- Tripod: This seems like an obvious necessity, but so many photographers opt to leave it at home because they feel it's too bulky to carry. Thankfully, there are small, lightweight options available, so there's no excuse not to pack one.
- Lens Cleaning Cloth: This is another tool that's often overlooked. Even if you have a meticulous lens maintenance routine at home, if you're out and the wind blasts your lens with dirt or water, you're not going to want to rub it off with your shirt.
- Memory Card Wallet: A wallet that stores your memory cards is much better than just letting them float around in your bag. You'll keep them all together in one easy-to-find place and you can organize the way you store them so you always know which ones are full. A good rule is to place full cards facing down and available cards facing up.
- Compass: A compass may sound silly, but it's more than just a way to find the road back home. A compass can be a crucial tool for getting the right light when shooting outdoors. The light isn't ideal all day, and you might stumble upon a great location that's dying to be your next work of art but the sun isn't working with you to produce the best shot. A compass can tell you which way you're facing and help you estimate where the sun will be in relation to the scene in a few hours. It could be the difference between patiently waiting it out and finding a new vantage point.
- Multi-Tool or Swiss Army Knife: In addition to the knife on these tools being useful for everything from clipping flowers to put in a model's hair, to cutting branches that are ruining your composition, or opening blister packs on new memory cards, there's the added bonus of screwdrivers, pliers, nail files, small saws, and magnifying glasses. You never know when a bolt might start coming loose on your tripod or you need to tighten a loose screw on a lens. (Success Tip:The easiest way to learn photography when you have little time to spare )
- A-Clamps: These little clamps come in varying sizes and are useful when you need to tie something down or tie something back. You can use them as a last resort to clamp a small flash unit to something, or you can even use them to compose a scene.
- Hot Shoe Flash: Pop-up flash creates unattractive light, so bring a hot shoe unit with you everywhere you go.
- Light Shaping Tools: These include bounce cards, umbrellas, snoots, and colored reflectors. Whatever your light source, make sure to carry a few shaping tools. If you only like natural light, you won't need umbrellas, snoots, softboxes, etc., but if you carry any battery-powered flashes, make sure to bring at least one shaping device. It could mean the difference between great light and dull light.
- LCD Loupe: This is a great tool for viewing your LCD in bright sunlight, when it's very difficult to see what you're getting. It's also handy if you shoot video on your DSLR, as it doubles as a video eyepiece.
- Assorted Lens Filters: The two main filters you should have with you at all times are Neutral Density and Polarizing filters. Some would say that UV filters belong in this category as well, but with the big lens manufacturers always improving the coatings on their glass, the only thing UV filters are really good for is keeping extra dirt off your lens. ND filters allow you to reduce the amount of light that enters the lens, which can help you fine-tune your settings in the event a scene is too bright. Polarizing filters help reduce glare off shiny objects, but also help saturate colors and improve contrast for crisper photos.
Nobody likes to be caught unprepared. But while carrying spare batteries and some extra memory cards is never a bad idea, there are a few other items that every serious photographer should pack at all times. These items will be handy on a location shoot, at a family party, on a hike, or anywhere else that you'd bring your camera.
What equipment do you carry at all times? Feel free to comment below. Plus, to gain access to more photography tips and enter contests to win some incredible gear, sign up to become a member of the PT community.