Tech can take your photography to the next level

A primer on lighting, sound and stablization.

Whether you're interested in taking better photos, video or both, the best thing you can do is to practice and take the time to get to know your equipment. But, if you're finding situations where you're struggling to get the perfect shot, or looking for ways to stretch creatively, there's a world of gadgets out there you can use to mix things up.

So, if you're looking for that next creative level, or just hungry for a new bit of kit to play with, we've got you covered. Here are our recommendations for a light, flash, tripod and filter, along with a primer on what they each do. Oh, and if you're shooting video with your new mirrorless camera, we also took a look at gimbal stabilizers and microphones.

Light is perhaps the most important aspect of any image. If you're just starting out, we'd recommend a "continuous light," as it will help you get a sense for how it changes a scene before you take a picture. Our current favorite is the Aputure Amaran AL-F7, an affordable light that's plenty bright and comes with adjustable color temperature. The AL-F7 is best suited to a separate stand, but it's small enough that you can mount it directly on your camera. If you want something really pocketable, the AL-M9 ($45) is a great choice. It's barely bigger than a credit card, but puts out a lot of light. Bonus: Continuous lights are perfect for video.

Buy Amaran AL-F7 on Amazon - $98

If you want more power than a continuous light can provide, you're going to need a flash. Flashes are perfect for times when you need a super-high shutter speed to freeze quick motion, and you can get creative results by bouncing the light off the ceiling or walls. They're also useful for softening the shadows you get on faces in bright sunlight. The Godox TT685S Thinklite is a great flash, and comes in multiple versions compatible with almost every major camera. It can also be paired with an inexpensive trigger that lets you mount it on a separate stand for even more lighting options.

Buy Godox Thinklite TTL Flash on Amazon - $110

Camera stabilization has improved dramatically in recent years, but there are still plenty of situations where you're going to want a tripod. We recommend the Magnus VT-4000, which is a solid and relatively affordable tripod "system" (meaning it comes with both legs and a head). A tripod is essential for long exposures, time-lapses or just when you want to make sure you're getting the sharpest shot possible. The VT-4000's fluid head also means it can pull double duty for video. A fluid head is heavier than the ball head on photography-only tripods, but it helps smooth out motion when you're tilting and panning. If you're only getting one tripod, it's better to cover your bases.

Buy Magnus VT-4000 tripod on Amazon - $144

Bad sound can ruin a video, and an external microphone goes a long way towards improving your clips. We love the Rode VideoMic Pro Plus, a shotgun mic that attaches to your camera and plugs in via a mini jack. Aside from improving sound quality, the Rode comes with a shock-mount that dampens the noise when you're jostling around, and it also keeps the mic away from your hands. On a lot of cameras, the built-in mics sit close to where your hands naturally fall, and they can easily pick up the noise of you adjusting settings or the lens motor focusing. The VideoMic Pro stays out of the way, so you should get clearer sound without all that handling noise.

Buy Rode VideoMic Pro+ on Amazon - $299

Motorized gimbals are a big part of filmmaking these days, as they can smooth out dramatic camera movements or, if you're less adventurous, just help you capture clean footage while you're walking. Our top pick is the Zhiyun-Tech Crane 3 LAB, which packs powerful motors while remaining fairly lightweight. The handle design also makes it easy to carry in a number of different positions for creative shots. It can support the weight of most mirrorless cameras, and runs over seven hours on a charge. At $900, it's not exactly an impulse buy, so if you're looking for a cheaper option, the Crane 2 isn't as versatile and can't support heavier cameras, but it costs just $350.

Buy Zhiyun Crane v3 on Amazon - $899


Aputure Amaran AL-F7

photography gear

Godox TT685S Thinklite TTL Flash (Sony)

photography gear

Magnus VT-4000 Tripod System with Fluid Head

photography gear

Rode VideoMic Pro Plus

photography gear

Zhiyun-Tech CRANE 3 LAB Handheld Stabilizer

photography gear