenses I use right now are the Canon 50mm 1.8 and the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro. The macro lens also makes a great portrait lens, and I often use it when I’m in a session with kids. It’s a little slow to focus, so when I start getting into low light situations, or the kids are running towards or away from me, I switch to the 1.8.
My camera is a Canon Rebel T2i. It’s considered a “starter” camera. I bought it back in February with the intent of just getting great pictures of my kids, so a starter camera was all I needed. Turns out I have a serious passion, and I think talent, for photography. I suppose one day I’ll upgrade to the 5D mark ii or iii since the T2i isn’t great in low light situations. But for now, I love my camera. It does what I need it to. I’ve heard a quote over and over since I started: The most important piece of equipment a photographer can have is the one 8 inches behind the lens. You just don’t NEED an expensive camera to get great photos. It helps, but you just don’t need it. Think of Ansel Adams. In fact, I think the quote is from him.
I myself am partial to Canon, I think mostly because when I was little, my mom had one. You’re best bet is either to go with Canon or Nikon. Those are the two that you will have the most choice in lenses. Olympus, Sony, etc aren’t that bad, but it limits your options, if you want them. You’re budget is really going to determine what level of camera you can get.
Before I got the two lenses I use now, all I had was the kit lenses I bought along with the camera. I also bought some macro filters for about $10. This was my very first picture with the macro filter:
Macro filters can take great pictures, too! If you can’t afford a macro lens, these aren’t bad to have. You won’t have the range of a lens, but I still have mine.
For actions, I mostly use Florabella, specifically Magnolia, Soft Blur, and Soft Sunshine. I have to tweak the heck out of them, but I usually use those three on most portraits. I also have some free ones from Yellow Sky (have to like their FB page), Coffee Shop, and My Four Hens. I understand Pioneer Woman has some good freebies, but I haven’t checked them out yet. I love Florabella, but they are pretty pricey.
Depth of field (DOF) and aperture go hand in hand. The larger your aperture (smaller number), the smaller your DOF. Which means the smaller your number, the more the background will be blurred. Also, the closer to the lens to the subject, the shorter the DOF. There’s actually math involved in it, but I hate math, so I just go by feel. So if your subject is close to your lens, and the background is far, then you will get good bokeh. If your subject is close, and the background right behind them, it will be a bit blurred, but not what most people are looking for when going for bokeh. Alternatively, if your subject is far, then it’s pretty likely your background will be mostly in focus. I’m terrible at explaining stuff like this, so if it doesn’t make sense, try googling it and I have no doubt you could find somebody to explain it better!
I have bought exactly one book: Understanding Exposure. It has some good, solid, and basic information, but nothing that I couldn’t find on the internet. And that right there is your best resource. Join forums, read blogs, watch Youtube videos. Some forums include ilovephotography.com, brokenlenses.com, clickinmoms.com, thebloomforum.com, digital-photography-school.com/forums. Just google it and you can find a ton. A lot of them are free, some require membership fees. Hands-on experience is also great. Take photos everyday. Experiment. That’s the great thing about the digital age; if it sucks, you can just delete it. Some photographers offer in person workshops, but those are expensive. If you’ve got the money to burn, then they can be very helpful to have somebody actually SHOW you, in person, how they do things.
I hope this was helpful, and if you all like it, let me know and maybe I can make it a regular feature! Thanks for reading!