Four Things Every Photographer Hates to Buy, but Absolutely Needs

Four Things Every Photographer Hates to Buy, but Absolutely Needs

We all know that being a photographer can get expensive, from camera bodies to lenses, there is a never ending list of gadgets and goodies that we can spend our hard earned money on. The last thing anybody wants to do is spend their money on the “must haves” of photography when we could just as easily drop some cash on the things we want. Below is a short list of gear that every photographer should have in their arsenal, but probably doesn't want to spend his or her money on.

Gaff Tape

Nobody wants to spend $30 or more on a roll of tape. I know I always cringe when my roll is nearing the end of its life and I have to shell out the money for a new one. However, the fact that it runs out at all is proof that having gaff tape on set is important. My number one use for gaff tape would probably be to tape down cables and extension chords because a lot of the people I work with, myself included, are super clumsy and I would rather spend a small amount of money on a seemingly unimportant item than a large sum of money on a nice piece of gear that I accidentally knocked over.

Hard Drives

In my mind it’s a little easier to justify buying a nice hard drive. I have had a couple hard drives crash over the years and that very well may be the worst feeling in the world. If it hasn't happened to you, take it from me when I say you don't want to experience it. That’s why I upgraded to a G-Technology thunderbolt drive. I use that hard drive to keep all my current projects and then I have about seven or eight Seagate backup drives that I transfer my projects to after I have finished with them.

Clamps

Clamps come in handy more than you might think, but they’re still not that fun to purchase. Thankfully they’re remarkably cheap (for the most part) and most of them are extremely durable. In my opinion it’s always a good idea to have a few different types of clamps and a bunch of different sizes. I keep an assortment of clamps of various sizes with me just incase I have to secure a backdrop or a reflector to a stand. Some of my favorite clamps I have are the Manfrotto Super Clamps because in addition to simply being a clamp, I can also attach lights, tripod heads, or any number of other things to it. They’re great for getting those lights or cameras in tricky hard to reach places.

Sand Bags

Sand bags hands down take the cake for the least sexy item I have ever purchased. There’s nothing fun about dropping your hard earned cash on a glorified sack of dirt. It may be hard to stomach the purchase of a sandbag, but I use them on every single shoot and they have saved my life (gear) more times than I can count. Having piece of mind that my light stand isn't going to come crashing down from a small gust of wind is worth every penny in my book.

This is just a short list of the things that I have purchased over the years that at the time I didn't necessarily see the value in but as time went on they have proved to be worth the money. Let me know if there is anything that you think should be on this list that I left off.  I would love to hear from you about your gear needs that aren't any fun to buy.

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52 Comments
stir photos's picture

Bungee cords have come in super handy for me and I usually have a couple of them handy...

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I don't have any but I can definitely see the appeal! I might have to pick some up.

Karl Shreeves's picture

Yes, very handy, but PLEASE wear eye protection when using them. I know that sounds overly cautious, but bungees popping loose is the #1 cause of accidental eyesight loss in adults. Plus, I've had some close ones so I always put on sturdy sunglasses when stretching the cords.

Peter Brody's picture

There are many instances where expensive gaffer tape is not needed. In such cases more inexpensive painters tape can suffice. By using both you will reduce your overall expense.

In addition to, and often in place of clamps, long and wide zip ties are more versatile and also very inexpensive when bought in bulk.

Buy a cheap sewing machine (yes, I'm a man with a sewing machine) and make your own custom sand bags. It's very easy. The sand is cheaply bought at home improvement warehouses.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

The work around I found for sand bags was buying just the empty bags off amazon and filling them with pea gravel from Lowe's or Home Depot. As for the clamps, I wouldn't be able to use a zip tie to attach a reflector to a stand unless I cut a hole in it, which I don't really want to do haha

Karl Shreeves's picture

I agree Peter on the tape, but sometimes gaff tape's the only way to go, So unless I have to travel light, I carry gaff tape, but also duct tape (a cheaper alternative that often works). Zip ties are great -- they don't replace having clamps, but they're often a better alternative.

Sean Molin's picture

Water bags. Not quite as heavy as a comparable-sized sand bag (8lbs per gallon), but you can travel with them empty and fill them up at the vast majority of locations.

Peter Brody's picture

The problem with a bag with water is that it will not conform and stay put as well as a sand bag.

A better alternative for sand is plastic/styrofoam beads if weight is a concern.

Sean Molin's picture

My water bags are two-chambered and are connected in the middle so they hang over stand legs and such like a saddle on a horse. They also have D-clips for hanging on boom stands and the like. They're quite stable.

Peter Brody's picture

I meant in terms of holding the camera and lens itself.

Michael Clark's picture

Isn't that what a tripod is for?

Peter Brody's picture

There is utility in simply being able to hold in place a camera in certain situations where a tripod would be inconvenient or impossible to use or carry.

paul aparycki's picture

plastic/styrofoam beads??? I think you are missing the concept here. the idea is to put weight to prevent your $2000 head, $500 bank from crashing to the ground and self destructing. plastic/styrofoam (nor helium balloons for that matter) just won't do the job

Peter Brody's picture

Sand bags are not just to weigh things down.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Just if it curiosity, what else would you use a sand bag for? I've never found another use except to weigh stuff down.

Lawrence Jones's picture

To set a camera on to steady it. So you are using it like you would use a sandbag at a shooting range.

Peter Brody's picture

Exactly.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

That makes sense, I just don't ever find myself in a position to need that. I can see how that would come in handy!

Steve Oakley's picture

counter balance long boom rigs, wedge props, level an apple box on an uneven rough surface, add to tripod to keep it from going over in wind, add to tripod to help dampen vibration when using long lenses, something to sit on, something to prop cameras on, and don't waste money on sand, use shot bags. yes expensive but vastly more useful and compact.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I haven't used water bags before but I've always been curious. The ease of travel is appealing to me for sure. The weight however is a bit of a concern.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I wouldn't be using any kind of water bags on a set with all kinds of electrical equipment (strobes, computers, monitors) and cables around. Seems like a needless risk. But I'm risk adverse.
Maybe outside in a pinch.

Sean Molin's picture

They are typically ballistic nylon outer sheath with a Camelbak-style bladder inside. If you've ever used a Camelbak that should put your mind at ease. They're virtually impossible to rupture or penetrate without serious focused effort. I've been doing high-adventure hiking and backpacking with them for nearly 20 years and have literally trusted them with my life to not break or leak even a handful of times. I've stepped on them, dropped 50lb frame backpacks on them, even had one fall down a 30-foot rock face completely full and it was fine.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

where might I purchase a water bag such as this?

Karl Shreeves's picture

I travel a lot and have found this handy. I have the fill-yourself sand bags. If I'm going somewhere where I know I'll have weight (rocks, barbell plates, sand, etc.), that's all I take. If I know I won't, I bought a bunch of hot water bottles on Amazon -- $4 each -- just like mom used to give you for a sore back or something. Fill 'em up and slip one in each side of the zip sand bags and let them stick out (doesn't hurt anything for my uses.) Only downside is that you only end up with each sand bag (two water bottles) at 8ish pounds.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I might have to try that out!

Jeff Morris's picture

+1 for bungee cords. They keep my stuff together on a cart and also make for a good interface between a tripod and a weight in windy conditions. But since they are so versatile, I can't put that in the "hate to buy" category.

I don't care about the cost of gaffer tape since I can reuse a strip of it up to 10 times before it loses its effectiveness. After I'm done using it, I just slap it on the inside of one of my hard cases for next time.

On my personal "hate to buy" list:

- mileage log book
- Adobe subscription (heh)
- batteries
- handtruck/cart - worthwhile, but still not a particularly fun investment

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I managed to procure a hand me down hand truck so I'm good in that department but it's a lifesaver. The adobe subscription is a bit of a pain haha! I have reused gaff tape before but when I'm in a hurry I never remember to salvage it.

Karl Shreeves's picture

Folding wagons work great, too. Hand truck ahead and wagon behind and you can move a studio setup in one trip (I do it all the time). Also, the hand truck to consider is one on B&H https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1004335-REG/travel_smart_by_conai... that is a lightweight handtruck but also unfolds into a stepladder. Comes in hand all the time.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

That sounds awesome! I have a really great card/hand truck hybrid but having one that converts into a stepladder would be a definite game changer.

Chad D's picture

I do larger location jobs a few times a year where I have to go like 4 city blocks !
with way more gear then a single hand truck can handle

the rock n roll cart !!!! hated buying that the reviews about sketchy build quality and damage in shipping is so so so so so true BUT its a freaking life saver and plan to customize it a bit more and it does work but could be so much better so a balance of cost vs performance vs really high end vs hand trucks

I used various rolling things before but the pack size vs how it expands and bulk and weight it can carry is awesome

Alfonso Calero's picture

Headache tablets

Chris Adval's picture

In the last 6 years of shooting I never bought gaffers. Just used normal tape... last month I got my first Gaffers and it was like, everyone was right, it was magical! I actually enjoyed using it that one time last week for my self-portrait! Heck I'm thinking about using it to cover a hole on my car but not sure if its that strong to stay on there lol.

Tony Reitz's picture

I don't know about gaffers tape for your car, but check out what the military calls 90 mph tape. If you get the genuine product, it will probably outlast the car. Not sexy looking, but damn effective.

Chris Adval's picture

Thanks!

Jeff Carpenter's picture

It really is amazing stuff!

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Seagate Hard drives... You like to live dangerously

Jeff Carpenter's picture

That's why I have so many of them... for multiple backups. I've only had a seagate drive pretend to crash on me once but I had two lacie drive completely bite the dust. I've found that as long as I'm not actively using the seagate drives they do a fine job of not screwing up haha

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Working in IT I can tell the "do as many copies as you can afford" is the only safe way

Kirk Darling's picture

All major manufacturers have had issues over the years. There isn't a single company that hasn't had years when the pundits proclaimed, "I'd never buy one of THOSE." But their problems are always drive model-specific, not catalog-wide.

Michael Clark's picture

True, but both drive failures I've personally experienced were Seagates. Two out of the five Seagate drives I've ever owned and both were relatively premature failures. None of the many WD (pre-merger), Toshiba, or HGST drives I own has ever crashed.

Kirk Darling's picture

Google "Western Digital green drive problems." As I said, they've all suffered problems, but those are always specific to problematical models. Just because you didn't happen to buy one of their problematical models--or did buy one--doesn't mean all their models are good or all their models are bad.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

You're absolutely right there's not the perfect brand that never fail. But, working in IT for a long time now, I've a pretty good statistic (not just a few discs) and I found Seagate just a little too prone to failure on many models. Anyway mine was more of a joke.

Marc Stowe's picture

I also like having a small folding step stool with me. The kind with two steps that fold up flat can be had for less than 20 bucks and can be a big help if you're covering a window and going for a high angle.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Yea having a step stool definitely comes in handy. I also forgot to mention a flashlight or headlamp in the article. I've definitely found myself needing that when I'm packing up gear on location in the dark.

Michael Leadbetter's picture

Forgot some masking tape. I use blue painters tape so it's easy to spot when doing post.

Nico Socha's picture

Gaff tape with greetings from germany 😎

Sergey Konovalenko's picture

Sand bags are like $5 a piece. Why would you hate to buy them?

Nomad Photographers's picture

sand bags : an empty water bladder is a lot easier to carry around and 99% of the time you'll have access to tap water or the sea and you don't have to carry heavy sand bags around... just a thought !

Chad D's picture

that velcro that sticks to itself in rolls :)

keep a few cut lengths on each of my stands handy when you need it for things like the cords on godox 360 or the remote 600 godox head

also the OH NO forgot my battery clamp and no my battery is hanging with no where to attach

Isabelle Saint-Pierre's picture

Not every photography absolutely NEEDS to buy these four items. I shoot landscapes, nature, and wildlife and other than hard-drives, I have absolutely no need for the other three items listed. I really hate articles that make broad assumptions about EVERYBODY and what they need; different types of photography have different needs...something to keep in mind when making absolute statements...

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