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10 Essential Accessories That Should Be in Every Camera Bag

Will Mansfield, www.wolfes.com

Congratulations!  You just got a DSLR camera for your birthday/holiday/your husband or wife owed it to you/to record family photos/etc.  SLRs are beautiful, sophisticated, shiny, plastic-and-metal gadgets and it's easy to stop after getting a camera and say you're satisfied.  But are you really satisfied, knowing that there is a whole world of camera accessories out there designed solely to make your life better?  Of course not: accessories are what make photography (and most things, in general) fun! 

However, accessories can also be expensive: having less of your hard-earned money is decidedly not fun.  Luckily for you, dear reader, you happen to know a guy who works at a real-life camera store, has seen and tested more than 3000 camera-related items, and has assembled the ultimate Top 10 list of Essential Accessories that Should Be in Every Camera Bag.  By the way, all 10 of these accessories together will almost certainly cost less than your next lens.

Lenspen Mini
- $9.99

This is by far the most versatile lens tool that could go in a camera bag.  One end of the pen is a fine-hair brush and the other end is a scrubbing pad.  In the cap of the pen is some activated carbon.  The fine-hair brush is great for whisking away surface dust that will inevitably find its way on to your lens.   The scrubbing pad will help get any dried, hardened gunk (technical term) off of the front element.  Bonus points for not having to take a microfiber cloth to the lens and scratch and scrub away those nice lens coatings!  Also, a note to all you lens-breathers:  Nikon recently announced that certain particles in breath can break down lens coatings and shorten the life of the lens.  So, now you know.

Cleaning Cloth - $9.99


A microfiber cleaning cloth is the photgrapher's workhorse.  It will clean dirt, smudges, water, serve as a flag/cover, and can be used to set custom white balance.  You'll almost certainly lose more than a few, so keep some spares on hand.


Silica Gel - $6.99


Water is the obvious enemy of anything electronic, cameras and lenses included.  But often overlooked is moisture in general and humidity, specifically.  Fact*: going from a warm/humid climate to a cooler climate will cause water to condense in your lenses and will destroy lenses in dramatic fashion. 

* - Ok, I embellished a bit.  It isn't guaranteed that your lenses will break, but you know what I mean.


Gaffer Tape
- $37.99 (for at least a year's supply)


Think duct tape is cool?  So did I, until I was introduced to gaffer tape by some professionals in the know.  Gaffer tape will do everything duct tape will, and more!  In addition to super strength and the ability to make your own nerdy tape-wallet, gaffer tape is also a nonreflective, studio lighting-friendly black finish and will not leave nasty residue all over your expensive photo gear.  Go ahead and gaffer tape your flash unit to a wall: not only will it hold, but you also won't have to clean your client's wall after the shoot is over.


Optech Rainsleeve
– $6.99 for 2

You never know when and where Tom Cruise will show up for that once-in-a-lifetime paparazzi shot.  There he is! He's getting away in the taxi cab! But it's a torrential downpour outside and the rain on the windows is obstructing your view!  You can either:

A) Risk it and run out into the rain, knowing there is a chance that water can get into the flash housing, cause an electrical short and ensure an expensive and lengthy repair trip for your camera.

B) Stay indoors where it is warm and dry, knowing that you are missing the shot of a lifetime and all of the prestige, money and fame that come with it.  And cry.

C) Grab the Optech Rainsleeve from the most convenient pocket in your camera bag, shove the camera inside, pull the plastic around the lens, and march confidently out into the rain to get the shot.  Not only will the camera stay safe and dry, but the shiny plastic Rainsleeve will throw a glimmer of light at Tom Cruise, he'll be distracted and turn to you and you can quickly tell him how “Top Gun” or “Risky Business” changed your life.  At that point, he's more than happy to pose for a picture and your shot ends up on the cover of the New York Times... for a week straight.

Your call.

Energizer Lithium Batteries - $6.99-$11.99


Is it possible to have this much respect and love for a battery? Yeah, I suppose it is.  Like many photographers, I'm a gear geek so it's what I do.  Anyway, Energizer Lithiums really are incredible because they last 4-9 times longer than a set of alkaline batteries, work better in cold environments and can hold their charge for years.  Here's a handy bonus tip: if you have an accessory grip for your camera, you can most likely power the camera from AAs.  Keeping 8 emergency lithium batteries in the camera bag can be 2000+ extra shots when you're in a pinch.  Or when you forgot to charge your camera battery the night before a big shoot.  D'oh!


Gray Card
/ Color Checker - $14.99 to $80+



Admittedly, I feel the need to justify carrying around a low-tech, painted gray card in your camera bag, so hear me out: a gray card can definitely help with white balance issues.  I have used one more than once in tricky lighting situations and usually I just put the camera in live view and start changing the white balance until the camera screen shows the same color gray as the gray card.  This method isn't terribly precise, but it can save valuable time you would otherwise be spending in front of a computer to correct lighting issues afterward.

A color checker works in a similar fashion.  These things aren't cheap like the gray card, because each color leaves the factory calibrated to a known color value.  But again, if it lets you make more pictures instead of sit in front of a computer, it may pay for itself.  To use the color checker chart, just stick it in front of the lens and snap a picture.  When you edit later (RAW files work better for this), you change the white balance and colors until they are the same tone as the color checker.

Bubble level - $29.99


“Hey! This is photography, not civil engineering!  What do I need the stupid bubble level thing for?” Yeah, the green bubble can (and usually does) look goofy on top of the camera.  But it saves your pictures from looking goofy when they have a slanted horizon line and the whole picture looks like it's going to tip and fall right off of the paper.  Some cameras have a virtual horizon built-in, so the bubble level isn't crucial.  But straight photos are.

Universal USB Card Reader
- $39.99

The value of an image increases exponentially the more it is shared.  Just ask the dude whose photo of the green California hills and perfectly blue sky graced the desktop background of Windows XP, and has been viewed more than 2 Billion times.  How many times lately have you seen the picture of the zebras on the screen of a MacBook Pro?  A great image seems to be everywhere we turn.

Bottom line, share your images.  Pictures have almost zero value sitting on a hard drive or in a shoe box, never seeing the light of day (I'm guilty!).  So make a conscious effort to show off the good stuff.  Sometimes, that means showing off on the spot when you know you have a winning image.  With a card reader that accepts all of the common types of cards (CF, SD, etc), you can get any image to almost any device in seconds.

Extra SD
/CF Card, Extra Battery - $10-40


I know what you're thinking: this choice is totally anticlimactic, and it's kind of a cop-out.  It is.  But extra cards and batteries are so crucial to making images that you should have 2 of each at all times.  Quite simply, when you run out of card space or battery life, you are done shooting.  Also,  missed shots are painful and sometimes even haunting.  So for a few bucks, it's well worth preserving your sanity and knowing you did everything within your ability to make the shot.

So there you have it! 10 photography accessories that will make your life better.  For these and 3000+ other gear ideas, check out www.wolfes.com!