April 15 a.k.a. Tax Day is just around the corner. Like you I am looking to maximize my refund. While savings is a must I never forget to invest in myself or my business. When it comes to maximizing your refund, there are a few things you may want to consider investing in to make sure your pictures are popping.

1. Lens

If you have a DSLR camera to help you capture your magical moments, then you know the lens you use makes a tremendous difference. Here are a few things to consider when buying a lens outside of making sure it's compatible with your camera:

  • Aperture - Aperture is simply how much light the lens is allowing to flow into the camera sensor. When it comes to aperture, the lower the number the better. So if you find a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 versus a lens with an aperture of f/3.4, the first lens allows more light into the camera sensor, meaning your picture will look better in low light situations. It also allows for more blur in the background of the subject. It does not mean the other lens is bad, it will just be better suited when more light is available. Lower aperture is great for recording videos. I currently use the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM for both my photography and video needs. 

  • IS - IS is short for image stabilization. If you are going to be holding the camera for your visual storytelling pics, IS will help make sure your pictures don’t come out blurred. By correcting the slightest motion, this saves time by ensuring your image come out crystal clear.

  • Focal length - When lens shopping you’ll see a number like 50mm or 250mm. This number refers to the focal length. Focal length is how far you are away from your subject. 50mm is considered to be normal eyesight, so the picture captured should mirror what you see without the camera. The higher the focal length, the further you can be from your subject while. The smaller the focal length, the closer you’ll physically have to be to the subject. If you need something with a slightly dynamic range, consider a lens like the Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS STM lens.

2. TriPod

A tripod allows more stability for your camera when you are taking still shots as well as recording videos. Whether you’re taking self portraits or need something to sit on top of a desk or table, tripods come in a variety of sizes. If you’re just getting started, you can go with what I’d call an entry level tripod that is relatively inexpensive such as the AmazonBasics tripod. However, if you want something more sturdy and heavy weight, then be prepared to invest in something a little more pricey such as this Manfrotto aluminum tripod.

3. Lighting

Lighting is everything when it comes to pictures. While natural light produces the best results (not to mention it’s free) there may come times when artificial light may be necessary. To avoid the yellow glow a traditional halogen light bulb gives off, you may want to look at getting some box or ring lights. Both provide brighter and whiter light. Box lights like the Ralento Softbox require additional bulbs made specifically for the equipment and are portable, while ring lights like this IVISII Ring Light are composed of many LED lights (think many smartphone flashlights). Both are great options when it comes to brightening up your pictures.

4. Storage/hard drive for computer

Don’t forget that life happens, and in the blink of an eye your computer could fail, your phone storage is maxed out, or your memory card is misplaced. While there are suitable flash drives for you to use, you may also take this time to purchase an external hard drive for your computer. You can get an external hard drive such as this Seagate Portable External USB 3.0 hard drive with 1TB (terabyte) of storage (i.e. up to 2 million selfies and 500 hours of video). The last thing we want to happen is all of your time and hard work being lost over a major or minor inconvenience. The great thing about these external hard drives is that most come with password protection, so that’s an extra level of security in case it’s misplaced. 

Also, if you have a laptop or computer, verify whether you have a traditional hard drive (HD), a solid state drive (SSD), or a hybrid drive. Why is this important? Simply put, the SSD and hybrid drives tend to have higher read and write speeds which means your computer can move and save files faster than a traditional hard drive. I recently placed a Samsung 860 EVO 500GB SSD in my older laptop, and it runs like a brand new machine. I also upgraded the memory in my laptop to help it run even quicker with the SSD. Remember, memory allows your computer to tackle more processes at once so it doesn’t give you the pinwheel of death. If your tax refund allows, pick up a SSD and/or update the memory in your computer.

5. Photoshop

Software makes a difference especially when it comes to processing RAW files on your camera’s SD card. I initially started with Photoshop Elements, which give me the most common elements of Photoshop to help get my photos edited like i should. Over time, I invested in Photoshop Creative Cloud or (CC) which is subscription based, but it allows me to use it from one device (laptop, smartphone, or tablet) to the next with the right settings. It also grants me access to all the Photoshop tools I need to ensure my pictures stand out. Photoshop CC also allows access to Lightroom CC, which makes it easy for you to tweak the lighting of your pics until it’s just right.

Check out my full list of photography equipment and props that you can invest in. Now I'd love to hear from you. What are some of your favorite photography essentials that you have invested in?