I know this is a few weeks late, life sometimes just gets in the way. I've been pretty absent other than filling orders. Life is precious; you never know when it will escape you. Treasure every moment of it with the ones you love. Sorry for the PSA, I felt like I owed you short explanation as to my delay, this certainly isn't like me. If you would like to read part 1 - 7 Tips for Photographing Your Kids and Their Livestock you can find it here. Part 2 of the series - 9 Tips for Taking Pictures at the Show is located here.
How It All Started
I fell in love with photography when I had my first baby. That baby is now 14... where does time go!? I didn't know anything about photography when I first started. I consumed everything I could about the subject. I read books, joined forums, took classes and just practiced. I've tried several camera models before I settled on what I currently use and love. Although this works for me, that doesn't mean it will be perfect or even ideal for you.
My Camera Body
I don't think you have to invest in a $2,000 camera body to achieve fantastic pictures. I started out with a very small budget and traded up when my skills were in a place I could justify the expense.
Cameras are a lot like technology, always changing and in most instances constantly getting better. I've owned two Nikon cameras that I've loved. I initially started with a Canon but found I liked the way Nikon fit my hand better; you will just have to try them both and see what suits you best.
My starter Nikon was a D7000, and it was an excellent camera. After using this camera body I wanted full frame and better low light performance, so I upgraded to the Nikon D700, this camera was replaced by the Nikon D800 and the D700 remains one of the most sought Nikon bodies. Often you can find a decent refurbished one on Adorama.
My Favorite Lenes + My Wish List
The real magic is in your glass, and this is where I've invested a lot of my money. Whenever you can buy the top end lens, just do it. You can have a lower budget camera body, the better your glass, the better your photos. Bonus, once you've decided on a brand, you can always upgrade your camera body and continue using your lenses.
My favorite lens is my 85mm f/1.4G; it rarely leaves my camera. I use this for just about everything, almost every single portrait style photo or show image with a sheep in it was taken with this lens. I seriously LOVE this lens. This lens is a fixed focal length, meaning I have to move to change the distance to my subject; I can't adjust it on my camera.
I also own the 50mm f/1.4G. Originally this was my most used and is a great lens on a budget. You will be very pleased with the images you capture with it, and I will always have it in my arsenal. This one is good in the lamb/hog/goat barn and wonderful for portraits as well. This lens is also a fixed length.
The biggest invest in glass happens to be the lens I use in the cattle arena. The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a killer on your pocket book, and there are some lenses you can purchase with very similar results (Tamron and Sigma brand come to mind). This lens is an adjustable focal length so I can change the distance to my subject through my lens. I consider a zoom lens a necessity at the cattle show.
My wish list currently has two lenses on it. A 24-70mm f/2.8 I think I would love having a wide angle/standard zoom lens. This lens has so many uses and would be so handy at lamb shows. The second lens is a 35mm f/1.8 because I love the creamy bokeh this baby creates and I can always use another portrait lens.
My Recommendations to you
Save money and rent gear to see what you like. Rent a camera body you are interested in and a 50mm lens to go with it. Give it a trial run at home and see if it is the one for you. Try both a Nikon and a Canon to see which fits your hands the best. You can rent just about anything under the sun right from your computer, Borrow Lenses is a great resource!
There is no shame in buying used gear. I think I have in the past and it has worked out just fine. My only recommendation is to make sure it is a reputable company. One of my favorites is Adorama.
Even after you have purchased a camera, there is no shame in renting lenses. I rented the 70-200mm for years before I broke down and bought it. I don't think I've even used it enough to justify the purchase at this point however I am sure once my girls are finished showing it will be well used.
Get the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Read it, learn it and test it out so you have a real understanding of how your camera works. This is probably one of the easiest things you can do to get better.
If you want to take a course (something I do every chance I get), I can't say enough good things about Karen Russell's online course Snap Shots of A Good Life.