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Going Beyond the Camera: Gadgets and Gear

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You can create a lot of amazing imagery with just one camera and one lens, but sometimes having additional gear may help you to get the shot you want. Photographer Nicole S. Young, author of Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots, talks about useful photography equipment you might want to try.
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A camera is a great piece of equipment on its own, but supplementing it with even one additional item can make a big difference in the way you shoot photos and the results you get. In this article, I'll make some suggestions about gear that I think every photographer ought to have handy all the time. We'll also consider some optional items that can speed up your picture-taking, simplify your process, or improve your images—all without breaking the bank.

The Essentials

Let's begin with a few pieces of equipment that I think belong in every photographer's camera bag—or at least should be accessible when taking photos.

Camera Strap

Almost all new cameras come equipped with a simple strap. When I purchase a new camera, I tend to take the camera strap out of the packaging and immediately attach it to the camera, but over time those straps usually drive me crazy:

  • The basic straps never seem to be very comfortable.
  • When hanging on my shoulder by a basic strap, the camera bumps into things.
  • I worry about the strap sliding down my arm and crashing the camera to the ground.

Thankfully, other straps are available. The camera strap I currently use is a BlackRapid RS-4. It's attached to the bottom of the camera (where you connect the tripod plate) and worn diagonally from the shoulder to the opposite hip. This positioning lets the camera hang safely while my hands are busy. Other strap brands and options are available, but I really like the way this type of strap works, since I don't have to worry about the strap sliding off my shoulder, and it allows me to use my hands freely.

Lens Cleaner

Another must-have in every photographer's camera bag is some type of lens-cleaning device. I use a Giotto's Rocket-air blower to blast the dust off my lenses before doing any deeper cleaning of the glass. This little piece of equipment is great for a couple of reasons:

  • When the Rocket-air inflates after you've blown the dust off a lens, it doesn't suck the dust back through the valve.
  • The Rocket-air is bendy and mushy—you can squish it into your camera bag wherever you have free space, and it will fit almost anywhere.

Tripod and Cable Release

There are some things that you just can't photograph without a sturdy tripod and a cable release (see Figure 1):

  • A tripod keeps your camera stable and in one place, which helps to reduce camera shake. Tripods can be used in any type of photography where a nonmoving camera is essential, as with landscapes and long exposures, and they're also good at keeping your scene steady when shooting video on a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.
  • A self-timer can help to minimize camera shake in long exposures. If you're taking several photos in a row, however, the three-second wait for the shutter to trip can feel like forever.
  • Using the cable release—a cord you connect to the camera that allows you to activate the shutter button remotely—can make photographing landscapes and shooting in high dynamic range (HDR) much easier to accomplish. Without a cable release, it's nearly impossible to shoot in "Bulb" mode (the mode you use to keep the shutter open indefinitely).
  • Figure 1 A cable release is helpful when photographing long exposures, HDR, or landscape images. (Photo by Rich Legg.)

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