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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ten Useful Photo Accessories You Can (and Should) Buy at the Grocery Store

If there is one thing photographers like almost as much as buying a new camera, it's buying lots of little toys to go with it. Unfortunately a lot of the more important accessories--flash units, filters, tripods--can be quite expensive. But there are lots of really useful and fun accessories that you can buy (virtually all of them for well under $10 each) at the grocery store. Best of all, you can sneak them past your better half without having to confess they're going to live in your camera bag.

Here are my top 10 favorite inexpensive accessories:

  • Zipper plastic bags. I use them for everything from an impromptu rain cover for the camera to keeping lenses and other expensive gear clean and dry inside my bag or vest. Easy for airline security to see what's in them, too. Buy several sizes from one quart to three gallon, they have a million uses. Cost: about $3-5.
  • Heavy duty garbage bags. I keep several garbage bags in my shooting vest and in my shoulder bag and if I get caught in a downpour, all the gear gets stashed immediately. Cost: about $7 for a box of 32.
  • Small flashlight. Finding and reading all of those tiny dials and switches on your camera is tough once the sun sets (or if you're in a dark room). They're also great for reading maps in a dark car (auto dome lights are worthless) and just might save your life if you get lost in the wilderness. Buy and carry a few. Cost: under $5.
  • Disposable lighter. I wouldn't go into the wilderness--even a local state park--without a lighter. You can use them to light an emergency fire, light punks to keep mosquitos away or even to signal for help. Cost: under $2.
  • Laminated maps. Most grocery stores (and drug stores) have a pretty good selection of local and regional maps. Laminated maps last for years (I have a Manhattan map I've had for 10 years), they fold very flat and you can mark them up with China markers and then wipe them clean. Cost: about $8 (overpriced but worthwhile).
  • Trail mix. If you fly a lot, you know how hard it is to catch a snack between flights or waiting for a flight. Also, whether you're hiking in the city or woods, a bag of trail mix can save your sanity and your mood. Cost: under $5--much cheaper at home than in the airport.
  • Rain pocho. A few weeks ago I got caught in a horrific downpour while photographing the Statue of Liberty and a poncho kept me and my gear 100% dry. Cost: Under $8 and worth every cent. Buy better quality if you have a choice.
  • Duct tape. A small roll of duct tape or electrical tape has a million uses from patching tears in a camera bag to repairing a blown-out flip flop. Also good for quick-fixing a broken battery compartment door. Look for the bright neon colors, they're easier to find in your gear and you can use it to mark trails if you start to get disoriented in the woods. Cost: under $5.
  • Travel soap dish. The unbreakable plastic variety are great for keeping small accessories like memory cards and batteries from floating around in your bag or for stashing some extra cash. Cost: Under $2.
  • Small bungee cords. Absolutely indispensable for keeping tripod legs together or backing up your shoulder bag's zipper lid during the airport shuffle. Great for securing a water bottle to your tripod leg, too. A million uses. Cost: Pack of five usually under $5.
Next time you're trying to think of a unique gift for the photographer(s) in your life, think about filling a nice gift bag with one of each from the list above--you can probably do it for under $50. Or, hey, now that you've saved all that money on accessories, you can treat yourself to a nice tote bag to carry the stuff around--which is exactly what we did at the Center for Creative Photography in Tuscon last year!

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