Are These all MUST-Haves? No, But I Love Them.
Once you get the right camera body and lens(es), you're all set, right? No. Of course not! Because once photography has its hook in you, you're going to be like the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If you give a photographer a camera, they're going to want a lighting setup, reflectors, memory cards, and more lenses.
I tried to group these into some slightly more targeted categories instead of all just photo gear, but there is certainly some overlap with how these could be organized.
Hold Me Closer, Heavy Camera
If you are one of those people who carries around your camera in your hand with no neck strap, no wrist strap, no security against possible butter fingers, then I am amazed by you. But I am NOT you. That gives me anxiety to have an unsecured camera more than one inch off the ground. So depending on what kind of outing or session I'm using my camera for, I have several different means of keeping my baby safe.
Neck Strap - For a regular hour-long or shorter session, I will typically use my standard camera neck strap. I've had this one in several different colors/patterns. It is sturdy, works great, has cute options. There's not any padding or anything, so if you need more comfort around the neck, it's not ideal. And I will say that after the hot summer months when I've sweat my way through months of outdoor sessions, I usually choose to buy a new one. At this price point, one a year is certainly worth it!
Harness - When I'm shooting a longer session, typically a wedding, or a session where I know I'm wanting to switch cameras/lenses often, I use this amazing harness. I can hook two camera bodies on at once, both secure with metal hooks screwed into the bottom of each body and then another hook into the strap loops of each, and have them sit comfortably at my hip until it's time to grab one. Then it easily slides up the shoulder strap and I can snap away while the other stays securely at my other hip. The padded straps and back support make it incredibly comfortable to wear two heavy camera bodies for a full day of coverage. This harness has been a life saver for my back and my neck and my shoulders!
Camera Bag - I like to make sure I have everything I *might* need during a session, so I need a bag that can handle that. This typically means I need a bag that will hold at least 2 camera bodies, 2-4 lenses, extra batteries, extra SD/CF (memory) cards, any on-camera lighting, reflectors, etc. Plus miscellaneous things like business cards, chapstick, hand sanitizer, my keys and phone, etc. And not only do I want all of that to be held by the bag, but I want it to be organized and easy to find. And more importantly, I want it to be safe in the bag. This bag does it all. It has many different pockets, zippered and not, for the little things. It has a back slot for my laptop, and that also provides back padding while I'm carrying it. It comes with several different protective dividers that are different sizes so you can use the velcro to configure your bag in a way that makes sense to you and keeps your gear the most secure it can be. The shoulder straps are padded and adjustable. I literally use this bag for one hour sessions, wedding day coverage, and to travel with my camera when I know I'm heading out on a flight and want to keep it safe.
Hand Strap - I will say I have not given this one a chance yet personally, but it's currently on my list to get and try out. I like the ability to ditch the neck strap on days when my neck and shoulders need a break. It feels like something I would use for hour-long or shorter sessions. The reviews on this one are great, and I'll update once I've given it a go!
Photographer's Fanny Pack - I ordered this one in DECEMBER knowing it wouldn't ship until APRIL, so that definitely says how excited I was about it! And this one is definitely not an affiliate link, but if they want to pay me, that would be super cool. Until then, here's what I love about it: it has the function of a harness, but for one camera body, plus storage and comfort. It's a crossbody bag, modeled after retro fanny packs that are NOW worn as crossbody bags. Then there's the same screw-in to the bottom of the camera body security that allows for easy up and down action; you lift it up easily to your face to take the photo, drop it down fluidly to let it sit comfortably at your hip. And then there's the fanny pack part that lets you hold extra batteries, memory cards, lens caps, your phone and keys, plus probably a smaller lens. This one is great for taking my camera out on personal excursions, like going to the zoo with my kiddo, but it's also great for trekking around the park for a session that I know I'll only need 1-2 lenses for.
Light It Up
It would be so great if we always had the perfect lighting when we were shooting, but that's not the case. So while I consider myself a primarily natural-light photographer, there are times that natural light just isn't going to fly. Here are some of my favorite things to add to my toolbox to make sure my photos are always well-lit.
Reflectors - these are SO great for natural light photographers and OCF photographers alike because they just make so much sense! If you want to add highlights, decrease highlights, add golden light, add cool tones - these reflectors do it all. And they're super compact, so throwing them in your bag is no big deal.
Mag Mod Sphere - this is the most amazing diffuser to put on your speedlite. Again, Mag Mod doesn't pay me, but HELLO, I'm happy to take their money! But here is why the Mag Mod diffusers (and the spheres in particular) are the best diffusers: the light from your speedlite retains its intensity, but it's spread out - diffused - evenly. You avoid super bright highlights and super dark shadows that you typically get when using on-camera flash. Your subjects won't be overwhelmed (meaning blinded) even when you face the speedlite directly towards them when using a Mag Mod sphere. It takes unnatural light from a speedlite and makes it appear much more natural looking.
LED Light - this little light is really great for a lot of different situations when flash isn't ideal - newborn sessions, small wedding suites where flash is overwhelming, in-home sessions where the light is good but just *not quite enough.* I love the ability to control the brightness as well as the temperature of this light. If I want to match the warmth/coolness of the light in a room without having to worry about adjusting white balance in editing, I am completely able to control that with this light that sits on my hot-shoe.
Speedlites / Speedlites- depending on how you're using them, these are two of my favorite speedlites. If you're just using one on-camera with a diffuser like the MagMod, then any of these will do. If you're using multiple as an OCF setup, then using the two digital speedlites in brackets on light stands with triggers on both and a remote on your camera body hot shoe is ideal.
I've Got a Session! Help Me.
Different types of sessions require different equipment, but here are some of the items that cycle their way through my camera bag depending on my needs for the day.
Bluetooth Speaker - there's no session that doesn't benefit from some music! Newborn? Play some white noise. Family session with small kids? Baby Shark, Blippi, Sesame Street songs. Family session with middle school/high school aged kiddos? Play anything that's current, and then make yourself look silly enjoying it. Wedding? Play any number of the couples' sentimental songs, traditional wedding songs, and typical reception songs.
Phone Tripod Mount - whether you're a content creator, a photo educator, a photographer who wants BTS content, or just a photographer who want to share video with your couples, a phone tripod mount is amazing! Whether you mount it on top or below your camera, make sure it can take both portrait and landscape video with your phone. And then have a ball with your video content!
Dental Wax - why? This is one of those things in my bag that not everyone understands, but when it comes in handy, everyone puts it on their list to have on hand. Are you doing an engagement session and want to highlight a ring? Dental/ortho wax can hold that ring in place. Do you want to do a flat lay of wedding details? Wax can hold elements in place, and also elevate certain elements to create some dimension.
Sewing Kit - do you want to be a hero? Having a small sewing kit in your bag is the move. A tiny pair of scissors can cut off a loose thread or remove a tag that's itchy on a kiddo's shirt. A needle and thread can quickly mend a rip or hole long enough to last for photos. Bonus points if there's some sort of stain-removing wipe or pen in your kit!
Back at My Computer
Here are the miscellaneous things I keep at my desk or with my laptop at all times to help with photo storage, organization, and camera maintenance.
External HD - when you're storing hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of photos, especially in RAW format, that is going to require a LOT of storage space on your computer. I use this 2TB external HD to backup all of my SOOC photos. Then this is one of the places I save photos when their edits are complete. I've had 3-4 of these HDs and have never had any issues with them. I keep my files organized within them first by year, then folders with clients' names, then within clients' folders, if they have multiple sessions within the year, they all appear there. Having this external HD keeps my laptop running quickly.
External HD Holder - this is one you could easily say is 'unnecessary,' but when I think of the headaches this $12 piece of fabric has saved me, I think it's well worth it. I always keep my external HD plugged in because I'm always working on something that is stored or will be stored there. When it's just hanging off the side of my laptop, it's easy for it to get pulled off, or to come off when I am transferring my laptop into or out of my bag, etc. And if HDs aren't properly ejected before being unplugged, you can corrupt the files on them, and THAT would be BAD. By slapping this fabric pocket on the back of my laptop screen, I know my external HD is always held in place and I don't have to worry about it getting unplugged accidentally.
The Best Memory Cards - make sure you check what kind of memory card your camera needs, but if you can find a SanDisk Extreme Pro in the right format, you're set. They are fast, reliable, and great quality. I use this brand in both SD and CF Express cards.
Memory Card Holder - again, make sure the holder fits the type of memory card you have, but then make sure you get a hard cased, waterproof holder for cards. I have my own organization system for what it means for cards to be on different sides of the holder so I know which ones to grab in a pinch for extra photos, which need to be imported, which are ready to be formatted, etc.
Bluetooth Mouse - when I'm editing, particularly when I get into more meticulous edits in Photoshop, my wrists start to hurt pretty quickly if I'm relying on only using my mousepad on my laptop. Having a bluetooth mouse on hand (pun intended) makes it so much easier to control fine-tuned edits without straining your hands and wrists. Plus I got mine in pink, so it's also cute and puts me in a good mood!
Camera Cleaner - to keep your camera in the best shape for the longest time possible, we need to take good care of it, and that includes regular cleaning. But of course with the sensitivity of parts like the sensors and contacts, we need to make sure we're cleaning in the right way so we don't cause any damage. I've had this kit since I got my first 'nice' camera years ago, and it is great for regular cleanings and for those deep cleanings that are occasionally necessary as well.
What did I miss? What are some other tools that you use on a regular basis for your photography that you think I should add?