|Photography can be an expensive hobby. Cameras cost a bundle and lenses for DSLRs often cost a lot more than the camera body. Once you come to grips with the money you spent on the bare necessities it can be daunting to think about spending another fortune on accessories.
The good news is there are plenty of photography accessories that costs less than $25 (US). I’ve put together 15 of my favorites, and they often cost a lot less than $25. But I don’t think of them as “cheap” or “budget” items. These are valuable tools I would want in my kit even if money was no object. The combination of value and low cost means they make great gifts too.
1. White Foam Core – At around $5 this is probably the least expensive lighting equipment you’ll ever own. The white surface can be used to bounce light into shadows, softening hard contrasty light. Or, place it between your subject and the light source to cast shadows where you want them. You can even place it behind your subject for a clean distraction free background. Buy just one from a craft store for a few dollars, or get a pack of 5 boards on amazon.com for about $15.
2. 18% Gray Card (AKA Medium Gray Card – Use your post processing time to get creative, not fixing basic exposure and white balance problems. A medium gray card helps you get it right “in camera” for just $10. An 18% gray card is designed to represent the average photographic scene by reflecting an average amount of light (18% give or take). Cameras are designed to reproduce average scenes, but not every scene in real life is average. Your camera can be fooled into under or over exposing pictures of very bright or very dark scenes. Using a gray card to set exposure will give you much more accurate results. You can also use an medium gray card to set a custom white balance for more consistent color in your photos.
3. Spray Bottle – The trick to shooting fresh and dewy spider webs, fruit, and flowers isn’t waking at the crack of dawn. It’s having a spray bottle handy. It might feel like “cheating” at first but when you see the results you won’t care anymore. You can’t argue with the price either. Fine mist spray bottles can be found for about one dollar.
4. Lens Pen – Leave the lens fluid and papers at home. The “pen” has a microfiber disk filled with dry lens cleaner on one end. The other end has a retractable brush. Dusting with the brush removes large particles of dust. Lightly rubbing the disk on your lens will remove smudges, fingerprints and spots. A half twist of the pen with the cap on cleans the disk. I swear by this thing. I bought one for a trip to dusty Africa and used it extensively. They’re easy to use, they work perfectly, and they’re pretty cheap (around $10). I can’t believe I didn’t have one before.
5. Cloth bag of rice/beans – If you can’t or don’t want to carry a tripod around, having a bag of rice can be the next best thing. Use it to prop up your camera or rest your lens anywhere. Keep the cloth bag empty when traveling to save space and weight. When you get to your destination buy some rice or beans and fill it up. When you’re done, either eat the rice/beans, or give them to someone in need. You can buy dedicated “beanbags” filled with plastic pellets for exactly this purpose starting at about $8.
6. Remote Shutter Release – Make tack sharp photos and no fuss self portraits for around $20. A remote shutter release lets you take the picture without touching the camera. This reduces motion blur caused by camera shake. Since the cord is a couple of feet long, it can make taking self portraits a little easier too. If you spend some time on Amazon you may even find a wireless remote shutter release that gives you even greater flexibility in the same price range. The camera’s self-timer is a less flexible but free option.
7. LED Flash Light – These things are multi tasking marvels. Experiment with light drawing and light painting at night. And while you’re out there in the dark, you can use it to see where you’re going. They’re not just for night photography though. LED lights can look pretty close to sunlight. If you’re shooting outside they can be an inexpensive stand in for an off camera flash. You can get a small LED Maglite for around $20.
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