Photography can be an expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be! Yes, you’ll need some gear in order to snap photos that match your vision, but there are ways to reduce how much it’ll cost you.
The most important thing is this: you don’t have to buy all of that stuff right away. If you’re just starting out in photography, there are a few key bits of essential gear that you should have—and nothing more than that. Once you’ve built up your photography skills, then you can invest in more equipment.
But what are essential gear items for photography? Assuming you already have a cheap but effective camera for photography (and if you don’t, save money with a used DSLR), here’s what you should buy to get started on the right foot.
1. Camera Tripod
Few camera accessories are as versatile and necessary as a tripod. Whether you’re shooting landscape, portrait, night, street, or even wedding photography, you’re going to need a tripod at some point or another.
Tripods are extremely useful in low light settings as the stability of a tripod allows you to take longer-exposure shots without any camera shake. This stability is also crucial for things like night sky photographs and night-time selfie shots.
As a newbie, it’s okay if your first camera tripod is cheap—one that you can mess around with without having to worry about it breaking or getting dirty. The AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod is perfect for its low price and relative portability.
2. Remote Shutter Release
A remote shutter release is useful because it lets you “take a shot” without physically touching the camera body, which eliminates the potential for camera shake and accidental blurring. It’s most often used in conjunction with a tripod.
There are two kinds of remote shutter releases—wired and wireless—but it doesn’t really matter which one you get. More advanced remotes have extra features like half-press support, built-in timers, and LCD screens.
This Neewer Shutter Release Remote Control provides a lot of bang for the buck, but note that you’ll have to buy a remote that’s compatible with your particular brand of camera (Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, etc).
3. Prime Lens
If you don’t have a camera with an interchangeable lens system, you can skip this section. This only applies to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
As you progress in your photography skills, you’ll end up amassing plenty of different lens types that let you take all kinds of shots. But at the start, you’ll be better off starting with a single prime lens. (A prime lens is a lens that doesn’t zoom.)
Why a prime lens? Because the inability to zoom can teach you a lot about proper composition techniques. With a fixed camera lens, you have to think through your shots more, which stretches your skills and helps you improve faster.
For Canon and Nikon, the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is the cheapest of all lenses, making it great for starters. However, if your camera has a crop sensor (which most entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras do) and if you can afford spending more, we recommend a 35mm prime lens because it’s generally more flexible.
4. External Flash (Speedlight)
Every photographer needs flash at some point, even if you don’t intend to shoot in the dark—but don’t use the built-in flash on your camera body. It’s simply no good. Instead, spend a little bit on an external flash unit (also called a speedlight or flash gun).
Check out our newbie tips for speedlight use to get a glimpse of what you can do.
The Yongnuo YN-560 IV Wireless Flash is an inexpensive off-brand flash unit that’s cheap enough to be affordable but still powerful, feature-rich, and stays useful no matter how skilled you become.
5. AA Batteries Battery Charger
Once you start using external flash units, you’ll be going through batteries like crazy—and that’s why you should invest in rechargeable batteries as soon as you know that you’re going to be serious about photography.
6. SD Memory Cards
For photography, it’s better to have a handful of smaller SD cards than one big SD card. That way, if a card ever gets corrupted, you still have others you can use. There’s nothing worse than being unable to shoot because your only card died.
Make sure you buy the right kind of SD card for your type of photography!
That said, you can’t go wrong with a handful of these Transcend 32 GB Class 10 Memory Cards, which are big, fast, and cheap. You should also consider getting a Water-Resistant SD Card Holder Case to keep your memory cards safe, both for storage and for travel.
7. Camera Cleaning Kit
Dirt, dust, and moisture can get into camera bodies, lenses, and accessories—and in the worst case scenario, your expensive camera and lenses may suffer permanent damage. Neglecting camera maintenance may be the most expensive mistake you can make.
Unfortunately, professional camera cleaning can also be expensive. That’s why you should learn how to properly clean camera gear yourself. Of course, when there’s a serious issue, you should take it to a professional.
The Altura Photo Professional Cleaning Kit is the best-selling camera cleaning kit on Amazon. It comes with all of the important bits (e.g. cleaning solution, microfiber cloths, air blower, etc) and will last a long time.
8. Camera Strap
Your camera probably came with its own branded strap. Unfortunately, the free straps that come with cameras are often small, weak, ugly, and uncomfortable.
As soon as you have the other stuff listed above, you should spring for a quality camera strap. The difference between a good strap and a kit strap is like night and day, and you won’t regret it.
The BlackRapid Cross Shot Sling Strap is one of the best in its price range: comfortable, adjustable, and durable. But if you can’t quite afford it, I highly recommend the affordable and comfortable Custom SLR Air Strap.
9. Camera Bag
Once you’ve bought all the aforementioned items, it’s going to be a pain in the butt trying to carry it all without a properly designed bag for the job.
If there’s one thing you learn from this article, let it be this: camera gear is only useful if you have it on you when you want to take photos! What good is a camera if it’s so inconvenient that you always leave it at home? No camera, no photos.
Newbies should consider this AmazonBasics Large DSLR Gadget Bag. For the price, you won’t find another bag that feels as robust and durable. If you intend to also carry a laptop around with you, then you may want to consider the AmazonBasics DSLR and Laptop Backpack instead.
Photography Skills Are More Important Than Gear
Better gear won’t make you a better photographer. Don’t buy these things because you’re tired of sucking and you think these will help. The only solution to that is to learn, study, and practice taking photos. But gear can make photography more fun, and there’s definitely value in that.