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Essential Extra Photography Kit Worth Buying

Ah yes. You've got your Digital Camera, and want to start taking your Photography a little more seriously, so what accessories do you really need to help you use your kit more productively, and take better pictures?

Here's a great video from Paul's Photo about camera accessories. I don't agree with all he says, but it's a great start.

VideoJug: Digital Camera Accessories

There's some accessories you simply must buy (or have), and for me these are; camera bag, extra batteries, extra memory, tripod, polarizing filter, photo editing software, cd / dvd burner, Flickr Pro Account and / or an online backup solution.

Camera Bags. You need something to carry your camera, extra batteries, filters, tripod etc, and if you've got a dSLR all those extra lenses. But you also need room for water bottles, lunch, phone, maps / magazines etc.

If you have got a dSLR go for a bag that is designed to carry them, with specially sized compartments to keep everything safe and protected. If you've got a compact or bridge camera, you don't need a dedicated bag. I use an old backpack, but what is important is that my camera goes inside a smaller, padded bag inside the backpack, to protect it from dust and being knocked about. Check out the video about what's in my backpack.

The best place to buy a dedicated camera bag is your local photography store. Take your kit with you and ask to try various makes and designs. See which ones feel comfy while on your shoulder, fully loaded, and which are easiest to use.

Once you've got your bag, load it up so it's ready to go - when you want to shoot just grab your bag and you're off. Remember to leave the bag and compartments open to prevent moisture build up, and if you've get some packets of silica gel drop them in too.

Extra Batteries. There's nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a shoot to have your camera die because it's run out of juice.

If your camera runs on AA's, grab a charger and a couple of spare packs of Ni-Mh batteries, with a minimum rating of 2000mah. Charge them up, hold each set together with an elastic band, then pop them in your camera bag.

It's a bit more expensive if your camera has a model-specific battery - if its too much to buy a spare, just build in a routine where you charge up your camera after every shoot, and also follow the manufacturers instructions when it comes to draining it every now and again to condition the battery to sustain its life.

More Memory. SD and Compact Flash cards are now incredibly cheap, and getting cheaper all the time. First off, make sure you format your cards inside your camera, from the menu functions.

Before buying any cards, check your cameras manual to see what the maximum size card it can take, and any other specifications.

Next is the debate over whether its better to have a few smaller cards or one big one. With lots of small cards, if one fails (or you accidentally erase the photos), you don't lose all your pictures from a shoot. However, you're more likely to physically lose one of the cards, you may drop it when changing cards, it may fall out of your bag etc. If you've got one big card, it'll stay in the camera all day, so no chance of loosing it or mislaying it. The danger is in it failing (unlikely), but what's more likely is that you could accidentally erase the images or format the card.

I'll leave the final choice up to you. I personally use two 1gb SD cards, but I've never filled one up on a shoot, I've never had a card fail, but this does limit the amount of video I can take on my camera (30 mins per card).

The Tripod. The Photographers friend. If there's only one accessory you buy, make it a tripod. Tripods give your camera a stable base, which means that your pictures will be sharper than any you can take hand-held.

A tripod does more - it slows you down. This may seem a little odd, but this time gives you a chance to look around, check your composition, look at the light, and consider your options. You can fix your camera, check the viewfinder, take a few shots, then have a look around again. You're inserting time into your photography work-flow, which means you'll end up with better pictures.

If I'm on a Photowalk I often fix my camera onto my Tripod and leave it there - this prevents me from being lazy and not setting it up. I just collapse the legs and carry it round, once when shooting in a wooded area someone thought I was carrying a rifle though....

Which tripod you get (how much you spend) depends on the weight of your camera. With Point and Shoots, or smaller Bridge Cameras, you can get away with the cheaper tripods - but if you've got a dSLR you'll want to spend a bit more cash and get something a lot stronger.

Features to look for are size - will it fit in your bag, is it light enough to carry around all day, and it's nice to have a quick release plate to fix to the bottom of your camera to speed up use. Does it have bubble levels to make sure its flat? More expensive models require a separate head, so if you think that'll benefit you, visit your local camera shop and have a play. You can buy smaller tripods such as the Gorilla Tripods, but I'd suggest getting a traditional model first, then decide if it's worth getting a different form factor.

I use a really cheap model from Asda - and its great. It's small enough to fit in my backpack, light, and I can set it up in seconds, but my camera doesn't weigh much at all. The important thing is to practise using it, and always take it with you. All of my best photos have been taken on a Tripod, so I can't really say any more then that!

Polarizing Filter. This bit of kit is pure magic. A polarizing filter screws on the front of your lens, then blocks out glare from the Sun reflecting off plants, buildings, water, etc, which means that colours become more saturated. Grass is greener. The sky is bluer. Another effect is that you can cut out the reflections from water, so the water can become see-through - for lovely treatments that can't be achieved in Photoshop.

Polarizers work best on Sunny days, and when you're at right-angles to the Sun. You then simply turn the filter and the effect comes into play. Easy.

To get the right filter for your camera you need to know the lens thread size, and then its just a case of your budget. The more expensive filters use better glass, have less flare, and will be more scratch resistant. An alternative is to go with the Cokin Filter System, where a specific adapter is required, but then you can use a multitude of generic filters.

Its simple, if you're going to be taking landscape shots, get a Polarizing Filter, you won't regret it.

Photo Editing Software. Often overlooked, yet buying decent Photo Editing Software (and learning how to use it) is one of the most important tools in making your pictures look better.

Most Digital Cameras, apart from expensive dSLR's, produce images that will benefit from more contrast, more colour saturation, and perhaps a little sharpening. My advice is to get Photoshop Elements. Don't think of it as a cut-down version of Photoshop - consider Photoshop as a "Pro" version of Elements with features most users will never need.

The power of using Elements is "Local Editing". This means that apart from the changes you can make to the whole picture, you can work on individual parts without effecting the whole. Everything can be non-destructive, and with a little practice, very simple. Spend £60 and get Photoshop Elements, you will not be sorry.

CD / DVD Burner. You've probably already got a cd or DVD burner in your PC or Mac, if you haven't, get one, it'll become an essential part of your back-up process.

Your back-up work flow will basically be to shoot your photos, and as soon as you get home copy them to your PC and then immediately burn them to CD / DVD, that's your first back-up location.

I have to point out that CD's / DVD's won't last forever, even if stored safely and not used. The media itself will start to degrade, so it's important to have another back-up location, and re-copy your discs every year or so. A better long term solution would be to invest in a DROBO, which is an array of hard-discs with a massive capacity and built in redundancy, but I just don't have the cash for that at the moment.

Flickr Pro / Online Backup. We've talked already about making back-ups of your images to cd's / dvd's, but the important next step is online backup. You need to store your images somewhere where they won't be lost if your house is burgled, there's an earthquake, or your PC goes pop.

If your camera takes jpgs, then a Flickr Pro account is about the cheapest option. For $25 a year you get unlimited uploads, you can organise your archives into folders, and make those folders private. You also get the benefit of the full power of Flickr for sharing your photo's - you can replace images, have loads of sets and collections and join loads of groups. Well worth the asking price.

If your camera shoots RAW, you may well want a Flickr Pro account anyway, but you can't upload RAW files. To archive those files online you'll need a different solution - a backup service that will save all your files, so look at something like Mozy or Carbonite. These solutions are more expensive, but you're getting peace of mind that your pictures, and all the other files on your pc, are safe on the Internet, "in the cloud".

Phew! Quite a list! If you get what I've recommended you'll be good to go, and won't really need much else to start off with. Obvious things I've missed out are a good printer, maybe a new pc for faster editing, card-reader for faster picture transfers, and cleaning kit for the sensors on dSLRs, but you don't really need them to start off with.

Thanks for reading, Rob.

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