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Professional quality photography doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, so many of the tools and accessories that we use are extremely inexpensive. In this article, we will introduce you to 5 of our favorite little must-have accessories in our photographic toolkit.
Reflectors are not only inexpensive, they are one of the most versatile and effective photographic accessories. Reflectors work wonderfully as a main light, fill light, hair light, scrim, and even make for a wonderful little mat to sit on when your clients are worried about dirtying their clothing. Not bad for an accessory that can be picked up for less than $40. In fact, if you are skeptical of just how powerful reflectors can be, check out the two videos below.
In this first video (the iPhone Photo Shoot), we show that you can capture professional quality images with simply an iPhone and its stock camera.
In this second video, we show you all of the reflector techniques used during the iPhone photo shoot.
We use the Westcott 301 40″ 5 in 1 which can be purchased from Amazon for $40. It is a good balance between an inexpensive yet fairly durable reflector.
Flash diffusers are an inexpensive method of turning on-camera flash into a much higher and softer quality of light. While there are many types of diffusers, our two favorites are dome diffusers or white card diffusers. If you have to choose one, choose the dome type diffuser over the white card diffuser. However, both have their uses. In indoor situations, we typically will get better results from dome diffusers, while in outdoor situations we stick to white card diffusers because we can direct more light exactly where we need it.
Keep in mind that when it comes to diffusers, there really is little tangible difference in the results between different brand name and non-brand name accessories. We find that a brand name light diffuser generally gives us essentially the exact same look as an Amazon or eBay knock-off. So, if you are looking to save a little cash, search eBay for the generic versions.
When purchasing a dome diffuser, I would however recommend that you get a translucent dome as opposed to a white dome. Translucent domes will allow more light out of the diffuser than white versions. Amazon carries Dome Flash Diffusers starting as low as $10, which is what we used for the shots shown below.
Before starting, let me be clear, adding filters onto your lens will slightly reduce image quality. The nicer the filter, the less it will affect your images. So, that being said, we don’t shoot with filters on the lens, unless we need a filter for a specific purpose. Also, you want to make sure you always get a filter matching the quality of your lens. It doesn’t make sense buying a $10 filter with cheap quality glass to put over your $1500 Nikkor or Canon L lens.
There are three types of filters that are staples in our camera bag which are listed below.
Polarizing Filter – In harsh mid-day sun, a polarizing filter will serve to limit light coming in from different directions giving you better overall contrast and colors. In addition, it is vital for shooting through reflective surfaces such as water or glass.
Neutral Density Graduated Filter – A neutral density graduated filter is the first filter you nature lovers should put into your bag. Once you attach the ND graduated filter onto your lens, you move it into position to cover the sky and have it graduate down to the horizon. The lens filter will block light from the bright sky while allowing you to raise the exposure on the darker ground. This will allow you to properly expose your landscapes without having to blow out the skies or clip the shadows.
ND Filter – A standard ND filter is wonderful for more advanced photographic effects. For example, if you want to shoot in bright daylight while shooting at a wide open aperture, your camera shutter speed will be too high to use off-camera lighting triggers such as a Pocket Wizard which is limited to a max sync speed of 1/250th of a second. That is where an ND filter comes in. An ND filter can reduce the amount of light coming into your lens by anywhere from 2 – 8 stops of light, allowing you to lower your shutter speed as needed.
With this filter, along with some off camera lights, you can create effects like that shown below.
One of my favorite accessories is this little detachable pocket called a FishBomb. It is made by Undfind, and it is used to add a pocket wherever you need it. On a bag, a strap, a belt, etc. It is made to hold filters, batteries, CF cards, but I love using it for holding my lens caps which I used constantly lose during shoots. At only $10 for a basic FishBomb, it is a steal. It can be purchased at Undfind.com or on Amazon.
Cable releases are a simple and cheap option when it comes to creating sharper images. Wireless cable releases can even be used to trigger away cameras allowing you to setup multiple angles and fire them from a single point. Cable releases are absolutely crucial for us in shooting HDR and long exposure imagery. Not bad for an accessory that you can buy for $5 on Amazon. Of course, do expect to pay more for higher end programmable cable releases. Obviously, you will want to use a cable release in conjunction with a tri-pod which can be cheap, or expensive for a nice durable tri-pod.
With our trusty cable release, tripod, and some creative in house processing, we shoot HDR shots like those below:
We love these inexpensive little tools in our toolkit and we hope you all enjoy them too! Have fun!
May 11, 2012 05:16 am
I've read the comments, and still can't believe why some keep bringing up the $1,000 lenses. If you own a $1k + lens, are you the one reading 5 Cheap Must-Have Photographic Accessories?
OK, lets say you're like me, are a growing photographer, and are working on moving up, and money is an issue. You aren't making big money photoshoots, so you don't own big dollar equipment. (common sense I think.) Lets say you own a basic "entry level" DSLR, like a Nikon 3100 or 5100, or a Cannon Rebel XSi or T2i or T3. You only have the included kit lens (prob a 15-80mm f/3.5-5.6, retail $160 if bought seperately.) Lets say you maybe even own a 2nd lens. Prob name brand f/1.8, or a 3rd party 50-200. All of these lenses cost about $200 each. SO... what grade of filter would you say are good for these basic grade lenses?
(I live in a smaller size town, don't have any DSLR owner friends, and we don't have a camera store. Only a Walmart, and they only sell the P&S cameras, so borrowing one isn't an option.)
December 31, 2011 12:37 pm
@Matt, I have the Lightscoop and its great but only for the right indoor applications where you have light enough walls and ceiling as well as low enough ceiling.
November 19, 2011 05:40 pm
any filter priced at $10 is not worth it. I dont mean to make it sound like that you have to pay tons of money to get decent gear but when u have a 1500 lens does it truly make sense to mount a $15 polorizing filter on it that causes color shifts and softens ur images? decent 77mm filters cost just a tad bit over a hundred. Same goes for nd filters.
November 7, 2011 03:36 pm
Never forget the absolute cheapest Dome Diffuser: the venerable rubbing alcohol bottle cut in half, $1 US, and the rubbing alcohol is free! Perfect fit over Nikon's flashes, and even extendible!
November 5, 2011 08:27 pm
One of the best article with follow up video I have seen. Thank you.
October 28, 2011 07:15 pm
Photography - everything is $$$$$$$$$$$.. ;D
October 24, 2011 04:32 pm
Hi in the second picture you used to illustrate the HDR photos while using the cable release, it was an HDR photo of people!! How do you do that? i understand that the HDR photos are consisting from multiple number of photos, so isn't it possible that they might move a bit making the photo looks a bit out of focus?? The thing is i saw this kind of HDR photos in several places, duno yet how to do it!!
October 15, 2011 03:48 pm
What about tripods? Those things are more of a must have than the fish bombs, and you can get them real cheap too. Sure, the cheap ones won't perform as well as the more expensive ones, but the same thing applies to filters, shouldn't it? My point is filters shouldn't be included in this list because the good ones that you want to use are too expensive while the cheap ones that qualify for this list don't do that good a job.
The fish bomb is not a must have. Pockets in pants and jackets do a perfectly fine job. Wear a pair of cargo pants or use a photographer's vest so you don't need to use the fish bomb. If you ague that those things I mentioned are more expensive than fish bombs, then walk around naked with nothing but the fish bomb and find out how much that'll cost you Ü
Three suggestions I may include: (1) Shower cap - for those times when you get caught out in the rain and you don't have an umbrella with you. Just pull out the shower cap and wrap it around your camera until you get to cover. It won't improve your pics but it's proven a life saver for me on more than one occasion;
(2) Bubble level - a definite must have for photogs that do a lot of landscape work and are anal about keeping their horizons level. A hotshoe mounted bubble level doesn't cost much but saves you a lot of time in photoshop having to correct those slightly tilting horizons. You'll still need an expensive tripod to support all your equipment but that cheap bubble level will save you the need to buy a Canon 7D for the built in electronic level it has; and
(3) Lens cleaning gear - rocket blower, lens pen, lens tissue/cloth are definite must haves when shooting outdoors (and sometimes even indoors). No matter how careful you are, gunk can always be blown into your lens when you least expect it and you really don't want to be stuck with just your t-shirt as your only option to wipe away that gunk. As for the cost, who can put a price on a clean, scratch free lens? These things are worth their weight in gold. Good thing they're also pretty light, which makes them pretty inexpensive. I have a set of all 3 which I got for around $10.
UV filters are not a must have. Many photogs would rather go commando (no UV filter) because even the best ones still cause some image degradation (like the author mentioned in his article). These filters are more for protection and peace of mind. Think of it as wearing armor. Sure, you can't move around as well as you would without it, but when something's coming at you, you feel safer. The image degradation caused by UV filters isn't something to concern yourself too much over as it is only for the professionals who are overly concerned about the quality of their output. For lesser mortals like us, a simple test would be to take a picture without a UV filter, than borrow someone else's UV filter and take another one. Then compare the results on your computer monitor. If you don't see a difference, then get a UV filter.
Rahela, every layer of glass over your lens will add image degradation. Unless you are in a harsh environment where you fear for the safety of your lens, remove the UV before putting in another filter. The less filters in front of your lens, the better. Only use the filters you need to get the job done. Unless you live in the mountains or other really hazy regions, the only purpose UV filters really add is protection. Many pros are perfectly comfortable with the lens hood for protection so they don't have to use UV filters and just try to be careful with their gear. But when going to the beach, its best to have one on cos you never know what the wind may blow into your lens.
Finally, I absolutely love the garbage bag suggestion. Also the beanbag suggestion. The beanbag isn't as much of a must have as the garbage bag if you have a tripod but still a good thing to have around with you.
October 14, 2011 11:41 pm
Jaakko, it's probably because UV filters seem more commonplace. Where I am currently nobody seems to stock clear ones but they stock UVs. The UV part is irrelevant, it's just an element in front of the expensive glass that stops it getting damaged first. I just wondered whether others use them to protect their front elements.
October 13, 2011 08:19 pm
Why are people always talking about UV filters as lens protectors? It`s been tested many times that UV filters don`t really give you better pictures, so why not just buy a clear lens protector filter? HOYA for one make just plain clear filters that aren`t really filtering anything, they`re meant to just protect the lens and are less expensive than UV filters. And as they are totally clear, they have less effect on the image quality than other filters too.
October 13, 2011 06:20 am
October 11, 2011 08:10 pm
@Rahela, yes that's not a problem. Round screw in filters have a thread on the front that replicates the one they screwed into. Either way any ND grad you buy will be part of a system - cokin have several systems as do Lee filters - that consists of a holder that accepts the rectangular filter and an adaptor ring that attaches to the filter thread on the lens.. The series normally indicates quality and/or size of the filters - some can be used on wider angle lenses than others. These filters are normally rectangular and made of glass or resin.
October 11, 2011 06:23 pm
@ mark - can you place just ND graduated filter right on the lens, without the UV filter?
I apologize for the very basic questions, filters are still a novelty for me (as this is my first DSLR).
October 11, 2011 10:04 am
Hey Matt, I've just bought a lightscoop while I save for a speedlight and am very impressed! Well worth the money! The difference it makes is very impressive, buy one and I promise you won't regret it.
October 11, 2011 07:49 am
@dandwdad I think for some lens cap lanyards are great. But, I really dislike using them. I can't stand having my cap and a string dangling from my lens during a shoot.
October 10, 2011 08:12 pm
Rahela, I've always found that for sunsets a ND grad works wonders (2 to 3 stop) in balancing out the difference in exposure. My only concern has been, when coupled with a protective UV filter, how many layers are in front of the lens. Although expensive I believe the Lee filters come highly recommended.
October 10, 2011 07:06 pm
I bought the UV filter before taking my beach holiday as a suggestion I found on this site, and I felt better (more protected lens) against sand and water.
These images can be seen on my Dreamstime page, the first three rows are taken with the filter attached.
Overall, I was satisfied - I'm selling on micro-stock agencies and most of the photographs I've submitted so far were accepted - but some of the sunset shots were blown out and I wasn't quite satisfied with them. Bear in mind that I'm a DSLR newbie.
Would polarizing filter and/or neutral density graduated filter help with that?
Which ones would you recommend for Nikon D3100 with 18-105 VR lens?
October 9, 2011 01:56 pm
@dandwdad - I appreciate the thought but my outdoor shoots are usually spent roaming around large parks or urban down towns. Wind and time are my two biggest enemies. I can't lug around a bunch of gear (cheap pvc or not) and set up each shot just to have a gust of wind blow everything around. A fill flash handheld or on a lightweight stand is the best that I usually have time for. Check out the video, doubt any portable stand would hold those sails in that wind!
October 9, 2011 12:49 pm
Seeing as you mentioned it not worth putting cheap filters on expensive lenses, where do people stand with regards putting UV filters on them (not cheap ones) to protect the front element from getting damaged?
October 9, 2011 03:54 am
Thank you for your refreshingly cost cutting approach. I agree - in most things except the quality of the lens - it is the photographer and not the camera that captures the better image.
October 8, 2011 04:31 pm
Mighty Fix It silicone tape (can get it on Amazon). Stays in place with self-tension. No adhesive, doesn't dry out, rain doesn't hurt it. Fasten camera to a fencepost, wrap a tripod leg, etc.
October 8, 2011 08:48 am
@That Photog - if you look around on the web there are some really cool designs for PVC self standing supports. They may not be near as pretty as the really expensive metal ones are but they are far lighter and less expensive and do the same thing. Some of the designs have really cool multiple uses too. You could also use a music stand to hold your reflector. For me the windshield reflectors work pretty well...gold and silver and are pretty cheap (yes regular ones are pretty cheap too.) You could also use low $ tripods to hold the reflector - then crank it up and down.
@Pye - why not add the lens cap lanyards? $3 and you can attach them to other things besides your wrist. Also the AA battery packs that can connect multiple packs together but you can sort them by color (green - new, red used, blue good ...) < $10 :) Memory card case? Loose cards falling out everywhere - not a good idea and you can sort by size or by "empty, partial, full."
October 8, 2011 01:25 am
Just purchased a digital cable release,good bit of kit,but even better just arrived from Hong Kong a wireless shutter release,only cost £9.99 free p&p? ideal,cannot wait to use it.
Excellent review on the 5 must haves, any advise from this site is always taken on board,it all helps to broaden my knowledge on photography.
October 7, 2011 11:45 pm
I totally need to get some reflectors. Everything else above I own and definitely use.
I don't own any reflectors because 95% of my shooting is candid and there is no opportunity to use a reflector. But for the times I do shoot portraits of my kids....
October 7, 2011 08:21 pm
Recently I read the Footprint Travel Photography book by Steve Davies (if I remember all the details correctly) and he recommended using a UV filter AT ALL TIMES on all lenses. As well as reducing haze and showing up the colours better, the main reason to do this was to protect the beautiful glass on your lenses, which is really costly and hard to replace when damaged. All you nee to do instead is use a UV filter.
I can see it being useful for travelling, especially in windy and sandy conditions.
Would you recommend doing this or not?
October 7, 2011 06:17 pm
Are you sure they are that unbelievable cheap?
October 7, 2011 04:26 pm
The video on the iPhone and reflectors was fantastic and did very well in getting across your point that is less about what you carry than what you see.
October 7, 2011 11:24 am
Thanks for the link to Amazon! I found me a $4 remote shutter release for my Sony Alpha!
October 7, 2011 10:43 am
Love the reflectors. Unfortunately, they only work well with an assistant or indoors with stands (or a lot of time to set up weights and stands). On a senior portrait session I can sometimes get the mom to hold the reflector for me but usually I just have to make due with a slaved flash for fill. So I would second the need for a wireless slave. I use the RF-603 transceivers and they work great.
October 7, 2011 09:11 am
Great tips on these the five basic accessories. Have just gotten a new digital camera after using a film camera after years of use. Love this site for its no nonsense approach to photography. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us newbies.
October 7, 2011 09:05 am
How timely! I was looking at reflectors at Amazon a couple of days ago, and wondered if the less expensive ones would work effectively, and you've answered my question! The info on products here is so useful. Thank you!
October 7, 2011 05:44 am
Does anyone know this? http://www.lightscoop.com/what-is-lightscoop.html I was considering to buy it instead of a diffuser, any opinion?
October 7, 2011 05:07 am
Erik, variable ND filters are around 5-10x more expensive than a standard ND filter since you can adjust filter density on the fly. A standard ND filter can be purchased for $20, though a high quality one for professional level lenses will be around $60-$80.
October 7, 2011 04:54 am
I am really greatful for your insightful article on photography accessories.It was educative,enlightening & an eye opener.I am new in the world of photography so such kind of write-ups are some of the things that helps people like me to up our game and increase knowlegde in the field of imageries. I am a very passionate lover of quality professional photographic images. So, being that I am still learning to becoming a guru in the world of photography I need all the assistance & support from those who have gone ahead of me so as to help me get to the zenith of my quest in becoming a professional photographer.I need scholarship to study in the UK/America on photography.Any help would be very well appreciated.Thanks.
October 7, 2011 01:59 am
Totally agree with reflectors and diffusers for outdoor portrait work - they are indespensible for modifying light. Flash diffusers are great as well - the bigger the better! I would like to add a wireless trigger - that way you can get the flash off the camera if you have an extra set of hands!
The neutral density filter is not cheap - I have a Singh Ray Variable ND which I paid a couple hundred for. I found it useful for this shot of a lake in Canada just at sunset to smooth out the choppy surface!
October 7, 2011 01:50 am
Great tips on inexpensive accessories. I have a question - which would you recommend for food photography?
October 7, 2011 12:26 am
For outdoor photographers, I would also include a trash bag. Takes up ZERO room in the camera bag, can be use to lie on or sit on when taking low angle shots and the ground is wet, can be used as an emergency poncho - or, if you have your priorities straight: keep your gear dry - should you get caught in the rain, and last, but not least, used as an actual trash bag, should you be kind enough to haul out garbage that less-considerate others have left.
Best of all is the price....:-)
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