About this time a year ago, I wrote about the best photography accessories of 2011, and I think it’s time for an update for 2012 because this year I have found some really cool products, along with other products that remain my favorites.
Fantastic Accessory #1: Pec Pads I can’t believe that more photographers haven’t discovered these! I used to use microfiber cloths to clean my lenses and camera, but no matter what they advertise, it always ended up just getting more lint on my lenses. Even if the cloth itself is lint free, it still gets lint on it from being tossed around in the camera bag. Pec pads totally solve this problem because they are DISPOSABLE! You can get a package of 100 for around $10 that will last for well over a year or more. Buy PecPads on at B&H Photo or buy it on Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #2: Monoprice Graphics Tablet Have you ever watched a photography video tutorial where the photographer used a Wacom Tablet instead of a mouse as he worked in Photoshop? Graphics tablets are incredibly convenient for working on photos, but they are usually extremely expensive. I got a tip from another pro photographer who recommended this Monoprice tablet. I bought one and I’m convinced as a former Wacom owner–this cheap tablet is just as good or better and only costs $50. Buy it from Monoprice or you can buy it from Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #3: A 5-in-1 Reflector These are used by portrait photographers to throw shade on the subject being photographed to avoid harsh shadows, and they also come with materials you can put on the large disc to reflect sunlight onto the face. I use reflectors every single time I shoot portraits outdoors–no exceptions. For $30, it’s an easy choice. Buy it from B&H Photo or you can buy one from Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #4: Black Rapid RS-5 Camera Strap I have used and seen many many different camera straps, but this one continues to be my favorite. It is a sling strap so the camera is out of your way at your side rather than attacking your neck. Once you try a premium strap like this one, you’ll never use the stock strap again. It’s like heaven for your neck–seriously! It also has a pocket for business or memory cards. Buy it at B&H Photo or get it on Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #5: The Famous YN-560 II Flash If you’ve been reading ImprovePhotography.com for long, you know that I LOVE this flash! I have used all of the expensive flash gear, but I keep coming back to the YN-560 speedlight flash. It is a manual flash, which is the way that I (and most pro photographers I’ve worked with) prefer to shoot. I own A LOT of them! For 2012, this flash has been updated with the version II. Buy this amazingly inexpensive flash on Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #6: Photoshop CS6 WHAT!??!?! Photoshop CS6 for under $100? It used to be that photogs had to shell out over $600 for Photoshop, but Adobe recently introduced Creative Cloud, where you can pay $49.99 per month and get access not just to Photoshop, but all of the Adobe products in the master collection (Illustrator for graphics, Indesign for layout, Premiere for video, etc). Obviously, it violates our under $100 rule to include this since you have to pay each month, but it’s still a great deal that removes an enormous barrier to entry. And if you figure out the price, it’s actually quite the good deal compared to buying all those programs. Get Creative Cloud from Adobe.
Fantastic Accessory #7: The Rogue Flashbender I have tested many different on-camera flash diffusers, and most of them are no better than Tupperware. On-camera flash diffusers attach to a speedlight flash and help diffuse and direct the light so that it looks a bit better than the ugly direct flash from a speedlight mounted on the camera. While I think most of these are over-priced marketing ploys, the Rogue Flashbender is truly unique. Dustin got me converted on this little gem while shooting a video for our online portrait photography class, and now I’m hooked! The Rogue Flashbender acts as a little softbox with a diffusion panel, a snoot to direct the light, and the world’s best bounce card. For just $30 or so, the Flashbender is amazing! Buy it on B&H Photo or get it on Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #8: Quit spending money on gear and invest in your photography education! I’m sorry to plug my own stuff here, but as I’m writing this I can’t help but think that even though these are really cool accessories, you’d probably see a much better improvement in your photos by spending your time LEARNING photography. There are many great ways to learn photography online, such as Kelby Training, CreativeLive, and I also teach 30-day online photography classes for just $97.
Fantastic Accessory #9: Sandbags If you own any lighting equipment with light stands, you definitely need a sandbag. Seems like every photographer, including me, puts off buying one until you break your first strobe, umbrella, or softbox from carelessly using it without a sandbag and the wind blows it over. It’s like spending $10 to save $100. Pick this one up on Amazon or buy this one from B&H Photo.
Fantastic Accessory #10: Inexpensive DSLR rain cover Beginning outdoor photographers run for shelter when it rains, but more experienced photographers know that some of their best pictures come when a storm is approaching because of the dramatic skies. I also use a rain cover when shooting waterfalls because of the spray from the falls. No matter how weather sealed your camera is, a DSLR rain cover is a smart choice to carry in your camera bag. You have two options: a cheap disposable rain cover for around $6 if you doubt you’ll need it often, or a sturdy reusable one that will last you a lifetime for $35 if you think you’ll use it enough. Get the cheap one on at B&H Photo or on Amazon. Or get a sturdy reusable rain cover through Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #11: THE flashlight for small light paintings Have you heard of light painting? Dave Black is the master of small table-top light paintings and he recommends the Streamlight flashlight for his lightpaintings. You can buy it on Amazon.com for around $15.
Fantastic Accessory #12: A High-quality Monopod You probably won’t ever realize how often a monopod is the right tool for the job until you own one. In situations where you’d like a lot of stability but a tripod is impractical, a monopod can make life simpler and your shots sharper. I use a monopod when I go to the zoo with my family, when shooting sports or wildlife, when hiking with my photo gear, etc. I found this high-quality Manfrotto monopod for $60 on B&H Photo or you can get it on Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #13: A Camera Creature! If you shoot kids, families, or babies you need a camera creature! It’s a cool little eye-grabbing attention-getter that wraps around your lens to make the child look at the camera. These have been very popular on Pinterest lately (follow me on pinterest!). Very handy item that is worth its weight in gold, but only costs $19. Buy it at B&H Photo or get it on Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #14: Flash Gels A gel is not gel-like at all. It is a sheet of transparent plastic that colors the light cast by the flash. If you own a flash unit but you have never purchased gels, this will be the most fun $15 you spend this week. I frequently use gels when doing shoots to get the light to match the ambient light or to introduce a creative color into the scene. I like this set of Rosco gels that you can buy at B&H Photo or through Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #15: A Light Tent. If you shoot products, macro, or food photography, you need a light tent. A light tent is an easy and cheap way to achieve incredibly soft and even light for small items which are put inside the light tent. I found a 40″ light tent with several background colors for around $55 on Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #17: Photoshop Elements 10 If you’d rather not take on the monthly expense of Creative Cloud for the full version of Photoshop mentioned in #6, then Photoshop Elements is for you! Photoshop Elements is the beginner version of Photoshop, but it is incredibly powerful. In fact, 95% or more of what I do in Photoshop can be achieved in the same way by using Photoshop Elements. Learn about the difference between Photoshop, Elements, and Lightroom here and then buy Photoshop Elements 10 at B&H Photo or through Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #18: External Hard Drive for Photo Storage If you have a ton of photos, or if you need a backup of your photos (and yes, you do need a backup), then an external hard drive is a great choice. You can get an external hard drive that plugs into your computer via USB for under $100 for a 1 terabyte, or you can get 3 terabytes if you bend the $100 rule of this article and spend $30 more. I have used Seagate externals for a long time and have always had very good luck with them. Buy this one on B&H or get this one on Amazon.com.
Fantastic Accessory #19: Outdoor Photographer Magazine. For the UNBELIEVABLE price of $11, you can get a one-year subscription to Outdoor Photographer magazine. Subscribe on Amazon.
Fantastic Accessory #20: This one is up to you! What awesome photography item did I miss in this article? Let me know in a post below so I can include it next time I do one of these awesome gear roundups.