While today’s cameras are very competent on their own, there are plenty of useful accessories that can improve your creativity and make it easier to shoot photos and movies.

Some of the many useful accessories that can make it easier for you to keep shooting great photos and movies include spare memory cards, cables, lens hoods, dust blowers and different kinds of grips and tripods. (Source: Camera House/iStock.)

1. Cleaning kits

If you don’t already have one, an immediate must-have is a cleaning kit with a blower brush that has soft bristles for removing dust and lint plus a microfibre cloth for wiping off finger marks and other kinds of smearing. Wash the microfibre cloth frequently in normal laundry detergent to remove accumulated grease but don’t use fabric softener as it deposits chemicals that can leave marks on optical surfaces.

A cleaning kit costs little to buy and will save you hassles in the long run because dust and grime can spoil images more quickly than most other potential problems.

2. Camera bags

Camera bags keep your equipment protected against inclement weather, dust and other contaminants. There are plenty of options available and you can choose from a wide variety of types.

Classic styles include backpacks, shoulder bags, messenger bags and sling bags, which have straps that rest on one or both your shoulders. If you only carry a camera with one zoom lens, a holster bag makes it easy to access your gear quickly when you need it.

Top-loading bags make your camera quick to access. (Source: Camera House/ProMaster.)

Pocket or pouch bags with wrist straps work well for compact cameras and smartphones. You can also get small versions with straps that are worn across your body. Choose a style that suits activities you’re engaging in. Many people have several different bags, which they use in different situations.

Larger bags normally have several compartments to accommodate additional lenses, laptops or tablets, and small accessory items. Many also have external mesh pockets for water bottles as well as straps for attaching a tripod.

Serious outdoor photographers usually prefer a backpack that can accommodate all of their equipment as well as some personal effects. (Source: Camera House/ProMaster.)

Make sure your equipment is easy to access via the main opening, which is probably at the side or on the top. Look for additional pockets for storing spare glasses, sunscreen, hats and/or waterproof jackets. A built-in rain cover is necessary if you’re venturing off the beaten track.

It’s worth buying high quality bags because they’ll be protecting expensive gear. But pay special attention to its size and weight because it must be comfortable for you to carry, especially if you’re lugging it about for long periods of time over challenging terrain.

3. Lens hoods

Lens hoods are used to prevent stray light from entering the camera and creating flare. They’re normally supplied with better quality lenses and come in different shapes and sizes.

If your lens doesn’t come with a hood, it should be the first accessory you buy. They’re not expensive and using a hood can save many of your shots. You’ll need a petal-shaped hood for wide angle lenses or a cylindrical one for telephoto lenses.

Extended-range zoom lenses that go from wide angle to telephoto usually have petal-shaped lens hoods to match the widest angle of view they cover. (Source: Fujifilm.)

Most hoods can be reversed over the lens to make them easier to carry and store.  Some photographers also use them to protect their lenses from impact shocks.

4. Tripods

A tripod keeps your camera still during long exposures and while videos are being recorded. It’s essential for low light photography involving long exposures. Tripods can also be handy for setting up self-portraits and giving you time to frame landscape and macro shots.

You’ll also need a tripod for time-lapse recordings. If your camera has a high-resolution shooting mode that records a sequence of frames and composites them to increase resolution, a tripod can also reduce the risk of blurring while the sequence is recorded.

Tiny tripods are popular with vloggers and can also be used for tabletop product photography. (Source: Sony.)

Tripods can be made from different materials and come in many sizes. Choose the one that best meets your needs. Small or medium-sized tripods work well with smaller, lighter cameras. Larger tripods are ideal for supporting larger interchangeable-lens cameras, especially when they’re used with longer telephoto lenses.

When buying tripods you usually get what you pay for. Budget tripods are not as sturdily constructed as higher-priced models. If you need a lightweight tripod choose one made from carbon-fibre – but be prepared for a higher price tag.

There are also a number of more compact alternatives for travellers and photographers who prefer lightweight gear.

5. Grips and gimbals

For cameras, grips come in two types: hand grips, which make the camera more comfortable to hold by enlarging the grip moulding, and battery grips for adding extra battery power and making it easier to shoot with the camera held vertically in ‘portrait’ orientation.

Some grips also double as mini tripods for tabletop photography and videography. Many such models include wireless remote controls, usually via Bluetooth LE (low energy).

Grips can be useful for vloggers, especially when they also hold accessories like an external microphone. (Source: Sony.)

Gimbals are great for vloggers who post when they’re on the move. They’re available in a range of sizes to suit cameras as small and light as smartphones all the way up to heavy professional video rigs.

For videographers, gimbals combine flexibility and stability, enabling you to record video without worrying about camera shake. Sensors in the device detect camera motion and balance it out by shifting the camera, which is mounted on a freely-moving platform. Recorded video footage is smooth and blur-free, even when the camera is being moved between one scene and another.

6. Filters

Unlike film, digital sensors aren’t affected by UV light so you don’t need UV filters for your lenses. For most shooting, filters are best avoided because a dirty filter or one made from inferior glass will degrade the quality of your photos.

However, some photographic situations can benefit from the use of filters. Two types are worth considering: polarisers and neutral density filters.

Polarisers are used mainly by landscape photographers to deepen the blues in skies and make white clouds stand out. They can also be handy for suppressing reflections, enabling you to see into bodies of water and avoid blown-out highlights.

Polarising filters can be used to emphasise the contrast between a blue sky and white clouds.

Linear polarisers are cheaper but only work in one direction. Circular polarisers are more expensive but more versatile as they block light from more than one plane. They also work better with your camera’s metering system.

Neutral density filters reduce the intensity of the in-coming light and enable you to shoot with longer exposure times. They can be handy on sunny days when you want to use wide aperture settings to isolate subjects from distracting backgrounds. They’re also necessary for taking shots containing blurred-out running water.

7. Flash

The pop-up flashguns in entry-level cameras are usually quite feeble and often don’t provide useful illumination beyond a metre or two from the camera. When more light is needed an on-camera flashgun that attaches to your camera’s hot shoe will fire automatically when you take a photo through electronic contacts that transfer signals between the camera and the flash.

TTL (through the lens) flashguns, the most common type, receive metering information from the camera so they’re simple to use. Many flashguns can also be set up away from the camera and triggered wirelessly, via a Bluetooth or infrared remote connection.

Moving the flashgun away from the camera by setting it on a bracket, as shown here, avoids the risk of red eyes in portrait shots and alters the direction of shadows. The flash is connected to the camera’s hot shoe for triggering when the shutter button is pressed. (Source: Canon.)

Most flashguns are adjustable so you can control the balance of ambient and flash lighting. This is useful when using the flash to fill in shadows caused by backlighting.

Specialised flashguns are also available, an example being ring flashes for producing shadowless lighting for close-ups and portraits. You can also add various accessories and modifiers to change the direction, brightness or colour of the light and make them more versatile.

Videographers can’t use flashguns but instead can buy add-on LED lights to provide continuous illumination while they shoot. They come in different sizes from tiny models that can attach to a smartphone to full professional studio lighting kits.

8. Protective covers and housings

Your camera and lens are investments that require protection against possible damage. If water gets into the electronics it can write-off your expensive gear. Most weather sealing only protects your gear against a very light shower of rain. Extra protection is required in challenging conditions. Fortunately, there are plenty of protective options available, from flexible plastic rain covers and hoods to underwater housings for SCUBA diving.

Rain covers and hoods can only shield your camera against a downpour; they won’t provide protection if it’s submerged. It’s important to choose an appropriate size with a clear plastic panel that lets you see the controls and monitor screen. The staff at your local camera shop will advise you on the best model for your camera and lens and show how to fit it.

Underwater housings are specially constructed to keep out water when you’re using your camera while SCUBA diving. (Source: Camera House/iStock.)

Underwater housings provide proper waterproof sealing for all kinds of cameras from smartphones through to professional equipment. These are the accessories you need if you want to take a normal camera snorkelling or diving.

It’s important for the housing to be a correct fit and the key camera controls are in easy reach and usable even when you’re wearing gloves. Expect to pay a high price for products that can provide reliable protection and those which are easiest to use and care for. Some manufacturers make housings specifically designed for their equipment but there are also plenty of options available from manufacturers like AquaTech, Fantasea, Ikelite and Sea&Sea, to name a few.

To find the useful accessories, check out your local camera store where you will find staff who can provide all the advice you need.

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Lens accessories

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Take Better Photos pocket guide.

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House

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