Photography can be a ridiculously expensive hobby — but it doesn’t need to be! Here’s what I tell people when they ask for advice.
Set a realistic photography goal.
Before purchasing anything, take some time to think about what you really want to accomplish in photography. Is your ultimate goal to quit your day job and become a professional photographer? Or are you more interested in learning more about the mechanics of photography and shooting on manual? Or… are you really just aiming to take better photos for sharing with friends and family, or on Instagram?
These are just some examples of photography goals — and very different ones, at that. Someone who’s aiming to go pro isn’t going to buy the same camera as someone who only really uses a camera on vacation. So… what kind of photographer do you see yourself being, realistically?
Set a budget.
When someone contacts me and says “I’d like to get a camera. What should I get?” — my first reaction is to ask how much money they’re willing to spend. Under $1,000, or over? Over $5,000? Photo gear adds up, so budgeting is mandatory.
Test equipment before you buy it.
I cannot emphasize this enough. If you’re planning on spending more than $600 on a camera, there’s a good chance you can rent that exact camera for a weekend. Or, if you have a good friend who’s willing to let you play around with a camera they own — do that! Carefully, of course 🙂
I swear by BorrowLenses.com for all camera rentals — whether I need a telephoto for just the weekend, or if I’m testing out an entirely new camera. In fact, every piece of equipment I now own was something I rented or borrowed early in my career!
If you’ve never used BorrowLenses before, use this link to get $20 off your first rental.
With some research, of course. Photography is a fairly old trade — cameras have been around for a long time! My first DSLR was a Nikon D80, which taught me how to be a photographer, and even carried me through a handful of professional jobs. That, in turn, helped me afford a full-frame, more modern DSLR. Going used is a great option, especially for someone on a budget who may or may not jump into photography full time. You’d be surprised how much a piece of gear gets discounted because of a few cosmetic scuffs.
But then again, buying used isn’t for everyone. I’ve personally had a lot of luck with used gear!
Now… on to the fun stuff! Here’s a roundup of photo gear — based on what I own and what I recommend!
Note: all links above are affiliate links. If you’re taking me up on my recommendations for purchasing camera gear, I would greatly appreciate it if you use the links above!
Leaving Oslo is always a painful affair for me – and I’ve been finding myself in Norway once a year now, because I love it so much.
This time, I needed one more long trip to hit Star Alliance Gold, and Norway flights happened to be the most reasonable option for an extended Labor Day weekend trip. So naturally, I booked flights with a friend and hopped across the pond to the happiest country on earth (literally).
I hadn’t actually explored Oslo in at least three years – last summer, we spent about 12 hours there on our way out, and the year before, I came for a winter wonderland new years. But the last time I had a few days of decent weather in Oslo was 2013, so I was ready to see it all! After all, moving to Norway is a serious goal of mine, so I treat every trip as a research event.
We found the cutest two-bedroom apartment in the Grünerløkka neighborhood, and walked almost everywhere (unless we were crunched for time). When you arrive at the airport, take the local train to Oslo Sentralstasjon – seriously, it’s half the price of the Flytoget and only takes a few minutes longer – and stop by a Narvesson to pick up a bus pass. A 7-day pass costs 240 NOK, and you just have to tap it on a screen the first time you hop onto a bus.
If you ever head towards Oslo (or anywhere else in Norway – I’ve probably seen it), let me know! I’m madly in love with that country.
Villa Paradiso – bustling little pizza shop in Grünerløkka. Put your name in, and have a cocktail at the adjoined bar, Bar Bellini.
Egget Kafe – A cute little bistro overlooking a fountain with an egg in the middle. Catch a midmorning breakfast, and watch all the locals walking their pups!
Riwaj of India – great casual Indian spot with a warm, sultry atmosphere. Save room for dessert.
Hitchhiker – Asian tapas, located on the second floor of Mathallen Oslo (which you should also wander). Get 2-3 courses per person, and then get dessert.
Stockfleth’s – this really ended up being our favorite coffee chain on the trip. We spent half a day working remotely, and I ended up taking a couple of bags of coffee home!
Tim Wendelboe – recommended by the New York Times, and a fabulous little roaster shop. No space for working, so just grab your espresso to go.
Kulturhuset – recently relocated to a large space on Carl Youngs Gate, this bar has several rooms on several floors. Check out the local beer selection, and cozy up in the library room.
Postkontoret – formerly an actual post office – this place is now a pizzeria, coffee shop, and bar. Grab an iced coffee and chat up some locals on the patio.
Oslo Mekaniske Verksted – once a mechanic garage (circa 1850), now a hipster cocktail bar with plenty of nooks and crannies and midcentury modern furniture to cozy up to – and a fireplace! They don’t have a kitchen, but you can bring outside food with you.
Oslo Opera House – this is usually everyone’s first stop as a visitor. How can you not? Snøhetta’s killer opera house is a stunner, and you can climb all over it.
Mellomkollen – taking the bus to a trailhead is the norm in Norway, and you can even take your dog. Based on the maps my hosts had, a ton of trailheads branch off from this area, and we even did some swimming in a lake. Pack a sandwich and live your best Norwegian life. Blue markers are for summer trails, and red ones are for winter trails.
Øya (Norwegian for “Islands”) – with your bus pass, you also get access to the ferries that cross the bay all day. You could pay $40 or more for a fjord tour, but taking the free ferries to the islands was a fun tip from our Norwegian friends. Bring a swimsuit on a warm day, and jump in to the water off Hovedøye – there’s nothing quite like it.
Ekebergparken – One thing I love about Oslo is that it can feel like you’re in the middle of an old world city one minute, and the next, you could be on the edge of a mountainside forest. Ekebergparken is one of those places. Wander the park, enjoy the views, and check out the weird sculptures all over the place.
Kleivstua – if you have access to a car and want to have a really, really good meal, head over to Kleivstua for a city escape, or just a fantastic fine dining meal for not a ridiculous price. We had 4 courses and several glasses of wine for about $160 USD per person. Get there early and take the 20 minute hike to Kongens Utsikt (The King’s View) – work up that appetite just enough to hike back down and relax in front of a fireplace.
“When I got to my gate at JFK, it was chaos — it was like we were already in Morocco.”
This was the response we got when we greeted my friend Lauren and asked how her flight was. To be completely honest, I had a similar experience on my flight from Brussels to Marrakesh.
I had a middle seat, which I don’t usually mind — short legs! There was an older, very glamorous Moroccan woman in the window seat, and she repeatedly tried to speak Moroccan Arabic and French to me. My modern standard Arabic was rusty at best, and French words just sound like Arabic words I simply do not know… so we quickly gave up on communicating.
But when my aisle seat companion arrived, she was a tiny young woman with a toddler — and before I knew it, she just handed me her baby while she got situated. And right before landing, the woman in the window seat made a phone call in Spanish (yes, mid-flight), and we realized we had a common language after all. She invited me and my two girlfriends to stay at her oceanfront home in Tangier.
This is Morocco.
Marrakesh is a loud, bustling cultural capital awash with pink clay — meant to keep the buildings cool and the light unblinding. The streets are really just alleys with names, and it’s a city of juxtapositions that feel comfortable and unnatural at the same time: Porsche SUVs and donkey carts loaded with oranges share the roads, and in Djemma al-Fna, a cobra handler will put a snake on your neck no matter how hard you protest (in Arabic, French, and English, because that’s how we roll).
The Lonely Planet describes Fes as an assault on the senses, but Marrakesh has its own aggressive personality, too. Wherever you go, the fumes from motorbikes will invade your lungs — but then you’ll pass by a French bakery, or a fresh orange juice cart, and you forget about the fumes for a few minutes.
In the souks, the shopkeepers will pull you in and pour argan oil into your hands, and then open up tall glass jars of blocks that look like soap, inviting you to smell every apothecary glass in their shop. Tagines bubble over open flames, and butchers shoo kittens away from their windows. Someone almost always yells “NO PHOTOS” at me as I capture moments in the souk — the lantern shops are the most mesmerizing.
I turned 30 in Marrakesh, with two of my closest friends, who not surprisingly, have more in common with each other than either of them has with me. We arrived in Marrakesh to a torrential downpour, and ran through the streets of the old medina in search of our riad.
Riad, in Arabic, refers to a large building with no exterior windows, but an interior courtyard — something that keeps the noise of the city out of the home. Some riads are restaurants, some are mini hotels, and most are both. All of them are simply beautiful.
Marrakesh is the perfect introduction to Morocco: aggressive peddling to tourists, souks that connect reality to what Disney portrayed in Aladdin, and plenty of rooftop restaurants and cafes to pique your interest with Moroccan food. But beware visiting only Marrakesh — because there is so much more to Morocco, and Marrakesh is simply the epicenter of all Moroccan tourism. It claims to be the center of all culture in Morocco, but if there’s anything we learned on our two week road trip throughout central and northern Maroc, it’s that Marrakesh was merely an introduction to what was a deluge of Moroccan history, scents, politics, and culture.
In all, go to Marrakesh — but don’t let it be your only stop.
Have multiple meals at: I Limoni. We did.
Sleep and relax at: Riad Lena. I would stay there a million times again.
Buy a pool pass for: Palais Namaskar, or go with the classic, La Mamounia. Pro tip: reserve your day pass in advance, because they were sold out the whole time we were in Marrakesh.
Escape the city life for: Essouiara. Take a luxury bus from the Marrakesh train station, and spend the day wandering the seaside souks.