When pros write about cameras, lenses, tripods and the other “big guns” of photography, we often ignore the finer elements of the game. By that I mean the tiny things that can often make difference between a successful photo outing and failure, or perhaps an easier shooting session rather than a frustrating one.
I was out on a shoot and when I reached for one of my must-have tools, it occurred to me to write about a few that I could not do without.
First up on my list of indispensable tools is the venerable multi-tool. I’m not quite sure how other photographers do without one, but you’ll never see me out photographing without one attached to my belt.
I personally prefer the Gerber multi-tools, although Leatherman makes fine ones also. I find that Gerber has better blades, but that could just be my bias. In either case a multi-tool is to a photographer what a hammer is to a carpenter… sort of.
What I feel is most essential in the multi-tool is are the pliers. I use these frequently, for stuck filters, to bend a piece of metal for a jerry-rigged solution, or to fix a broken rain parka zipper. A knife is always handy, as is a screwdriver.
The Gerber Crucial is the one I like the best right now, although there are so many styles you should search Amazon for one you prefer. Notice that the Gerber that I use has a built-in carabiner (see next critical tool, below).
One tip about multi-tools. You have to put it in your checked luggage, of course. For many years I had them “lifted” from my baggage at some point in the baggage handling routine, and always in foreign airports. I literally went through 6 of these tools in the space of three years. I now pack them in a small lockable pouch made by PacSafe and have not had any thefts in at least 2 years. In any event, you’ve been warned.
Stupid as it sounds, these $2USD “tools” can be really helpful. I typically carry a good half-dozen with me on any photo shoot. One stays constantly hanging from my tripod hook underneath the bullhead platform. I use it whenever I need extra mass, such as on windy days. In that case I just remove my backpack and hang it from the carabiner. You would be shocked at how it minimizes camera shake in wind. At other times I place rocks in a mesh bag that I have in my backpack and use that to stabilize the tripod.
Nice you won’t be using your carabiners to hang from a rock face 2,000 feet off the ground, you won’t have to buy expensive carabiners. I have been switching lately from the typical “D”-shaped carabiners to “S”-shaped. I find that having a dedicated slot for each half avoids entanglements, making it easier to slip items on and off.
I also have two carabiners hanging from the front straps of my backpack. I clip my bear spray, water, or my GPS device to them. I also use them on my belt to carry miscellaneous items. I have even used larger carabiners to piggyback two pieces of luggage together. Gotta love them!
The last tool that I’ll mention here is my camera screen viewing loupe. It is the one tool that I can honestly say that I cannot be without… ever. Period. As my eyesight has degraded over the years, I need glasses to read or see anything close-up. But even my reading glasses do not allow me to magnify the images to the degree I need to carefully assess a scene. Yes, I could use the built-in magnifier button on my camera screen, but then I can only examine one small section at a time, and moving around the scene is a pain, especially when you are racing the seconds at sunrise or sunset.
My loupe, on the other hand, covers the entire screen. I adjust the built-in diopter for my eyesight and it magnifies the entire image at once. I can check for exposure, density, and focus without even going to the histogram. Plus, the loupe is critical when shooting in bright light, especially bright side light, as it covers the scree entirely and blocks out ambient light.
I happen to use the loupe made by Hoodman USA. I hang it from my neck using a lanyard, or from my belt (did I mention carabiners?). I understand that there are now imitators on the market, but I cannot speak for their products. All I know is that Hoodman makes a quality loupe that I have been using for many years. Make sure you order the correct one for your camera brand.
That’s it for three of my favorite items. What’s in your camera bag? Please leave a comment indicating your favorite “tools.”