10 Key Accessories for Photographers

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Photographers love their gadgets, and gadgets are fantastic go-tos when gift-giving season rolls around. There’s certainly no shortage of toys on the market, but it's overwhelming figuring out what's worth the buy. If the photographer in your life hasn't provided you with a wish list, it feels like a shot in the dark trying to pick out what they need. This might help. Here are ten key photography accessories that make for awesome gifts.

1. White-Balancing Tools

Most digital cameras have an Auto White Balance function that works in a pinch. But, for many pros and serious hobbyists, it’s preferable to customize WB right on the spot. Impact’s QuikBalance Collapsible 12" Gray Panel, a modern twist on the classic gray card, is one way to do this. One side is 18% gray, and the other is neutral white. When placed in the same lighting as the subject, photographers can adjust their settings accordingly or use it as a base point for accurate post-processing later. The same concept applies to the X-Rite Original ColorChecker Card, which features 24 colors that mimic things they might be shooting (skin tones, sky, foliage, etc.) as well as neutral grays. Finally, the ExpoDisc 2.0 is a popular wedding-photography tool due to its small size. These circular filters come in two thread sizes, 77mm and 82mm. If your lenses are smaller than that, no worries; just hold the disc up in place, and shoot the sample. ExpoDiscs simply capture a featureless gray image that replaces a traditional gray card. It comes in a little carrying pouch with a lanyard, and stores easily in a pocket.

2. Replacement Camera Straps

The neck straps that come with bigger cameras typically aren’t designed for comfort. On longer shoots, they can become downright painful. The best way to avoid strain is to get the camera off the neck altogether, and these several fantastic alternatives can do just that. BlackRapid straps are designed to be worn from shoulder to hip, distributing weight evenly across the body. They come in a range of designs, depending on how much or what type of support is needed. Peak Design also has a great line of versatile straps that can be worn around the neck or across the shoulder, along with a quick-connecting handgrip and tethered wrist cuff (great for lighter cameras). Hand straps are also available from Vello, who sells some great little padded attachments that can be used with or without battery grips. To go hands-free altogether, hip holsters are lifesavers. Spider is famous for its heavy-duty SpiderPro Single and Dual holster systems, and its smaller Black Widow for lightweight DSLRs. Another alternative is the Cotton Carrier Side Holster, which simply fits right onto a belt to hold the camera safely at a photographer's side.

3. Memory-Card Wallets

A memory-card wallet is a downright necessary organizational tool for any photographer. Memory cards are small and delicate, a bad combination without somewhere safe to keep them. Check out the colorful little SD Pixel Pocket Rocket from ThinkTank. This wallet will hold 9 SD cards in clear slots, along with a few business cards in the back. It folds up nice and flat so it hardly takes up any room. For a more protective way to store cards, Pelican offers some great hardcover cases made of polycarbonate resin. These are water resistant and shock absorbent, so they’ll gladly take a beating. The 0915 is perfect for SD or Mini SD cards, while the 0945 is designed for CF cards.

4. Cleaning Kits

Clean optics are important not only for the quality of images, but the care and longevity of equipment. No one should be cleaning lenses with a t-shirt or paper towel. Instead, they need something that’ll do the job safely. Zeiss Microfiber Cleaning Cloths come in a pack of four (three medium and one large), and are specially made to gently remove dust, dirt, and fingerprints from the surface of lenses. For some particular tough spots, a proper lens cleaning solution will do the trick. The Purosol PUOC-10078 Optical Lens Cleaning Small Kit comes with a pocket-sized bottle of eco-friendly and streak-free solution, and a small microfiber cloth. This liquid is safe enough for use on any type of lens coating. Don’t forget about dreaded sensor dust, either. Many times, this can simply be remedied with something like a Sensei Bulb Air Blower. The nozzle helps direct air current exactly where it's needed, with an inlet valve to prevent backflow.

5. Camera Bag

A good camera bag is a necessity. It will be heavily used, so put some thought into what’ll serve someone best. Lowepro is a good place to start, since the company offers just about any style of carrying case a person could need. Sleek black shoulder bags are available in a range of sizes, each with padded interiors and retractable rain flaps. Lowepro also offers similarly-built backpacks, which come in assorted colors and are well suited to the mobile photographer. If you’re looking for something that offers style as well a protection, check out the Domke F-5XB RuggedWear Medium Shoulder and Belt Bag. This water-resistant canvas bag can be worn across the shoulder or on the hip.

6. Tripod

Every photographer needs a tripod. Whether you decide to shell out a lot or a little, having something to safely stabilize a camera is a must-have for certain kinds of shots. The Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 is a good all-purpose aluminum tripod with enough support for camera systems up to 19.8 lb. The MeFOTO Globetrotter is perfect for photographers who like to travel. This is a jack-of-all-trades tool that also doubles as a monopod with removal of the central column. The MeFOTO’s aluminum construction can support up to 26.4 lb of equipment. One of its key features is its portability: it collapses into a mere 16.1", which is remarkably convenient for a tripod of its size. But if that’s still too big, the flexible little Joby Gorillapod is a perfect mini-tripod to stabilize up to 6.6 lb of camera. Its bendy joints can be flexed to grip or wrap around almost any object.

7. Filters

Filters can be somewhat underrated these days, but they definitely serve a purpose, even in the age of digital photography. Warming or cooling filters can be used for adjusting color temperatures, and a multitude of specialty filters can be used to achieve different creative effects. For landscape photographers, two of the most beloved types of filters are neutral density and circular polarizers. ND filters come solid, graduated, or center-weighted, and cut the light entering a lens by several stops. These are great for long-exposure shots, letting the photographer dictate the shutter speed and aperture without worrying about overexposing in bright ambient light. Circular polarizers work by changing the way lenses takes in light. They eliminate reflections and glare (water, glass, etc.), as well as darken blue skies for rich, gorgeous color. Tons of fan favorites are made by Tiffen, Hoya, and B+W.

8. Memory Card Reader

High-volume photographers need a way to quickly and efficiently get their digital images uploaded to a computer. The best way to do this is with a memory card reader, and the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot device is perfectly cut out for the job. This portable reader is compatible with CF, SDXC/ SDHC UHS-I, and SD cards, and is fully capable of simultaneous transfer. Its pop-up design protects inner circuitry when not in use, and it’s compatible with both USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports.

9. Collapsible Reflector

A reflector is best friend to the still-shot photographers of the world, especially for subject matter like portraits, products, or food. Impact’s 5-in-1 collapsible reflectors are super versatile for use either in the studio or out on location. The Circular 42" Reflector Disc includes white, gold, silver, and silver/gold combination panels for bounce fill, and a translucent panel for diffusion. The larger Oval Reflector (42 x 72") is really well suited for portraits, and comes with black, silver, white, soft gold, and translucent panels. Both reflectors collapse to a third of their size, and tuck neatly away into a storage bag. You can also pick up an Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder to truly go hands-free.

10. External Hard/Solid State Drive

A reliable external solid-state or hard drive is critical when you start amassing a large collection of digital photos. These are a lifesaver when you need a way to transfer large folders, back-up image catalogs, or simply clear up some room on your computer. WD’s line of Elements Portable Hard Drives come in a range of sizes from 500GB through 2TB, with compatibility for both USB 3.0 and 2.0. If you plan on lugging it around with you, you may instead want to check out LaCie’s Rugged line. Those recognizable orange hard drives also range from 500GB through 2TB, with an external solid-state drive available in 250GB. All LaCie drives hold up against drops, moisture, and dust contamination. They can also be password-protected in case one goes missing.

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