Gear, of course! Camera bodies and lenses galore! Nothing makes you a better photographer than dumping thousands of dollars on the latest technology! Right? No? Ok, I digress, I guess blowing all your hard earned (or borrowed) cash on the latest and seemingly greatest in camera equipment is probably about the least effective thing you can do to improve the quality of your work. So what SHOULD you be spending your money on then?
Variety is the spice of life. Nothing can lead to a more onerous creative rut than feeling like you have nothing interesting to shoot. By traveling out of your normal environment your shatter those suffocating walls of sameness. If you find your work is starting to feel a bit stale invest some money it traveling to new and exciting subjects.
What better way could there be to improving your craft than taking steps to learn how to be a better photographer. Photo related education ranges from very expensive, to extremely cheap, to even free. No matter what your budget is there is always some sort of learning you can invest in and they almost always have something great to add to your skill set. By investing in high quality education you will, without a doubt, see a marked improvement in your skill level.
The nature of what education you feel is most useful is entirely up to you. Whether you want to invest in video based tutorials to supercharge your knowledge with new techniques or even take a business course at your local college really should be based on what you feel will best empower you to push yourself forward to the next level.
If a photographer takes an amazing photo but no one sees it does it really exist? In an era of free social media marketing it becomes easy to forget that some of the best marketing can require a bit of investment. I’m not saying burn your money by taking out ads in traditional media or mortgaging your house to shoot a super bowl ad but there are an endless number of marketing opportunities that you could make for yourself with the help of a smidgen of creativity and a few, well spent, coins.
A Fast Computer
Most photographers spend a lot more time using their computer than they do their camera. Between culling, editing, and posting photos there is a tremendous gain to be had from being able to improve the speed of your workflow. Not only does a faster computer let you spend more time shooting but it also dispels the frustration of dealing with a slow workflow and thus alleviates your likelihood of having to sacrifice quality due to lack of time.
Personally, I learned this lesson the hard way. After college my grandmother gave me a Mac Pro as a graduation present. I tried to make that computer last forever. After almost eight years I finally gave up as some of my PSD files were taking over an hour to save. Moving forward my motto has been to replace my computer every 2 years or so with the most expensive machine I can afford at the time. Currently I'm using a max spec 27" iMac in conjunction with a a mid-line Macbook Pro for when I'm on the road.
Your ability to energetically and consistently focus on your craft hinges rather heavily on your own, personal, health. Allocate enough resources to ensuring that you keep your own body in as healthy a state as possible and you will quickly see that the benefits of that health have a tendency to trickle all the way down to the quality of your work.
We live in a culture of insane consumerism. Our first instinct is always to spend. Perhaps the best choice for your photography is not to spend. Having a cushion for a rainy day or for when your camera decides to jump off the side of a mountain can be a life saver. There is nothing wrong with a healthy bank account.
Money can be a fickle thing. For many photographers cash seems to constantly be trying to climb its way out of our pocket and right into the latest multi-coated, vibration reduced, hypersonic, ultra-fast, lens that really won’t do anything that we couldn’t already achieve with our existing kit. Before blowing your wad, take a moment to think about where it will be the most useful.