What does every photographer need?

If you’re new to photography and you’re here, I’m assuming the gear bug has bitten you. You like many others, want to buy more and more gear for your camera. Almost like if you just bought one more filter or lens hood you will become a better photographer. All of that is crap. Companies know that beginners… hell every photographer loves to buy gear for their new favourite hobby. As a professional wedding photographer who recently moved and was forced to look at all the old gear I bought when I first started off, this is the gear I would wish I would have bought in the beginning. This is the gear that can actually help you grow and have a good time doing it too. This blog post is for those who may only have what came in the box when they bought their new camera, and are looking to add to the never ending arsenal of photography gear without wasting money on junk. The gear listed below uses an affiliate link which gives me a small commission for the products sold. It does not alter my opinions on the gear below, as you will find out I use this gear in my everyday life. I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe it

Photographers love their gadgets, and gadgets are fantastic go-to’s when the gift-giving season rolls around. There’s certainly no shortage of toys on the market, but it’s overwhelming figuring out what’s worth the buy. If the photographer in your life hasn’t provided you with a wish list, it feels like a shot in the dark trying to pick out what they need. This might help. Here are ten key photography accessories that make for awesome gifts.

Photography is one of the art forms that manages to capture the many beauties hidden in the world. It’s a skill that’s highly sought after as well as one that can be learned. If you’ve decided that you want to become a photographer, you should know the basics and how to get started. This includes having the right knowledge on the equipment you’re going to need, as well as how to make a living from your hobby if that’s your aim.

The first thing you should do if you want to be a successful photographer is to get the right education.

It is crucial because although anyone can teach themselves to use a camera, to be excellent at it, there are fundamental skills that you need. By going to a school or taking a course, you’re more likely to get a better understanding of the art and history behind photography. However, it can be relatively expensive, and employment isn’t guaranteed afterwards.

It is possible to learn without going to a photography school, nevertheless. What you’d need to do to take this route is watch tutorials online, use self-help articles and find a community of photographers willing to show you the ropes.

If you’ve upgraded to a mirrorless camera or DSLR and experience the freedom that having more creative control affords, it’s only natural that you’ll start thinking about adding more gear to your arsenal.

Many things are extra, but several camera accessories are quite crucial for the keen photographer and can make your photographic life much easier. 

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a nascent newbie with the camera, having a list of essentials in your pack or bag at all times is a good idea. Being prepared means missing fewer shots, improving those you get and enjoying yourself more.

This article is going to discuss four specific essentials you need as a photographer.

Camera Bag

If your camera is small and you stick to just one lens, a bag may not seem like something you need, but protecting your camera is something we often don’t think about until it’s too late. A camera bag is a great means of keeping your camera safe from rain and dust and anything else that might put it in harm’s way.

Plus, as you undoubtedly accumulate lenses over time – not to mention other accessories – you’ll find you need something to solve your transport woes.

Photo backpacks are a great way to carry heavy kit over long distances or across uneven terrain, but the downside is that you have to stop and take them off your back to access your gear. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll know all too well that this can slow you down.

Shoulder bags, on the other hand, offer quicker access to your other camera accessories, but these can prove uncomfortable if worn for too long because the weight is carried on one shoulder.

‘Sling’ bags are a fairly recent development, which combines the comfort of a backpack with some of the convenience of a shoulder bag, but even those have their compromises.

Deciding which camera bag to really comes down to personal preference. Before you make a decision, consider how you use your other camera accessories.

Tripod

We debated on this one. One could argue convincingly that a tripod is an essential camera accessory you could buy. Still, it’s just not quite as universally needed as a good camera bag (we’re looking at you, street photographers).

Nevertheless, a tripod is a close second because it offers a way to hold your camera at exactly the right angle while keeping it still, so your images are pin-sharp and full of detail. And you can’t put a price on that (although their manufacturers do).

Don’t be tempted by cheap tripods. Most at the lower end of the price range will be flimsy. It’s worth investing a little more money for a tripod that is sturdy, which you can count on keeping your camera still in a breeze.

Finally, look for a tripod that extends to near your eye-level, yet allows you to shoot close to the ground as well. You want the flexibility to explore every angle. Clip locks on the legs are also good for quick deployment; however, twist locks take up less room and are a little better when you’re carrying the tripod in the field.

As a rule aluminium tripods are more sturdy (and cheaper) than carbon fibre, but they are also heavier to carry.

White-Balancing Tools

Most digital cameras have an Auto White Balance function that works in a pinch. But, for many pros and serious hobbyists, it’s preferable to customize WB right on the spot. Impact’s QuikBalance Collapsible 12″ Gray Panel, a modern twist on the classic grey card, is one way to do this. One side is 18% grey, and the other is neutral white. When placed in the same lighting as the subject, photographers can adjust their settings accordingly or use it as a base point for accurate post-processing later. The same concept applies to the X-Rite Original ColorChecker Card, which features 24 colours that mimic things they might be shooting (skin tones, sky, foliage, etc.) as well as neutral greys. Finally, the ExpoDisc 2.0 is a popular wedding-photography tool due to its small size. These circular filters come in two thread sizes, 77mm and 82mm. If your lenses are smaller than that, no worries; just hold the disc up in place, and shoot the sample. ExpoDiscs simply capture a featureless grey image that replaces a traditional grey card. It comes in a little carrying pouch with a lanyard, and stores easily in a pocket.

Replacement Camera Straps

The neck straps that come with bigger cameras typically aren’t designed for comfort. On longer shots, they can become downright painful. The best way to avoid strain is to get the camera off the neck altogether, and these several fantastic alternatives can do just that. BlackRapid straps are designed to be worn from shoulder to hip, distributing weight evenly across the body. They come in a range of designs, depending on how much or what type of support is needed. Peak Design also has a high line of versatile straps that can be worn around the neck or across the shoulder, along with a quick-connecting handgrip and tethered wrist cuff (great for lighter cameras). Hand straps are also available from Vello, who sells some great little padded attachments that can be used with or without battery grips. To go hands-free altogether, hip holsters are lifesavers. Spider is famous for its heavy-duty SpiderPro Single and Dual holster systems, and its smaller Black Widow for lightweight DSLRs. 

Tripod head

You’ll need this to accompany your tripod. A tripod head is the flat, metal bit that goes between the tripod legs and your camera and holds the camera in place.

Many tripods are sold as a kit with ahead, but you can also buy them separately. Sometimes this is the better option, as you can choose the tripod head that works best for what and how you like to shoot.

Ball heads are a popular option because they can be used at unusual angles, are quick to operate and offer advantages for many different types of photography apart from landscapes. Landscape photographers often find that ball heads can be cumbersome when you want to angle the camera up or down but keep the horizon level in the frame.

Remote release

If you shoot long exposures, you’ll know how valuable a remote release can be. Even though your camera may be on a tripod, camera shake is still a risk, and a remote release allows you to trip the shutter without touching the camera, thus eliminating that risk of camera shake altogether.

You can also use most remote releases as bulb timers, which allow you to shoot images at exposures of more than 30 seconds. What’s more, these invaluable camera accessories can be used as intervalometers that enable you to shoot a series of photographs at specific intervals over a certain period of time.

Other camera accessories, like the shutter and TriggerTrap dongles, even let you turn your smartphone into a remote release.

There are two types of remote release: cabled and wireless releases. Wireless releases have the advantage of working from a longer range, and because you’re not physically tethered to your camera, your risk of camera shake is even less.

Lens Cleaning Supplies

Dust specks, spots and smudges happen, but they’re a pain to deal with in post processing. It’s far better to reduce or eliminate them by carrying a lens cleaning kit in your bag. The kit should include lens cleaning solution and a soft, lint-free cleaning pad. You’ll also need a small blower brush to eliminate dust that can damage your lens coating as well as show up in your photos.

For really quick cleaning, carry a lens pen in an outside pocket. The best ones have a soft brush on one end and a pad impregnated with a carbon cleaning compound on the other. You’ll appreciate being able to remove minor spots without using any liquid.

Keeping your lenses, filters and sensor free of dust and smears will help you avoid time-consuming Photoshop retouching later. Your lens surfaces and seals will also last longer.

A Good Memory Card

When I first started in photography, I tried to save as much money as possible on my gear, and that includes my memory cards. On the surface, you might see a 64gb class 10 card for one price and another 64gb class 10 card for three times as much. Why would you ever pay more for the card with the same specs as the cheaper one? Well because you’re not comparing apples to apples here. In the world of digital media storage, there can be some trickery from the smaller players which can end badly for you. As a digital photographer, you may see yourself as creating art, but at its core, you’re just creating some digital 1’s and 0’s that need you to need a place to store until you can get them on your computer. So why would you change it to save a few dollars? Get a card you can have confidence in. I use Sandisk SD cards in my photography business and have never had an issue with either. That piece of mind is worth way more than the $20 I saved by buying a knock off-brand.

A Memory Card Reader

Whenever I see a beginner plug their camera into the computer with a USB cord, I cringe a little bit inside. I know your camera HAS a USB port, but here is why you shouldn’t use it. Your camera is made to take photos first. Professionals use Card readers so that they can keep shooting with a new memory card while the first one is being downloaded onto a computer. Therefore the USB port is just an afterthought. Traditionally they are rather slow compared to today’s computer standards, and the card read speeds. What good is it to be able to take six shots per second if it takes you’re camera 15 seconds to transfer each photo to your computer? Next reason is that you could damage the camera by repeated plugging in and unplugging the USB cable. You could attach it to your laptop and trip over your power cord yanking the laptop off the table and the camera with it. So just do yourself a favour, protect your camera and speed up your download time with a card reader. This is the one I use. It has all the latest standards as well as USB3 built-in. 

Portable Storage Drive

Backing up your image files should always be a top priority. Accidents happen, even after your photos are safe on your laptop. Portable, external hard drives have become so small and affordable that there’s no good reason not to carry one with you.

You may not consider this a high-priority item, especially if you’re backing up to the Cloud. But, there’s a good chance you’ll change your mind when you’re out there in the pristine, internet-free territory and something goes wrong. Be prepared for the worst with your own portable backup drive and good organization strategies, so your important photos are safe and easy to find.

Spare Batteries

This one should be so obvious that many readers may wonder why we bothered to add it to the list. The answer is, of course, that we’re only human and sometimes we tend to forget the most obvious things.

When the batteries are dead, the device is done. That holds true for your camera, external flash, light meter, and any other portable device you carry. Make sure you have fresh, charged spares for each one. For those that use disposable batteries, consider switching to rechargeables and bring along a portable charger. Not only will you be better prepared, but you’ll also be doing some good for the environment by reducing waste.

Flashgun

Your camera’s built-in pop-up flash can be useful for adding a little fill-in light, but on the whole, you’ll achieve much more flattering results from a flashgun.

A flashgun will mount on your camera’s hot shoe, or you can fire it remotely (either wirelessly or via a cable) for even better results.

This is another all-purpose camera accessory, and there are plenty of options out there. But for the sake of simplicity, look for a flashgun that is compatible with your camera’s metering system, so exposure control is automatic.

If cash is a concern and you’re not afraid of a challenge, look for a fully manual flash. You’ll be surprised at what results you can achieve for not much money at all!

Flash diffuser

A flashgun is great at giving you extra light to work with, but sometimes you need a bit more subtlety. A simple sheet of clear plastic can often make all the difference, helping to soften the light and make it more flattering for your subjects.

There are numerous flash diffusers on the market, from those that push-fit onto a flashgun to others that pop-up to create mini softboxes.

Flash diffusers are easy to use and very effective pieces of kit.

Filters

Filters offer photographers an incredible amount of flexibility for dealing with difficult exposures and other challenges. Polarising filters, for instance, are useful for removing reflections as well as boosting saturation and contrast.

Meanwhile, neutral density filters allow you to shoot long exposures in daylight to blur water and clouds to create moody, minimalist effects in your landscapes. They also come in handy when you want to shoot with a very wide aperture in bright light.

There are two types of filters: round and square. Round filters screw into the filter thread on the front of your lens, and to use these, and you need to buy a specific size that fits your lens. Square filters, on the other hand, slide into a holder that mounts on the end of your lens.

There are trade-offs with each. Round filters are quick and easy to use, but you need to buy them in the correct size for every lens you own.

Square filters can be used across a range of different lenses simply by using different sized adaptor rings; however, they can be tricky to use as the graduation needs to be located in exactly the right spot over the scene in the viewfinder.

Collapsible Reflector

A reflector is a best friend to the still-shot photographers of the world, especially for subject matter like portraits, products, or food. Impact’s 5-in-1 collapsible reflectors are super versatile for use either in the studio or out on location. The Circular 42″ Reflector Disc includes white, gold, silver, and silver/gold combination panels for bounce fill, and a translucent panel for diffusion. The larger Oval Reflector (42 x 72″) is really well suited for portraits and comes with black, silver, white, soft gold, and translucent panels. Both reflectors collapse to a third of their size and tuck neatly away into a storage bag. You can also pick up an Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder to truly go hands-free.

That’s it! I could list 100 more things but it’s important to master the gear you have before buying more. This kit above will set you off on the right path no matter what area of photography you want to focus on. You may never outgrow any of the gear I’ve listed in this blog post. Do you have a favourite piece of gear that I didn’t mention above that you think other beginners would truly benefit from? Or do you have any of this gear mentioned here? Leave a comment and let me know what you think about it or what other gear you might recommend! 

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