Photography 101: 5 Essential Tools For Better Photos

One of the most common responses for obtaining better photos is often to purchase a better lens. There is a ton of truth to this, but there are items you can add to your camera bag that will also help you achieve great photo results. These are not overly expensive items and deserve a home in your camera bag at some point.

1. Get your white balance in order. Correct white balance is crucial in this new digital age. The subject of white balance is a completely new article (taking note for a future piece), but it is essentially how your digital camera views the lighting of the world. Yup, your reading light gives off a different color light than the sun nicely tucked away behind some clouds. This is where correct white balance comes in.

There are a few items you can use to aid you in setting correct white balance. A tool such as the X-Rite ColorChecker not only gives you a target to set white balance to, but you also have an abundance of options for post processing. However, what if you don’t have $100 to blow on this handy device? Have no fear as you can go cheap here. I walked around for a good year with a gray paint chip in my camera bag. You want something as close to an 18% neutral gray as possible here. A quick Google search will help you narrow your choices down for what ever brand of paint chips are available in your area.

Once you have your white balance device you have two options. If your camera has the ability to set white balance off a target, fill the frame with your gray card and fire off a shot. Those who like to set white balance in post processing can take a photo of the gray card and then use that photo to set white balance in your post processing software of choice. This simple device will help you keep colors as true to what you saw as possible.

2. Lens brushes for the win. Keeping your lens clean will help keep artificial artifacts from showing up in your photo. Nothing will destroy that great portrait of your kids like a dust particle dab smack in the middle of their forehead. Inspect your lenses and clean them as necessary. You should also look into getting one of those blue baby bugger sucker things to blow any dust out of the inside of your camera as well. Dust is the number one killer of great photos!

3. Filters not only protect, they enhance. Filters can go a long way to enhancing a basic photo. Two filter types that landscape photographers should consider right off the bat are a polarizer and neutral density filter. The polarizer helps enhance colors of a scene. Think deeper greens, darker blues, and more vibrant purples as examples here. This one filter can go a long way to deeply enhancing your photos.

The second filter I mentioned was a neutral density (ND) filter. Those of you shooting directly into the sun will benefit the most here. A graduated ND filter will help keep exposure between the sky and the ground even. Thus, you have a nicely exposed photo where the sky is not blown out and the ground is not dark as night. As with the polarizer filters, there are various types of filters here as well, so research is key.

One last filter of particular note is a UV filter. Many photographers use this as a lens protection filter thanks to it being a clear filter. It is much easier to swallow a $60 UV filter than it is to replace a two grand lens due to scratches on the glass. When you buy a new lens, make sure you include a UV filter with your purchase as well.

Do keep in mind that a Polarizer and ND filter is not only beneficial for landscape photographers. You can be creative with these filters as well. ND filters can be used to snag slower shutter speeds in the middle of the day. Polarizer’s also offer a way to handle bright lighting conditions. Getting creative and have fun with these!

4. Magic Lantern guides are all good. The first step to that nifty new camera is knowing how to use it. The camera manufacturer does include an instructional book, but the Magic Lantern guides take that technical jargon and simplify it. I still go back from time to time to read up on some obscure setting I stumble across while changing camera settings. This book is $20, or less, but can make all the difference in pushing your camera to its fullest potential.

5. Pack a bag of rice. Lugging around a tripod is not always the easiest thing in the world. They are big, cumbersome, and just get in the way sometimes. There are still times you need a good bit of stability while taking a photo. This is where a bag of rice comes in. You can use it to easily prop your camera up on some of the most uneven surfaces like rocks and tree limbs. The rice bag can also function as a weight to hold foliage out of your way. The uses for this are near endless for this hand device!

While these may all seem like small items, they can make a world of difference in your photos. If you do nothing else, get a gray paint chip and a book on your camera. You will be amazed at how much better your photos turn out!

*The Current Photographer website contains links to our affiliate partners. Purchasing products and services through these links helps support our efforts to bring you the quality information you love and there’s no additional cost to you.


  1. Great tips, Chris! I always carry a spare stuff sac, that way, if you do have a tripod, you can hang rocks or other heavy things from the column to weigh it down. And, works as a substitute if you don’t have or want to carry that bag of rice.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.