What Are the Greatest Quality of Life Purchases You've Made for Your Photography?

What Are the Greatest Quality of Life Purchases You've Made for Your Photography?

The focus on gear acquisition is framed almost entirely around lenses and bodies. But some investments have dramatic impacts to your quality of life as a photographer, that aren't either a lens or a body. What are yours?

To unpack the term "quality of life" a little: it's a change you have made that has improved your workflow and/or made your photography experience easier or more enjoyable. For example, a common quality of life improvement for street photographers and photojournalists is a great camera bag. For landscape photographers it might be a high-end tripod. However, some of the changes with the biggest impact are not quite as obvious. My top three are perhaps a little unusual and niche.

1. Z Flex Tilt Tripod Head

A large portion of my work is macro, with a percentage of that as stacking. This sort of photography has to be done with a tripod generally, which impacts your flexibility with the camera drastically. Moving around is a careful and longwinded task, with stacking being completely static. My biggest pet peeve with my process — after years of honing my physical work flow — was how difficult it was to make small adjustments. Raising and lowering the tripod, moving it forward or back slightly, and tilting the head were all awkward and required almost complete re-composition.

Then, one day a sponsored ad on Facebook showed me a video of the above tool. I begrudgingly clicked through to read more and ordered one. The difference it made was staggering. All of the movements and adjustments that had been tricky before were now smooth and and fluid. For those interested, the pictured device is the Magnus Z-Head ZH-3.

2. Power Bank

How I went so long without investing in a good power bank is beyond me. If you don't have one or only have a cheap one, make this your next purchase. I purchased one similar to the device pictured above that can charge my Google Pixel from 0 to 100% 7 times on one charge of its own. Similarly, it can change my camera fully at least twice (I've not tested the maximum number of charges yet) which when you're out in the field, is no small addition to your arsenal. 

Last year I spent 5 days driving over 3,000km around Iceland. My life would have been markedly more difficult without a large capacity power bank. My phone, tablet, sat nav, and cameras had unlimited charge all day and then when I returned to my accommodation in the evening, I'd charge the power bank. Even on my longest and most taxing days, I couldn't deplete the power bank's battery. Despite their incredible worth to photographers and videographers, they remain small, relatively inexpensive, and light. The power bank pictured above is one of the largest capacity devices I've seen: the RAVPower Ace.

3. M.2 SSD

This might be dull for many people, but it's one of the greatest investments I've made to my photography workflow. The quick summary is that an M.2 SSD is going to make your computer significantly faster. The longer explanation is this: an SSD (Solid State Drive) is an alternative form of storage to an HDD (Hard Disk Drive). An SSD doesn't have any moving parts, unlike its predecessor and works more similarly to a USB memory stick than a HDD. It is more expensive per gigabyte of storage, but it brings with the extra cost, a lot of perks. It draws less power, it's around 3x as quick to boot the operating system, it's almost silent, it has a better failure rate, it has a much faster file copy and write speed, it opens files 30% quicker on average, and doesn't throw a fit when near magnets.

So what's an M.2 SSD? An M.2 variant of the SSD is an ultra high performance and smaller SSD. The performance numbers vary from drive to drive, but the Samsung 1TB 970 EVO NVMe M.2 Internal SSD pictured above — and the one I use — has a read speed of up to 3400 MB/s and a write speed of 2500 MB/s. I have my operating system, Photoshop, and Lightroom on my M.2 and the wait times for catalogs and opening and closing the software (among all the other thirsty tasks) is drastically reduced. I have no idea how much time I have saved in total by switching my important stuff to an M.2, but it will be huge and thus invaluable.

So what are your best quality of life purchases for photography? Share them in the comments below!

Lead image courtesy of Bruce Mars on Pexels.

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Vincent Morretino's picture

Using SSDs on my desktop and laptop to speed up my work flow, a VML bracket for my Vagabond Mini lithium battery, and insurance for my photo equipment.

michaeljin's picture

An L-Bracket.

charlie sanders's picture

A tripod to last a lifetime (Gitzo 3500 series) and markins Q10 ballhead with RRS quick release bracket. This setup is almost ten years old, traveled many continents and still works like the day I purchased it.

Flickr.com account. I am an amateur photographer and I have about 70k tagged photos. (I tag my pictures every time I move them to my desktop). Now that they are on Flickr I can search the images on my phone and have the exact image I want in seconds. I have this ability on my desktop, but now my whole collection goes where I go. I LOVE IT.

CamRanger. As an architectural photographer there is no substitute in the field for viewing your shot. It is also simple to hand to your client for approval. We can be 100 miles out in the desert and I can still look great to my client.

Jordan McChesney's picture

It’s nothing fancy, but my cheap cable release has been the ONLY piece of equipment I haven’t had to upgrade or replace, since moving to Japan in 2014. It’s also been the only piece of gear I’ve used for every long exposure image I’ve taken, from fireworks to star trails.
It’s also durable. I’ve dropped it, stepped on it, and shoved it into my bag more than my fair share of times, and it still works like a charm.
So yeah, best 2000 yen purchase I’ve made in terms of quality of life for photography.

Motti Bembaron's picture

For years I was working with Nikon flashes and Alien Bees strobes. Getting them all to work together in events required quite a complex and cumbersome kit on my camera. It consisted of an on-camera flash, a cable, a trigger and a bracket for the trigger (so it's not awkwardly Velcroed to my flash).

The strobes needed their own receivers and cables and all that had to be set properly because I could not change the settings once the strobes were up. Cables sometimes did not work and my back and arms were paying the price. Not to mention the disaster if I forgot a cable.

Four years ago I started with the Godox system and never looked back. It's not perfect but it is loads better than what I had before.

Blake Aghili's picture

Profoto strobes

The lowly pop-open reflector disc. I love nothing more than NOT needing it because the light Is perfect..but I can't begin to count the hundreds of times it has saved my bacon when dark clouds have rolled in middle-shoot...etc etc. I also often use it clipped to a stand as a sun shade for me. I've had the same reflector in the trunk of my car for over 15 years. Plain white....I definitely don't like the look silver or gold ones produce.

John Dawson's picture

My camera

Grant Henninger's picture

As a landscape photographer, by far the best quality of life purchase I’ve made was my SmartWool neck gator. Even when it’s down into the single digits, the thing keeps my face and neck nice and toasty.

A rolling camera bag to take the weight off my body.

Simon Patterson's picture

A vehicle so I could drive to places to photograph.

Jan Kruize's picture

My greatest of life gift is my wife. She let me do the things i like to do. Fashion and model photography and she let me buy the things i need to do that. Without answering. For the rest..... just buy what you need, and whats more important don't listen to much to all those influencers who are yelling here all day buy this or buy that and blablablaaaaaa.

Rob Mitchell's picture

A lock for the office door so I can close up and enjoy the family on as many evenings and weekends that I can,
Makes my working time more efficient, reduces demands and earns respect from clients as they figure out you too have office hours.

Mick Ryan's picture

USB chargers for all my batteries with one 4 port world plug USB charger. So much less cables to carry and configure on a shoot.

David Penner's picture

Cold weather clothing. Without the gear I've got it would be impossible to do any shooting over the winter. I'm actually pretty warm up until about -25. Right now it's showing -41 though. Think I'll stay home.today. lol

Richard Twigg's picture

A really nice tripod (RRS). I had no idea what I was missing until I broke down and spent the money.

imagecolorado's picture

Linen flower sack towels.

Bought in bulk, cheap and effective.

Perfect for keeping the gear clean while working in inclement conditions.

Susan Brown's picture

Sekonic light meter. This has made it so much easier to get consistent, repeatable results when I use lighting. I also have had the same experience as another person commenting here about Godox system - no more fumbling with hooking up flash trigger receivers and the system works seamlessly with both my Canon and Fuji cameras.

12" iPad Pro. With a local RDP connection to my PC or other devices I can spend more time with the family and edit using Capture One Pro and Photoshop etc.

Zsolt Könczey's picture

I have exchanged my D750 with a DF and I’m amazed and fully satisfied, I had at least 11,12 DSLRs and I have never, ever made videos with them, probably, because I loved using my FE 15 years ago... 😁

Carl Murray's picture

As a landscape photographer in Mosquito ridden Australia : Bug repellent.