“What Should I carry in my camera bag!?” is probably one of the most common questions posed to me by newbies in the hobby.
When it comes to camera bag essentials that I always take in my camera bag — the Thinktank Retrospective 20 [Buy Here] that I’ve used for nearly 10 years now — there’s a ton of obvious items that need to be in it: a camera, some lenses, some batteries, maybe a usb cable or two, lens filters, memory cards, and so on. All of these are kind of obvious, so I’d like to touch on some less obvious, more outside the box (or dare I say, outside the bag?) camera bag essential items that could get missed if you’re just beginning as a photographer and are not sure what you’ll need till you need it, and it’s too late.
Camera Bag Essentials, Number 1: The Lens Pen
This might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many photographers I’ve met over the years that stopped me and queried what I was doing when I pulled out this strange looking brush/wipe tool used to clean the front and rear elements, and even my cameras sensor.
The nimble Lens Pen [Buy Here] can become a tremendous lifesaver and whether I have one or two stashed in my camera bag, I always have one on my person because I just buy a bunch of them every five years — because the soft cleaning tip will wear out eventually — and scatter them across my camera bags and most used jackets.
The lens pen generally features a pop out brush, to quickly clear your lenses of any large pieces of dirt and also a soft cleaning tip hidden under a cap. The soft cleaning tip does an amazing job of removing haze, grease from fingers that may have come into contact with your lens, general dust/dirt that can’t be brushed away.
It should be said that while you can buy brand-free and generic lens pens there is an actual brand called Lens Pen which is the best of all available lens pens, you can buy that here. Unless you want to test the waters yourself, I’d avoid the generic pens because the soft cleaning tip on the cheapo eBay pens is usually falling off after the first use and you risk doing some damage to your front element.
Camera Bag Essentials, Number 2: A LCD Screen Loupe
Absolutely nothing in digital photography is as challenging as shooting photographs on the sunniest of sunny afternoons. The driving direct sunlight really causes problems when proofing photographs via your rear LCD. This will force you to trust your histograms, no easy proposition if you’re new to digital photography — though I’ve spoken to my share of seasoned pros who don’t understand histograms, so there’s that.
What is a loupe, you ask? If you’ve ever see documentaries of film photographers you’d have seen them using a loupe to get a close up view of their 35mm film, they’re using it like a magnifying glass, giving you a better glimpse of image sharpness. But the real reason why I never leave for a shoot without it a loupe is because once pressed against the back of my camera’s LCD it totally blocks out all sunlight giving me a great view of the pictures color, tone, sharpness, and most importantly: highlights and shadows, something that direct sunlight really tends to affect.
I still peep my histogram on every image but a loupe totally removes all the guesswork. Plus if you’re chimping the LCD with clients and want to show them the picture too, their brain isn’t going to factor in the sunlight and understand that it doesn’t look at washed out as it appears.
The model I use is a Hoodman HoodLoupe Optical Viewfinder for LCD, but unfortunately it’s been discontinued. You’ll need to buy this model, which is virtually the same and offers a few more advantages than the original HoodLoupe that I own.
Camera Bag Essentials, Number 3: Business Cards
Business cards are potentially the most important tool in a photographers arsenal.
“But I don’t even have a business” you say? That isn’t the point.
First an anecdote. When I first began taking photographs, especially street photography, nothing gave me more anxiety than someone asking me “Why are you taking pictures?” I was nervous and shy any time I’d pull out the camera in a public space. The answer to their question was simple, it’s “because I like to take photographs” but to me, that answer alone didn’t carry enough credibility. I didn’t want someone to perceive me as creepy or weird. I wasn’t working for a company, like the local paper or working on a project for school, it was just for me, but who was I?
And then someone asked me for my business card. I was new, I didn’t have one, but I instantly recognized how much weight it carried. A business card would legitimize what I was doing, especially when I began shooting serious street photography, engaging people and posing them or moving them around the corner into better light — tall orders for someone you just met that second and are now asking to invade their privacy with a photograph.
“What is this for?” they’d ask and I could reply “Oh I’m a photographer, I focus mainly on street photography, people I meet and come across who I think should have their photo taken, here’s my business card, my website is on there, you should check out my work.”
Beside the obvious benefits of having a card, such as growing your name, brand, and income, the other benefits are more than worth the small cost.
Pro-Tip: While I’m sure you think you are good with Photoshop and can make up a logo and branding for yourself, you should really leave it to a professional. Having a designer make a logo/brand for you and laying out a business card, then the cost of ordering is really no where near as expensive as it used to be. These days so many online “For Hire” or “Freelance” websites exist there’s no excuse for not having a solid brand and business card to go along with it.
Camera Bag Essentials, Number 4: Five AA Batteries for Emergencies
I always have a few batteries stashed in my shoulder bag somewhere. Even just tossed in the side compartment nearly forgotten about, saved for the one time I’m in a huge bind where a flash or radio trigger has no juice.
Why 5? Why not just four?
Well for starters most people would prob take 2, but you’d be surprised how many things tend to take 3 AA batteries these days. Secondly, a Nikon SB800 flash with the 5th battery compartment takes 5 batteries, meaning that personally to operate my flashes per normal I’d need five AA’s. But generally speaking, I say 5 because I would need 4 for two Pocket Wizards to work, in case I’ve left them powered up in my bag from the night before and then go to a shoot only to discover they’re DOA.
I also tend to lose things out of my bag, so if I carry 5, odds are I’ll lose one and still have 4, two for each Pocket Wizard or four for a hot-shoe flash. :-D
Really, it’s all about getting yourself out of a bind and not allowing yourself to ever be put in one. I guess you could carry 20 emergency batteries but that kinda defeats the purpose. Why you would ever need 20 emergency-use batteries stashed in your bag if you’re properly preparing for shoots is not something I understand.
Camera Bag Essentials, Number 5: Breath Mints
Photography is an up close and personal adventure. It’s also tiring, meaning you’ll probably be consuming gallons of coffee like everyone else in the world these days. Coffee knows for two things: waking you up and making your breath stink. My final tip is to find a breath mint [Buy Here] that works and stock up at your local warehouse.
It should be said that I prefer mints over gum partially because I just dislike gum but also because chewing gum in front of people can be perceived as rude. The visuals and sounds that tend to accompany chewing of gum can sometimes gross out and annoy other people.
Stock up, put mints in your bag, in your coat, in your car, wherever you are most often situated so that you’re never in need.
Furthermore, it shouldn’t surprise you that pretty much everyone will tend to be conscious of their own breath. You can be the guy or gal with mints on demand, it might even make better photos by putting your subjects at ease before standing in front of the lens.
Bonus: Multi-tool or Swiss Army Knife
This might seem obvious but I’ve been looked at as if I have ten heads when asking other photographers for their tool when I’ve misplaced mine, though rare.
This is my last but maybe the most invaluable of my camera bag essentials, and I have two of them.
I have a Victorinox Swiss Army Huntsman Knife [Buy Here] on my person at all times and it’s used frequently, whether it be attaching a tripod plate to a camera, aiding in removing from dead tree limbs that are in the middle of a shot, or even using the scissors to trim the lacing on a corset dress during a wedding shoot.
There’s a reason why they’re so popular. The model I have is a little bigger than the slim knives that the mention of Swiss Army may immediately bring to mind, but the benefits of the added weight and size are worth it. I have a small wood saw (that is great for shredding all kinds of materials, such as plastics), the usual knives, scissors, a small screw driver, bottle opener (used often on wedding days lol), a flashlight that’s great for when you think you have something on your camera sensor, a pen for writing, a toothpick, and even tweezers!
The second thing you should have is a multi-tool, which is kind of redundant on top of a Swiss Army. Though the multi-tool is usually beefier and bulkier it will usually have more tools than a Swiss Army. As well it’s capable of applying more leverage and torque to whatever you’re doing. Primarily the pliers alone on a multi-tool is a reason why you should have one in your bag. You never know when a screw or clamp will break or get stuck and you need the extra grip to loosen the tension on your tripod head.
I use a Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool [Buy Here] and it’s never done me wrong. There are many, many other multi-tools on the market and you definitely do not have to buy the Leatherman brand, but they’re the most popular for a reason. You get what you pay for, nothing would be worse than using the pliers to clamp down on a mount only to have the pliers fail mid torque.
There you have it, five camera bag essentials, items you need to have in your photography bag at all times.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!