For any aspiring photographer hoping to take their interest to the next level, the right gear is essential. Camera bodies and lenses are the obvious first purchases in any photographic journey, but beyond that, the plethora of gear, gadgets, and accessories available can be overwhelming to any person without experience. For any individual struggling to navigate through the tens and thousands of products, we’ve narrowed it down to the essentials:

1.) The Right Software

Most professionals agree can that programs such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop are the most essential tool in any photographer’s arsenal. They provide the capability to organize, adjust, and correct any flaws within a digital file. Just about anything becomes possible when a photographer is equipped with a computer with the proper software installed. Whether the task is as complicated as repairing a damaged, antiquated negative or as simple as bringing your image’s exposure up by half a stop, you can count on the fact that there are programs readily available through every step of the editing process.

A Nikon Speedlight

2.) Speedlight Flashes

By definition, photography is the practice of drawing with light. Therefore, any tool that can help an artist manipulate and supplement existing light is a tool worth having. A speedlight can be used to create a variety of different looks. Most people are familiar with the practice of using a flash to directly light a dim environment. However, a flash can also be bounced off of a wall, ceiling, or reflector to create a softer, more diffused look. Adding a flash to a brightly lit outdoor scene may seem counterintuitive, but this can be an incredibly effective method of filling harsh shadows. For these reasons, a flash can completely modify the look and feel of a composition. Of course, there are plenty of light sources out there that can be used on set or in the field. However, a speedlight equipped with a sync cord is among one the most portable and manageable light sources on the market.

3.) A Sturdy Tripod

There’s nothing worse than an image being wrecked by unsteady hands. Luckily, a tripod can take all of the guesswork out of the equation by providing your camera with some stability while simultaneously freeing up your hands. Tripods are essential in long exposure photography as well as multiple bracketing exposures required for HDR images.

A CF and SD memory card side by side

4.) Plenty of Memory Cards

There’s no such thing as too much space when it comes to storing photo files. Carrying around spare SD or CF cards is among the easiest ways of ensuring that you won’t have to compromise a shoot. At some point, nearly every photographer is faced with a card full of images or, in the worst case, a card that’s corrupted. Rather than risking stopping dead in your tracks in the middle of a photo shoot, it’s easy enough to just keep spares in a carrying case small enough to fit inside of a pocket or purse.

5.) Cleaning Supplies

It’s no secret that camera bodies and lenses are far from inexpensive. To make them last for as long as possible, it’s incredibly important to perform simple routine maintenance on your device. Microfiber cloths similar to the kind used to polish a pair of reading glasses do an excellent job at wiping away dust, debris, and smudges. The sensitive internal sensor of the camera may also need a cleanse every now and then. Use caution when attempting to remove dust from the camera’s internal mechanism – using a bulb air-blower is a much safer method of cleaning inside rather than swabbing around with a contaminated cloth that may produce scratches.

A passport color checker in the studio

6.) Passport Color Checker

A color checker is the type of tool that can take any photographer’s work from amateur to professional almost instantaneously. By holding up the passport in a consistent lighting scenario, it’s possible to sample swatches in post processing to attain the perfect color balance throughout an entire shoot. While this may seem like a minor detail to focus on, color checkers are just one of the many tools out there that require minimal effort and can both cut down on processing time as well as create a better final result.

A roll of gaffer’s tape

7.) Gaffer’s Tape

This is not on par with the duct tape or scotch tape that you might be accustomed to. In the studio, something as simple as gaffer’s tape can make a huge difference. As one might expect, it is incredibly useful in strapping down moving variables on a scene, such as extension cords or paper backdrops. Pressure based, the adhesive attained with gaffer’s tape is incredibly strong. Yet, once pulled away, it does not leave any sticky residue behind – a major plus for anyone working with equipment worth thousands of dollars collectively. A roll of gaffer’s tape tucked away in a studio or backpack is one of the signs of an experienced photographer ready for any happenstance situation that may be waiting just around the corner.

8.) Hard Drives for Storage

People are quick to consider storage in the form of cases and bags when it comes to physical equipment. However, storage for less tangible image files can often be overlooked until the last possible moment. Consider purchasing a few external hard drives as a “home” for any files you’d like to hold onto – otherwise, they can easily fill up the internal hard drive of your computer and degrade its overall performance. In addition, external hard drives can easily be labeled and stacked away, making organization a breeze and retrieving an image incredibly simple.