Accessories can help make your photographic life easier. We asked 16 photographers to reveal the gadgets they can’t live without
16 photographers and AP staff reveal the photography accessories that they love the most…
Favourite accessory: Lee Little Stopper
This shot was taken at the easternmost point of Poole Bay in Dorset. It’s a great location for rough waves, but on this morning I wanted to flatten the sea to make the groyne the prominent feature. To do this, I would have to use my Lee Filters Little Stopper, as well as a Lee 0.6 ND hard grad to hold back the sky. At 6 stops, the Little Stopper is perfect for use at sunrise or sunset, where using a Big Stopper (which reduces exposures by 10 stops) and the lower light levels would lead to long exposure times.
Once I’d composed and taken a test shot, my camera was giving me an exposure reading of 2secs. While this was long enough to give a little motion to the sea, it wasn’t sufficient to render the sea flat and reveal the wet concrete path up the middle of the groyne. This is the major reason I chose to use a long exposure, as I knew the wet concrete of the groyne would reflect the colours of the sunrise.
The Little Stopper gave me an exposure of 2mins. Not only did this flatten the sea, but it also gave me the added bonus of dragging the colour in the clouds across the sky.
Although coloured filters are associated with film photography, they are also a useful tool for managing the contrast of black & white digital photographs. While their effects can be applied in post-production, using filters saves time and means you can avoid applying extreme contrast and colour adjustments to the JPEG or raw file. Shoot in black & white mode on a DSLR with a coloured filter and your camera will display the black & white JPEG on the preview screen.
Summer is a tricky season and a lot of photographers avoid the times of the day when the sun is brightest, choosing instead to shoot during the ‘golden hour’. However, even when the sun is overhead you can create successful photographs when shooting black & white by using a red filter. This turns skies dark grey or black, and boosts the contrast between cloud and sky. Also, the yellow/orange tones of beaches will be represented as light grey or white.
I’ve used an image shot on film (right), but the same principles apply if you’re shooting a similar scene with a DSLR. This picture was shot on a summer day in July in Wimereux, France, using a Pentacon Six TL and Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 B&W film.
I decided to use the red filter because the conditions were very bright and the sky was a medium blue.
Over the past two years I’ve been working on a new wildlife photography hide set-up (ProHides) on the North Wessex Downs. I’ve built a timber hide for little owls and needed something for my gimbal head to bolt to and stand on the shelf.
I tried Manfrotto Super Clamps, but they were too cumbersome to move from side to side when I needed to change angles. And beanbags are just awkward when you want to rotate from vertical to horizontal. Plus, when photographing any bird with such sharp eyes, lens movement needs to be kept to an absolute minimum. At an open-day event, a guest put me in touch with Neil Neville and his lens plates – machined from solid metal with a 3/8in thread for a trip head. It was perfect, with a felt pad on the underside so it can be moved with ease.
I now have these plates permanently in the hides, so that I (or anybody else for that matter) can turn up with just a camera and tripod head and photograph the little owls, or badgers, or whatever else we have going on. This image (top left) was a favourite from a sequence with the two fledgling little owls standing side by side on the window of a rusty old shepherd hut at ProHides. It was late evening and the glow of the setting sun was highlighting the owls from behind. It was a great session, all photographed with my Nikon D800 plus Nikkor 600mm f/4 VR lens, bolted to a Jobu gimbal and the ‘Neville’ plate.
Website: www.brianharris photographer.co.uk
Gitzo Reporter Tripod
Prices of newer models vary
My trusty Gitzo Reporter Tripod and its Gitzo Gilux R.No.1 three-way pan-and-tilt head are of mid-1970s vintage. The tripod has been with me on all my travels, rolling around in the boot of my car, and with the head off it can fit into a decent-sized suitcase for travel by plane. It’s been in the sea, up mountains, mounted on the roof of many hire cars and has attended dozens of political conferences both at home and overseas.
It’s a simple design and comes apart easily, which is useful for removing sand and dirt from the leg mechanism. The legs undo with a single-handed twist, which is ideal when you are supporting a camera and tripod at the same time. It’s light enough to carry, which is the most important thing you can say about any tripod.
Of course, there are newer, lighter, maybe even better-designed tripods out there nowadays, but my Gitzo has been my supporting friend for the best part of 40 years and I’d like to say it’s never let me down. However, last year, for no reason, the pan-and-tilt arm snapped off inside the cast-metal head. I had to replace it quickly. I opted for another make that was affordable. Within weeks, the head camera-release mechanism snapped, so I had to buy another head. However, it just wasn’t quite
the same as my Gitzo.
Nikon Speedlight SB-910
Prices of newer models vary
Many people love images shot contre-jour (into the light) because they give a wonderful sense of summer and help to place the emphasis on your subject. It’s usually necessary to add light – using a reflector or flash – to reduce the dynamic range between the highlight from the sun and the skin tone, which is in shadow. As I work alone on portrait shoots, I find a Speedlight easier to operate and I wouldn’t go on a location shoot without one. Once you understand how to use them subtly, they are indispensable.
It is important to understand how flash works at higher shutter speeds, in what we call high-speed sync mode. Your flashgun becomes a continuous light source, pulsing light across the entire exposure rather than emitting one burst of light when the sensor is fully exposed at shutter speeds below 1/250sec. I always use my Speedlight on-camera in TTL mode, but ensure that I am only using the balanced fill setting (BL FP), and even then it’s at about -2 flash exposure compensation.
AP technique and features editor
Price: Super Clamp £40.95, Pump Cup £74.95
I love photographing cars, and while it’s great fun to shoot panning and static shots I wanted to push my photography a bit further so I started to look at how professionals managed to get their shots.
I wanted to capture images of cars in close-up as they hurtled along the road. While some images are captured car-to-car, a lot of these shots are actually triggered remotely, with the camera attached to the car, and this is where Manfrotto’s Super Clamp and Pump Cup come in useful. Two Pumps are firmly attached to the car – and it’s important to attach them firmly when you’re dangling a Nikon D810 and lens from them – with two Super Clamps then attaching to the Pump Cups via the joining stud. This allows you to slide a telescopic arm between them, to which you can then attach the camera via a variable friction arm. There’s a bit of flex from the arm, but with the car only travelling under 10mph and a long shutter speed, it’s possible to get some great shots.
Zebra spiders are the ultimate mini monsters of our garden walls. Only 6-8mm long, they have real character, but are a challenge to photograph well. The problem is their tininess. Even with a 180mm macro lens at its minimum focal distance, the spider is a dot in the frame. This is when I turn to my old and trusted friend, the extension tube. It’s a brilliant bit of kit.
Extension tubes are sold in groups of three, each with a different width. The tube fits between the camera and lens, so it focuses at a shorter distance. This means I can get the lens closer to the spider so it is bigger in the frame.
However, there are a couple of drawbacks. Focusing has to be precise, so I always use my tripod as I tend to set quite small apertures (macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field). I have also found that extension tubes can cause vignetting, so I either experiment with the aperture to reduce this, or crop in more tightly when I process the images.
Once I’m set up, I train my camera and lens on my garden wall and wait. I’ve found that chasing a 6mm spider around with a huge camera and lens doesn’t work – the spider sees it coming from a mile off! So my approach is to get a good soft background and wait until the spider walks into my focus zone. When those stunning eyes stare back at you, you really appreciate what an impressive beast the zebra spider is, and what a brilliant and simple accessory the extension tube is.
Price: email firstname.lastname@example.org for prices
Animal life in the ocean is far more diverse than life on land, which is no great surprise because it has had a good billion years longer to evolve there. And biodiversity goes up as the size of the creatures goes down. The slower you go and the closer you look, the more amazing subjects you will see. It means that underwater photographers like me are on an endless quest to see ever-tinier subjects.
A new underwater accessory lens from Noodilab, designed and built in Malaysia with the highest-quality optical glass, is my current beau. It is fully waterproof, so I can take it on and off underwater, and it fits on the front of my standard macro lens, taking me way beyond 1:1 and up to 3.6x magnification, while maintaining excellent optical quality. Working at such magnifications is not easy, especially when you are underwater and dealing with subjects that are never still because of the motion in the ocean. But with a bit of practice, you can produce images in situ that border on microscopy.
As it’s a removable lens, I tend to carry it in my pocket while I search for subjects, only attaching it when I find something suitable. The photo I have selected (top right) shows the colour detail of a tiny sea slug, which is a couple of centimetres long. This is already a small macro subject, but this image shows a detail of the cerata on its back. These are amazing structures, because they are filled with the stinging cells of the sea slug’s food. This slug eats stinging hydroids, then reuses their stings for its protection, concentrating them in these colourful cerata on its back.
I started off by photographing the whole sea slug, but then spotted a speck on the cerata. I attached the Moby lens to see what it was, and was amazed to find a tiny amphipod hitching a ride. This minute beast is only about half a millimetre in size. Any accessory that allows me to produce images that I could not before quickly becomes a favourite. The Moby lens has done that for me.
Domke F2 Rugged Wear Shooter’s Bag
The Domke F2 Shooter’s Bag has had a cult following since US photojournalist Jim Domke created it in 1976 as an antidote to the bulky, padded models that still proliferate today. Padding aids protection, but makes bags heavier, stiffer and reduces their capacity. Domke’s F2, by contrast, is made from soft, light, malleable canvas that moulds nicely to your body and weighs just 1.4kg.
Styling is a matter of taste, but I love the look of the Rugged Wear version: its brown cotton canvas, impregnated with wax for a distressed, weathered look, is the polar opposite of the modern urban brands with their snazzy hi-tech materials.
Domke sells a variety of Rugged Wear bags, but the original F2 offers the perfect capacity for a kit of one to two bodies and three to five prime lenses (or a pair of big, fast zooms). It’s pretty basic – it has just four pockets – but its simplicity and quick access make it ideal for street shooters and photojournalists. There may be more feature-packed bags, but to my eye only Billingham can get near it in the style department.
Website: www.wildlifewatching supplies.co.uk
The beanbag has so much going for it and it has several advantages over using a tripod. The first is the low angle. Without a beanbag, you are restricted to the tripod’s minimum height, which even with the legs fully splayed is still a good 4-6in [10-15cm] above the ground. This may not seem like an awful lot, but it can make a huge difference to the impact of your images.
Second, there’s the mobility. When stalking wildlife – otters, for example – over uneven terrain where keeping a low profile is paramount, beanbags are far easier to manoeuvre.
Next, we have stability. Beanbags create a stable platform whereby both the camera and (part of) the lens rest along the length of the beanbag. With this set-up, you can confidently shoot at slow shutter speeds and not be concerned with vibration.
Last, the beanbag means you can use your car as a mobile hide. Most wildlife will allow you to approach much more closely when you are inside a vehicle as opposed to being on foot. For this reason, cars are a great way of getting near to subjects such as hares, grouse and deer. Big telephoto lenses of 400mm to 600mm are often required if you are to obtain a reasonable-sized image. They are big and heavy, and although it is possible to handhold one for a short period, you certainly wouldn’t want to do so for very long, and this is where the double beanbag comes into its own. Rice makes a good filling, and when it’s placed over the sill of the window it makes a very stable platform indeed.
Lowepro Flipside Sport
I have always had a love–hate relationship with backpacks. In the past, I have been tempted by the plentiful pockets and ample storage, only to be frustrated by the difficulty of actually carrying the loaded pack or accessing the pockets. Simplifying things was the solution. I don’t need to carry every bit of gear I own, so I chose a small and light Lowepro Flipside Sport backpack, which has room for a DSLR, three or four lenses, my filters, and items such as cards and batteries. Access is from the back, so if you have to put it down on a wet floor, it’s easy enough to slip on the built-in rain cover.
In the Norfolk countryside, these tulip fields (left) are a stunning sight, and after heavy rain can be more than a little wet. The lanes between the rows of flowers can be a quagmire of puddles and squelchy mud – not the sort of place you would want to put down a backpack, rain cover or not. This is why I love the Flipside – with the waist belt on, it’s possible to slip the straps off your shoulders and spin the bag round so it’s in front of you. The bag is held out in front of you by the waist strap, allowing you to open it and quickly change a lens before slipping it round onto your back again.
AP technical editor
Website: See manufacturer websites
I use a wide array of accessories, from tripods, bags and filters to remote releases, so it’s not easy to pick out a favourite. However, there’s one accessory I use religiously all the time: the humble lens hood.
When I started in photography, I was repeatedly told to use UV or skylight filters on all my lenses to protect the front elements against dirt and scratches. For years, I did exactly that, but have now changed my mind completely. These days, I only use lens hoods instead.
Why? Well, on a more critical assessment, I realised that those ‘protective’ filters weren’t really doing much good. They’re prone to causing image degradation from flare and ghosting effects, without obviously providing much practical protection. This is particularly true given how tough and easy to clean modern lens coatings are.
It may surprise you to hear that hoods, on the other hand, have a great number of benefits. They shield the front element against impact during shooting, and can also protect the barrel when reversed for storage.
Hoods should never have a negative effect on image quality, while often having a positive impact in preventing flare from light shining obliquely onto the front element. This is never the pretty, image-enhancing type of flare, by the way – all it does is reduce image contrast and degrade detail. Ironically, when a hood is working best, it’s unlikely you’ll notice what it’s done. So my advice is simple – ditch those filters, and use hoods instead. You won’t regret it.
Manfrotto Super High Camera Stand
While drone-mounted cameras may be all the rage these days, the Manfrotto Super High Camera Stand, with its maximum height of 7.3m, provides photographers with an alternative way of capturing aerial shots. However, with a closed height of 1.65m [2.8in] and weighing 11kg, it isn’t exactly something you’d take on photo trek. I purchased mine mainly to document the demolition and rebuild of our house. I wanted to be able to position a camera high up and keep it steady enough to shoot time-lapse sequences, and the Super High Camera Stand seemed ideal for this purpose.
Before extending the tripod, you must adjust the legs and use the attached spirit level to check that the stand is level. Ideally, you need a remote control such as a CamRanger linked to a Wi-Fi-enabled device running the CamRanger. When the tripod is fully extended, it can be alarming to see the camera sway from side to side, but despite this, I have found it possible to get acceptably sharp photographs when shooting at a shutter speed of 1/250sec with a wideangle lens. For optimum sharpness, the camera stand comes with guide ropes and tent pegs to anchor it (see left). I did this when shooting the time-lapse sequences and the results were perfectly stable.
It should go without saying that you still need to exercise common sense when shooting with this stand. If the base isn’t levelled properly, there’s a real risk of it toppling over and damaging something (or someone) and, as with drone photography, you have to consider people’s privacy when photographing from high up. Above is a favourite photo of mine, which was taken at the Stone Circle at Willen Lake Park in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.
I used to shoot transparency film, so correct exposure was crucial – a third of a stop out and you’d lose shadow detail. Crucially, you also risked blowing unrecoverable highlights if you went too far the other way. Even though I shoot digitally, I still use a meter. It’s partly out of habit, but also because I like being in control of how I handle the light. A meter allows you not only to determine the overall exposure value, which can be fine-tuned by instinct or precise control in-camera, but also to measure the quality of the light and gauge its intensity. Moreover, it allows me to work out the ratios of highlight to shadow. This becomes all the more crucial when you use studio lights; instead of simply guessing what the results will look like, you can accurately sculpt their effect. I’ve always used the most basic Sekonic meter for both ambient and strobe lighting. Currently, I have an L-308S – and it’s the cheapest in the range.
The image above was shot on the streets of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. It was late afternoon, which meant long shadows and warm, soft light.
I was working on a Leica rangefinder and, exposing for the highlights, I took a reading on the meter (around f/11-f/16). I knew that anything in that kind of light would be sharp at that aperture so, with a bit of pre-focusing, I started to walk with the sun at my back. A woman had left a market stall and was using a bowl as a shield against the sun. It was just a matter of waiting until she passed and framing an interesting (almost abstract) composition.
I am a professional wedding photographer and shoot only in a documentary style. This means that I like to be as discreet as possible. To this end, I decided in 2011 to move to the Fujifilm mirrorless system. The first camera bought was the Fujifilm FinePix X100, and I’ve had every iteration of it since, from the X100S to the current X100T.
I holster the X100T on my hip in a Spider Holster. It’s lightweight and easy to operate. My X100T sits there all day, and I don’t think about it until I need it. I also use two larger cameras, but when I want to be quick and very quiet, I use my X100T.
The image below portrays a tender moment between a bride and her aunt. I doubt I would have got this image with my larger cameras – the moment would have gone – so using the holster really did help me capture one of my favourite images of 2015.
AP deputy technical editor
HoldFast Money Maker
Price: $260 (about £180)
I’m a sucker for camera accessories and often trawl the web looking for gadgets or gizmos that might speed up my workflow or make my photography easier. Last year, I stumbled across the American manufacturer HoldFast, and it didn’t take long to grasp that what they were selling were not your average, run-of-the-mill accessories, but specialist, high-grade straps and harnesses made from quality leather with metal buckles and fittings. I ended up ordering the HoldFast Money Maker – a double-camera harness designed to distribute weight equally across both shoulders. It seemed to be the perfect solution for carrying a pair of heavy DSLRs when shooting weddings. The ‘water buffalo tan’ leather finish I opted for looks smart but stylish at the same time.
HoldFast screws are attached via the tripod thread on your camera before they’re secured either side via extremely robust metal clips – the same kind of clip used to secure sails to boats. The clips are designed to allow cameras to move freely up and down the harness, letting you pull the camera up to your eye. For peace of mind, each clip has a strong nylon safety catch that attaches to the left-side lug of each camera, and having used it at a number of weddings it has quickly become my favourite accessory – I wouldn’t ever want to leave home without it. There are many alternatives out there, but if you want a fail-safe harness that’s built to last and looks the part, the Hold Fast Money Maker is money well spent.