Photographers love their gadgets and accessories, and no photographers bag would be complete without at least some sundry items. Some are more important than others though. Here are ten items that make my list of"must-have" items for your camera bag.
1. Tripod - No matter what type of rig you have, it will always be more stable if you have a tripod. I learned the hard way that here it's better to splurge than go cheap just to save a few bucks. Once you use a $25-$50 tripod a few times, the sturdier legs of even a $100 setup will become the goal, before finally you spend the $300 on a decent tripod and (in my case) a ball head for the bag. That said, any tripod is better than no tripod, and if you want something mobile, consider a Gorillapod (these are fairly frugal at around $50). I have both a Gorillapod and a Manfrotto tripod/ballhead in my bag.
2. Spare batteries - Batteries are the lifeblood of any digital camera. If you're shooting film, this may not be needed unless you have a motor drive, but regardless, without power, the camera will not run, so buy two and charge one up the day before your shoot, then the second, the night before the shoot, then make sure to pack them into your bag in the morning! I've fallen victim to charging my batteries then forgetting to pack them into my gear bag. It's rather humbling to arrive at a scheduled event and have no camera juice!
3. An external flash - It's been hammered home across the blogosphere that the built in flash on even the most powerful SLR is not the best light source to use when lighting your subject. It's on the same plane/axis as your subject and is rather difficult to wrangle under control. It's much easier to diffuse or redirect the beam of an external flash, even if it's mounted on top of your hot shoe! The current model flash for the Canon lineup is a 600 EX RT while Nikon cameras use an SB900
4. Light stand/trigger - If you have an external flash, then you really should have a light stand and a means to trigger it. By moving the flash off the camera you can really harness the power of light and make your photography pop! Light stands can be found for as little as $25 and as much as several hundred dollars. A few models I like include the Impact 6' stand and the Wescott 9908 8' stand.
5. Polarizing filter - Especially suited for landscape photographers, a polarizing filter will help bring out the deep blues of skies, and minimize haze in cloudy conditions. Even a cheap one will make a world of difference, but the better quality ones are night and day (and with a better one, you have less post production time). Trust me...you need a polarizer in your bag. My preference is a circular polarizer! Tiffen and B+W make good ones.
6. Grey card - With so much of our "focus" on easing post production time, people are always excited by software that does this and that and the other thing for you. There's nothing better than eliminating it entirely. By using a grey card to set your white balance on site, you no longer need to make adjustments after the fact, and your in camera shots will be ones you can share instantly! Remember, it's not the gear, it's who's behind it that matters! Make your raw shots matter! Here's a link to one from Lastolite
7. Memory cards - Cards are cheap, and the last position you want to be in as a photographer is that of being stuck on a shoot and you've run out of space and have to chimp your shots from that small 3" LCD on the back of your camera. Get at least a couple 16GB or 32 GB cards and you should be fine. I personally have about 6 that I rotate through. The other note here is that it helps to periodically reformat your cards to maintain the stability of the flash memory. Lexar is a popular brand that is fairly cost effective...
8. ND filter - ND filters are the ones that can adjust the amount of light that gets picked up by your sensor. These are insanely helpful when you are forced to shoot in brighter conditions than you want and you want to wrangle in the light at a global level. They come with various light stopping powers - anywhere from 0.1 and all the way up to a +10. The higher the number the more light is filtered from the scene. Naturally, the cost ratchets up a bit too...just make sure your filter matches the measurements of your lens (look at your lenscap to get sizing correct!) Tiffen makes a nice 72mm 0.9 one that is in my gear bag.
9. Business cards - You never know where your next client may come from. It could be a fellow photographer wanting to learn if you are just on a photo walk, or from an event attendee. Even if you're not hanging out a shingle per se, it's much easier to give out contact information if you have it pre-printed on a card. $10 spent at GotPrint and you'll have about 200-250 to pass out like candy!
10. Giotto Rocket Blower - Dust is the enemy and the Giottos Rocket Blower is the army that stands against it. The perils of facing the enemy unarmed is dust on your sensor (and in your shots). Keep this tool around to puff the dust away even when in the field and your post production cleanup of dust spots will be kept to the bare minimum!
Those are my ten tools I use when shooting - but I want to hear from you! What tools are on your must have list for the field? Sound off in the comments and have a great week!