You can learn so much from the masters of the art. I began to understand more by learning more from modern photographers and videographers such as Ben Long, Karl Taylor, Jeff Cable, Phillip Bloom and Vincent Laforet. After watching all of their educational material, reviewing their work online, I would start by attempting to recreate it. While my knowledge, experience, camera and gear is far from that of the pros, I have learnt that it is possible to create some impressive pieces of work with very minimal equipment. As with a number of people I am just starting out in the industry, so have had to keep cost in mind. Hopefully you too will find some of these recommendations helpful.
The following items have been the most helpful additional accessories items that I have uncovered throughout my journey into photography and videography. The links below will lead you through to Amazon where you have access to user reviews and pricing. I would like to disclose that they are affiliate links in which I will receive a small commission as a percentage of your sale. This does not cost you any extra, but it does help me pay for the next year of hosting fees, allowing me to create more content for you. Thank you for reading.
A tripod is the first and most essential piece of equipment that you should purchase. You don't have to get a huge unwieldy beast of a tripod. Just something that will hold your camera, lens and potentially a microphone all at the same time. A tripod unlocks a world of creative possibilities. The first of which being a slow shutter speed. While a larger sensor camera and an ultra fast lens can drastically improve your low light photography, you will have a very limited depth of field. There is something magic about a long exposure photos with a good depth of field taken at night.
Weight is the first consideration. This is two fold: first the weight of the actual tripod and second is the maximum support weight. The heavier the tripod the more stable your photography platform but the less portable it is. In practice this is important however a little bit of weight is not the end of the world as you can carry it around in your hand when out photographing. I personally prefer a lighter tripod that I am able to strap to the side of my backpack. This is good for getting to location but once moving around you tend to carry it in your hand anyway. Aim for a minimum support weight above 1.5kg as they can always hold a little more than they specify. But lighter than this is no good for most modern DSLR cameras with a good lens attached.
The second major consideration that you will have is the tripod head. Especially if you are looking to do video. The head must be sturdy and able to move in all orientations. If you are planning on doing video then you must not only consider the support weight of the head but also the pan and tilt fluidity. I cannot emphasise this enough. It should be able to lock and move smoothly in all directions with the option to move solely in the x or y direction. Nothing is worse than a jerky pan. Obviously the movement fluidity just depends on how deep your pockets are but it is possible to do more with less providing that you are patient and willing to do multiple takes to get it right.
Height is next up. Consider both the folded height and the maximum height of the tripod. It is important not to focus on getting one that is your height. The most interesting shots come when the camera is at a different perspective to what we see on a day to day basis. My tripod is often set at its lowest height in order to get shots that take the ground in as the foreground to add depth to the image. When assessing what height tripod is best, ensure to check how wide the legs open out. Legs that open fully assist greatly with stability and the ability to get low, but features such as this don't come for free and add weight.
Finally is the build quality and price. Some might argue that price is the most important, but trust me if you go out with a price in mind you can expect to double it (or more). So it is best to remain open to new ideas. In terms of build quality this comes largely down to the manufacturer. The big names such as Manfrotto or Gitzo are renown for quality and will honour any warranties provided. You can move from aluminium to carbon fibre and further depending on your budget. Just remember to keep an open mind, as you will likely have this for some time, ensure to future proof yourself and spend what you can to ensure good quality results.
For a lightweight budget travel tripod I have used the Manfrotto MKC3-H01 with very good results. It is very light, compact and has a good range of heights with a support weight of around 1.5kg. Good for all but your largest lenses. It has great movement in the head and even allows you to lock down the tripod head so it will only move in the x and y axis.
As a more robust option I recommend the Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro which is an amazing tripod for the price. With super adjustable legs for photographs from all angles. But buyer beware this does not come with a head attached. It is the legs alone. The XCSOURCE Pro metal ball head with quick release is a great option for photographers. But for video you need something to pan and tilt. For this I can safely recommend this without hesitation Manfrotto 502 Video Head MVH502AH. This has been also recommended by pros such as Vincent Laforet.
Additional batteries allow you to film longer without having to leave to find a power outlet and recharge. For me the magic number is 3. I always carry 3 batteries with me. This allows for plenty of photos and video. As you move into video you will realise just how little time that you have with these batteries. If you are planning on spending a long time away you may need more, so just think about this before setting off. Camera manufacturer batteries are often up to 3 times the price of third party batteries and sometimes even more. I have never had any trouble with (good) third party batteries, just make sure to read the reviews before you buy.
Storage is cheap. Why not stock up? There is no point having all of this battery life if you are continually running out of storage. Again, my magic number is 3 with storage I always have at least 3 additional memory cards when I head out. This is again especially important for video. With video ensure you get a fast card Class 10 and above in order to ensure you have a fast enough write speed. As sensor quality is improving and we are moving into the realm of 4k and beyond the size and speed of memory cards is highly important. Make sure to do your research on your specific camera brand before you buy a bunch of cards. Personally I prefer to get medium amounts of storage and multiple cards rather than purchasing one expensive large card. This ensures that if you do have a corrupt card it is only a portion of the days photos that you lose rather than the whole lot.
The circular polarising filter is without doubt the most important filter than you can purchase for your camera. This will allow you to remove glare, haze, darken the sky and make colours more vibrant. This is especially evident around water and in the forest where all leaves lose their reflective qualities and become a much richer shade of green. It is important to note when using a polarising filter that the sun must be 90 degrees to the direction in which you are taking a photo. Essentially make sure the sun is shining on your shoulder. Polarising filters will not work when you point into or away from the sun. I began with the Tiffen 77mm Polarising filter. I had no issues with this filter and never had any loss in sharpness (providing it was clean).
Neutral density (ND) filters are also a great addition to your kit. With photography you are able to increase the shutter speed in order to reduce the amount of light onto the sensor. However with video the shutter speed is governed by the frame rate of eventual output file. Therefore, in order to achieve a shallow depth of field in bright light you need to reduce the amount of light striking the sensor. This is where the ND filters come in. ND Filters come in a range of levels that vary in darkness. There are variable neutral density filters which are great for video. However, for photography with high resolution images there is sometimes areas of darker density in cheaper filters. These will allow you to use your camera on brighter days and achieve a shallow depth of field to retain that cinematic quality. Otherwise you will be forced to narrow down the aperture to achieve the correct exposure. Then you are back to the handy cam days, with no control of depth of field.
As with everything in the photography world these range drastically in price. Just ensure to read the reviews and if you can afford a multi layered filter then by all means go for it. There is no point in purchasing a $1000 lens and then putting a $5 piece of glass in front off your lens as you will end up with a soft and potentially unusable image. With some research I have ended up using the Tiffen range of filters as these have a reasonably good image quality and are a bargain price.
Ensure to buy the largest size filter according to your range of lenses. If you plan on upgrading your lenses in the future the I would recommend getting a larger filter (typically 77mm) and then purchase an adaptor for this. Just be careful with the lens flares and distortions that cheaper adaptors can bring.
A remote shutter release is another cheap but important piece of kit to have on hand. Especially with creative pieces of work such as long exposures or time lapses. There are two classes of shutter releases: ones with an intervalometer and ones without. As you can imagine they are priced accordingly. These are important when used in conjunction with your tripod to ensure there is no residual camera shake cause by the activation of the shutter. Both will have a lock button and allow you to take photos with your camera in bulb mode. However, the intervalometer is a great addition to your gear for the time lapses. In terms of manufacturer vs third party remote shutter releases, my research has lead me to believe that there is little difference between the two. So spend what you have in your budget and remember that you won't use it all of the time so aim to get a bargain on such a piece of kit.
If you are in the canon world then I recommend looking into the Magic Lantern firmware as this will help you to get around having an intervalometer. You can set up time lapse photos to be taken at any period and duration you wish and this is all available in camera! Please check the articles section to see a workflow for creating a time lapse video using Magic Lantern.
The in built audio recording in most DSLR cameras is sub-par. After all they are primarily aimed to take pictures. While image quality is advancing fast, the sound recording is often an after, after thought. With video being the first after thought. My main issues with the onboard sound recording (especially on the Canon cameras) is the background hiss that is always audible and the wind noise. I have seen third party pieces of fluff that you can attach to the camera's onboard mic to remove wind noise but you are still left with the background hiss.
So being budget minded, and primarily focused on the quality of the image (at present) I went with the Zoom H1 audio recorder. At under $100 this is an amazing piece of kit. It is the cheapest (in terms of price per performance) audio recording device on the market. It doesn't offer multiple channel recording but this can be achieved with a lab mic plugged into your camera and having the ambient recording done with the Zoom H1. With this and all external sound recorders you need to be extremely careful with wind noise. If you do not protect the microphones with a wind shield of some sort you will hear an audible popping in the recording, rendering it useless. If you are looking to get more out of your audio recording then I suggest moving up the Zoom line of products. The Zoom H4n is their high end alternative. It is highly regarded among users and thus quickly became the industry standard.
After many attempts with syncing my sound I have realised that it is very important to sync your audio recordings with your video as soon as possible after the shoot. I highly recommend setting up the time on both recording mediums to ensure that these are synced as close as possible. Ensure to speak at the start of each take to note your location and what the shot is. Then follow this up with a clap or two to put a spike in both the on camera audio and portable recording device. Where possible use a third party piece of software such as Plural Eyes or Final Cut Pro X to sync up the recordings to ensure you aren't pulling your hair out too much! Please stay tuned for a further post outlining this workflow.
One flash can add a lot to your photography, especially at night time in low light, but also on very bright days as a fill in light to avoid harsh contrasting shadows on your subject. When you control the light in the photo is allows full control over the exposure, contrast, blur, multiple points of lighting (multiple flashes) and ISO as well.
Again, price will likely be your determining factor here. You can spend a lot of obey on an external flash. It is a delicate balance between what money you are willing to spend and the features you need. The most important features are Power and Recycle Time. You can always stop down the power of your flash but you cannot increase it past it's maximum value. Recycle time is fairly self explanatory but the way to assess it is how long it takes for the camera to completely recycle ready for another flash at full power. Ensure that you buy decent batteries to put in your flash as this will have a direct impact on both of these aspects.
For creative photography you must ensure that the flash has full manual controls. When combined with manual exposure mode on the camera you are able to easily create some wonderful high contrast images with relative ease. The flash should have TTL metering which allows the camera and the flash to communicate with each other and adjust the power of the flash to achieve the correct exposure. Auto zoom is the next important feature in order for the camera to gauge the correct width of beam in order to ensure a correct exposure. Finally, and probably most important is the cameras ability to tilt and swivel. This allows you to bounce the flash off adjacent walls in order to create a softer light on the subject.
Other items to consider are Wireless TTL Flash Control, High-Speed Sync and Rear Curtain Sync. Without going into too much detail Wireless TTL Flash control allows your inbuilt camera flash to control the external flash either as just a trigger or as a combination flash to give two point lighting. High speed sync allows the shutter to be triggered at higher shutter speeds than what the camera typically allows (typically around 1/200 of a second). Finally rear curtain sync allows the flash to fire as the shutter closes allowing room for motion blur and a number of other creative opportunities.
So for my Canon camera I went with the 430 EX II Speedlite. It is the middle of the road with a reasonably high level of power and a comparatively quick recycle time. It is well priced and even better if you are able to get it with a cash back special. There are cheaper options such as the Yonguno YN-560 III which is a comparable flash to the Canon at a lower cost. However the Canon 430 EX II came with the infamous warranty, eTTL, high-speed sync, the built in wireless signalling system and is really good both on and off camera. In the end I had my arm twisted and went with the Canon and have been very much impressed ever since.
These are the most important asset that you can have for taking photos and making videos. It takes time to become better at it. I am by no means an expert (I would consider myself an enthusiast at best) but through time and patience you can improve. Because these are such visual mediums you can see the improvements over time which is a highly rewarding process. Be critical of yourself and keep asking why can't I get that shot, or how did they get that shot. Plan your shoot, have a goal in mind then get out there and do it!
Again, honouring my full disclosure policy, the links to Amazon above are affiliate links. Purchasing through these links costs you nothing extra but allows me to make a small commission on a sale. Any money made through this will be used to pay next years hosting fees and allow me to create more content for you. Thank you so much for reading and making it through this far.
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If you are interested in learning about photography gear leave a comment below or send me a message on twitter @benkepka. Also if you have any questions about any of your own workflows or gear I am always happy to help. Sign up to receive notifications about when new articles go live by putting your email in the box up top and read more of my work here. Thanks for reading!
Ben Kepka - The Cultured Kiwi