There are a few things that make life as a photographer much easier. Here are some simple changes I made that you might consider adopting to help you capture the shot.
As I gain more experience as a photographer, things I discover change my approach to photoshoots. Furthermore, technology has advanced too, so once-necessary accessories have become redundant. Occasionally, new inventions get added to our kit, and the best of those are usually simple ideas.
1. Rest Your Foot in Your Hand
The first in my list fits into that last category. It is that curious-looking piece of wood in the image above. Like all great inventions, it is a simple idea. But it makes a big difference to me.
It is a patented Ergonomic Lens Rest. Carved from solid oak wood, the rest attaches to the tripod mount foot of my large telephoto lens. I bought it on the recommendation of Tesni Ward, a fellow OM System Ambassador, and a hugely experienced and brilliant wildlife photographer. I had a WhatsApp conversation with her after I bought my new OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm F4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO lens, which I reviewed recently. Beforehand, I turned the lens' tripod mount around by 180 degrees and was using my camera by holding the lens barrel. However, attaching this to the Arca Swiss-style foot makes the lens easier to handhold. The foot now sits comfortably in the palm of my hand, and I can still reach to adjust the focus zoom rings and operate the switches with my thumb.
Made in the UK by a business called The Secret Sign Writer, the Ergonomic Lens Rest cost me £52.98, approximately $65. Sadly, it’s currently only available for the following OM System cameras: 40-150 f2.8 PRO, 100-400 f5-6.3, 300 f4 Pro, and the 150-400 f4.5 Pro. Because it’s a small-scale operation, Edward, who makes them, doesn’t have a website. However, I am happy to pass on the email address if you direct message me.
2. The Reason to Love Beans
During the early to mid-naughties, photographers raved about carrying a beanbag as a camera rest. But, with improved image stabilization and small, light, and reasonably priced tripods now available, the beanbag's popularity seems to have waned. Nevertheless, they are still handy for photographers, as you can use them to support your lens or camera on a wall, rock, or the ground without damaging it.
My beanbag was made for me by my wife; she is a dab hand with her sewing machine. The cloth she used was some rescued micro-fleece recovered from an old jacket, and it is approximately half-filled with mung beans.
If you travel to many poorer countries, beans are a staple food and cost next to nothing. Consequently, a small drawstring or zipped bag that you can fill on arrival will save you the weight when flying. Furthermore, you are not carrying foodstuffs, possibly infected with parasites, fungi, or plant diseases over national borders. Nor will you have it split open by contraband enforcement officers wondering what is inside.
3. Sit On It
That's a catchphrase that those of us of a certain age will remember. However, in this case, it isn't an insult.
I used to use a piece of foam sleeping mat I bought for camping. But, after experimenting with several options, including bubble wrap, I discovered that a carrier bag in my pocket a good option. A lot of my photography is shooting at a low level, and it stopped me from getting a wet bum when sitting on the sand at the beach. However, I now avoid single-use plastic as much as is practicable and I rarely have a plastic bag. It’s also windy where I live much of the time, and the last thing I want is the bag or bubble wrap blowing out to sea.
Here in the UK, we have many charity shops selling second-hand clothing. The items that are in too poor condition to sell get given to “the rag man,” who sorts and sells them for recycling. Sometimes those shops get donated old waterproof coats that cannot be sold. So, I buy one of those for the equivalent of one dollar, cut a square from the back, and it makes an ideal sitting or kneeling cloth that will fold up and fit in my pocket.
4. It All Happens in a Flash
One of the things that is a temptation for photographers comes from advertising. Ads push us into buying the latest, highly specified gizmos that perform in ways we don’t need and never use. So the fourth thing on my list is something I could not work without, but also have resisted the temptation to upgrade. That is my flash lightmeter. I have an old and very basic Sekonic L-308S. It has since been superseded by the Sekonic L-308X-U Flashmate.
Many complex light meters on the market do all sorts of jiggery-pokery. They do tempt me. However, I always found that my old flash meter does everything I need from it. It advises me on the light levels I need for shooting portraits or products for clients. If you want to know why a flash meter is useful, this excellent video by Gavin Hoey explains all.
5. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Or Not
Number five is something that I have stopped using altogether: a camera backpack.
When I started shooting digital photographs with a DSLR, I had excessive enthusiasm for all my gear. I feared missing the shot because I didn’t have the right lens with me. Consequently, on every photoshoot, I carried all my lenses, lots of spare batteries and memory cards, a filter kit, and everything I could fit into my camera bag. The bag cost me a small fortune.
There was often a degree of snobbery when it came to camera bags. I heard someone exclaim that good photographers would only ever have A-brand bags. Similarly, they declared that you must buy B-brand tripods and only C-brand filters. Furthermore, D-brand cameras were worth owning, and nothing else would do. Although, at the time, all four of those brands did make good gear, the situation has changed. There is far greater competition with great alternatives from other manufacturers, and two of those brands now have serious quality issues they need to address; I’ll let you work out which two.
Times change. So too did my level of experience. Now, I carefully plan my photoshoots because I know I will get much better photos that way. Part of that planning process is working out what equipment I need. I’ve also realized that I can usually carry everything by hand or in my pockets. My camera is either slung over my shoulder or attached to my tripod. Moreover, because of my camera's outstanding image stabilization, I rarely need a tripod.
Therefore, I no longer lug extra lenses around with me. I might take one spare battery. However, the one time I needed to change it was at an all-day wedding shoot; battery technology has come a long, long way over the last few years. If I am taking a filter, it will be in my top pocket. That means I no longer suffer from a bad back lugging all that gear around.
There are also two other good reasons for not using a camera bag. Firstly, they scream that you carry lots of expensive equipment worth robbing. Secondly, they never seem to be designed to carry a packed lunch and thermos flask.
Consequently, I never carry a camera backpack on a photoshoot. That doesn't mean I wouldn't own one. For transporting my camera and lens in my car, Peak Design Cubes are great for protection and better for access. But hidden in the trunk (or boot as we call it in the UK) is where they stay.
What Do You Think?
Those are five simple things that simplify my shooting. Are there any of those you would adopt? If there is one other thing you do or don’t use to make your photography easier, please tell us in the comments.