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Photography

Don't Leave Home Without Them: 9 Key Photography Accessories

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Building a kit full of accessories and gear is something that many photographers enjoy. While gear alone does not a photographer make, adding the parts to a kit can help you photograph at the level that you desire.

Being a new photographer can be daunting, especially when it comes to choosing gear. Around every corner are inexpensive versions of accessories and it will often leave you wondering and second guessing what to purchase. For example, many big box store photo accessories kits come with lens cleaning solution. In my many years as a photographer, I'll never used it.

But in the case of many of these accessories, you know that you need one - but maybe not what to look for in choosing it. In today's article, we're going to help you identify what's important when it comes to gear and what to choose.

Tripod


A carbon fiber tripod, such as this one made by Manfrotto, is a costly but trusty support for your camera gear.

Tripods are the key to getting stable shots in low light conditions and ensuring sharp photos in less than ideal scenarios. Tripods are often found in the kit of landscape and nature photographers because of the stability they apply. With a tripod, slower shutter speeds are usable.

Choosing a tripod can be a difficult selection, in part due to the sticker shock associated with many higher end tripods. Many people are surprised at the cost of three stable legs upon which to station your camera. Just remember that before you spend only $40 on the cheapest tripod at your local superstore, the most expensive gear you own will be sitting atop it.

Most tripods are built as a "system" that includes the legs, a head, and a quick release "plate." The plate is screwed to the bottom of the camera and remains attached when you think you might be using your tripod. Then, the plate can quickly attach to the tripod when you need stabilization. The plate allows for the flexibility of pulling your camera away from the base, while still allowing you to quickly attach it.

Heads come in many shapes and sizes. The standard head is a pan head (the one with a long knob/handle). They work fine, but are designed for camera movement, and are more suited for video. If you purchase your legs and head separately, consider a ball head. They are typically cheaper, and a bit easier to position.

Tripods can have some unintended desirable effects. I find that setting the camera on a stable base and composing my shot carefully shows in the results. The clunkiness of tripods often pays off by causing a more carefully considered composition process.

Monopod

Perhaps more flexible than a tripod is a single legged monopod. Although this device does not allow for setting the camera up to be freestanding, a monopod can add stability that simply isn't attainable by just handholding the camera.

Frequently used by sports shooters on sidelines, a monopod can really help you balance long, heavy telephoto lenses. In general, the monopod can provide a more comfortable shooting experience by providing a resting point for the camera and taking the weight off of your shoulders. Consider a monopod in any situation where you are using a larger camera setup for any extended length of time.

Memory Cards

Okay, so this may seem like a no-brainer, but too many photographers that I know skimp on purchasing memory cards. These mistakes fit one of two categories: quantity or quality.

Perhaps the least excusable is the inclination to purchase too few memory cards. "When will I ever shoot more than 4 gigabytes of photos?" you might be thinking. The first time that you try to photograph an event, you may find yourself short of card space. When you're knee deep in this scenario, there's little that can be done to make up for lost shots. Toting a laptop and dumping the card when it's full is hardly practical, so be sure to buy enough cards. 16 gigabytes is a good starting point if you're thinking about making money with your camera.

Equally important is that you select good, name brand memory cards. When it comes to accessories generic alternatives can sometimes work, but memory cards are not something I try to save money on. All memory cards can become corrupt or have file errors, but I know from experience that the cheaper cards are more likely to do so. Selecting better cards also means faster read / write times, and thus quicker picture taking. Sandisk and Lexar are two big names in the marketplace, but I wouldn't be scared to buy the premium cards from Kingston or Transcend cards either.

Lenses

If you've purchased a digital SLR, you are probably interested in the flexibility of the SLR system. You might be familiar with the fact that you can change the lens in order to gain different advantages.

Lenses are an integral part of your camera kit. Extra lenses that allow you to shoot different scenarios - telephoto zooms for long range subjects, fast primes for low light situations - are the best accessory that you can add to your camera. Take a look at another PhotoTuts article to learn more about building a lens kit.

Rocket Blower

A Rocket Blower is like the swiss army knife of my camera kit. There are few things I purchased that I have ended up using as much as my Rocket Blower. I can keep all of my camera gear much cleaner and dust-free with it. One of the key design aspects of it is that the bottom has a seal that allows for air to puff out, but not allow dust into the blower.

If you're using your gear outside of anything other than a vacuum sealed room, you are bound to introduce a degree of foreign particles such as dust and dirt. This foreign matter can impact the performance of your gear, especially with dust in your camera's sensor.

A few quick puffs from the Rocket Blower can take care of the dust on a sensor or in a lens. Considering the price (less than $20 USD), I count this as one of the best value pieces of gear that you can pick up. Nothing is more obnoxious than having to clone out dust spots in post production, so cleaning the dust out before the exposure is made is a huge time-saver.

Speedlights

Too many beginners skip out on adding a speedight to their kit - and it's not because they don't use flash. Pop-up flash is somewhat limiting in its usages, and a speedlight is a great way to grow out of it.

A speedlight is one of the highest bang for buck accessories that you can add. With it, you add a world of techniques and options that aren't possible with pop up flash, such as bounce flash and with a simple cord off-camera flash.

This is one of the accessories where name brand isn't quite as important, so feel free to explore third-party options.

Filters

Few pieces of gear are as debated by photographers as lens filters. Some won't leave without them, while others let them nowhere near their prized lenses. My personal opinion? It depends - I can only speak for what works for me in my experience as a wedding photographer.

When I'm shooting a wedding, the pace of the day is hectic. The last thing that I have time to worry about is a lens cap. Even when I'm trying to worry about them, they usually end up lost anyway. My setup is to put an appropriately sized clear glass lens filter on each of my lenses, and switch them in and out of my bag as needed. I would have little confidence in this configuration if my expensive lenses were completely unprotected, but filters add that extra layer of protection. Believe me, they've protected my investment more times than I could count. If I damage a filter, I can just peel it off and keep shooting.

Filters aren't just for protection either. Filters such as polarizers help to increase contrast and cut glare at the expense of light lost, while neutral density filters can help to reduce your shutter speed in bright situations.

The reason some photographers dissent from the use of filters is because they feel that they hurt the image quality. This is an argument that seems to have no ultimate answer, but I can tell you that it's definitely true for inexpensive, low quality filters. I use filters with no fear of losing image quality because I'm careful in choosing filters.

Depending on your shooting style and subject matter, you may find yourself needing filters to either protect your investment or enhance your craft. When choosing filters, don't put an inexpensive filter on your expensive lenses, or else your high quality optics can be nullified.

Camera Bag

I know camera cases about as well as anyone, because I think I've owned nearly all of them. If there is one item I've spent too much money on, this is it. I've tried bags from just about every brand and in every style.

The conclusion that I've arrived at is that it takes a team of bags to really accommodate my shooting needs. I have a backpack style bag that I use when exploring or adventuring. This bag (pictured below) accommodates all of my gear, including two camera bodies and my largest lens, the 80-200mm f/2.8.

On wedding days, I have recently begun to appreciate the beauty of the shoulder bag. Lenses, as mentioned above, sit in between the dividers with filters and no caps. The bag will be either on my shoulder, ready for a quick lens change, or somewhere nearby.

Choose a case that combines the ability to fit the gear you will need along with the shooting situation involved. Choosing a large bag is a great idea until it's too big to lug and you find yourself leaving it at home. Conversely, a too-small bag will find you missing the items you need at times.

This is one item, I always try to buy in person at a camera store. Take your gear there, and after asking the clerk if it's ok, see if all fits in the bag. Try the bag on to see if it's comfortable. If the camera store clerk or owner has a problem with this, I would take my business elsewhere. After trying out the bag, note the model brand and model, then go home and check prices online. After shipping, if the price is of the bag online saves me more than $20, I buy online. If not, I support the local shop, even if it's a chain.

Cleaning Cloth

Much like an extra memory card, a cleaning cloth is almost an after thought when it comes to camera gear. Sure they're inexpensive and portable - but people still forget them!

A microfiber cloth is really the best choice. Fight the temptation to use a wash cloth or even your shirt to clean the smudges from your lenses. The truth is that many of these are more abrasive than we realize and can cause damage to your lens over the course of time. As I mentioned earlier, I forego the solutions.


Conclusion

Some accessories are must-haves, while others are simply luxuries when you're in a bind. Most, if not all, of the above pieces of gear are things I couldn't live without and allow me to do my job as a photographer better. Do you carry a piece of gear that you couldn't leave the house without? Let us know in the comments!

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