Photography is a profession or hobby that includes a lot of “toys.” If you are a photographer or have one on your gift list, you have a lot of options on what to use and can get bogged down in new gadgets to improve your shots. Before investing heavily in a lot of new equipment, keep in mind that you can start out fairly simply with a camera and a few essentials before you need to branch out into added lights, lenses or other tools. The most important thing to keep in mind is that practice improves your images. It’s more important to use what you have and practice. As you get more comfortable with your photography, consider adding on additional lenses, filters and other equipment when you’re ready.
For those interested in adding a few items to their camera bag, here are a few essentials that we use and recommend.
Camera – This is so dependent on many variables so we wrote a blog just on cameras to share our thoughts. Just remember – the best camera is the one that you carry!
Strap – One of the first pieces of equipment to consider is the strap. Choose a strap that feels good around your neck, distributes the weight evenly, and offers great security for the camera. Your camera is a big investment and you want to feel confident and comfortable carrying it. After a few hours of photography, it will get heavy. Most straps will fit most cameras, but confirm that it works with your camera type. Black Rapid makes several great straps. Barry’s favorite is the Black Rapid Classic Retro RS4, which includes a small pocket and has a longer length that fits him well. David’s preferred strap is the Black Rapid Curve.
Camera Bag – As you gain more equipment, it is important to store it securely with plenty of room and compartments for everything. While camera cases are a very personal choice, make sure it is comfortable to carry while traveling and small enough to fit in the overhead bin of a plane. Barry uses the Tamrac T0210-1919 Anvil Slim II when he’s traveling. It’s small enough to carry on planes and holds enough gear for most trips. He can also pack it with his laptop, notebook, headphones and a good paperback to read during down times. Since it easily holds his tripod and the flexible compartments store his equipment safely, he can carry it as a backpack for travel and hikes.
David uses the Think Tank Photo Airport Security Carry On. It can house a lot of gear securely and has wheels so easily travels through the airport. This is a beast of a bag and will hold just about all the gear you would ever need and has amazing reviews on Amazon. If you’re looking for maximum gear storage this is your bag. And if you want something smaller for hikes, David grabs his Polar Pro Drone Trekker Backpack. Don’t let the name fool you…it can carry a Phantom Drone or GoPro Karma Drone and can easily be configured to carry traditional camera gear.
Tripod – As you mature in skill, a tripod becomes an essential tool to capture long exposure images. Again, consider the type of photography that you enjoy as tripods come in a variety of heights and maneuverability. Manfrotto has several good options including the one Barry uses, their Befree MKBFRA4-BH. This lightweight tripod allows him to independently lengthen each leg for cases when the ground is not level and is easy to raise or lower. The 190 series from Manfrotto is also popular and not as expensive. Their MT190 allows photographers to lift their camera and tilt it at 90 degrees to allow great flexibility in their shots. Their top ball head design, the MHXPRO-BHQ2 works with the 190 series and supports heavier cameras up to 10kg while still being light to carry along.
David uses a ProMaster XC528 Professional tripod (discontinued) with a Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-55 ball head with lever release & the panning head. The RRS ball head allows for a perfectly level shooting platform even if tripod isn’t level. He uses RRS Ultralight L Bracket which makes it easy to shift from landscape to portrait mode. For advanced panorama photography, he uses the RRS Nodal Slide & Clamps.
Additional tools for the adventurous and creative photographer to consider include the top selling Joby Gorilla Pod 5K and the Platypod Ultra Flat Tripod for small DSLR, mirrorless, and compact cameras.
Memory cards – While our favorite memory card is whatever is in our camera, we always carry extra cards. There is nothing worse than to be having a great shooting day and have a disk act up or run out of space! SanDisk makes reliable cards and we usually try to have three or four of them with us while shooting. It’s tempting to buy the cheapest cards but don’t cut corners here. Get fast, reliable cards so you can reduce the chances of having corrupted images. There are few things worse for a photographer than shooting all day and then finding out that your images are unrecoverable because of a bad card.
Lens – As photographers mature in skill, multiple lenses ensure the best image for every condition. You’ll want to make a wise investment in your lenses…they are the most single critical element in creative photography. For everyday travel photography, David likes to use his Nikon 28-300 3.5-5.6 lens. This lens gives him great focal length range with a good depth of field and good sharpness at f/8. The vast majority of the time when shooting creatively you will find David with his Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 or Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 on his camera. For landscape and panoramas, he will often use his Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. David also has the Nikon 24mm PSE, the 105 Macro, the 200-500 f/5.6 for wildlife and a 20mm 1.8. He also has a 1.4 teleconverter to use with his 70-200 or 200-500 when shooting wildlife or just getting creative.
Barry uses a Sony 24-70 mm GM FE f/2.8 lens most of the time. This is a great versatile lens that works well for travel photography as well as landscape and low-light situations. For wider angle shots like landscapes, his lens of choice is the Sony FE 16-35 f/4. For more creative and nighttime photography, Barry uses a Laowa 15mm f/2 FE or the Samyang 12mm f/2.8. These are relatively inexpensive lenses that are fun to play with from time to time.
The key to selecting the right lenses for you will be to first decide what kind of photography you are most interested in. For photographers who like to capture wildlife or sports, a good fast telephoto lens is a key tool. For the landscape or travel photographer, a wide and medium zoom lens or several prime lenses will do. While those doing night photography will need a fast wide angle lens with an f/1.8 to f/2.8 aperture.
Filters – A circular Polarizing filter is a must have for your camera bag. In certain situations, it can deepen the blue sky, enrich colors and reduce or eliminate glare. Other filters to consider in order to enhance your creative options: Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters. A neutral density filter will reduce the amount of light entering into the lens allowing you to use longer shutter speeds. This is helpful when shooting in bright light or if you’re shooting a scene with moving water and want to achieve a longer shutter speed in order to have nice, silky water. A Graduated Neutral Density filter can come in handy when shooting scenes that are very bright on the top of the scene and darker below (such as a sunset at the beach). You will be able to darken the brighter part of the image in order to get it closer in tonal value to the darker bottom part of the image.
David’s “go to” filter system is LEE Filters 100mm System Kit. This kit may be a bit pricey but includes just about every filter you will need in order to create some steller images. You might also consider picking up a LEE Filters Field Pouch to store these filters in. Barry just recently purchased the PolarPro Summit Landscape Filter kit with circular polarizer and a couple of neutral density and graduated neutral density filters.
Processing – One of the best tools that you can get a photographer is Lightroom, a software system that not only enables post-production on images but is superior for organizing the thousands of images that you’ll be capturing. With Lightroom, you are able to easily categorize, rate, and work on images to get that final wall art image and/or post on your favorite social media.
Workshop – And for the beginner photographer or the photographer that has everything, a gift certificate for a Benton Downs photography workshop is sure to please. There are classes covering the basics including how to use Lightroom and Creative Photography along with photography expeditions to great locations like downtown Dallas, Big Bend National Park, or Savannah, Georgia. These workshops are designed to help your favorite photographer capture their own iconic images to proudly display.
External Hard Drive – Barry recently got the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (2 TB) as a portable drive. This pocket-sized drive connects to his MacBook with great speed of up to 550 MB/s to back up data and to easily carry his photography portfolio. It easily fits in his pocket, is sturdy enough withstand some water, and light enough to dangle from his laptop without damage.
Cleaner – All photographers need to clean their toys from time to time and many use the Giottos Rocket Blaster Dust-Removal Tool for safe and effective cleaning. A great tool to keep in their bag is the Lenspen DSLR Pro Kit, which is more compact and fluid-less. The kit includes three anti-static specialized pens for cleaning lenses, filters, and viewfinders.
Remote Switch – Photographers can enhance their creativity with the Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch. The remote allows a great deal of flexibility and is perfect for night photography and time lapse with long exposure times of up to 99 hours.
Rainsleeve – A great photographer will eventually get wet so it is a good idea to pack the OP/TECH USA 18″ Rainsleeve (Set of 2) for instant, disposable rain protection.
Gloves – It is hard to keep your hands warm when you need the dexterity to press dials and change settings, but the Freehands Men’s Unlined Fleece Gloves and Freehands Women’s Stretch Gloves make the transition easier by allowing you to only expose the thumb and index finger.