Whether you're a beginning photographer looking to stock your toolkit, a serious hobbyist hitting a creative plateau or a seasoned pro seeking new inspiration, there are a myriad of innovative photography tools to help you push through to the next level.
Drawing upon this arsenal can help you master new skills and techniques and The essentials highlighted here will whet your creative palette, whether you enjoy photographing nature, portraits, architecture, food or just taking great shots of your pet.
Focus on: the Camera
If you're just starting out, you'll need to invest in an SLR camera, or single-lens reflex camera. An SLR camera uses a mirror and prism system, enabling the photographer to see precisely what will be captured in the lens. You can change out lenses to suit your needs, and SLR cameras offer control and flexibility over shutter speed, exposure and lighting.
dslr photocamera via Shutterstock
Lower-level SLRs are great for a first-time owner because their settings are simpler and they tend to be smaller and lighter than their more expensive counterparts (if a camera feels a little heavy, don’t be concerned – your arm will get used to the weight). You can find information and reviews about different cameras at online retailers or at your local camera shop, where a salesperson should be able to assess your needs, as there are things to consider before you make the purchase. Some camera shops may loan out a camera for you to 'try before you buy'; however, these usually apply to connected professionals rather than a beginner.
Investing in a great camera at the start of your photography passion is a good move. It may be above your initial budget, but with proper care and maintenance, a solid camera will last you years.
Focus on: the Lens
If you're in a rut, upgrading your lenses will kick-start your creativity and improve the quality of your images. Having a variety of lenses gives photographers great new ideas for different exposures and zoom lengths to match the needs of what style photography you are pursuing.
DSLR Lens via Shutterstock
Short or wide-angle lens. These let you get close to people and portrait subjects with a narrow range of focus, highlighting the subject and de-emphasizing the background.
Longer lens. If you are into shooting action or sports, a longer lens will allow you to get close to the action without leaving the side of the field. A longer lens will also enable you to zoom in on animals and nature without being intrusive or putting yourself in harm's way.
Focus on: the Gear
Tripod. A tripod is essential for shooting in lower light or slow shutter speed. Many people cannot hand-hold steadily below 1/50 shutter speed but even at slightly faster speeds, a tripod helps steady the camera and sharpens the image. Tripods are made to either stand behind or place on a flat surface, such as a table, and often have features that allow you to move the camera to the angle you want rather than moving the whole tripod.
photographer via Shutterstock
Meters. Cameras meter for an entire scene using the built-in system of the camera. A handheld incident meter will allow you to focus on the exact spot you want your photo to be exposed for, allowing for better control over your image.
Lights. Once you understand light and how to use it to your advantage, you've got to decide what kinds of lights you need. A hot-shoe clip-on flash light allows for varying levels and directions of lighting when shooting a subject. The amount of light can be turned down and the flash can be synced with an exposure time to ensure a proper exposure. A clip-on flash is more powerful than a house flash and will illuminate a subject farther away. Using a flash cord with a clip-on flash can light a subject from a different angle than just the camera can.
Hardware and software. Photo editing software is a must for fine-tuning the photos you have worked so hard for. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom are two examples of photo editing software that can transcend your photos with just a few clicks. Basic cropping, color-correcting and fixing the balance on photos are basic skills that can be mastered easily, and actions can be downloaded to give a series of photos the same effect. You can also use the software to watermark your photos so that you can show them online with less worry of them being downloaded without your permission.
Memory cards. These are another necessity, but don't think you have to buy one that offers the largest storage available – buying more than one quality memory card with smaller storage capacity enables cameras to work quicker, and provides better insurance against losing a lot of photos if the card malfunctions or gets lost.
Focus on: the Web
If you're looking to make money off your images, obviously a website is mandatory to share your portfolio, pricing and contact information with potential clients. But if you need physical, hold-in-your-hand images, there are many services available online for making overnight prints and enlargements. You can have quality photos sent to your home or a large nearby business for pickup.
macro shot of www and cursor via Shutterstock
Posting your images online is probably the easiest way to share your images with the world, providing you take the necessary steps to protect them. Participating on sites like Flickr and in online photography forums are great ways to get feedback and draw inspiration.
Along with showing off your hard work to the world, you may also want a little return on your investment of time and equipment. Microstock online websites can sell your images as stock photography and, while you may make a small amount of money on each photo, adding many images will help make a constant return on your photography each month. Museums and art galleries can be a way to share your photographs and make a profit from the sale of your prints.
With these tools and time behind a camera, you can bring your photography skills to the next level and create a career with them or just further your enjoyment of a photography hobby.
Top feature image Nature photographer via Shutterstock
Megan McClain is a former reporter, photographer and substitute teacher, Megan McClain married her high school sweetheart is now mother to a three year old and a chihuahua. She loves writing and her camera, even though most of her life is captured through her iPhone.