If you read my post back in September about Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), you know that I’m a firm believer in making smart choices about photography-related expenditures. It’s so easy to get hypnotized by all of the shiny new trinkets and pieces of equipment that if you aren’t careful you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the rabbit hole with lots of great gear, but little else to show for it. That being said, if you are one of those lucky individuals who just got their first DSLR over the holidays, there are seven accessories which should be at the top of your new wish list. I usually hesitate to use words like “essential,” but sometimes it’s the little things that pack the biggest punch.
Spare Camera Battery
Camera battery technology has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. While I can’t really tell you the last time a battery actually died on me during a shoot, I can tell you that they do seem to occasionally sprout legs and play hide-and-seek. Seriously, though, I can usually make it through an entire 12-hour wedding shoot, with charge to spare on a single battery. As a strict adherent to the not putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket, though, the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing there are back-ups is huge.
As a side note, it’s also a good idea to have a system for keeping track of what’s charged and what’s spent. I keep my batteries in a Think Tank DSLR Battery Holder. Contacts down means charged, and contacts up means spent.
Finding the right camera bag is no small task. Trust me– I have eight…and I can quit any time I want. If you’re looking for your first, though, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to purchase a bag that is bigger than what you think you need. Once you start accumulating the items on this list, as well additional lenses and other accessories you decide you can’t live without, you’re going to start running out of room pretty quickly. The Think Tank Retrospective 30 or City Walker 20 are great “starter size” bags.
If your new camera has a built-in, pop-up flash, please promise me you will never use it. It is, by far, the single-most unflattering light source ever created. With my apologies to natural light photographers everywhere, a solid understanding of off-camera flash is one of the biggest steps you can take towards elevating your photography to the next level. The first rung of that ladder is an external flash like the Nikon SB910 or Canon 600EX. There are other “off brands” available, like the Yongnuo, but they tend to have fewer advanced features and only work with manual settings. Make sure you have lots of AA batteries on hand. Unlike camera batteries, speedlights tend to go through batteries pretty quickly.
For a long time, the generally accepted wisdom was that you get what you pay for. I once read an article where the author suggested that spending 10% of your camera’s price tag on a tripod was an appropriate guideline. By his rationale then, your $2,000 camera should never go on a tripod and head combination that costs any less than $200. I suppose it’s a viable approach– we often equate higher price with higher quality. The flip-side of the coin, however, is that several tripod companies have entered the market over the past couple of years, bringing with them less expensive, high-quality options. But when do you cross the line from “inexpensive” to “cheap?” A comparably sized tripod (with head) from 3 Legged Thing, Manfrotto, or MeFoto can vary in price from $195 to $400. Test a tripod in person whenever possible. See how stable it is with your gear mounted on it. If you don’t feel secure, try a different one.
A tripod is a good first step towards eliminating camera shake. Another is using either a cable or wireless shutter release. This is going to be essential for long exposures, sharp macro photography, or even just getting yourself into the photo with family and friends. Be careful when purchasing, however, because many releases are tailored to specific camera makes and/or models. This is another one of those areas where you can spend a little or a lot. If all you need is something to trigger your shutter, don’t be afraid to spend a little less.
Extra Memory Cards
Regardless of whether your camera uses CF or SD cards, at some point one of two things will definitely happen. You will either run out of space on your card or it will fail. Remember that not putting all your eggs in one basket thing I mentioned earlier? Same applies to memory cards. The cost has dropped considerably over the last few years, even among the major manufacturers like Lexar and Sandisk, making back-ups and peace-of-mind more affordable than ever.
Something to Keep Your Lens Clean
Clean glass is essential to good photography. While there are lots of options available, two of my favorites are the Spudz Microfiber Lens Cloth and the LensPen. Both are inexpensive, high-quality, non-chemical alternatives to keeping your lenses clean and clear.
There’s a lot to learn when you get your first DSLR. A few essentials beyond the camera and lens can help make the learning curve much easier to navigate. You can also check out my 15 Favorite Photography Products Under $50 for more ideas.
Do you have a photography “essential” that you always keep on hand? If so, share it in the comments.