Fall is in the air again, which means– among other things– that I’m back in the classroom, teaching my digital photography class for kids. I have some great students this year, ranging in age from 10-14, who have already impressed me with their curiosity, talent, and desire to learn. One of the things that separates my class from other photography classes is that I don’t require my students to have a particular level of camera. As a result, I have students with DSLRs working side-by-side with students who photograph with the most basic of point-and-shoot models. By making it less about the equipment and more about how they see the world around them, some pretty cool stuff happens.
For starters, nobody is looking at anybody else in the class as if they are any less of a photographer simply because of their camera. Students with DSLRs learn to sometimes simplify their approach, while students with p&s cameras learn how to work their way around hurdles, creating great images with no regard to the perceived limitations of their gear.
The biggest thing they all have in common, though, is their desire for high-quality results. As we all know, sometimes it takes more than just a camera to achieve those results. Obviously, these are kids and budgets loom larger for them and their parents than for those of who need gear to do our jobs. I realized recently, though, that some of my favorite accessories and bits of gear fall reasonably within almost any budget. So, here is a list of my Favorite 15 under $50…in no particular order.
1. Pixel Pocket Rocket
ThinkTank Photo’s signature memory card wallet comes in multiple sizes and configurations, ranging in price from $16.75 to $19.75 for standard versions and $25.00 for limited editions. The Pee Wee PPR holds up to four CF and three SD cards, while the SD PPR holds up to nine SD cards. The original PPR holds up to ten CF cards. The PPR keeps me organized, so it’s well worth the price.
2. Spudz Microfiber Lens Cloth
The Spudz Ultra, from Alpine Innovations, is one of the best lens-cleaning alternatives I’ve ever met. It’s a 6″ x 6″ microfiber cloth that rolls into its own 2″ x 2.75″ neoprene pouch for clean, convenient storage. The cloth can handle almost any lens-cleaning situation without the need for additional solvents or solutions. It’s reusable, washable, and also works great on eye glasses, smart phones and tablets. This could be eleven of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.
While we’re on the subject of keeping lenses clean, the LensPen is another one of my favorites. The retractable brush on one end removes loose particles and dust, while the pad on the other end uses a unique carbon compound for removing and absorbing fingerprints, smudges, and other tough-to-remove problems from your lenses or filters. $15.00 for over five hundred uses is a pretty good return on a pretty small investment.
4. DSLR Battery Holder
Another entry from ThinkTank. Kind of like a PPR for batteries, this battery holder comes in two sizes, accommodating either two or four standard-size DSLR batteries. The pro version holds two professional-size DSLR batteries. These battery holders are ideal for keeping the electrical contacts on your batteries scratch-free, which can also help extend the life of your batteries.
5. Westcott 40″ 5-in-1 Reflector
This is one of those must-haves for any photographer, regardless of whether you shoot with strobes or natural light, in a studio or on location. At about $40.00, this 5-in-1 Reflector gives you lots of options and an added element of control over many different lighting scenarios. Silver, gold, white, black, and translucent panels in a single set-up provide simple solutions to many common lighting challenges.
6. Nasty Clamps
Nasty Clamps have become a vital piece of equipment, letting me connect speedlights, reflectors, light-weight LED panels– pretty much anything with a standard 1/4″ mount– to just about any available surface. I’ve mounted speedlights from book shelves, door frames, ceiling tiles, and trees in order to get light exactly where I need it. Most recently, I’ve started using the Nasty to hold a bounce card for food and other table-top photography.
7. Black Rapid Metro Strap
It’s been a little over two years since I ditched traditional camera straps in favor of the Black Rapid sling-style strap and I haven’t looked back. There are several different straps in the Black Rapid product line, but at $39.95 the Metro has the distinction of being the only one that qualifies for this list. While the RS-7 and Sport models are two of my favorites, the Metro is lighter and thinner, making it a great solution for street photographers and those using some of today’s smaller camera systems.
8. “Photography Q&A – Real Questions. Real Answers”
When Atlanta-based Zack Arias started his wildly popular Tumblr blog last year, he set the lofty goal for himself of answering 1,000 reader-submitted questions on anything related to photography. 106 of those questions and their answers form the foundation of “Photography Q&A.” While just about everything else on this list can help improve your photography, this book can help improve the quality of your life as a photographer. I know– it’s a bold statement. I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out if it’s true.
I really like these rear lens and body caps from LenzBuddy. Available with a wide variety pre-printed focal lengths, these are a great tool for keeping your bags or equipment shelves organized. I’m also a big fan of the custom caps with my logo, website, and phone number.
10. frio Cold Shoe Adapter
I always have at least three or four of these in my bag when I’m shooting on location. Designed to fit anything with a hot shoe, frio lets you mount your flash, light panels, or hot shoe microphones on anything with a standard 1/4-20 or 3/8″ thread. That lets me mount speedlights on Nasty Clamps, tripods, monopods, and light stands. Unlike a lot of cold shoe adapters, this one is designed to ensure that once attached, your accessories aren’t going anywhere until you’re ready to take them off.
11. DIY Ring Flash
The smooth, even lighting that only comes from a ring flash doesn’t have to cost thousands, or even hundreds of dollars. At about $25.00, this DIY Ring Flash kit will offer a huge boost to your portraits, as well as product or food photography. While perhaps not the most durable ring flash alternative, it is certainly the most affordable. Treat it well and it will do the same for you. I’ve been using the one in the photo regularly for a little over a a year and I’ll put its light quality up against any of its more expensive alternatives.
12. Rogue Flashbenders
Small flashes can pack a big punch, and Rogue Flashbenders from ExpoImaging can help make sure your light goes exactly where you want it. Designed with the location shooter in mind, the Flashbenders come in assorted sizes and are some of the most versatile flash modifiers I’ve ever used. The large Flashbender cashes out at about $40.00. An optional diffusion panel (sold separately) turns the reflector into a small softbox.
13. Gaffer’s Tape
Perhaps the single-most versatile tool ever. All the benefits of duct tape without the nasty residue. The possible uses you will encounter for gaffer’s tape will never cease to surprise you. I’ve used this stuff for everything from keeping cords safely secured in the studio to fixing a bridesmaid’s wardrobe malfunction two minutes before she had to walk down the aisle. You just never know. Don’t leave home without it.
14. White Foam Board
Just like gaff tape, you never know when a new use for white foam board will present itself. You can use these for a high-key tabletop set for product photography or– like in the photo below– as bounce cards. I always have one on location with me to help prevent lens flare (Unless, of course, I just can’t help myself and I’m shooting an old vintage couch in the middle of a corn field!). The bottom line is it’s inexpensive and you’ll find so many different uses for it.
15. Camera Cookie Cutters
Okay– maybe they won’t do anything for your photography. But sometimes you just gotta have cookies.
About The Author
Jeff Guyer is an Atlanta, GA photographer specializing in commercial
and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and street
photography. You connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.