One of the great joys with any hobby, and particularly photography, is acquiring a new piece of kit. Nothing really beats unwrapping your latest purchase that will aid your quest to capture the perfect image. Yet there’s such a vast array of accessories available that it can be tricky to know what you really need and what you’ll end up using a couple of times before leaving it to gather dust in a cupboard. I’ve been picture taking for well over 30 years and, believe me, I’ve got plenty of accessories that are gathering dust in my equipment cupboard! But I also have some essential bits of kit that I go back to time and time again. I’ve listed eight of them here and, alongside your camera, lenses, memory cards and gadget bag, I reckon these are essential for any photographer.
An obvious one to start with, but a three-legged friend is an essential purchase in my book and one that you shouldn’t cut corners on. Avoid cheap models and see a tripod as an investment in your picture taking. Not only will it help you get shake-free shots in low light, tripods also slow your whole picture-taking process down, so you end up with more considered compositions. A carbon fibre model is good if you want to travel light, but they can be costly, so don’t be fixated on having to have a carbon model – aluminium ones are generally cheaper but just as effective. Also consider buying the legs and head separately, especially if you shoots stills and video which require separate heads. I have two tripods: a large, aluminium Manfrotto with a ball and socket head and a video head, plus a carbon Benro item for when I want to travel lighter.
2) Remote release
This goes hand in hand with a tripod and will help guarantee shake free shots. In these days of DSLRs and mirrorless models, you’ll need to buy the specific remote release for your camera, which will plug into a port typically on the side of the body, but they all enable you to do the same thing – focus and then shoot without actually touching the camera itself. Remote releases – also known as cable releases – also allow you to pay more attention to your subject. If you’re shooting a portrait with your camera on a tripod, for example, a remote release will allow you step away from the camera and watch your subject, waiting for the perfect expression. It’s a much better way to interact than simply hiding behind your viewfinder.
3) Neutral density filter
In my book, there is a small selection of must-have filters, but the neutral densitycomes top of the pile because it’s so versatile. Put simply, neutral density – or ND – filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera without affecting colours. This means that in bright conditions you can use a slower speed or a wider aperture so you can get more creative. You could be shooting a waterfall, for example, and want to blur the water, or be capturing a portrait and want a blurred background. If the light is really bright, all you can do is use a low ISO and change shutter speed or aperture, but this may not be enough to get the effect you want – which is where an ND filter comes in. ND filters are also great for video. They’re available in different strengths but I’d recommend a variable ND filter, such as the Hoya 3-400, which offers variable densities in one filter.
4) Lens hood
I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t use a lens hood on every lens they own. If you don’t, you run the risk of stray light degrading the quality of your images. Many lenses these days come with a hood supplied. If yours does, great – makes sure you use it at all times. If you do own lenses that don’t have hoods already, make sure you invest in the dedicated one made by the lens manufacturer. Often, these will be a specific shape to match the focal length of the lens, which are far better than universal hoods.
5) Spare battery
Modern cameras are power hungry and nothing is more frustrating than being out shooting when the battery runs out of juice. Having a second (or third) battery will help avoid any of these frustrations and ensure you can keep shooting. For optimum performance, we’d advise you to buy your camera manufacturer’s own battery, but if you’re on a tight budget you may want to consider third party options even if this may mean you don’t get quite the same number of shots. Some power is better than no power, right?
Sure, you can make your own reflector using a piece of white card, but these are never that practical, so I have a 5-in-1 collapsible reflector, which folds and stores in my gadget bag. As their name suggests, reflectors reflect light back on to a subject to help reduce shadows and create a more even lighting look. They’re ideal for portraits, still-life, macro and product photography. The 5-in-1 reflector offers five different options – silver, white, gold, black and translucent so you get bags of versatility in one affordable accessory.
There are sometimes when you need to create your own light and a portable flashgun will enable you to do just that. You can buy a dedicated one for your camera system, either by your camera manufacturer or an independent such as Metz, Oloong or Nissin and use it to lift shadows on a portrait, illuminate dimly lit locations and capture indoor images when the light is low. If you want to get more creative with flash, consider investing in a system that allows you to trigger multiple units. Radio triggers are better than optical ones as they don’t require line of sight to function effectively.
8) Hard drive
I’ve learned the hard way. I once lost hundreds of images because I only had them stored on my computer, which then broke and they couldn’t be recovered. Ever since, I’ve backed up my images on a separate hard drive, so I have a second copy should I have a hardware failure, fire or theft. I know some photographers who back their images up twice! Either way, buying an external hard drive is the answer. There are plenty of options available from companies such as LaCie and Transcend with your main choices being storage capacity and whether you want an SSD (solid state drive) or HDD (hard disk drive). SSDs have no moving parts so they’re more reliable, but tend to cost more per gigabyte of storage.