A few years ago, we released a “best photography accessories” post, and it was really popular. It's time for a 2016 update.
Some of the items from 5 years ago are still on the list and remain in my photo bag. Others are new items that I've tested more recently.
#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. Get Pec Pads on Amazon.
NOTE: All links to Amazon on Improve Photography are affiliate links. That means we get a commission from Amazon for recommending their services. It doesn't cost you an extra dime, and it means you can support Improve Photography. Thank you!
#2: 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 very often when I'm shooting outdoor portraits.
Most reflectors are all the same, but I like this one because it's significantly larger and rectangular-shaped, which I find to make more sense because the human body isn't round (mine happens to be, but most aren't 🙂 ).
#3: BlackRapid RS-5 Camera Strap
Time for an admission. I have not used a camera strap even once in the last 2 years. I know I shouldn't. I know it's risky, but I laugh in the face of danger 🙂
But the strap that I've liked most over the years is the Black Rapid. If you're smarter than me and actually use a strap, then I'd recommend this one. Whatever you do, don't use the standard one that comes with the camera unless you like wearing razor blades around your neck. Get it on Amazon.com.
#4: The Famous YN-560 IV Flash
Without question, this is the best photography item I've ever found under $100. I've purchased dozens of these over the last 6 years. I was using these cheap manual flashes before it was cool to use these cheap manual flashes (because you KNOW how important it is to look cool). No, I haven't purchased dozens because they have broken. In fact, only one of them has ever died on me, and that was after I drowned it in a lake. I just like having lots of speedlights, and I upgrade each time they release a new version.
The speedlights from Canon and Nikon often cost between $350 and $600. That's crazy! The YN-560IV does everything I need from a speedlight for only $70. They are extremely reliable.
If you're ready to jump into flash photography, I'd recommend checking out the recommended flash photography gear page where we'll link you to the stuff you need to get started. Then, if you need some help with flash photography, I might also point you to Jim Harmer's Lighting in a Flash video training.
#5: Photoshop and Lightroom
It used to be that photogs had to shell out over $600 for Photoshop, but Adobe introduced Creative Cloud, where you can pay $9.99 per month and get access not just to Photoshop, also Lightroom. 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 Photoshop and Lightroom separately. Get Creative Cloud from Adobe.
#6: 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.
Dusty O got me converted on this little gem at a model shoot a few years ago, 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! Get it on Amazon.com.
#7: Photography Education
I'm sorry to plug my own stuff here, but I think we can all admit that gear is rarely what's holding us back. If you were to buy all of the training products on Improve Photography that we've done in the last several years, you'd pay $1,881, but you can get EVERYTHING in one spot for just $19.95/month now.
It's not just video trainings (though there are many many hours of video tutorials in there). You'll also have access to hundreds of Lightroom presets, contracts to use with photography clients, raw files you can use to replace boring skies in your photos, and lots more. Start your two week trial of Improve Photography Plus and I know you'll love it.
#8: 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.
Last week I was shooting in Iceland and I got lazy and failed to put on a rain cover when I was shooting behind a waterfall. Although my camera was weather sealed, my lens was not and it fouled up the lens. Get this one on Amazon.
#9: Streamlight 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 light paintings.
This is a great little flashlight for light painting small areas because you can control the zoom and power in a small form-factor. You can buy it on Amazon.com for around $15.
#10: Sirui 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 like this inexpensive monopod from Sirui.
#11: 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. Get it on Amazon.
#12: 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 gels because it has a wallet to keep them organized.
#13: 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 this light tent with several background colors for around $20 on Amazon.
#14: External Hard Drive
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 3 terabyte, or you can get 4 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. Get it here.
#15: Shutterbug Photography Magazine Subscription
For the UNBELIEVABLE price of $17, you can get a one-year print subscription to Shutterbug Magazine mailed to your house. Check out the May 2016 issue to see my photo on the front cover! Subscribe here.
#16: Photoshop Cheat Stickers
If you haven't learned all the thousands of keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop, you'll love these little stickers that go on your keyboard to remind you of the shortcuts until you memorize them. A sure way to speed up your workflow in the long run. You can pick up a set for around $6 on Amazon.
#17: L Plate
Last week in Iceland I was shooting a new camera body that was just released, so there isn't an L plate available for it yet. Using a standard quick release, I nearly drove myself crazy! I forgot how convenient it is to use an L plate.
An L plate is a replacement for the quick release plate that clips under your camera to attach to the ballhead on your tripod. On a standard quick release plate, you have to flop the camera awkwardly off the side of the ballhead to shoot vertical, and doing a panorama is very tough.
An L plate is in the shape of an L. It connects in the same spot under your camera, but the plate extends the length of the bottom of the camera and turns the angle up the side of the camera. When you want to shoot vertical, you quickly release the plate, turn the camera sideways, and attach the plate on the side of the camera to the ballhead. Boom! It's really handy.
You have to get an L plate made specifically for your camera model (ignore the listings for “universal” l plates), but they usually only cost about $40. If you shoot landscape or some other type of photography where you use a tripod frequently, an L plate should be the next accessory in your wish list.
Here's the Amazon page for L plates.
#18: Magnified Viewfinder Lens
#19: Photo Vest
My wife has begged me not to sport a photo vest, but I think I will soon cave and start wearing one every time I shoot. It is much more convenient to wear your gear than carry it on your back on a backpack. I found this trendy-looking photo vest for around $80 on Amazon.
#20: A Wacom Tablet
If you feel like you don't have enough control or creative outlets by using your Magic Mouse, you might consider buying a Wacom tablet. This allows you to work in Photoshop by simply drawing on the tablet. I LOVE my Wacom tablet and use it constantly in working in Photoshop. This small Wacom tablet only costs about $45!
#21: Beauty Dish
Now that you have your fancy YN-560 flash, you'll want a diffuser to use with it. The beauty dish is amazingly popular in photography right now, and the good news is that you can buy one for just $48.
#22: A Gorrillapod
I certainly wouldn't use a gorrillapod as a replacement for a tripod, but they are really convenient for hooking up a camera for time lapse and other specialized uses. Fun product. They cost around $40 for a large one.