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Starting to build a photographer’s arsenal of ever changing, high-tech (and, not to mention, expensive) tools can be a daunting task. Even seasoned pros who have gone through many generations of equipment cringe a little at the idea of replacing a broken lens or bulb. Although the list of tools and accessories, camera lenses, camera bodies, lens babies and more that a photographer can (and probably should) employ is truthfully endless, here’s a list of 5 must-haves for every photographer. Of course, this list is debatable and subjective: feel free to tell me your must haves in the comments section below!

1. Light Reflector or Reflectoboards

This simple tool gives you the ability to create evenly dispersed lighting in both indoor and outdoor scenarios. Don’t want to buy a second strobe head for your newly formed studio? Simply put a light reflector on the opposite side of your subject to fill in some of the shadows. If you are shooting outdoors on a sunny day, you may find that the harsh sunlight leaves dark shadows and bright light spots on your subject’s face, including their eyes. These shadows can be filled in with a reflector as well. Reflectors come in a variety of hues so you can choose whether you’d like to add a touch of warm light or stick with a neutral shade. Depending on how metallic the reflector is, you can create a stronger or softer light as well, giving your image more or less contrast as needed.

2. Camera Bag

The amount of equipment you have (or will need for any given shoot) will dictate what size camera bag you will need. Some people prefer to travel light, and in some situations, such as on a hike or an on location portrait shoot, a backpack with a couple of pockets for different lenses will work perfectly. However, once you’ve acquired a certain amount of equipment you will find your bag grows—as do your shoulders from lugging all the stuff around. And in some scenarios, such as for a wedding or a commercial shoot, you’ll want to pack more of your tools just in case. There’s nothing worse than being on a shoot and suddenly thinking “if only I hadn’t left my [fill in the blank item] at home today. That would have made this the perfect shot.” A big bag with the proper padding to protect lenses, camera bodies, and lighting equipment, will help to keep your camera equipment protected and make it easier to carry around.

3. 50 mm Lens

There are dozens of contradicting articles about which lenses you should have or must have or can’t live without as a photographer. For me, it’s the simple 50 mm f/1.8 lens. This lens is inexpensive and fast. You can photograph in low light situations because the aperture opens so wide. It also allows you to play with really shallow depth of field for more artistic angles and perspectives that can give you a unique shot. In addition to this, the fixed length of the lens keeps the focus sharp. It’s a simple, clean, inexpensive lens that might just become your go-to standard.

4. A Clean White Backdrop

This is absolutely essential for those looking to get into studio photography, and should probably be purchased in conjunction with a photographer’s first professional lighting kit. A clean white backdrop adds a touch of simplicity to every shoot, and allows the subject to really take center stage. Making this kind of purchase is definitely a little intimidating, but for people looking to work indoors or professionally as a portrait photographer, it is a must-have.

5 Accessories that Every Professional Photographer Should HavePhoto Courtesy of Ryan Walsh, Featuring Pure White Seamless Paper

5. A Good Tripod

The value of a good tripod can’t be overstated. This is another relatively inexpensive tool that will improve your photography exponentially. It allows you to eliminate hand wobble in situations where the light is just a little too low, but where you don’t want to use a flash. It also lets you play with night photography and more experimental long exposures.

So there you have it: My list of the five photo gadgets that every photographer must have, from amateur to pro. What about you? What tools or toys can you not get through a shoot without?

Megan Youngblood

Megan Youngblood is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer with roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about art, technology, all things counter-culture, and the occasional auto-biographical musing. Her writing has appeared at Hyperallergic, The Creators Project, Stocktown, Bowery Boogie, and, of course, here. For more on Megan, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.


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