I have been photographing for 5 years. I have been featured in a few magazines, won a few competitions, and have written for the websites Improve Photography. Over the course of this time I have been given and seen lots of things that are supposed to have changed my photography. I have purchased a bunch of this stuff, and other I have not. After this last purchase I have decided to write this, a blog about the things that did and did not changed my images.
The impact of these are rated has high, medium and low impact.
1- Vanguard Alto Pro Tripod- High Impact
It took three tripods bought at Walmart before my wife gave into my demanding for a better tripod. She was tired of me buying ultra cheap tripods and gave into my demands of a $160 dollar tripod. Four years later it is dying and falling to pieces. But it has carried me thus far and will continue to do so through 2020 unless it takes a dive and dies in a river somewhere.
2- Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head- High Impact
This purchase came about because I was tired of the ball heads I had used up to this point. They had been wobbly, not strong enough to hold my lenses weight and thus would drift. The other ball heads have broken and finally were not worth my time. I have been using this ball head now for about 2.5 years and have had to have one maintenance trip on it, but overall its doing great. It could use a tune up though as it got beat up this past year in the desert.
3-Wacom Tablets- Medium Impact
I have heard a hand full of very famous photographers talk about switching to Wacom tablets and saying how it was a game changer. So this year I decided to do such a thing and bought the medium sized Wacom Tablet with the pen and low and behold... it was nice, but nothing huge. I really like certain aspects of it, but it did not change the way I edited any given image. It was not mind blowing, it was nice. Could I go back to mouse only, yes. Would I do so now... No. If you are sitting on the edge thinking this will be the key to your success, the reality is it probably wont make you a better editor of images. You have to be at the limits of the mouse before this becomes useful.
4-Luminosity Masking/Panels- High Impact
Luminosity masking facilitated by various panels has been a game changer. Currently I am cheap and use the free TK action panel, but it so far has been able to do what I want/need. Learning to luminosity mask changed my images from simply dong simple sky replacements of multiple exposures, to being able to blend it lots of different exposures more precisely than I have ever been able to do. If you have not dived into this world of photo editing, this will change everything you do.
5-Camera Backpacks- Mixed impact
I have used two camera backpacks now designed for photographers. One was really nice, one was average. My first bag was with Click Elite, but they have gone under and you can no longer buy their stuff which makes me really sad because they were awesome. My other bag is by Mountainsmith and its the Chris Burkard adventure bag and its not worth mentioning as a viable camera bag. It was supposed to be designed for adventure photographers and the advertising tricked me into buying it. I dislike it a lot. Its mostly filled with gimmick design features that add wight and don't function as a good backpack. Like who in the world puts a huge opening at the the top where water can fall in without having a good way of sealing it up other than the rain sleeve. I find branches and leaves all the time in my bag because of this.
Honestly I don't know where to find a good camera bag. If you are a camera bag company and want to build me/have a 35-40L bag that can carry two water bottles on the outside side pockets, carry the tripod back center and have it be sturdy and not flop around, hold one camera body, a ultra wide, one telephoto and room for one more lens. It also has to have 2 spots for holding food, phones and other non-camera stuff so it can handle a 6 mile hike. It has to have an internal fame along with waist straps that can reduce the weight on your shoulders. the camera has to be accessible from the outside. without having to put the stupid thing down opening up the entire internal structure to the elements. I would prefer not to have an ICU as that increases weight. It has to have a rain cover and it overall has to be somewhat water resistant and tear resistant.
6-First Ultra wide lens- High impact
If you have never photographed with something below 20mm you are missing out on a world of opportunity. My first ultra wide was the canon 17-40 f4L. Loved that lens. I have used the Tamron 15-35 f2.8 and the canon 16-35 f4L. All of these lenses have their pro's and cons. I like all of them for what they do. This purchase can change your photographic career.
7-L Bracket for Camera- Low Impact
This was one of those things that I head all over the place would make a world of difference. It doesn't. I have been using one now for 2 months. In 95% of the situations It does not matter. It is nice in rivers to reduce vibrations in the camera. That is it. It doesn't make a world of difference in composition. It doesn't even help switching from portrait to landscape. Maybe if you are not using a ball head it makes a big difference, but for me at this time its kind of ok.
8-Polarizer- Medium Impact
I once kept my polarizer on my camera all the time. It was a constant in all I do. I have not used one now in over a year. I wish I had a good one for one off moments that come about 3 times a year, but more often then not I can live without it. Its impact is medium. It is not shy of useless, but it has its moments and I kind of miss having the option.
Hopefully this list bring a bit of insight to you and your purchasing decisions in the future. I will update this list in due time as I have tried other things.