With relatively powerful point-and-shoot cameras built in to every smart phone, it’s never been easier to take a picture–but slapping an Instagram filter on a photo of your lunch doesn’t make a good photo. Are you looking to stand out from the crowd? Is your equipment holding you back from being the photographer you know you can be? Try these 4 essentials for stepping up your photography immediately.
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A prime lens: Lens upgrades, while costly upfront, are the most fundamentally important addition you can make to your camera setup that will quickly improve your photos. Many entry-level cameras come with basic zoom lenses with sub-par glass and limited aperture and focal lengths. Ask yourself what kind of pictures you take. Family snapshots and portraits? Consider a fast 35mm or 50mm prime lens. This will enable you to quickly take pictures, in lower lights than you’re used to, without fussing with your lens settings. These prime lenses will also teach you to compose your photographs well, within a fixed frame. Short focal length prime lenses are often inexpensive, as well. Love photographing sports or wildlife? Take a look at prime lenses with focal lengths of 200mm and up. These lenses have many benefits. They are longer than most kit lenses, allowing you to capture the action from farther away than you’re used to. They usually have fast apertures, which will allow you to increase your shutter speed for tack-sharp pictures. Additionally, they are much more inexpensive than long-length zoom lenses.
A sturdy tripod: Tripods are an ace in the hole that separates amateur photographers from artistic visionaries. Tripods have two primary purposes. They allow you to frame, compose, and take shots without using your hands, and they also allow you to take long exposures without the camera shake that hands introduce. A well-built, heavy, metal tripod is important–if your tripod is a flimsy piece of plastic that blows around in the wind, you won’t be very happy with the results of those 30 second exposures.
A dedicated flash: Are you tired of washed-out pictures? Conversely, are your photos in darkness still just not quite bright enough? A dedicated flash solves these problems. Included flashes on most modern cameras are laughably underpowered. They also are unidirectional, which can lead to that “deer in the headlights” look if you’re too close to your subject. The solution is a dedicated hot shoe flash unit. These flashes slide onto the top of your camera, and typically are fully adjustable. Want a soft, diffused portrait? Aim your dedicated flash to bounce off a ceiling onto your subject, and bask in the beautiful light. Need to freeze quick action? No problem, just set your flash speed to burst for a short duration. The possibilities are endless–there are even people who consider themselves “strobists,” whose main focus in photography is manipulating light sources. Even if you don’t go that far, you will appreciate a dedicated flash.
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Powerful photo editing software: The big guy here, obviously, is Photoshop, but there are alternatives: GIMP (free), Aperture (Apple/OS X), Pixlr (web app). No matter which photo editing software you choose (or can afford), your photos will never reach a higher level without it. Modern picture editing software is so powerful that it can completely transform your pictures–as in, transform your subjects or settings into other things entirely–but the software doesn’t need to be used in that manner. Having the ability to adjust hue, saturation, levels, brightness and contrast–these things are what make the difference between a good photo and a great photo. Today’s software offers extremely powerful filters, the ability to burn and dodge, erasers, red-eye fixes, and even more. Think of your software as a digital darkroom for your pictures–but without the smell of chemicals and much, much higher octane.
Photographs can be what your eye makes them, whether they be expressive art pieces or fun family snapshots. Whatever type of photography you want to pursue, make sure to consider equipment upgrades to get the most out of your pictures.