This discussion is about the tools of trade that we photographers need to possess in order to make professional images. There are some obvious tools like a camera or a lens or a tripod. Every photographer needs these. But beyond these there are a bunch of other tools as well. This is centered around those tools which are less spoken about and yet add a lot of value to your production. This discussion is about seven photography tools, which are absolutely irreplaceable.
Digital Photography is a demanding pursuit. The fact that today’s cameras have evolved considerably compared to the old wooden and metal boxes of yester-years means your job has become that much more difficult as a photographer. Why? Simply because it is that much easier to make acceptable photos. And because of that the standard of photography has also risen as cameras these days can almost shoot by themselves. These days anybody with a DSLR or a Mirrorless or even an advanced compact considers himself / herself a photographer. Basically, it boils down to one question – Why should someone hire you as a photographer when s/he can make the pictures on her/his own? What makes you any different to the thousands of DSLR wielding wannabes?
You’d say, because you have more experience and that you are a professional. Well, that is true and if you are worth your salt as a photographer you would no doubt possess a great portfolio and would be able to back your claim as an experienced photographer. But to be able to achieve that portfolio you need both time and money. In professional photography, at least in genres like wildlife, sports, automobile, real estate and wedding, you need good equipment to be able to shoot great pictures. There is, unfortunately, a limit to what you can achieve with beginner gear.
There is something very basic when it comes to professional photography. Your clients don’t care how you make your photos as long as the photos are exceptional. No one would pay you to make images that anybody with a camera can make. I remember a friend of mine once told me, his portrait photographer makes his photos look as if they are for his driving license. That’s the epitome of negative praise for me. Some of it is definitely attributable to the lack of interpersonal skills on the part of the photographer. But on a large part it is also dependent on the kind of gear that the photographer uses.
The remote trigger is a very handy tool to have. It can save your life in more than one ways. The remote trigger is a must have tool if you are into extremely precise photography projects. This would include real estate, architecture, wildlife, product and macro, automobiles, food to name a few. A remote trigger allows you to remotely press the shutter release. Therefore you don’t have to touch your camera physically.
Transceivers are small radio devices. These are basically triggers for your flash, syncing your camera shutter with the flash. These are used for off-camera flash / strobe lighting setups. Two of these are required to sync a flash / strobe unit with a camera. Step one is to have both of them set to the same channel. Next attach the flash / strobe with one and the other to the camera. The one on the camera acts as the transmitter and the other attached to the strobe acts as the receiver. This setup allows you to change the flash power output without having to run to the flash each time. Plus you can set several of these attached to flash units in multiple groups. For example the ones at the reception hall could be on Channel B while the ones at the courtyard could be on Channel A. That means when you trigger Channel A only the flash units in that channel will fire. The same for Channel B. This saves power, quickens work and saves a lot of hassle.
Neutral Density Filters
Neutral Density filters (also known as ND Filters) are basically used for stopping light. The purpose of that being be able to drag the shutter speed. These are extremely useful for creative long-exposure photography. ND filters come in several light stopping powers. They are basically of two shapes – circular and square. Square shaped ones slide into filer holders which are attached to the front of the lens using filter holders. Circular filters screw on to the front of a lens using the filter thread.
ND filters are either graduated or solid. Solid ones have the same amount of light stopping power across the surface of the filter. Graduated ones have, as the name suggests, graduated light stopping power. When you pick them up you will notice that the filter is darker on one side and lighter on the other. Apart from these there are several other varieties. We will discuss about them in a dedicated topic on ND filters.
Circular polarizers are extremely useful pieces of optical tools. Every serious landscape photographer would have one in his camera bag; just like he would have an array of Neutral Density filters. Circular polarizers help in cutting down glare and reflections, something that poses considerable amount of problem for landscape photographers. Plus, they also cut down on atmospheric haze. Circular polarizers saturate colours, making them pop in the final scheme of things.
Motion Control Dollies
Motion control dollies have been in use for a while. Chances are that you have seen a hyper-lapse sequence or a regular video clip that was shot on it. These mechanical devices pull a camera / lens setup over a preset set of rails in a controlled movement. The movement is synced with the shooting settings. Let’s say that a hyper-lapse sequence is being shot.
The camera is setup over a dolly that is 2 feet. The whole hyper-lapse sequence will be of 5 seconds. At 24 frames per second that would require a total of 120 frames. That means the 60 off centimeters that the camera moves will need to be synced so that the distance travelled lasts all 120 frames.
Hand-held Light Meter
The next in this list of irreplaceable seven photography tools is the hand-held light meter. A hand-held light meter in many ways is the most definite way to meter a scene. That is even in this age of 150,000 pixel RGB metering. All digital camera based meters are essentially reflective light meters. Meaning, they meter the light that is being reflected off of a scene. They are programmed to believing that every scene is evidently of average reflectance (middle-gray). This is a fundamentally flawed way to meter a scene. If you are a landscape photographer you would no doubt be frustrated with the results. No two scenes have the same average reflectance. Plus, if the scene has too much of bright tones (or dark tones) the metering will be haywire.
If the scene is predominantly black, such as a scene that has people wearing black tuxedos, your camera will be fooled to think that the scene is too dark. It will try to boost the exposure and in the process make the black appear gray. On the other hand if the scene is too white, such as when shooting a snow scene, all that white snow will fool your camera to believe that the scene is washed out. It will drop the exposure and in the process make the snow look gray mud.
Even with the spot metering option on most digital cameras, the sampling area is too big to be of any advantage. This is where a hand-held light meter is so good. The hand-held light meter can read a scene in three ways. It can meter the light that is reflected off of it. It can meter the light that falls on it (incident light) and it can also meter a flash. Plus, it allows you to be precise with where you want to place your 18% gray or middle-gray point. Most good light meters have what is essentially a lens. It allows you to see through it and precisely place your point of middle-gray reference to meter the scene. Look through it, zero in on it with the focusing circle and press the button to meter. The best thing is with a sampling area of only 0.5% of the whole scene (about 1 degree) you have accurate reading of any point you think should be middle gray and based your overall exposure on that.
A Set of Reflectors
To round off this list of seven photography tools we have the reflectors. How often have you thought, “I wish i had a way to be able to throw in some light on the model’s face.” Or may be, “I wish there was a way to get rid of those shadows under the nose and the chin.” What you essentially missed is a reflector. Why not a speedlight perhaps? Well, because a speedlight (and for that matter a strobe) is a completely different ball game compared to a reflector. A strobe is like the kitchen sink. It produces an intense beam of light, too much for your requirement. You will then need to suppress it using other means. Why do that when you need just a subtle amount of light that can be easily produced by reflecting ambient light, I mean using a reflector?
Reflectors come in various shapes, sizes and colors. But I tend to like the large round ones. They are the most versatile. They come in pack containing several colors. The most standard being Silver, Gold, Black and White. The silver one would be ideal in situations where you need to fill in the shadows under the chin and nose and those sort of needs.You can use the white for diffusing light. Such as when shooting outdoors under the mid-day sun and with no shade around. The black one works as a back-drop, and for creating those moody contrast lighting setups.