Image Credit: 2e812ac3_768 via iStock
It's hard to believe that 2018 is rapidly coming to a close.
All that's left is to enjoy the holidays, and then we'll be ready to ring in 2019!
But before all that, it's time to share some of the best photography companies that have shaped 2018 and are sure to shape the future of photography as well.
You've likely heard of some of these companies before. You might even have some of their products.
But others are newcomers to the photography world, and I couldn't be more excited to shine a light on them in this format.
Pictured above: Sirui SR-3204 Tripod. Image by Cecil Holmes.
I've been a big fan of Sirui for a long time and have had their W-2204 carbon fiber, waterproof tripod in my arsenal of gear for years and years.
I'll be honest - I wasn't sure how Sirui could make a tripod that was better than the W-2204, but earlier this year, they did just that when they released their SR-Series tripods.
Pictured above: Sirui SR-3004 Tripod.
The SR line - which includes the SR-3004, the SR-3203, and the SR-3204 - is purpose-built for professional photographers with a load capacity of 55 pounds and a maximum height of 80-inches with the optional two-stage center column attached.
Sirui integrated excellent twist-lock leg mechanisms that make extending and retracting the legs a total breeze. That means faster setup and teardown times so you miss less shots.
Pictured above: Sirui SR-3203 Tripod twist leg locks.
In addition, the SR-Series tripods have an integrated bubble level to keep your horizons straight, three-position leg angles for fast setup, a removable flat top plate for converting your tripod from photography to videography, and an integrated 1/4-inch socket on the spider for attaching accessories.
If that sounds like a lot of built-in swag, it is!
Pictured above: Sirui SR-3204 Tripod with integrated bubble level.
These tripods are beautifully made, incredibly durable, highly functional, and backed by Sirui's name. That means it's a quality tripod that will last you for years and years to come.
It's that combination of innovation, commitment to quality, and top-notch tripod construction that landed Sirui on this best of the year list.
There’s no mistaking that video is becoming more and more integrated with still photography. One look at modern cameras and their 4K video capabilities is evidence of that fact.
That means that photographers need to start stepping up their videography game - and fast - lest they be left behind in a rapidly changing market.
With video being such an important part of photography in 2018, it makes sense to include one of the best video platforms around - Kizoa - on our list of the best of 2018.
While other video-making programs might have more name recognition, the combination of Kizoa’s features and price make them stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Over the last decade, Kizoa has developed a vast suite of tools that make it easy to create professional-looking videos.
From adding texts and music to transitions and special effects, Kizoa gives you everything you need. That includes professionally-designed pre-made video templates to get you going and editing tools for cropping, rotating, straightening, and more so you can create your vision perfectly..
And using Kizoa couldn’t be easier - use their cloud-based platform on your laptop or download the free Kizoa app to your iOS device for on-the-go video-making.
Sharing your work is equally as easy with Facebook and YouTube integration. You can email your creations, burn them to DVDs, and download your files as an MP4, AVI, MOV, MPEG2, or even a GIF.
It’s inexpensive as well. With prices starting at just $30 for a lifetime membership, it’s an affordable tool for any photographer seeking to expand their talents into the realm of video!
Here’s the thing...
For years and years, I didn’t include a watermark, logo, or signature on my photos, even though I knew it made it easier for people to rip off my images.
But I had a good reason for my decision - watermarks just looked terrible.
Seriously, look at the image below and tell me that the signature on it isn’t completely distracting!
I guess I figured that I’d rather have better-looking photos that are easier to rip off than degrade the quality of my images with a really ugly signature.
But I’ve changed my mind about the use of signatures, watermarks, and such, and that’s thanks to a company called Photologo.
I came across these guys a while back, and to say that I’m impressed is a total understatement.
The premise is quite simple: Photologo creates sleek, beautiful, and bespoke signatures for photographers that add a touch of elegance to your images (while also identifying you as the hard-working photographer that created the shot!).
For less than $40, Photologo will create a handmade signature just for you. Yes - handmade! There’s no software involved in the design process; instead, your signature will be created by real, live human beings using their artistic skill to make you a one-of-a-kind signature.
Not bad, right?
As you can see in the image below, my signature looks awesome.
But it’s not just the looking awesome part that’s so impressive.
You also have to consider how important your signature is to your overall branding and marketing strategy.
Think about it - if you have a gorgeous signature on all your photos, you create a cohesive look. Not only that, but when you send your portfolio to clients or they view your website, you’ll make an even better first impression with the combination of your breathtaking photos and professionally-designed signature along with it.
And you can do with your signature what you wish, too, so include it on everything from your website to blog to your online images for a complete branding experience.
These guys work quickly, too. I had my signature in just two days.
So, from a branding standpoint, a marketing standpoint, an aesthetic standpoint, and a security standpoint, a personalized signature from Photologo can help you elevate your brand of photography. That’s why they’re included on our list of the Best of 2018!
Ask any photographer what the hardest part of photography is, and a healthy margin will say getting the exposure just right.
Whether you’re trying to capture the perfect light of a landscape at dusk or photographing the interior of a home, the challenge of getting highlights, shadows, and midtones in beautiful detail is very real.
That’s why HDR software Photomatix is such a valuable tool for photographers.
Photomatix Pro is the grandfather of HDR software, having pioneered HDR photo editing with the introduction of its first version in 2003.
The software has matured over the years, while keeping up innovating on the leading edge of HDR imaging technology. Its latest iteration, Photomatix Pro 6, includes selective ghost removal, 40 built-in presets, 70+ HDR settings, a brush tool, and batch processing, to name just a few features.
The software offers 6 HDR styles to appeal to all categories of photographers. You can choose from a selection of natural-looking presets when you just need subtle enhancements, but you also have access to a large range or creative presets when you are after artistic effects.
Photomatix Pro is particularly popular among landscape photographers who rely on it to create that "wow" effect, but it's also widely used by real estate photographers. With presets optimised to produce natural looking interior photos, Photomatix Pro has become a favorite tool for high-end real estate photography.
But don’t think that HDRsoft is a one-trick pony - if it were, we wouldn’t include it on our list of the best photography companies of 2018.
There are multiple products in the Photomatix family to meet the HDR needs of a wide range of photographers, whether casual, enthusiast, or professional.
For example, Photomatix Essentials is designed for people who are new to HDR photography. It's not only incredibly easy to use but also offers automatic ghost removal, automatic alignment for handheld photos, and four HDR styles for even further customizations. And all that is just $39.
Being among the best in the industry requires that companies demonstrate an innovative approach to product development, and a commitment to creating products that make photographers more successful. HDRsoft certainly ticks those boxes, and many more.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
Holdfast has been - and continues to be - one of the top brands in photography.
It makes sense, too, because seldom do you find people as dedicated to crafting the best products as Matt Swaggart and his Oklahoma-based team.
And I don’t just appreciate what Holdfast brings to the photography industry as a photography business owner myself. Instead, I appreciate their products as a long-term customer of theirs.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
My first experience with Holdfast was with their Roamographer camera bag.
The bag is truly a top-of-the-line carryall that helps you keep your gear organized and safe, while helping you be more comfortable doing it.
The Roamographer is impeccably designed, beautifully crafted using the finest materials, and it’s versatile, too.
Just remove the camera insert and you’ve got a gorgeous weekend bag with tons of space for all your clothes and other necessities for a fun few days away from home.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
Most recently, though, Holdfast has graced us with their MoneyMaker Solo camera strap.
I have one of these as well, and I can tell you firsthand that the quality and construction that I came to love all those years ago with my Roamographer bag is still there in full force.
In fact, the MoneyMaker Solo uses the same leathers and metal materials as its big brother, the MoneyMaker.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
But the Solo is designed for one-camera shooters, so it’s a much more streamlined version of the venerable MoneyMaker.
The large, contoured shoulder strap offers you a comfortable carrying experience while the integrated stabilizer strap helps keep the shoulder pad in place.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
The included Belt Anchor adds further stability to the MoneyMaker Solo by keeping your camera locked into place not matter if you’re walking, stooping, kneeling down, or something in between.
Just pull the release tab on the Belt Anchor, and your camera is free so you can get the shots you need. A quick one-handed action engages the Belt Anchor again to lock your camera back in place.
With the ability to add lens pouches or a cell phone pouch, the MoneyMaker Solo might be small, but it’s got all the features and functionalities you’d expect from a Holdfast product! This commitment to crafting fine products is just one of the many reasons why Holdfast is on our list of the best of the best for 2018.
Kirk Enterprise Solutions
Kirk Enterprise Solutions makes our list of the Best of 2018 for one big reason - they make impeccable photography accessories.
When so many companies cut corners and offer consumers cut-rate products, it's a breath of fresh air to encounter products that are well-designed, easy to use, do what they're supposed to, and offer durability for the long-term.
Kirk has a wide range of products, from tripod and monopod heads to quick release plates and lens plates to flash brackets and rails for macro photography.
They also make some really, really good L-brackets...
The beauty of an L-bracket like the BL-D850 shown above is that you can quickly and easily release, turn, and remount your camera for both vertical and horizontal shots without having to flip the tripod head on its side.
Not only is this a faster, easier way to do things, but it also means you can retain your shooting position.
The L-bracket fits on the base of the camera without interfering with access to the battery or I/O ports, which only aids in its ease of use and functionality.
What I appreciate about my Kirk L-bracket is that it has anti-twist flanges, an Arca-Type compatible dovetail mount, and it doesn't interfere with a tilting LCD.
There's lines on each access to help me ensure the sensor is centered, and the one-piece design means strength and durability.
I've used this L-bracket in all sorts of conditions, and it's always performed beautifully.
That's what it's all about - crafting dependable products that help you and I take better photos.
That's why Kirk Enterprise Solutions is on our list!
The Vest Guy
For nearly three decades, Salt Lake City-based company The Vest Guy has been making the best photography vests on the market.
Not only are their vests made in the USA, they’re also crafted to a military-grade level so they’re incredibly durable. They stand behind their products with a lifetime workmanship warranty which means you’ll have a vest that will serve you well for years and years to come.
Pictured above and below is the Colorado Vest - just one of many photography vest model options available.
Like The Vest Guy’s other vests, this rig was designed using hundreds of hours of professional photography experience in the field to ensure it’s of the utmost in functionality, durability, and comfort.
There’s an adjustable camera strap on the shoulder so you can keep your camera ready for those quick shots. There’s also cargo pockets on the lower part of the vest so your camera gear is right at your fingertips.
What sets this vest apart from others is the attention to detail regarding functionality.
For example, the dual cargo pockets have adjustable, removable interior dividers. You can use the cargo pocket to carry additional camera bodies or utilize the pockets dividers to carry multiple smaller lens.
This vest even has dedicated pockets for lens filters!
And with small zippered pockets on the front of the filter pockets, you have space to keep things like spare memory cards, batteries, and cleaning cloths easily accessible.
Add in the fact that these vests have adjustable straps to accommodate year-round shooting attire, D-rings for carrying a flashlight, bug repellant, or other supplies, a hydration sleeve, heavy-duty zippers, and a carrying handle for easy transport, it’s a recipe for a top-of-the-line photography vest bound to set you apart.
You can even customize the vest by adding padded shoulders, name tags, MOLLE pockets, and more.
If that level of craftsmanship and attention to detail doesn’t earn The Vest Guy a spot on our list of the Best of 2018, I don’t know what will!
There's a lot to love about PolarPro filters, from their incredible lineup of filters for just about any kind of camera to their use of innovative techniques and materials that generate incredible products and superb results.
In fact, PolarPro crafts their Quartzline filters out of 99.9 percent fused quartz.
That means that these filters offer vastly improved optical clarity while also being more durable than traditional filters as well. What's not to like about that?
You can get these Quartzline filters in a variety of forms, too - UV, circular polarizer, neutral density - you name it! So no matter your need for filters for your camera, PolarPro has what you're looking for.
PolarPro doesn't just make filters for traditional cameras, either.
In fact, they make equally excellent filters for various DJI drones.
For example, their DJI Mavic Air Cinema Series Filter 3-Pack Vivid Collection gives drone pilots the capability of shooting beautiful cinematic videos with three different neutral density/polarizing filter combinations.
Their Shutter Collection for the DJI Mavic Air includes three neutral density filters that enable smooth video captures without changing the color profile of the footage that's taken.
But it isn't just the products themselves that earn PolarPro a spot on this list.
Instead, these guys have proven themselves to be dedicated to improving the industry with top-notch customer service, a lifetime warranty on their products, and a dedication to innovations that make taking great photos more likely.
In other words, PolarPro is at the top of their game so we can all be on the top of our game, too!
Synology DiskStation DS918+
There's only one network attached storage system on our list, and for good reason.
The Synology DiskStation DS918+ is loaded for bear with features that makes securely storing your image and video files a breeze.
With four bays for hard disk or SSD drives, you can have up to 48 TB of storage space. It's a scalable system, too, so you can get even more storage with an optional external drive bay that gets you a total of up to 108TB of data storage. That's a lot of photos and videos!
This rig offers fast encrypted and sequential file transfers, is perfectly suited for storing and sharing Ultra HD media files, and can transcode up to two channels of 4K video simultaneously.
The DS918+ has a small form factor, so you can set it on your desk and it won't take up much space.
It's got a simple, elegant look, too, with a matte black finish.
Inside, the DS918+ is powered by an Intel Celeron J3455 quad-core processor that runs at 1.5GHz and can turbo boost to 2.3GHz when needed.
It's easy to set up as well, with Synology's user-friendly Disk Station Manager OS that allows you to get things squared away by using a network-connected computer or tablet.
All told, from unboxing the DS918 to plugging in your drives to booting it up and accessing the Disk Station Manager OS, you'll be in it for about 15 minutes.
Security, tons of features and options, fast performance, ease of use, small form factor...this NAS has it all!
Athos Insurance Services
In a market in which many insurance companies seem to have lost the capacity for putting the customer first, Athos Insurance Services breaks the mold.
Not only is Athos known for its mantra of making every customer feel like the only customer, but they also offer a wide-range of coverages to meet just about any need that a photographer might have.
Let’s just consider for a moment what Athos’ equipment policies cover…
Natural events like hail, floods, earthquakes, lightning, and windstorms are all covered. So too is accidental damage, damage from falling objects, damage from fire, smoke, or water, and damage that results from an explosion.
Beyond that, Athos’ equipment policy also offers coverage worldwide, including in transit or during shipping. Theft is covered, too, and replacement cost coverage is offered as well.
You can even get optional coverage for equipment that’s afloat or underwater!
In other words, if you’re looking for customizable and comprehensive insurance for your every need, Athos Insurance Services is who to call.
Athos’ founder, Katherine Wong, specialized for many years in equipment and production insurance options, and now she’s leading the charge in digital insurance solutions.
Athos provides quick and easy quotes, easy-to-purchase options, and quality covered to meet your needs, be that for equipment, home insurance, business liability, and various points in between.
It’s a true one-stop-shop for your insurance needs with an extensive online platform to deliver efficient services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s why we recommend them so highly for photographers that need insurance coverage!
Ask any professional photographer what the toughest part of their job is, and I'd bet a healthy number would say "finding new leads."
After all, without leads, it's hard to develop your business, let alone sustain it...
But that's where SnapPro comes in.
SnapPro is a photography directory purpose-built to not only help photographers get leads but also help people find high-quality photographers in their area.
In that regard, it truly is a system that proves beneficial for both sides.
So, SnapPro is basically a database that lists its member photographers across the U.S. and Canada. People that need a photographer just jump on SnapPro, enter their location and the type of photographer they need, and voila - a list of matching photographers is provided.
You can even compare photographers side-by-side, that way you can determine which one is best for you.
SnapPro will then connect clients to their chosen photographer to learn more, get pricing details, and so forth. It couldn't be easier to find a photographer!
But for photographers, having something like SnapPro is a Godsend because it connects you with people that need a photographer in your area.
When business slows down, just turn to SnapPro to find gigs to fill in your schedule.
You can even use SnapPro to find side gigs - working as a second shooter at a wedding, for example.
Maybe best of all is the fact that you can join SnapPro for free in just a few seconds.
Once you join up, you can create a profile, upload a video to introduce yourself, create an image gallery to show off your work, and even publish articles and photography tips to help establish your expertise.
It really is a one-stop solution for photographers that need leads to generate new business!
Creating gorgeous portraits is all about having control over the light.
And while perfecting your lighting setup goes a long way in giving you the precise light you need for dramatic and impactful images, having the ability to fine-tune and control the lighting will help you take your portraits a step further.
You can do that easily with the easy-to-use V-Flats from V-Flat World.
These V-Flats are just 40x40 inches when they’re folded up, and they’re super lightweight, so they are incredibly portable.
In fact, you can slide them into the back of your car and take them from home to the studio to location shoots and points in between without any fuss.
The setup couldn’t be easier, either. As you can see in the video below, it’s a simple matter of unfolding the V-Flat, connecting the Velcro hinges together, and you’re ready to rock.
The white side of the V-Flat is ideal for bouncing light back onto the subject from a strobe for softer, more even light. Likewise, you can use the white side to bounce natural light back onto the subject for the same effect.
The black side allows you to reduce bounced light, resulting in gorgeously dramatic photos with more shadow detail.
Perhaps best of all, you can add V-Flats to your kit without breaking the bank. A single V-Flat is less than $200. Buying a set of two saves you even more money with a price of just $379.
Whether you work in a home studio, on location, or outdoors, you can now have greater control over portrait lighting with these innovative V-Flats from one of the best photography companies of 2018 - V-Flat World.
Over the years, Acratech has made a name for itself for crafting quality precision products from ball heads to L-brackets, quick-release clamps to panorama tripod heads.
But it isn't just the fact that they've designed simple, rugged, and effective gear that gets them on our Best of 2018 list...
Instead, in addition putting out quality, innovative products, I also love the fact that Acratech is a family-run business based in Pomona, California.
In fact, not only is the company based in Pomona, but every single Acratech product is proudly made there as well.
Acratech uses only the finest materials, which means you get a product that is of top-quality workmanship that makes your job getting the shot much, much easier.
Their special edition red GP Ball Head shown above is just one example of their incredible attention to detail and their drive to craft photography accessories that help you get better photos.
I own a GP Ball Head (an original black version as well as the special edition red version), and I can attest to the strength and durability of this thing - I don't leave the house without it.
If that doesn't demonstrate just how good Acratech's products are, I don't know what will!
Xennec is a new company on the PhotographyTalk radar, but despite that, they’re already being featured on our Best of 2018 list.
Well, that’s simple…
In hands-on testing, their camera bags have not only proven to be of impeccable build quality but their functionality is off the charts, too.
Take their “smallest” bag, the Messenger 13 shown above.
In it, I have my Nikon D850 with an L-bracket and a 14-24mm lens attached. I have a 24-70mm lens and a 70-200mm lens in the bag as well.
That’s a ton of gear in a messenger-style bag!
If you need to carry even more gear, Xennec’s DayPack 15 (shown above) and BackPack 15 (shown below) are monstrously large, with the former accommodating a camera with a lens attached, 3-4 additional lenses, camera accessories, a 15-inch laptop, and a 12-inch laptop. The latter ups the storage capacity even more with space for an additional 2-3 lenses.
What’s so great about these bags (aside from looking like a million bucks) is that they can carry all your gear and do so without feeling cumbersome.
The Messenger 13, for example, feels light on your shoulder even when loaded for bear, and you still feel as though you can move quickly and navigate through crowds, be that on a busy city street or a wedding reception or whatever else you might be photographing.
I’m a stickler for details, and Xennec certainly delivers on that front as well.
They’ve incorporated things like innovative magnetic closures on the Messenger 13 for easy access, Twiz-lock zipper pulls for improved security on the DayPack 15 and BackPack 15, and waterproof zippers to keep your gear dry.
If you look at the stitching on these bags, you can tell that time and effort was put into the construction, which means that the bag will look good and perform well for the long-term.
And that’s what’s so refreshing about Xennec - they have thoughtfully designed their products to be as functional as possible, dedicated themselves to high-quality construction, and developed innovative features like magnetic closures and hidden gear access panels that make using their bags easier while keeping your gear safer.
If that doesn’t land a company on a photography “best of the best” list, I don’t know what will!
Seriously, give Xennec a look and see what I mean about being the perfect blend of form, function, and price.
One of the problems that many photographers face is figuring out what to do with all their old slides and negatives from decades ago.
Rather than letting them sit and rot in boxes in your attic, you can save them for perpetuity using Argraph's Pana-Vue Pana-Scan Portable Stand-Alone Combo Scanner.
What puts Argraph on this best of 2018 list is the fact that they have streamlined the process of turning analog memories into digital dreams.
This scanner is loaded for bear with features but it isn't complicated to use. That's a great combination!
Whether you've got photos, 35mm negatives, 110 or 126 Instamatic negatives, or 35mm slides, this scanner will digitize them all.
Argraph has developed anti-glare technology that allows the scanner to scan photos without even removing the photos from the album. That's a great feature for fragile, old photographs.
What's more, if you can remove photos from albums, the Pana-Vue scanner will scan up to 4x6 prints into 14-megapixel digital files.
Perhaps best of all, it takes just a moment to scan and you don't even need a computer. This is a standalone device that allows you to scan and share your photos via email and social media. You can print your images, too!
Plus, if you want to view the images you've scanned, Argraph has made it easy to hook the scanner up to a TV.
There’s simply not an easier way to digitize old photos than with Argraph’s Pana-Vue Combo Scanner!
One of the factors I take into account when deciding what companies I think are the best of the year is how innovative the company is.
And in terms of innovation, SHUTTERbag is at the top of my list.
This company has been changing the face of photography for eight years now, particularly for female photographers.
That's because SHUTTERbag specializes in creating functional, durable, and affordable camera bags for women.
As shown above, there are a variety of models for just about any female photographer.
If you're a mom on the go, the Girls Day Out bag (shown top left, above) is ideal because it has three separate compartments - one for your photography gear and two zippered compartments for anything from your tablet to diapers for your kid.
The Journey bag shown above is actually in my wife's closet as we speak - I bought it for her earlier this year.
The bag is a tote-style bag made of genuine leather. It has a breathable cotton lining that snuggles your gear and protects it from scuffs and scratches.
The bag also has a detachable strap with a slip-resistant shoulder pad that makes for a comfortable carrying experience whether you use it as a shoulder bag or a sling bag across your body.
What I like about it is that I can have my wife carry my Nikon D850 with a 70-200mm lens attached while I chase our son around. It's a great setup!
Beyond the beauty and functionality of these bags, there's just simply an incredible selection to choose from. No matter what you need big or small, SHUTTERbag has the bag for you!
The Meural Canvas is one of my favorite photography products of all time.
I think it's easy to understand why, too...
For starters, it looks like a normal, everyday framed photo or piece of art. The difference, of course, is that it's digitized, so you can load whatever images you want on it, just like opening a playlist on Spotify.
But more than that, the digital images displayed on this thing look incredibly real.
That's thanks to Meural's TrueArt technology that recreates the images with lifelike detail.
On top of that, the Meural Canvas automatically adjusts its display to accommodate vertical or horizontal hanging.
It has an ambient light sensor to adjust its brightness to the level of the lighting in the room,and the frame is made of FSC-certified American hardwood.
All of that means that you have a gorgeous product and one that's sustainably resourced, too.
Perhaps best of all is that you can control what's displayed on the Meural Canvas via their website, a mobile app, or by using hand gestures. It's like living in 3018, not 2018!
Meural Canvases are truly impressive and something that has totally changed photography. That's why they're on our Best of 2018 list!
Excire is an up-and-coming company that I became familiar with this year, and I just have to sing its praises.
For me, there isn’t much that I hate doing more than manually tagging my photos in Lightroom. That’s why there are thousands and thousands of images in my Lightroom catalogs that aren’t tagged at all.
What’s so great about Excire’s products - Excire Search and Excire Search Pro - is that they utilize artificial intelligence to tag your Lightroom photos for you.
Yeah...we’re living in the future, my friends!
Excire Search has 125 common keywords that can be used for tagging your images, so every shot you have of a mountain or a bike or a dog will be organized and easily identified.
Excire Search can obviously be used to search your images as well. Just use the plugin to find the images in your catalog that meet your criteria!
Even better, Excire Search Pro offers over 500 keywords for tagging, so you have even more capability to organize and search your photos.
It includes a keyword transfer function, too, which means you can use Excire Search Pro on your existing catalogs. That means no more hunting around for the images you need, even if you have an enormous Lightroom catalog of tens of thousands of images.
In addition to having a top-shelf, award-winning Lightroom plugin, the folks at Excire are dedicated to making a positive mark on the community. That’s why they take a small portion of the proceeds from Excire Search Pro sales and set it aside to fund non-profit organizations in the United States.
That fact alone is enough to land Excire on this list of the best of the best, but having an incredible Lightroom plugin that makes your life as a photographer SO much easier sure helps too!
National Photographic Adventures
National Photographic Adventures has been around for a good, long while, helmed by 40-year photography veteran Kevin Vandivier.
Kevin's award-winning photography, his down-home personality, and his commitment to helping others reach a higher level of success with their cameras are just a few reasons why his company is listed here as among the best of 2018.
I've had the pleasure of talking shop with Kevin on a number of occasions, and his love for photography is infectious.
He uses that passion to mentor his students to help them tell better stories with the photographs they take.
Each of Kevin's workshops includes one-on-one feedback, daily demonstrations of photography techniques, and shooting assignments that are designed to help each person grow as a photographer.
With locations all over the United States, these workshops give you a chance to learn and grow as a photographer in some of the most incredible places on earth - Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, and Monument Valley among them.
Perhaps best of all, these adventures are limited to just seven people, so you're sure to get the most individual instruction possible.
No matter which adventure you choose, National Photographic Adventures is one of the best photography tour companies around!
One of the criteria I use to determine if a company is truly one of the best of the year is their ability to think outside the box and provide products that truly help photographers build better businesses.
Tripod Flags has certainly done that…
Tripod Flags looked at one of the most useful (and visible) parts of a photographer’s kit - your tripod - and found an ideal place for photography branding.
Think about it - whether you’re shooting a wedding, a corporate event, working for a charity event, or something in between, your tripod is often front-and-center. Tripod Flags takes advantage of that prime real estate and turns your tripod into a miniature billboard with a heavy-duty canvas cover where you can place your business name and contact information for all to see.
I often see wedding and event photographers wear shirts with their branding on them. And while that’s a good idea, it’s also expensive! Besides, when you’re holding your camera to your eye, who’s going to see your business name printed on your shirt?
Aside from being a great way to advertise your business, Tripod Flags also offer enhanced safety for your gear. The large, heavy-duty canvas cover is easy to see, so it can help guests avoid running into your gear as they enjoy themselves at the event.
In other words, a custom-fit Tripod Flag pulls double duty. It’s an ideal way to promote your brand while also offering safety for your gear and for guests.
What’s not to like about that?!
What impresses me the most about the GDU O2 drone is that you don't have to be a drone expert to fly this thing.
For beginner pilots, the GDU O2 is easy to use, highly portable, and its obstacle avoidance system helps keep it in the air and avoid crashes.
What's more, the vision positioning system gives the drone total flying stability whether you're piloting it indoors or out.
For more experienced pilots, the GDU O2 has a gesture recognition system for taking still images and videos, bust shooting mode for capturing action shots, slow-motion and time-lapse shooting modes, as well as a selfie mode.
On top of that, this drone has a three-axis stable video capture feature that enables beautifully smooth panning 4K videos.
GDU has incorporated multiple flight modes as well - fly in a circle around you, lift off like a rocket, or have the drone follow you around.
No matter which mode you're flying in, the drone has a return-to-home function so it will land in basically the same spot from which it took off.
Add in a smartphone app to control the drone, and you have the makings of one of the best photography products of 2018!
Vallerret Photography Gloves
I live in Southern California, so I don’t get many opportunities for winter photography - at least not the winter photography that involves the cold and snow.
But I grew up in upstate New York, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with how the cold can adversely affect your ability to take a great shot.
Back then, digital cameras didn’t exist, let alone all the awesome camera accessories we have today.
One thing I wish I would’ve had back then was a pair of Vallerret Photography Gloves. I have some now, so I guess that’s all that matters!
In a word, these gloves are amazing.
Specifically designed for photographers, these gloves not only keep your hands warm but they allow you to maintain the ability to interact with your gear.
For example, their IPSOOT glove (shown above and below) has FlipTech finger caps that allow you to change camera settings and press buttons with your finger without having to remove the glove. The caps are even magnetic, so when they’re open, they stay out of your way.
On top of that, the glove has an ergonomic fit that ensures it contours to your hand and doesn’t get in the way of camera control.
The palm of the IPSOOT glove has a non-slip covering, too, that way you can more easily grip your camera, even in the coldest of conditions.
Speaking of cold…
Vallerret offers varying warmth levels for their gloves, so whether you’re in mild winter conditions, deep winter conditions, or somewhere in between, there’s a glove for you.
The selection of gloves that Vallerret offers is pretty incredible, too.
If you don’t need the deep winter warmth of the IPSOOT glove, perhaps the Markhof Pro 2.0 glove (shown above and below) - which is designed for mid winter conditions and everyday use - is for you.
The Markhof Pro 2.0 has many of the same innovative features as the IPSOOT - the Merino wool inner lining, the FlipTech finger caps, and the non-slip grip, among them. Both models even have a handy zippered pouch to keep a spare memory card handy.
If it isn’t obvious, Vallerret has thought of everything!
They’ve got an extensive line of gloves, gloves for all types of wintery weather, gloves with innovative features that make photography easier to tackle in the winter, and these gloves look really, really good, too.
Beyond that, these gloves have proven their mettle in the harshest winter conditions in Alaska, Canada, Norway, and other countries that really test a photographer’s abilities - and the ability of their gear.
It’s the combination of superb quality, tried-and-true real-world testing, and must-have features in a beautifully crafted package that got Vallerret on our Best of 2018 list!
Strabo Photo Tour Collection
Since 2003, Strabo Photo Tour Collection has been leading enriching photography tours around the world that are designed by and for photographers. That's why they are the best of the best for 2018.
Strabo offers an incredible array of workshops and tours - more than 40, in fact - that take you to beautiful and enriching destinations the world over.
No matter if you love landscapes or architecture, portraits or wildlife, there is something for you!
In fact, if you're ready to get adventuring, you can head to Morocco - a land of breathtaking landscapes, friendly people, and tons of history - to build your photography skills in 2019.
If Iceland is more your style, Strabo Photo Tours can accommodate you.
Join their yearly tours of this land of fire and ice and explore black sand beaches, beautiful glaciers, volcanic landscapes, and more.
Of course, there are many, many more locations to visit, including throughout Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America as well.
Truly, Strabo has an amazing lineup of workshops, each of which is taught by a veteran photographer with years and years of practical experience.
That's what happens when you build a solid reputation as being a premier photo tour provider!