Just as with most professions and hobbies, the tools you have in your toolbox can make or break your day. In photography your toolbox is typically your camera bag. The tools in that bag can range from batteries and memory cards to camera bodies and lenses. We’ve tested a lot of gear over the years so we decided to made a list of items we think every photographer should have with them at all times. This list should apply to all types of photographers regardless of skill level. We’ll leave out the obvious items like cameras and lenses and focus more on accessories and add-ons.
1. A good camera bag
The type of photography you’re doing will dictate the type of camera bag you need. Camera bags range in size from just large enough to hold a point and shoot, to big enough to hold thousands of dollars of camera gear and supplies to suit a world traveler. Research bags in the size range for your needs. Read online reviews and watch YouTube videos. Some things to look out for are build quality, layout flexibility and longevity. My favorite over the years has always been Lowepro.
2. Tripod and mini tripod
A tripod is very important for getting those steady shots you just can’t take while holding the camera in your hands. Tripods come in a variety of sizes and are generally rated by material such as metal or carbon fiber and weight capacity. My preferred brand lately has been MeFOTO. A mini tripod is also important if you use smaller cameras. Joby's line of GorillaPod Tripods are awesome because you can flex them to adapt to your needs, attach to poles, tables and many other objects.
3. Replacement camera strap
The stock camera strap doesn’t offer much flexibility in terms of how your camera is held to your body. Your options are pretty limited to traditional around the neck or just slung onto one shoulder where it’s just a slip away from hitting the ground. If you’re like I was before getting a replacement strap you probably have the Canon or Nikon branded strap wrapped around your wrist 4 or 5 times while you clutch the camera for dear life in hopes of not dropping it. Companies like CustomSLR, BlackRapid and Ruggard offer great alternatives that will make carrying your camera more comfortable, safe, and convenient.
4. Portable battery pack
We carry more and more digital devices with us while on the go. All those devices require more juice to keep them running. A portable battery pack is a life saver when your phone, camera, or other device goes dead while away from a power outlet. I have used a number of products by Anker over the years and they have saved me many times. These can typically provide multiple full recharges of cell phones and other USB devices. I also recommend getting a portable USB powered battery charger for your camera if it’s offered for your model.
5. Smartphone or tablet
This might be an obvious one to most people as some can’t put their phone down, but it can be an important tool for your photography. New DSLR cameras that offer Wifi usually have companion apps that let you control your camera wirelessly while it’s on a tripod or transfer images for uploading to the internet on the go. Apps like PhotoPills can help plan for shoots. Apps like Lightroom mobile give you a whole photo editing studio in your pocket.
6. Spare batteries and chargers
Running out of power sucks. Having spare batteries is the best way to combat getting half way through an event and having to stop shooting because your battery indicator is flashing 1%. As mentioned above, a mobile USB charger for your batteries can also be helpful if you have the portable battery pack.
A camera flash can save you in a low light situation when using ISO to compensate just doesn’t cut it. You don’t have to buy the most expensive flash or even first party brand flash that matches your camera. There are many third party manufactures that make great flashes that work with most major camera brands.
8. Memory card holder
Imagine being on vacation and your camera bag falls into a river or other body of water. Losing all your equipment is terrible but you can’t replace images you haven’t yet backed up. I always carry waterproof memory card cases like those from Ruggard or Pelican.
9. Lens filters
Lens filters can be that trick up your sleeve to set you apart from other photographers. There are many types of filters available from ones that simply protect the front of your lens from damage and scratches to 10-stop neutral density filters that can help you get long exposures in daylight. Some of the best players in the industry are LEE Filters, B+W Filters by Schneider Optics and HOYA.
10. White balance card
Getting the proper white balance can be the different between a dull image and a stellar one. Rather than depending on the auto white balance or modes such as “daylight” or “cloudy” you can use white or grey balance cards to set a custom white balance to match your environment. Vello has sets of black, white, and grey cards available that can easily be stored in your gear bag.
11. Lens cleaning kit
Dust and liquids are easy to get on your lens but getting them off properly isn’t as simple as using your shirt to rub it off no matter how careful you try to be. Get yourself a lens cleaning kit. Altura offers kits that come with lens cleaning tissue, microfiber cloths, an air blower and cleaning solution.
12. Reflector set
If you shoot outdoors a lot and have subjects you can get close to such as people, a collapsible reflector set is an awesome way to use natural sunlight to add fill light. Neewer has some great product options.
13. Remote shutter release
For those who need to take exposures longer than 1/20th of a second you may not just need a tripod to keep your camera steady. A remote shutter release is a great way to ensure your camera doesn’t incur any vibrations while taking longer shots. More advanced remote shutter release devices offer advanced features such as intervalometer control to take time lapses. Check your camera manufacturer for compatibility.
14. Memory card reader
I used an outdated memory card reader for years until I finally had enough with slow data transfers and bought a new high speed card reader. I carry one on the go just in case I need to transfer data from a memory card to a computer. When traveling away from home for a while this is a must to ensure my data is backed up. The LEXAR Dual-Slot Reader is one of the best rated on the market and will do the job great for SD and CF cards of all speeds.
15. External hard drive and thumb drives
It’s critical to back your data up as much as possible. I always carry two small external hard drives with me so I have multiple backups in case of any hardware failure.
16. Flash light and headlamp
I spend a lot of time outdoors or in situations with low light. Having a good flashlight can help with safety and help you see when it’s too dark. I also carry a headlamp in my bag for hands free light when I need it. I use a generic brand LED headlamp that also offers red LEDs that work really well in the dark without being too harsh on the eyes.
17. Gaffer tape
I always carry a roll of gaffers tape with me. It’s a great cloth like tape that sticks to anything and holds well but doesn’t leave a residue after removing it. You can find this pretty cheap on Amazon.
18. Smartphone mount
Sometimes you just want to use your phone to get a shot or quick video but holding it still is near impossible without a decent mount. I came across the Gript product earlier this year and fell in love. It was exactly what I’ve been looking for in a mobile phone mount that serves multiple purposes. You can easily adjust it to fit just about any phone. It offers two ways to hold it. You can either strap your fingers in using the Velcro strap which gives a natural feel like you’re holding a camcorder or you can screw it onto a tripod head for stable video recording. I love that it also has a tripod thread on top if you need to stack accessories.
It’s one thing for your equipment to run out of battery power, but when your body runs out of juice it’s game over. I always carry a handful of snacks with me to save me between meals or when a shoot is running too long. Granola bars are usually my go to for quick energy but use what works best for you.
I say drinks, but really this should be strictly defined as water. I carry a Camelpak when I can so I always have a few liters of water with me. This may not matter so much if you work in a studio but when I’m out and about the last thing I want to have to worry about is finding a drink to quench my thirst.
These items aren’t the only things you’ll need for a great day of taking pictures but we have found over the years they tend to be the most critical. We hope you enjoyed today's blog. We’re always happy to help others learn the knowledge we’ve gained over the years. If you have any questions or would like some further reading, please reach out to us via our contact page, follow us on Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page. You can always check back here every Friday for a new photography related blog post.