Online Tutorials: Accessory Essentials

Accessories are always going to be part of a photographer's kit as things that make it easier to take the photographs you want. Below is a list of some key accessories that are pretty generic but essential to consistently produce good results.

Camera bags and cases

Whether you are a keen snapper or a professional, your camera will be your main asset. Protecting it should be at the top of your priorities. A decent camera bag or case for your kit will ensure that bumps and scratches are kept to a minimum and that you know where your camera equipment is.

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Bags can come in several styles and shapes; shoulder bags, rucksack style bags, soft padded or hard backed cases, flight cases and reinforced expedition cases are all used to carry camera equipment. Whatever you use, it must be right for you, comfortable to carry and secure.

 

Batteries

There is nothing worse than taking your camera out and finding that your battery is flat. One of the best ways to ensure this never happens is to make sure your battery is always charged.

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This problem can also be prevented if you have spares ready to put into your camera. Camera batteries come in all shapes and sizes depending upon the camera being used. If you are using a compact camera, the batteries are comparatively small and lightweight. SLR and 4/3 compact system cameras will probably have a higher capacity battery, which is therefore larger and heavier.

 

When carrying spare batteries, care must be taken to ensure that you do not short circuit or damage these cells, as they are potentially dangerous and could cause a lot of damage. Ensure they are kept in a plastic case. Most replacement batteries will have a small plastic holder to keep the contacts covered.

Most SLR cameras allow users to attach a battery grip (such as the one above), giving the camera a little more functionality and effectively doubling its battery capacity. Some photographers (including me) find that having the grip attached also makes the camera more comfortable to hold.

Spare batteries can come from other manufacturers. Photographers often debate whether original manufacturers' batteries are better than those made by third-party manufacturers. There is obviously always a price difference and perhaps some difference in quality control. The decision on the best option for you can only really come from experience.

Memory cards

Another frustration for photographers is a full memory card. Since digital cameras became popular, photographers have been advised to buy the largest memory card that they can and I completely agree with this. Memory card prices are relatively low at the moment; you can easily pick up an 8GB card for the same price as a typical take-away meal.

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In general, a memory card needs to be cleared whenever you have finished with it on a particular day or shoot.

As a rule, I clear every memory card after use and format it ready for the next time. It is a practice that ensures that the storage is in top condition and always completely reusable.

A spare memory card is also recommended; it takes up very little space / weight in your camera bag, so will not hold you back, and, as mentioned above, is relatively cheap.

For most "snappers" or amateur photographers, any memory card is suitable. For those who take their photography more seriously, you might wish to look into a "faster" memory card. The price of memory cards mostly depends upon how fast they "write to" or "read from" the memory card. Faster cards will obviously transfer the image data quicker, enabling more images to be captured over a shorter space of time.

Tripod / Monopod

A way of holding your camera still is essential when taking certain pictures such as landscapes or for night time photography. It is also extremely useful for wildlife and sports photographers as their lenses are often quite heavy to hold. Having a stable camera will significantly reduce camera shake and will ensure that your pictures are always sharp.

There are many different variations of tripod and monopod to choose from to suit everyone's requirements.

Monopod

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Basically a pole to provide stability for the camera attached to it. Useful for sports and some wildlife photographers who require somewhere to perch their heavy lens to save holding it. It is also useful to help steady the camera in all situations as it provides a way for vibrations to be absorbed.

Mini Tripod

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A mini aluminium tripod can be picked up for very little money nowadays and can really improve a photographer's images. They are compact enough to be carried with a compact camera or can be used for other purposes such as a light stand or flashgun / speedlight stand.

Travel Tripod

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A small, lightweight and sturdy tripod for travelling is key if you are into exploring the world. A larger tripod would add excess weight to your bags and take up valuable space. For tripods like this, multiple sections allow it to be compacted to a very small size, but the downside is that the smaller it becomes, the less sturdy the tripod tends to be.

Gorillapod

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A flexible tripod with multiple joints that can grab onto virtually any surface as each joint can bend or rotate in any direction. This can be very useful when attaching your camera to a rail or lamp post.

Standard Tripod

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A standard tripod (in either aluminium or carbon fibre) will give a great deal of flexibility in your photography. Higher quality models will not have any sections that flex easily, but will have additions such as a hanging pin to weigh down the tripod for further stability. Some will have a centre column to provide another adjustable axis. A standard tripod can also be used to support other pieces of equipment such as lights, flashguns / speedlights or backdrops.

Other methods

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If you do not have access to a tripod or other stable surface, one of the items that I would recommend is a bag of rice. It is fairly pliable and can be placed on some railings or a wall without disturbing or damaging your camera. This method is particularly useful for backpackers who have limited space in their bags for anything other than the essentials.

When buying a tripod, one other thing to consider is the "head". This is what gives you the control over the camera's movement and currently there are two types:

Ball head

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Small, compact and sturdy, but difficult to control fine movement.

Multi-way pan and tilt

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The lever mechanism gives finer control over position, but they are larger and often heavier.

Both of these types of "head" will often come with added accessories of their own - spirit levels, quick release plates or adjustable grips - to allow the user to refine how they use their equipment.

 

Cleaning materials

Keeping your equipment clean is a necessity - if your lens is dirty, it will clearly show up on your pictures. It is also useful to be able to keep your subject clean. A small paintbrush or blower can be used to clear dirt away from a flower or dust off an ornament. A lens cleaning cloth is the same as the cloth used to clean spectacles. It removes grease and dirt from the surface and effectively polishes it.

Over time, your camera sensor may get specks of dirt, pollen or dust on it and this can be cleaned with methanol, using swabs.

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Flashguns / speedlights

Flashguns / speedlights are covered in their own section but most commonly a photographer will use one of these to increase the available light over a short distance or to balance harsh light with harsh shadows. It is ineffective over a long distance such as photographing a valley or a monument. Flashguns / speedlights come in several formats:

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Built-in flash

Simple to use and convenient but has little range or power.

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Hotshoe mounted flash

Versatile - can bounce and change the angle the light falls at, but needs its own power supply and can be bulky.

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Off-camera flash

Works exactly like a hotshoe mounted flash, but with more opportunities to move the light course around the subject. Useful for backlit photography. This method also includes wireless triggers.

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Ringflash

A ringflash is a very soft and direct flash for portrait and flower photography. It produces pleasing results as it spreads light evenly around the subject.

 

Clips, pegs and ties

In order to compose your images, it may be necessary to hold certain objects in place or out of the way. Here are a few items that are particularly useful for this purpose:

1. Clamps are useful for holding back heavier items.

2. Some cotton thread can tie back part of a delicate structure such as a plant to remove distractions.

3. A clothes peg can also be used to hold back a delicate structure that is spoiling the composition.

4. For portrait work, a hair clip can be used to do exactly what it is designed for - to hold a person's hair out of their face.

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Reflector and diffuser

A reflector does exactly what its name suggests, it reflects light. It is particularly useful when shooting photographs where the light source is predominantly on one side, as it will bounce some light back onto the shadow producing a more even light. A reflector is also particularly useful for changing the light in a given situation. Reflectors such as a 5-in-1 have multiple surfaces (white, silver, gold, black and diffuse) that each give a different tone to your image. Reflectors also come in many different sizes, ranging from 30cm/12'' up to 5m/16' and are quite easy to transport as they are very easy to fold up.

A reflector can be fashioned out of a variety of materials if you do not have yours to hand; aluminium foil or plain white paper are all possible reflectors.