You finally have your new camera and after the first few weeks of taking it out, you begin to realize that there may be other things that you need. Sometimes it is hard to know what photography accessories are really necessary and which are more “nice to have” items. It’s certainly possible to spend a lot of money on extra photography gear so it pays to put a bit of thought into it.
Of course, what you need will depend on the kind of photography you will be doing. A landscape photographer will need lots more things than a city street photographer. A studio portrait shooter will have a whole shopping list of expensive lights and stands required (not to mention the studio space in which to put it all).
But let’s start at the beginning, what are the most basic and necessary photographic accessories.
1. Extra Camera Batteries
Having a spare camera battery is a lifesaver, especially if you have remembered to charge it in advance. There is nothing worse than running out of power for your camera when you are away from home. You can choose to buy the branded battery to suit your camera, but there are also more cost effective third party options. My preference is to stick with branded, I have found they perform better over the life of the battery. Feel free to run your own experiments though.
For anyone shooting in very cold weather, it’s recommended that you have several batteries and some way of keeping them warm. Very cold weather chews through battery power, as do taking long exposures or lots of burst shooting.
2. Spare Memory Cards
Opinion is divided on whether you should have a few high capacity memory cards, or several smaller capacity ones. The theory is if a card gets corrupted, with a smaller capacity card you run the risk of losing less images. Check which memory cards are recommended or preferred for your camera as there are several brands available, but not all perform at the same level.
Check the speed of the card as well, if you are likely to do a lot of fast shooting. How well the card can process those bursts of images can have impact on the performance of your camera. If a card is too slow you will get buffer overuns as the card struggles to keep up saving all the frames.
Once you have several memory cards, it also makes sense to have some way of organizing and storing them. Some people have different systems to indicate when cards are full or empty. Come up with a plan so you know which cards are exposed and which are ready to go.
3. A Camera Bag
I am quite convinced that the perfect camera bag is like the Holy Grail – impossible to find. Everyone has different requirements which mean there is no one solution. Backpacks, roller bags, sling bags, waist packs, straps, clips, belts, and body harnesses are all available options.
There are so many choices and it can be easy to get confused, here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a camera bag:
- Look for good padding in the shoulder straps.
- That the bag is the right length for your back (I am an average height woman and a lot of bags are too long for me).
- It has enough pockets to keep useful stuff like filters and batteries and for them to be easily accessible
- The bag is as light as possible.
- How does it behave when you put it on the ground, does it tip over?
- That it is waterproof (water resistant material, flaps over the zips and the best bags come with a built in rain cover).
- There is enough room to store all your stuff safely with sufficient padding and dividers.
- There are good cheststraps and waist belts on backpack style bags (they take up a surprising amount of the load off your shoulders if you use them).
Over time you will probably try several different styles of bag until you find an option that is the best compromise for what you want versus what you can find.
Pretty much everywhere you go with your camera will involve some form of walking for able bodied people. This means you need to have good supportive comfortable footwear which is suitable to your conditions. Don’t forget good quality socks as well (my preferred brand is Thorlo). When looking for shoes or boots take into consideration weight, fit, comfort, flexibility, waterproofness and of course the price.
Heavy boots are really tiring to walk in for long periods but you might need them for really cold weather. Depending on the type of walking and situations you will encounter, you may even consider more than one set of footwear.
5. Jackets and Outer Layers
Modern technology has made outdoor clothing very light, and it is recommended that you build up layers to adjust to changing conditions. Being too hot and sweating in very cold conditions is uncomfortable but also may contribute to hypothermia, particularly if wind chill is a factor.
So build up a selection of light technical layers you can wear or carry easily in your bag or pocket. I have three jackets, the grey one is very light and warm and scrunches down into all the corners of my pack. The green jacket is a heavier hunting jacket that has excellent wind protection, with huge pockets in the front. Not shown is a rain shell to layer over the grey jacket for added dryness protection.
6. Extra Protection
Hats and gloves are also a necessity to keep you warm and dry. Particularly if you are outside doing landscapes or nature photography and you are sitting still for long periods. Again, layering up is useful, pictured are my thin windproof but quite warm gloves, with some heavier gloves to put on over top. The heavier gloves make it difficult to use the camera, which is why two layers of protection help me to function and stay warm.
The bottom half also needs protection. These are rain trousers that are designed to pull on over top of your standard leg layers.
Your backpack and camera also deserve consideration for protection as well. Pictured below are my orange backpack rain cover and a rain cover for my camera that allows shooting in the rain.
Unless you are a hardcore street photographer (needing to be light and mobile) then a tripod will likely be a requirement at some point. Necessary for sharp landscape images, long exposures, astrophotography, macro and all kinds of studio work.
A tripod requires two components to work – the legs and the head. Sometimes you can purchase them bundled together, or you may wish to purchase them separately to suit certain requirements. Here are some key things to look for in a tripod:
- Are the legs tall enough for you? I was surprised to find many tripods too short for me at 5’6″ – having the right sized legs makes it easier on your neck and reduces the need to use the center pole.
- Does the center pole adjust to horizontal mode? Very useful for doing still life and macro work.
- Is it a clip or a twist-lock type of leg extension? People prefer different options – wildlife photographers often use twist-lock legs as they are quieter.
- How heavy is it? Carbon fiber is the lightest option, but it is also very expensive and in comparison, not always that light. Plus a heavier tripod offers more stability when used outside.
- Is there at least one leg wrapped? Carrying a bare metal pole on a cold frosty night is unpleasant.
Tripod heads come in many variations as well. Ball and socket are quite common but take two hands to utilize. A good quality head will be made out of solid material and be strong enough to hold your camera and its heaviest lens at a variety of angles. Do your research on weight tolerances and creep before purchasing.
Additional tripod accessories worth considering are L-plates for your camera body, and if you are into macro, nodal rails as well. Also learn how to take your tripod legs apart and clean, especially when used in water or in the ocean. This will extend the life of your tripod and save you money.
Take time to invest in a good tripod/head combination and it will last you for many years.
8. Camera Manual
It’s small and light and easy to tuck into your camera bag and really handy to have when you need it. It may never get used, but it’s good to have on hand. Take your camera manual with you!
9. Card Reader
There are several different ways to transfer data from your camera to your computer. Some new camera bodies have wireless, or can be connected via a cable to the computer for data transfer. However, that tends to chew up battery power quite quickly on the camera.
My preference is to use a USB card reader. USB 3 or the newer USB-C provide fast data transfer for those in a hurry. Additionally having a small portable reader allows you to take it with you when traveling, allowing you to download on the road.
Card readers are cheap, light, easy to pack and come in really useful when traveling. Get one with lots of different ports to cover any requirements.
10. Other Useful Stuff
There are other non-photo things that are useful to have around as well such as; change for parking meters or entry fees, a compass, sunscreen (mine is on a carabiner clipped to the outside of my backpack for easy access), and a pen and paper is always useful.
Other items that may come in handy are; business cards, model release forms, snacks, your cell phone loaded with a variety of useful apps, and the list goes on.
What you need in terms of photography accessories will depend on the type of photography you do and where you do it. This list should cover the basics that any new photographer is likely to need, or at least might need to think about investing in at some point. Being aware of your options is important as good bags and tripods can be expensive, so you will need to budget for them.
Many people forget about their own personal comfort and think cheaper clothing options will be okay. For general purpose photography that may well be the case, but anyone heading into nature should be as prepared as they can be. Good quality outdoor clothing will last and be an investment. No one wants to miss a sunrise because they were cold and wet and in an unpleasant situation.
Remember to look after yourself as well as your camera gear.