It doesn't matter if you're a professional or amateur, there are certain items which will make your life as a photographer so much easier. Do you have everything on this list?
I have worked alongside various professional photographers over the years and have quite often been surprised by the number of times they have asked me to borrow stuff while shooting together. Things I personally think are essential pieces of kit have either not been brought along by these people or were never purchased in the first place. While many of the items mentioned in this list may not make or break a shoot, they all do help the photographer in some shape or form.
A Gray Card
The humble gray card is not just for studio-based portrait photographers and if you don't own one you are missing out. Can you get by without one? Yes, but they really do make life so much easier. In the commercial world getting accurate colors is a must and a gray card really is your best friend for doing this. Regardless of what industry you shoot in, having a gray card will help you to get most of the way there with your color correction. Anything that saves you time in post-production can't be a bad thing, right? I know on the occasions that I have not used my gray card I always end up spending additional time tweaking colors. If all that hasn't convinced you to buy one then the fact that clients always seem to be impressed by the use of one can't be a bad thing either.
Hands up how many of you actually calibrate your monitor? Out of everything on this list I'm more than certain that this is the one item that is most neglected. If you live in a photographic bubble and you are the only one who enjoys your images then maybe you could get away without having a calibrator. For the rest of us, being able to accurately see how our images look is essential. While you can't control how the world sees your pictures on their screens, you can and must make sure everything is right once it leaves your computer. If you print images then a calibrated monitor is absolutely necessary. I know early on in my career I blamed the printers I used for making my work look terrible when in fact it was probably the screens I used and the lack of a calibrator which was the problem. I've used various Spyder calibrators over the years for my screens and since adding them to my workflow the number of reprints or client based headaches has been massively reduced as a result.
While I appreciate a second camera could seem overkill or a bit of a luxury, it really is essential for important shoots. Your back-up doesn't necessarily need to be the latest or greatest camera to have been released, but as long as it can take pictures you'll have something to use if your main body goes down. Personally, my back-up camera is the Canon 5d II which is well over 10 years old but is still more than usable. The good thing about this camera is that the batteries, memory cards, and lenses are compatible with the more recent full-frame Canon bodies. This means that if the worst were to happen then I could do a straight swap of camera bodies and carrying on working. When a second full frame camera body was not within my budget I still brought along a spare compact camera as something would have been better than nothing.
Lens and Camera Cleaning Kit
We all know that keeping our kit clean is a good idea but how many of us actually do it? I must have lost count how many photographers I have seen use the sleeve of their jumper to clean a lens. Making sure your gear is free of dust and dirt is obviously a good habit to get into. These cleaning kits aren't overly expensive and will pay for themselves a million times over in the time you'll save editing out sensor dust or marks or in extreme cases having to reshoot something.
Most of you will have got a camera strap with your camera but many will have decided to not use it. I understand how they can get in the way but they really can be an integral part of your camera equipment. Personally, I tolerate the strap at all times as I like to wrap it around my tripod head as extra security when I'm shooting in a fixed spot. It also gets wrapped around my wrist in situations where there might be a risk I might drop the camera. The strap also allows me to keep the camera out when walking around as I can sling it over one shoulder. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've shot something interesting as a result of having the camera at hand rather than it being buried in a bag. If all that wasn't enough of a reason to use one, the camera strap can also be used to give extra stabilization to your shots when shooting handheld which is something I use when I'm fighting the light and needing to shoot at slower shutter speeds. If you have an unused camera strap collecting dust I highly recommend you start using it. If you don't possess one, there are plenty of interesting designs that can be bought if the standard ones don't float your boat.
Multiple Memory Cards
While the ever-increasing capacity of memory cards is great for those trigger happy photographers, it can lead to people keeping all their eggs in one basket. If you're guilty of shooting with just one memory card you could eventually find yourself in trouble if said card was to suddenly die on a shoot. It's for this reason, that I regularly proclaim to anyone that will listen to own multiple memory cards. Not only does this minimize possible image loss but it also reduces the chances of forgetting to bring cards along in the first place. One time I was shooting with another photographer who lazily kept his one high capacity memory card in the back of his camera. On this particular occasion, he had forgotten to put this card back in the camera after removing the contents from a previous shoot. With multiple cards, you have much less chance of forgetting them all.
I have lent many a photographer a spare battery while on shoots over the years. Some of them may have just been forgetful with their packing while others may have usually got away with just the one battery when shooting. I have to admit that under the right conditions it is possible to last on one decent camera battery all day. Problems arise when the temperatures are extreme, you're using the LCD screen a lot, or the battery is a good few years past its best. If you shoot solo then you're not going to have the luxury of lending supplies from a fellow shooter so I highly recommend you invest in a few spare batteries. There is literally nothing you can do if your camera powers down. It could be the very moment the picture of lifetime land in front of your viewfinder or you could be halfway through a job with a client and have to tell them you can't carry on. Don't leave your power situation to chance.
The photo reflector is something of a staple of the old school traditional photographer but it's not a piece of kit I see on shoots as often as you'd think. Maybe some shooters prefer using other methods or fixing things in post later. The reflector is a truly useful piece of kit which is why I highly recommend photographers to add one to their arsenal. Personally, I own a medium size 5 in 1 reflector which has a black, white, gold, silver, and a diffused side to it. I have used all those various incarnations at some point to solve a problem for me while on a shoot. The great thing about them is they are reasonably light, fold down small, and don't require any electricity. They really are the Swiss army knife of photography kit and something I always take on a shoot.
Photographers that I meet tend to fall into mostly two camps. Those who have lens hoods and those who don't. I have to admit that only half my lenses have them but this is something I plan on changing soon. Not only do they help to keep unwanted lens flare from ruining your shots, but they help to minimize the various other elements like rain and dust which love to land on the front of your lens. I'm more a fan of the collapsible lens hood as it can be moved in and out of place more easily than the rigid ones.
The humble business card is still the most reliable way to get your contact details over to someone else. They are useful for all levels of photographer and can be made easily and cheaply so there really is no excuse to not own them. I really hate the merry dance of exchanging social media handles and contact details while on a shoot and would much prefer to hand them a business card instead. It's more professional, saves times, and gives the recipient a little something to take home with them.
So there you have it, 10 items which many photographers don't have but probably should. While you can most definitely make great pictures without a lot of the items on the list, most of the things mentioned will help to make the life of a photographer so much easier while shooting or editing. The good news is that the majority of these suggestions won't break the bank or take up too much space in your camera bag either. If you don't own some of these pieces of kit then now may be a good time to stock up on a few of them.
Over to You
Any useful items you think I missed off the list? How many of these suggestions do you already own and regularly use? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Lead image by Lisa Fotios used under Creative Commons.