If you've ever ventured forth into a photography shop you'll already know that there are hundreds of accessories and gadgets that you can buy to improve or enhance your photography experience in one way or another.
These can range from simple memory card wallets to high-end startrackers for astrophotography, and there are so many toys on the market that it can be difficult to know where to start. Do you really need that cool new gadget, or will it just end up gathering dust after a couple of uses?
Whether you're searching for yourself or you have a photographer in your life with a birthday coming up, here are our absolute favourite accessories for the budget conscious photographer:
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Upgraded Camera Strap
Chances are that if you recently bought a DSLR or Mirrorless camera system you'll have been wandering around with it dangling from your neck via the branded camera strap that came included. You might not think this is a problem (I know I didn't,) but trust me when I say that upgrading your camera strap is an absolute game changer!
You don't realise how uncomfortable, cumbersome, and just downright awkward those generic straps are until you get a new one. I personally opted for the Op/Tech Reporter Strap below, and it offers a number of advantages over the standard neck strap (these advantages also apply for other similar straps for the most part.)
- Enhanced Comfort - The wide, padded strap sits very comfortably on both your neck and shoulder depending on how you use it.
- Single Shoulder Carrying - Rather than having your camera bouncing off your stomach all day, you can use this as a sling strap across one shoulder, which lets the camera hang down by your waist comfortably and can be quickly grabbed if that sudden shot presents itself.
- Support for Two Cameras - This version of the Op/Tech allows you to carry two cameras at once via the same strap - A game changer for reporters or sports photographers.
- Easily Detachable from Camera - The quick disconnects on the primary strap mean you can quickly and easily detach the whole strap from the camera. This makes long exposure work infinitely easier, and you don't have to worry about the wind blowing the strap around and causing unintentional camera shake.
If you've looked at filter kits already you'll have probably seen packages that run well into the hundreds, but not all filters have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, one of my favourite filters is one that I bought for about £30 back when I first started photography, and it more than stands up for itself in a battle with some more expensive counterparts.
Filters. as we mentioned in our Ultimate Guide to Landscape Photography, can transform your photography. On the other hand, UV Filters can act as a last defence for any unexpected damages to your lens. Hover over the image above to see just what a dramatic effect using a polarising filter can have on your photography.
Below are three filters I would highly recommend getting to grips with:
UV Filter - These are completely clear pieces of glass that screw onto the front of your lens, and providing you get a good quality one they don't affect your image quality in any noticeable way. They are mainly used to protect the front element of your lens from any scrapes or bumps, and also keep it clean in the process. Good quality UV Filters (such as this Hoya one) start from around £15 and can save you hundreds in repairs if you drop your camera.
Circular Polariser - This is one that I'd highly recommend to any budding nature photographer. Circular Polarisers cut out certain wavelengths of light from the sun, and in the process deepen the blues in the sky, reduce atmospheric haze, and cut down glare on the surface of bodies of water. This is an absolute must for landscape photographers especially, and is also the one filter that can't be replicated in post-processing.
Neutral Density Filter - Most of you will have seen those shots of milky waterfalls and beautifully streaked clouds and wondered how such images are produced. Now you have the answer: A neutral density filter. To put it simply, these are very dark pieces of glass that you put in front of your lens, which then allow you to lengthen your exposure time and blur the movement within a scene. Some of these can be very expensive, but it's not always necessary to splash out. SRB Photographic produce some of the best quality images I've seen at a fraction of the cost, and I'd actually recommend these over some of the expensive brands such as Lee Filters.
Lens Cleaning Kit
I don't claim to be the most careful camera owner in the world (The last three years has seen one of my cameras blow into a lake and another tumble off a 50m cliff) but I do like to keep my gear clean. Clean lenses and filters are an important aspect in overall image quality, and making sure all your gear is regularly wiped down does wonders for it's longevity.
There really is no excuse not to pick one of these all-in-one cleaning kits up. They're cheap and last a good year or so before they need replacing, and it comes with everything you need to keep the external areas of your camera and lenses free from dirt and grime. The rocket blower removes all loose dust, the brushes tackle the slightly more stubborn areas, and finally the microfibre cloths with lens cleaning solution finish the job off.
External Hard Disk
The amount of pixels jammed onto that camera sensor continue to increase, and if you're shooting RAW (as you should be) you'll find your computer's hard drive filling up quickly. The RAW files out of my Nikon D800 take up over 40mb per image, and if I'm photographing an event then I can easily storm through 30GB+ of hard disk space.
Fortunately, digital storage is at an all time low in terms of cost and availability. We can now pick up a 1 terabyte external hard disk for under £50, and that will hold some 25,000 of my D800 RAW files. More than enough.
Note: Make sure to opt for a well known and respected brand and always aim to back everything up twice. We don't want years of photography to be corrupted because of some silly cost cutting exercise!
Remote Shutter Release
This is an absolute must if you are doing any sort of long exposure work, and they make life a lot easier even if you aren't taking ultra-long exposures. These are simply little remotes that you can plug into your camera, and then you can use the button on the remote to trigger your camera's shutter. This in itself is a helpful tool because it helps to eliminate camera shake, but it really comes into it's own when shooting long exposures and timelapse sequences.
Most cameras maximum shutter speed are 30 seconds, which means if our exposure needs to be long than 30 second we have a problem. Fortunately, our camera also has a Bulb mode, and by using one of these remote shutter releases we can actually hold the shutter open for as long as we like. This can be used for ultra-long exposures with an ND Filter, or for some creative astrophotography such as star trails.
Typically, the Nikon and Canon versions cost an absolute fortune for what they are, but the 3rd party ones do just as good a job at a fraction of the price. If you're planning on doing any sort of tripod work with your camera I'd highly recommend picking one of these up.
When you buy a tripod with a head included they often arrive with a handy quick-release plate to attach to your camera body, and while these are better than screwing your camera onto the tripod they are far from the best solution. That accolade goes to the L-Bracket, which is a complete game changer for landscape photographers!
The L-Bracket replaces this quick release place, and it makes shooting vertical compositions about 100 times easier. Rather than awkwardly fumble about to get your camera to the side of the ballhead you simply slide your camera out, turn it on it's side, and re-attach it vertically. Since buying one of these the amount of vertical compositions I photograph has increased dramatically, simply because it's no longer a hassle to compose in that fashion.
A couple of things to note: Firstly, there are universal models available and they're fine for testing the waters, but if you plan on continuing to use an L-Bracket I'd recommend upgrading to a custom built one for your specific camera mode. Secondly, they require your tripod ballhead to be Arca-Swiss Compatible, although most are already.
Another cheap, fun, and useful accessory to take your photography to new heights. These are foldable, portable sheets of material that can be used to redirect light for all manners of photography.
They do this by reflecting the available light back away from the reflector, so by moving this lightweight accessory around you can fine tune the light to your exact requirements. This can include bringing some light back into the shadowed areas of your shot, or using one of the coloured materials to alter the warmth of the light. This can be used for everything from portrait photography to macro photography, and at under £20 it's well worth the investment.
This could be the cheapest photography accessory you ever buy, but that takes nothing away from it's usefulness! Many tripods and camera bodies do come with built in spirit levels these days, but if yours doesn't then spending a few quid on one of these hotshoe spirit bubbles is well worth it.
They attach to the top of your camera body, where an external flash unit would normally connect, and are used to ensure your camera is perfectly level. This is vital when trying to get the horizon straight or for when shooting stitched panoramas.
Joby GorillaPod Mini Tripod
The Joby GorillaPod is a fantastic little gadget for the creative photographers. It's by no means a replacement for a regular tripod, but it brings a host of benefits to the table when used alongside a tripod.
For one, the flexible legs mean you can attach it to almost anything (tree branches, lamposts, I even attached it to my dog once) and that allows you to get very creative with your angles. There are also a lot of areas where tripods are frowned upon, and this can be a great way to discretely get that shot without getting moved along by security. Leading on from that, it's great for travelling thanks to it being small enough to fit in a coat pocket.
The legs themselves can withstand up to 3kg of gear, and you can even attach a ballhead to the standard 3/8 inch screw on the top.
Memory Card Wallets
If you're anything like me you'll have a bunch of SD cards lying around waiting to be filled, and those tiny little things just love to go walkabouts. I lost count of how many times they ended up all over a muddy field after falling out of my bag, and I've even done the cardinal sin of going out on a shoot with absolutely no memory cards!
That all changed when I spent a few quid on a memory card wallet though. It just sits in my bag, full of cards all ready to use. It means I've never had a repeat of the tragic events when I forgot my SD cards, and I never have to scavenge around in the bottom of my bag trying to find one. They're just there - Ready and waiting.
Anybody that's ever used the built in flash on their DSLR will be able to testify to how uesless it is. It creates a horribly artificial looking light, and the lack of directional adjustment and tiny unit make it a complete waste of time. Seriously, I don't know why they even bother putting them on the pro-level DSLR bodies.
Getting an standalone flash unit will completely change your photography, especially if you like to shoot portraiture. You can tilt and swivel the head, allowing you to bounce the flash off nearby objects to add directionality and softness to the light, and you can even use the flash off-camera with a few more accessories.
If any of you have looked at flash units before you might remember that the Nikon and Canon units run well into the hundreds, but I'm here to provide you with a fantastic little gem of a product - The Yongnuo YN-560 IV.
Absolutely loads of photographers use this as their main flash unit, because it provides many of the features of the Nikon and Canon equivalents but at a fraction of the cost. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Macro Extension Tubes
Macro photography opens up an entire new world of photographic possibilities, with modest garden lawns turning into vast forests full of life and the most mundane of household items holding a beautiful hidden potential.
However, as with all things it comes with a cost. Dedicated macro lenses can be very expensive pieces of kit, and if you just want to try out macro photography you might be worried about spending so much in case you don't pursue it. Fortunately there's a workaround for you!
Macro photography works by increasing the distance between the rear element of the lens and the camera sensor, which in turn allows closer focusing distances and increased magnification. Wouldn't it be great if there was an accessory to give your existing lenses macro capability?
Well here it is! Extension tubes do exactly the same job as a dedicated macro lens by increasing the distance between the lens and the sensor. There is no glass involved so image quality is unaffected, and if you get the right ones all the autofocus and metering capabilities will be retained. They can also be used with dedicated macro lenses to get incredible magnification.
Of course, there are a few downsides. The depth of field with these is incredibly shallow, and because of the increased distance between lens and camera you will only be able to use your camera for macro photography while these are attached. They also slightly reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. If you just want to try macro photography out these are fantastic, inexpensive way to enter the tiny world of huge possibility.
Have you got any of these accessories? Or have we missed out one of your favourite gadgets in this list? Whatever it is, get in touch with us via the comments below!