Here's a list of fun, affordable items to help improve your photography. You may even find something on this list you've never heard of that becomes a core photo essential.
One of the keys to developing the photographic eye is to look through the eyes of the greats. I love to study and learn from photo books. Here are two of my favorites...
Landscape and Travel
Sebastio Salgdado is one of the greatest photographers alive. This book is just an incredible gift for anyone who loves photography.
I find myself reaching for it for ideas and inspiration on a regular basis.
Arnold Newman was a master of the portrait and he photographed the great artists, leaders and newsmakers of yesteryear. His image of Stravinsky at his piano has always astounded me. Each image has something profound to say about his subject. If you enjoy photographing people, this book is for you.
TOOLS FOR THE FIELD & STUDIO
These lightweight affordable rain covers do a great job protecting expensive gear from the elements. I always have one in my bag in case. Yeah, they come in handy here in Oregon more than I'd care to admit.
Tripod Stabilizer (Stone Bag)
This ingenious little lightweight guy connects to your tripod legs and allows you to pile rocks or heavy items into it to help anchor your tripod down to increase it's stability. I always advocate carrying the heaviest tripod you can for stability, this can help make that easier on your back.
I carry these ingenious Filter Nests by MindShift with me everywhere. They hold four filters and protect them nicely while allowing me to access them with ease. Well made, simple and elegant. I have one for my neutral density filters and one for my UVs and polarizer.
Neutral Density Filters
Neutral density filters help the photographer take creative control of time through shutter speed. A good neutral density filter acts like a perfectly neutral pair of dark glasses in front of the lens allowing you to use a slower shutter speed, or wider aperture to capture the creative look you want. I've been testing Hoya's new Solas line out. They are very neutral down to 10 stops and also filter out infrared light, which can have negative effects on ultra-long exposures.
My Favorite Camera Strap
Black Rapid's Sport strap lets your camera stay on your hip comfortably until the moment you need it when it slides up the strap to meet your eye. The shoulder pad is comfy and the carry is dialed for moving around comfortably with your camera on photo adventures both urban and wild.
Big Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
You can never have too many of these. I like to carry large cleaning cloths for situations where I'm dealing with water on my filters whether from rain or mist. Sometimes I drape them over the camera between shots in really misty situations (like waterfalls). These are big nice and washable.
These pre-moistened lint wipes by Zeiss help you get rid of the stubborn dirt, oil and fingerprints from your fine optics without leaving a residue. You just tear open the wrapper, pull out the cloth and use it before it dries. After I wipe my lens I usually hit my sunglasses and smartphone screen. I always have a few of them in my bag.
These little Think Tank Photo Red Whips are a simple and colorful way to keep all those cords and cables in your bag from tangling into a mess. These days we've got chargers, memory card readers, laptop cords, hard drives cables tangling up in our gear bags. Keeping them tidy with cinches like these helps a lot with the clutter.
Sensor Cleaning Kits
The more we swap lenses and work in dusty environments the more chance of dust on our sensors. I'm a big advocate of frequently blowing out the sensor and wet cleaning when necessary. If you aren't sure how to clean your sensor, I have this series of videos. For ON1 Plus members, you can find them free here. If you don't have a Rocket Air Blaster, you should get one and use it. This wet cleaning kit is what you need when the blower won't get your full-frame sensor clean, if you use a smaller sensor choose this kit instead.
Cheap Backup Storage Method:
Here's a fun way to add lots of storage and backup for your files without breaking the bank. Just connect this docking station to your computer via USB3 and you can drop in and swap cheap, reliable internal hard drives like this one to store your files on.
Hope everyone enjoys lots of good food and family this holiday season.