The following items are geared towards landscape, cityscape and general outdoor photography. Therefore they won’t really apply to studio/portraiture photography, but don’t let me stop you from reading about them anyway!
Flickr – There are two thing that you absolutely positively must do in order to become a better photographer. Number One: Look at as many photographs as you can! Number Two: Take as many photographs as you can! Flickr is a great way to look at photographs to see how you can improve your images, learn from the mistakes of others and find inspiration. I will be traveling to Detroit next month and I wanted to find some inspiration for photographs that I could take while there. So I went to Flickr and found thousands of photos of Detroit including several deeply inspiring ones. You don’t want to try and copy someone else’s photograph (though with the sheer number of photographers in the world there is bound to be countless repetition) but use it as a foundation to build your own unique image.
Google Maps (or similar map program) - Now that you have some inspiration for what to photograph you need to figure out how to get there, and more importantly what the best vantage point will be. It’s too bad that we don’t have access to an aerial view of the entire world! Oh wait, we do! I can’t believe how lucky we are to have access to the various tools of this age. Whenever I am planning a photography trip I use Google Maps to figure out where to go (and how to get there) to get the best viewpoint of a particular subject. It can also be helpful when you are trying to figure out where a particular photo was taken.
Sun and Moon Information – I don’t go anywhere without knowing what time the sun and moon will rise and set. As a landscape photographer this information is beyond imperative. That is why I love the iPhone App: Darkness (manufacturer’s website). This app will tell you everything you need to know about the sun and moon: time of rising and setting, altitude and azimuth at any given time, civil; nautical and astronomical twilight. Best of all it does not need to be connected to a data network and it uses the phone’s GPS to give you information on your exact location or you can look at one of the 20,000 pre-programmed cities. If you don’t have an iPhone you can use the website: Complete Sun and Moon Data to get similar information. An outdoor photographer will usually take the best photos right around sunrise and sunset, so you simply must know this information.
A Quality Compass – Once you arrive on location and you have looked up everything you need to know about the sun and moon, you then need to apply that to your current location. This is very important if you are taking a photograph of the sunrise because it will be dark and you will have no reference point as to where the sun will be when it pops over the horizon. Using the data about the sun and your compass you can find out exactly which direction the sunrise will occur in. A compass is also useful for when you are scouting locations. Perhaps you see an interesting rock formation and you would like to have the moon rising or setting over it. Using the Sun and Moon Data and your compass you can see if and when that would be possible. I use a Suunto MC-2 Global Compass (manufacturer’s website).
A Quality Tripod – I know this is not a new and astonishing item for being included on must have lists, but that should go to demonstrate its importance. If there is one mantra that I have come to fully support it is that you get what you pay for. Think about this when you buy a new tripod and get something good. I recently upgraded my tripod and I spent 3 times as much as I wanted to, however after using my new tripod on many occasions I know that it was worth every penny. I upgraded to an Induro CX-213 (manufacturer’s website). It is lightweight, strong and adjustable enough to fit almost any situation that I am in! For a better review take a look a Scott Bourne’s post about Induro.
Depth of Field Calculator – Another very useful iPhone app is PhotoCalc (manufacturer’s website). This app will allow you to calculate your depth of field which is important for landscape photography because you generally want to have everything in focus. Photocalc will also let you calculate how to keep the same exposure value by changing either your ISO, Aperture or Shutter Speed.