Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs. – Ansel Adams
One of the questions I often see on the forums concerns the type of accessories that a new photographer needs – well maybe needs is not the right word – but let’s say things to add to his photographic tool kit. There are so many possibilities that I am only going to touch on a few, noting that the accessories that a new photographer acquires will depend on his or her interests and their budget.
Most cameras that a new photographer will purchase have a built in flash. Sooner or later, however, the light emitted by this onboard unit can become a source of frustration. It just doesn’t seem to give off enough light for the subjects, or objects, that the new photographer is trying to illuminate.
Flashes come in a variety of sizes and capabilities. There are those that are made by the camera manufacturers themselves – Canon makes Canon flashes, Nikon makes Nikon flashes, etc. and then there are those made by a number of third-party manufacturers – Metz, Sunpak, Vivitar, Sigma, Nissin and Yongnuo. These are the ones that I am aware of at the time of writing, so there may be others. I have discussed some aspects of flash photography in a previous blog article – Flash Photography – An Introduction to which I would refer the interested reader.
Tripods and Other Support Accessories
Sometimes in the early stages of the new photographers venture into photography, he starts to notice that some of his pictures are a bit fuzzy. Puzzled as to why this is happening, he will often post a question, along with an example or two, on a photography forum. The reply is almost invariable – camera shake. It is often here that someone will point out what I call the reciprocal rule (maybe it is has another name, I don’t know) where it is noted that the minimum shutter speed for capturing an image is about the inverse of the focal length of the lens. For example, if you have a lens that has a focal length of 50mm, then the minimum shutter speed for handheld picture taking is 1/50th of a second for a full frame camera. If the camera’s sensor is what is commonly referred to as crop sensor, then this speed is the inverse of the focal length, in this case 50mm, multiplied by the crop factor. In the case of our example, a camera with a C-size sensor would have a crop factor of 1.6, making the minimum shutter speed for handheld capture 1/80th of a second. If your camera has a different crop factor, then the math is similar.
So what does the new photographer do to get past this dreaded outbreak of camera shake? He acquires a tripod – Tripods – Basics. A detailed discussion of what type of tripod to acquire and why, is beyond the scope of this posting and may be the subject of one to come – who knows. Again, as with so many accessories, it depends on the budget and the perceived needs of the individual. If you are simply going to be shooting a lot of indoor imagery – kids, parties, holiday gatherings, etc., then your needs are probably different from someone who hikes into unspoiled wilderness areas to capture pictures of the sunrise over the desert sand dunes or their favourite mountain. If you are going to be doing close-up and macro photography, then your needs are probably different from someone who needs to support a large 600mm lens with a camera attached to it.
Regardless of the need, there is one thing to consider – the requirements for a tripod will undoubtedly last longer than your first digital camera, or even your second or third one – so, while you don’t have to buy the latest and greatest professional model (unless of course you can afford it and have such desires), don’t buy the least and the cheapest you can get away with as you will end up buying another within a year or sooner.
In the good old days of film – some of you may not remember these, but I do – a photographer often had a bag of filters – polarizers, neutral density filters, graduated neutral density filters, colour filters for various effects using black and white film, and, of course a number of filters designed to produce various studio results such as starbursts and soft lighting. Today, with the advent of digital photography, most of these filters can be reproduced with software. Whether their effect can be produced as well as the actual filter itself, well, that is a question best left to the photographer and the viewer. There is one exception and that is the circular polarizer – Polarizer Basics. The results of using a circular polarizer are hard to produce in software and for the new photographer looking to add a filter to his kit, then this is probably a good place to start. Again, filters are similar to tripods, in that they will outlast many of your digital camera purchase and will probably fit new lenses if and when you acquire them. With filters, you get what you pay for, so I would recommend that while you may not need the latest and greatest, you do not want to acquire filters whose glass will have an impact on your results. Brands such as Hoya, Kenko, B+W, Tiffen, Singh-Ray, etc. and the camera manufacturer’s themselves are probably your best bet. Be wary of the so-called house-specials that a lot of places may try to sell you.
Close-up and Macro Photography
Sometime, a new photographer wanders among the forums on the web and discovers the world of close-up and macro photography. The images of tiny insects, spiders and other small subjects can be very captivating. I often see questions from new photographers wanting to know how they can achieve this type of close-up imagery. For example: Do I have to buy a macro lens? The answer to this is – Maybe. One quick and relatively inexpensive way to gain an introduction to close-up and macro photography is to buy a set of extension tubes – Extension Tubes- Basics. They are much less expensive than a good macro lens. They are just what the name says – hollow tubes that allow you to extend the capabilities of a lens to focus much closer to a subject than would be possible without them. They usually come in sets of three, for example, Kenko make a set that has three tubes, designated 12, 20 and 36 mm. They can each be used separately, or in combination. The three filters give you a total of 7 different combinations (assuming my rusty old high school math is correct) that you can use together with any lens in your bag.
Extension tubes come in two slightly different types. The plain, garden variety tubes that do not communicate with your camera, meaning you have to do everything in manual mode, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and those that do have the pass-through abilities and thus can communicate with your camera’s autofocus system. The latter can also be used in manual mode as well. If you are going to acquire this accessory, then my recommendation would be to buy the kind that are designed to communicate fully with your camera. You can purchase those made by your camera’s manufacturer, or you can buy those made by a third party which are usually cheaper and work just as well as those from the camera maker. The tubes that I have had for many years are made by Kenko – Kenko Extension Tubes.
Other Helpful Accessories
What I have discussed so far, describes most of the accessories that a new photographer may find useful. There are a couple of others that I have that, while not absolutely necessary to good photography, can be quite helpful in a number of different situations.
Remote Shutter Control
This is a small hand-held piece of equipment that plugs into the side of your camera. It consists of a button control attached to a short length of wire and an adapter plug that goes into a receptacle on the side of your camera. As each camera manufacturer will place this attachment in a different place, you will need to consult your User’s Manual to determine where it attaches on your camera, assuming that your camera has the ability to use one of these – not every camera will have this option. This device allows you to trigger the shutter without having to actually push the shutter button. It works quite well in situations where you are using a slow shutter speed because it prevents camera shake often caused by simply pressing the shutter button. While there may be third party units out there, my recommendation would be to use the one made for your camera by the manufacturer.
Reflectors and Diffusers
Other equipment that I find useful at time is a reflector and a diffuser – . These are often round pieces of material on a frame that can be folded up and carried around in a small pouch. Reflectors are just that – a piece of gear that can be used to reflect light onto a subject. These come in a variety of sizes from small, circular ones around 30 cm (about 12 inches) in diameter that find their use in close-up and macro photography to extremely large, rectangular ones up to 1m by 2m (about 3 ft. by 6 ft.) that are used in formal portrait and wedding photography. They can also be used to shade a subject from harsh light. Some reflectors also have coloured surfaces such as gold and silver. These can be used to modify the colour or intensity of the light falling on the subject. Gold reflectors are often used to warm up the light falling on a subject.
Diffusers look similar, but are used to diffuse harsh light falling on a subject. They can also be placed in front of a flash or studio light to soften its effects.
Photographers are known to be collectors of gear. This habit often manifests itself in something known as G.A.S. – Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Should you find yourself suddenly involved in acquiring various and sundry pieces of equipment for no apparent reason, then you may have become the victim of G.A.S. Unfortunately (maybe fortunately for some – I don’t know) there is no known cure, but, if you find yourself endlessly searching the web for gear that you don’t have and maybe even do not need at the time, then you should immediately stop what you are doing, grab your gear, go out and shoot a few hundred images. Maybe the urge will go away – at least until next time!
I will be away on a photography vacation for the next couple of weeks, so there will no blog postings. I will tell you all about it when I return.