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When it comes to photography, we’d love to say that all you need is a camera, lens, and vision. But that simplifies things a bit too much.
Truth is, photography is all about light. To take great photos that you can be proud of, you need to be able to manipulate light. And in order to manipulate light in a way that gets you the end result you envision, you need accessories. Plus photography is hard work! Sometimes it helps to invest in gear that simply makes life easier for you.
Here are the most practical accessories you can buy as a photographer across all skill levels. But don’t rush into them. Buy them as each need arises.
For Beginner Photographers
A tripod stabilizes your camera and prevents your photos from being ruined by shaky hands. This may not be an issue if you shoot in full daylight with high shutter speeds, but tripods are essential if you ever want to do low-light or long-exposure photography.
Choosing slower shutter speeds with smaller apertures during the day can also create some very cool effects. You’ll want a tripod for those shots, too.
2. External Flash
If your camera has a built-in flash, turn it off and never use it again. In almost every situation, you want the light to point in from another direction than the camera itself. Even a few inches above or to the side of the camera can make a huge difference.
An external flash (sometimes called speedlight) mounts to the top of your camera and, depending on what kind you get, can swivel or tilt to aim the light. For example, you can point it upwards and bounce the light off the ceiling to get downward shadows. Learn more in our tips for using flash speedlights.
Fortunately, speedlights aren’t prohibitively expensive: the YONGNUO YN560 IV is affordable and packs a lot of nice features.
3. Flash Diffuser
A flash diffuser is a transparent cap that covers an external flash. Whereas direct flash lighting can be harsh and create hard and unsightly shadows, the diffuser scatters the light and softens shadows. Keep in mind: it also weakens the light and shortens its travel distance.
You’ll need a diffuser designed to fit your specific flash model, unless you get a larger softbox.
4. Rechargeable Batteries
Most external flashes operate using AA batteries, and there’s nothing worse than pulling out your flash for a shoot and finding it dead. Get enough batteries to fill all of your flashes plus two extra sets as backup. But most importantly, make sure they’re rechargeable. Flashes drain battery juice like crazy, and you definitely will not want to keep buying the disposable ones.
5. Battery Charger
A charger is a charger so you can’t really go wrong, but since most external flashes require 4 AA batteries, we recommend a charger with at least 8 AA slots. That way you can recharge two entire flashes at the same time. Also, get one that automatically stops when the batteries are full, otherwise it could impair total recharge capacity.
6. Gray Card
A gray card is literally just that: a card that’s gray. When a digital camera meters light for exposure, it “aims” for 13 percent gray. But you’ll want an 18 percent gray card, which takes reflected light into account. With a gray card, you don’t have to trial-and-error exposure in every new scenario. Just whip it out, meter, and you’re done.
You can also use the gray card to achieve proper white balance. At the start of every shoot, snap a normal shot of the gray card. When post-processing, you can then use that gray as the basis for white balance, and apply those white balance settings to the rest of the shoot.
The three-card pack above is versatile and easy to transport. Best of all, it’s usually less than $10!
7. Cleaning Kit
Even one speck of dust can ruin your shots, which is why regular cleaning is essential. A cleaning kit is ideal, but if you want to do it piece-by-piece, the two things you absolutely need are a lens pen and a dust blower. But really, get a proper cleaning kit.
For Amateur Photographers
8. 30mm or 50mm Lens
A lot of veteran photographers recommend that amateurs get a 50mm lens (the “nifty fifty”), but that advice has full-frame cameras in mind. If you have a cropped sensor, which is true for most entry-level and enthusiast cameras, then you’ll want something closer to 30mm.
The nice thing is that 50mm lenses are some of the cheapest lenses ever (but 30mm are pricey). When you’re just starting out, you don’t need anything better than f/1.8. When you grow into a more serious photographer, then you can upgrade to f/1.4 or even f/1.2.
9. Neutral Density Filters
A neutral density filter mounts onto a lens and reduces the total amount of light coming in. This is fantastic for when you want to shoot in the sun with a wide aperture without a super-fast shutter speed. By artificially darkening the outdoors, you have more creative range.
Neutral density filters can also be graduated, with half of the filter being darker than the rest. This comes in handy for landscape photography in scenarios where you want to darken the bright sky without darkening the beautiful foreground.
Be sure to get a filter that matches the size of your lens!
10. Polarizing Filters
A polarizing filter mounts onto a lens and reduces the amount of light coming in from a specific direction. For example, if you’re getting glare from the sun or if your photo is being ruined by glinting reflections on water, a polarizing filter will mitigate those issues. A must-buy if you do a lot of nature photography.
Again, make sure the polarizer has the same diameter as your lens threads.
11. Remote Shutter Release
A remote shutter release lets you snap shots on your camera without actually touching the body itself. It pairs extremely well with any kind of photography that requires a tripod, namely low-light and long-exposure shots. But it’s also useful for when you want to photograph yourself, especially if you get one that’s wireless.
12. Memory Cards
When you start getting serious about photography, you’ll want to graduate from JPG shots to RAW shots. But RAW images are massively bigger than JPG images and require a lot more storage. These days, running out of space is like running out of film — so always keep several extra memory cards at hand.
But also keep in mind that certain kinds of memory cards are better for photography. Learn more about this in our article on picking the right kind of memory card.
13. Photography Bag
By this point, you have a lot of stuff to carry around. On top of your camera, you may have several flashes, lenses, filters, memory cards, batteries, and more. If it’s too much of a hassle to carry those things around, you’ll never use them. A good photography bag is essential because it makes you more likely to have those necessary accessories on hand when needed.
For Professional Photographers
14. Bounce Reflectors
One of the best ways to elevate your photography, and pretty much a mandatory accessory if you want to go professional or semi-professional, is a bounce reflector. These allow you to take existing light sources and redirect them onto the subject, perhaps to highlight certain features or soften shadows. You’ll need an assistant or a reflector stand to hold it, though.
15. Flash Light Stand
One way to kick up your photography is to start incorporating off-camera flash. This means unmounting the flash unit from your camera and mounting it onto a stand so you can position it anywhere you want and aim it however you want.
16. Flash Umbrella or Softbox
Remember the flash diffuser from your beginner days as a photographer? Now it’s time to level up. A shoot-through umbrella is like a bigger, better, more useful flash diffuser because it turns your tiny flash into a huge light source. A reflective umbrella can be fine too, but it will create a harsher light. A softbox is like a shoot-through umbrella with less light spillage.
You can also get flash umbrella kits that’ll get you set up for a wide range of situations that need better lighting.
17. Flash Snoot
Many budding photographers have never heard of a snoot, and those who have tend to underestimate it. A snoot is basically a flexible tube that fits over a flash unit and concentrates the light in one specific direction. It eliminates spillage, allowing you to, for example, light subjects in dark environments without residual light hitting back walls.
The snoot pictured above comes with a simple velcro attachment mechanism, making it easy to install and remove quickly.
18. Camera Strap
As a professional, your shoots may last several hours or longer. If you’re still using the basic strap that came with your Canon or Nikon, those hours will be uncomfortable. Better to invest in a proper strap as soon as you can, one that’s designed to balance the weight of a camera and minimize shoulder stress.
19. Specialized Lenses
The more you shoot and the more you experiment, the more you’ll know what kind of photography you want to do in future years — and different endeavors call for different lenses. Wildlife? Telephoto lens. Portraits? 80mm prime on full-frame. Street? Something a bit wider and more open. Live events? High-quality zoom.
20. Business Cards
As soon as you decide to go professional or semi-professional, business cards should be printed, ready to go, and carried with you at all times. You never know when an opportunity for business exposure might arise, and you’ll want to take advantage of every single one.
We’ve rounded up dozens of free business card templates that you can use, as well as several services you can use to actually print them. It’s an upfront investment, but a worthwhile one. And compared to the price of photography gear, it’s nothing!
Which of these accessories are missing from your own arsenal? Are there any other accessories you’d consider essential for photographers? Let us know in the comments below!