Photography isn’t always as straightforward an art form as it seems. Discover the useful secrets these nineteen pro photographers keep hidden in their camera bags.
We love seeing what photographers keep in their camera bags. In the past, we’ve interviewed photographers about the best gear for everything from street photography to high-speed photography. This time, however, we wanted to do something unexpected, so we asked twenty-one Shutterstock contributors from around the world to tell us the most surprising or unusual thing they always bring with them into the studio or in the field.
And, they delivered by giving us a bunch of cool ideas.
We heard from landscape photographers, wildlife photographers, portrait photographers, macro photographers, underwater photographers, and more. There’s something in here for everyone. Some of these items you can easily buy online, but a few of them you’re sure to find floating around your house. Others are DIY projects you can do on your own to suit your individual needs. These objects might sound out-of-the-box, but in the right situation, they can make all the difference.
1. “I have a cheap and easy DIY tool for when I’m shooting cityscapes.”
Video by Stephane Legrand. Gear: Sony ARII camera, Sony 16-35 lens. Settings: Focal length 16mm; f8; ISO 50.
I have a cheap and easy DIY tool for when I’m shooting cityscapes. Have you ever been at the top of a skyscraper with a breathtaking view of the city, but when you take a photo, it’s ruined by the reflection of the people below you? I have, and it’s annoying, but I have an easy fix.
I go to a fabric store and buy an opaque cloth for about $5. Once I get home, I make a cylindrical hole in the middle with roughly the same width as my lens. I then put some double-sided tape on the edges of the cloth, and I’m good to go.
If you feel this setup is too complex for you, don’t worry. You can also buy a tool specifically designed to remove reflections, like the Lenskirt or the Ultimate Lens Hood.
2. “The strangest thing you can find in my bag is a middle gray card…”
Image by Michele Vacchiano. Gear: Phase One 645DF+ camera, Phase One 120mm AF Macro f/4.0 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/100 sec; f22; ISO 100.
The strangest thing you can find in my bag is a middle gray card, an accessory that almost no one uses today but that I think is unavoidable when I want to take my time thinking about the exposure. There is also a small mirror, which I have stolen from my wife’s purse. I often use it to reflect the flash light and create a second source of light.
Image by Michele Vacchiano.
3. “I keep a new pair of socks and bath tissues in my camera bag.”
Image by solepsizm. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Canon EOS 16-35 f2.8 L lens. Settings: Unknown.
Sergey Makarov aka solepsizm:
I keep a new pair of socks and bath tissues in my camera bag. During long walks, a new pair of socks can be very useful, and socks can also serve some unconventional purposes. You can use a sock as a cloth to wipe off any dust from your lenses and also as a bag if you need to store something small. Bath tissues are important as well, and there is always room in my photo bag for them.
Image by solepsizm.
In 2012, when I was shooting the consequences of the Hurricane Sandy, I almost froze to death because of the biting cold wind. I quickly found a compact wind-resistant coat that can be folded into a pocket-sized bag. In the summer heat, I also carry my thermos cup with me and refill it in water fountains. The thermos keeps the water cold, and the reusable cup is eco-friendly.
4. “I have canvas beanbag, and instead of filling it with rice or beans or whatnot, I fill it with plastic bags.”
Image by Simon Eeman. Gear: Canon EOS 70D camera, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8l IS II USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/4000 sec; f/2.8; ISO 400.
I have canvas beanbag, and instead of filling it with rice or beans or whatnot, I fill it with plastic bags. It works as well as it would with rice or beans, and it is much lighter to transport! Also, if there is a little hole in your beanbag, you don’t make a mess.
5. “The most interesting items I have in my camera bag are all of my survival gear…”
Image by Michael Chatt. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 100-400 L series lens. Settings: Focal length 260mm; exposure 1/500 sec; f8.0; ISO 1000.
The most interesting items I have in my camera bag are all of my survival gear: matches, maps, a compass, and rain gear. When photographing wild places, you never know what you might encounter, so when taking pictures of grizzly bears, it is always important to keep your distance (a telephoto lens is a must) and have bear spray just in case something happens.
Image by Michael Chatt.
6. “I always keep additional batteries and memory cards because, during continuous shots, my batteries drain quickly…”
Image by Priyank Dhami. Gear: Canon 1200d camera, 55-250mm lens with AF Macro Extension tube and External Flash with diffuser. Settings: Focal length 7 mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f9; ISO 400.
I always keep additional batteries and memory cards because, during continuous shots, my batteries drain quickly, and my cards easily fill up. Additionally, I have a macro extension tube and a small piece of aluminum foil, which is useful in low light conditions. During monsoon season, I carry a lens cloth and a lens pen, and I also have a thermocol dish or a plain round-cut piece of white cloth, which can be used as a natural diffuser in harsh sunlight. I also keep an external flash around for extreme low light conditions during monsoon season.
Image by Priyan Dhami.
7. “I’m not sure how surprising or odd this will sound, but I always carry a few rubber bands.”
Image by Alexey Stiop. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/100 sec; f16; ISO 200.
I’m not sure how surprising or odd this will sound, but I always carry a few rubber bands. They can help you to hold gels on the flash, serve as a “third hand” when you need to hold something small, or give you extra friction when you try to break free that stubborn lens filter.
8. “The best and most surprising addition to my photography kit is a drone.”
Image by Ken Kistler.
The best and most surprising addition to my photography kit is a drone. I’ve DIY attached a 24-megapixel Sony a5100 with a lightweight Sigma 19mm to my old 3DR Solo drone. The drone gets about twelve minutes of flight time, but the Sony camera and Sigma lens can capture some sharp images from angles or locations I never could have reached otherwise. Plus, I love the challenge of framing an image from half a mile and 400 feet in altitude away.
9. “I have to say the most surprising thing in my bag has to be my DIY macro reflector.”
Image by Charles Wollertz. Gear: Canon 7D camera, Canon EF 180mm macro f/3.5L USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/500 sec; f7.1; ISO 400.
I have to say the most surprising thing in my bag has to be my DIY macro reflector. I cut out a 10×10 piece of white foam board, cut out a hole just big enough for my lens hood to fit in pretty snug, and added a bit of tape to hold it in place. It works well for adding fill light when taking macro photos of live insects or fast-moving subjects, especially when they are backlit.
Image by Charles Wollertz.
10. “The most unusual thing in my bag is a timelapse slider with a stepper motor…”
Image by Inga Lidner.
The most unusual thing in my bag is a timelapse slider with a stepper motor made of some board, bobbins, parts of an oven, string, and a piece of track and a railroad carriage! No one can guess what this strange piece of equipment is for until he or she sees it working.
11. “One of the oddest things I carry around in my camera bag is the Yongnuo YN-24EX, a specialized twin-headed speedlight for macro photography.”
Dario Lo Presti
Image by Dario Lo Presti. Gear: Canon EOS 5D MkII camera, Canon 65mm MP-E lens. Settings: Focal length 65mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f11; ISO 100.
Dario Lo Presti:
One of the oddest things I carry around in my camera bag is the Yongnuo YN-24EX, a specialized twin-headed speedlight for macro photography. If you like going into the woods and taking a close look at an amazing world hidden only by its size, then you will find this is the best thing to carry around besides your camera.
Image by Dario Lo Presti.
You can leave your tripod at home because the short flash duration will allow you to freeze the frame even if the camera’s handheld and with high magnification. You don’t even need light modifiers; given the tiny size of the subjects you are going to photograph with this light, the relative size of the flash heads will guarantee a soft and pleasant illumination. You can also adjust the power ratio between the two heads to achieve more dramatic shots.
12. “A recent client of mine made me some sponge cutouts covered in a felt material that I use to plug my camera hood opening…”
Lance van de Vyver
Image by Lance van de Vyver. Gear: Canon 5DSr camera, 500mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f4; ISO 800.
Lance van de Vyver:
A recent client of mine made me some sponge cutouts covered in a felt material that I use to plug my camera hood opening whilst driving in open game vehicles. They are perfect for keeping the dust off my front element! Other than that, I’ve always got random clamps and cables for remote triggering and some business cards…you never know who you will meet along the way!
Image by Lance van de Vyver.
13. “I am never be caught without at least one or two Godox AD 200s in my bag.”
Image by Paul Aiken. Gear: Nikon D850 camera. Settings: Focal length 38mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f6.3; ISO 500.
I am never be caught without at least one or two Godox AD 200s in my bag. I must be in control of my light in every single situation. Depending on natural light will only limit your options and your creativity.
Image by Paul Aiken.
14. “I keep disposable hand-warmers and a velcro strap around to use as lens warmers.”
Image by Steve Lansdell. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 24-105 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 8 sec; f4; ISO 1600.
I keep disposable hand-warmers and a velcro strap around to use as lens warmers. They stop my lens from fogging up on cold nights.
Image by Steve Lansdell.
15. “The most surprising things in our camera bags are probably old toothbrushes, vinegar, and cotton balls.”
Image by blue-sea.cz. Gear: Canon G16 camera, Fantasea FG16 underwater housing with 2 powerful Sola underwater video lights. Settings: Focal length 28mm; exposure 1/30 sec; f2.8; ISO 800.
The most surprising things in our camera bags are probably old toothbrushes, vinegar, and cotton balls. These items are great for maintaining our gear after a dive. We use them to remove the salt, calcium, and sand from our underwater equipment.
16. “One unique piece I like to keep in my camera bag is a translucent glass disk, about the size of my palm.”
Image by Claire McAdams.
One unique piece I like to keep in my camera bag is a translucent glass disk, about the size of my palm. Held close to the lens, it can be used to redirect light, creating lens flare and soft foreground bokeh.
17. “…bubbles and candy are the most unusual things I carry.”
Image by Tanya Little. Gear: Canon EOS Rebel T2i camera, Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f 2.8; ISO 200.
I keep my bag pretty light since I only use natural light, but I often work with children, so I’d have to say bubbles and candy are the most unusual things I carry. Children are fun and quirky, but they can also have the occasional meltdown. Bubbles photograph well, and they also help distract little kids from the camera.
Image by Tanya Little.
18. “I’d say the most surprising thing in my camera bag is a mini waist fan!”
Image by YUSHENG HSU. Gear: DJI INSPIRE 2 with Zenmuse X5S camera, LAOWA C-Dreamer 7.5mm F2.0 lens. Settings: Focal length 7.5mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.
I’d say the most surprising thing in my camera bag is a mini waist fan! It gets very hot in summer in Taiwan, so a fan keeps me comfortable and focused.
Image by YUSHENG HSU.
19. “By far the most unusual things you will find in my camera bag are zip ties.”
Image by Diana Rui.
By far the most unusual things you will find in my camera bag are zip ties. I use them if I need to tidy or hide electrical cords. You wouldn’t believe how handy they can be. Cables from TVs and other appliances are really unpleasant to the eye and can be a nightmare to remove in post-processing, so I try to fix the problem on location if I can.