Having the best gear in the world is never going to make you an awesome photographer, but there is gear out there that will make your job easier and help to produce better results and improve your photography – that’s what this list is all about. I can personally recommend everything on this list. All links take you to Amazon US.
Stabilised Lens – Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS Lens
It may seem unusual that a stabilised lens would improve your photography, but I assure you, your photos will come out a lot sharper as the stabilisation with help to counteract any movement in your hands when you’re taking shots at a slower shutter speed. The stabilisation on this particular lens will keep the photos steady for 3 further stops, which effectively means that you could shoot at the same shutter speed you would be using at f/1.4, while you’re shooting on f/4 – a huge difference.
Tripod – Slik Pro Tripod With Ball Head
Tripods are particularly useful when you’re shooting in low light conditions at longer exposures as perching your camera on a wall is really no substitue. A solid tripod will adapt to any situation that you throw at it, and will allow you to play around with longer shutter speeds. You can find lightweight tripods like this Aluminum-Magnesium-Titanium alloy one, which will absorb movements on the ground, while still remain stable as you weigh it down with your bag to prevent movement from the wind and your hands. The added functionality of the ball head allows you do change the position of your camera with ease into any rotation you could imagine.
External Flash Unit – Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash
This is one of the most important purchases for you to buy when you get your new camera as it can become incredibly adaptable to create the sort of light that you’re not used to from a flash. Buying the actual flash unit is just the beginning, you can then play around with fill flash and slow sync flash and start to modify the light with different diffusers and gels. This is probably in the top 2 accessories I recommend every digital SLR users buy on the day they buy their camera. If you use it properly, you can’t even tell that a flash has been used.
Flash Transmitter – Canon Speedlite Transmitter
This takes the flash mentioned above and adds a whole range of posibility to it. By using this transmitter, you can take the flash off the camera and still be able to trigger it wirelessly with all of the in-camera controls that you had before. Not only does a flash look way better when it’s off camera, but it also opens up the opportunity to mount the flash behind much bigger lighting modifiers than just a diffusion cup. If ever I’m out taking photos with a model, I never mount the flash on my camera, even if I don’t have a stand with me and have to hold it, it’s still worth it.
Beauty Dish – Beauty Dish Flash Honeycomb
I recently bought a beauty dish and for the price, the results are spectacular, and the addition of the honeycomb grid on the front improves the photos even further. A beauty dish sends out indirect light which is bounced around the dish before illuminating the subject. The grid that goes in front takes this soft light and forces the light through the holes in the front into a straight line and over my subject. Have a look at this photo below, it was taken using a beauty dish and a grid; look how natural the light looks and the soft shadows that appear on the face.
Reflector – 40-Inch 5-in-1 Reflector
This has similar uses to an off camera flash, only it’s a lot cheaper and less adaptable, but more natural looking. When the main source of light is behind or to the side of the subject, a great way to create the fill in light is to use a reflector to bounce some of the light back onto the subject. The main advantages of this is that it’s cheap and doesn’t have the look of being shot with a flash, which is quite common these days. This particular reflector folds up nice and small and has 5 different colours for you to play with.
Flash Gels – Color Correction Gels
Again, this is another accessory for your flash, but it’s cheap and it makes a big difference so there’s no reason not to buy one. You can effectively change the colour of the light that your flash puts out with these gels to either suit the ambient lighting that you’re in, or for creative effect. Bare flash can be a little bit garish, so it helps to change the colour to suit the lighting where possible. If you have one, put a diffuser cap on the end of flash too, that way the light will look a lot more natural.
Lighting Stand – Adjustable Light Stand
Lighting stands take a lot of the added stress out of using an off camera flash on a photo shoot because you no longer have to worry about holding the flash or putting it down somewhere that it’ll illuminates your subject well. They’re pretty cheap for what they do, but make sure you buy a hotshoe adapter for top and a sandbag to weigh it down at the bottom. You may wonder how a stand will help improve your photography, but I assure you, when you can stop wasting your time worrying about different aspects of your gear, it opens up your mind to think about more creative, photographic options.
Grey Card – Color & White Balance Grey Card Set
This simple little accessory is the key to making sure you get accurate colours in your photos every time you take them. Make sure you’re shooting in RAW and take a photo of a grey card in each lighting situation and you can use the colour picker in your post production software to pick out the neutral grey and use that to set the white balance accurately. I personally own this exact same set in the UK and I carry it around my neck when I’m on a job and get my model to hold it for me so that I can set it later.
Polarising Filter – Hoya PRO1 Digital CIRCULAR PL
Polarizing filters are great and essential for most photographers. To see what exactly they do, have a look at this article here. Remember to make sure you’re getting the right size for your lens and that you’re buying a circular (as apposed to linear) filter for a digital camera. Linear polarizing filters confuse the autofocus on modern cameras. The filter will remove glare and make your photos a lot more vibrant in bright daylight. I’ve linked to the one I use because I use a very good quality lens, and I always recommend you buy the best one you can afford because there’s no point spending good money on a lens and then putting some cheap glass in front of it.