When I’m packing a camera bag for a photo trip, I work from a list that details all of the camera gear that I’m going to need. I’ve thought about which lenses to take, what filters I might need, I have spare memory cards and batteries, and I’ve planned out whatever lighting gear the day may call for.
This is how most photographers operate. We know ahead of time what we’ll need, so we plan accordingly. Sometimes, however, a few mundane objects get lost in the shuffle. There are many, many little things that we ought to take along — things that aren’t necessarily related to the camera or lighting setup — that can make the day go much more smoothly.
To that end, here is my list of non-camera related things that may prove extremely helpful on your outings.
These three items often prove indispensable on a photography trip. The journal makes it easy to jot down notes about different shots or write ideas down while you’re on the move so you don’t forget them. A legal pad, stack of sticky notes or small spiral notebook can be used for a variety of things. People sometimes ask if they can get a print or digital image, so the paper lets me write down their contact information, or tear off a sheet to give them my contact information (although if this happens often, consider making yourself some business cards, which is what I have done). If I need to stop and ask for directions, then I have a handy place to write this down also.
In addition to this, pens, not pencils, are a must. Too many times I’ve written something in pencil, and then as the journal or piece of paper rattles around in a pocket all day, the lead wears right off the paper. Ink ensures that whatever you’ve written will still be readable at the end of the day.
It’s hard to go without a smartphone these days. The ability to look up maps, call, text or even do a quick Google search is invaluable. If you’ve ever been stuck in an unfamiliar area with a dead phone, then you know exactly how important it is to keep those batteries charged. I found an inexpensive external charger for my phone online, and it is a great way to keep the phone charged when you don’t have access to wall or car chargers.
You might find yourself on a long hike, miles away from the car or a restaurant. Other times, there just isn’t time to take a break between photographs to grab a bite to eat. Either way, once you get hungry, you’ll likely start feeling less creative and energetic. Maybe you’ll even end up a bit grumpy. Keep a couple of energy bars in your camera bag to keep everything running smoothly when you’re out in the field.
Food isn’t the only nicety to bring along, either. Sometimes photography gets messy. You may end up soaking wet from wading a steam, muddy from tramping through fields in the spring, or your knees are covered in grass stains and debris from kneeling in the grass. Whatever the case may be, take along a change of clothes and any outerwear you might think you’ll need. Rubber boots for mud, rain gear or even a beach towel so you can kneel or lay down while keeping yourself and your gear clean. Some baby wipes for cleaning muddy or dirty hands won’t hurt either.
What if you find yourself shooting in the dark or in deep shade? Or, what if you’ve dropped a memory card underneath the seat of your car and can’t find it? These situations call for a flashlight to illuminate the area. LED flashlights work well and take forever to run out of battery power. However, sometimes the batteries can corrode and break the flashlight, so if you are worried about this eventuality, try a crank-style flashlight. A few turns to charge it, and you (or your focus lock) will be able to see what you are looking at.
By that same token, a digital voice recorder can be a nice alternative to keeping a journal. They are inexpensive nowadays, so even a Cheap Olympus recorder will give you a chance to take some notes when you don’t have time, inclination or a good place to stop and write.
All kinds of things can happen on a photo trip. Hopefully, nothing ever will, but it is better to be prepared. For things like cuts and bruises, you should definitely carry around a small first aid kit. It doesn’t need to be anything bulky or fancy. A small box with various kinds of bandaids, gauze, tape, and a small pair of scissors will come in handy should you cut yourself as you are exploring an area.
In addition, even though this isn’t something that you can take along, you should always make sure to tell someone where you are going, particularly if you are going alone. Be sure to also let this person know what time you expect to be back so that they know to call for help should you be late. And, as I mentioned above, a charged phone is almost a necessity. That way, you can call for help if you need it or you can simply let a worried loved one know that your photo trip is taking longer than expected and that they shouldn’t worry.
There is certainly a lot more, besides these things and besides camera gear, that you can take along. However, in the interest of space inside your camera bag, I have limited it to the things that I feel are most important. Feel free to add in any other necessities that you can think of.