From the day I decided to get into photography, I’ve been like a sponge when it comes to absorbing new ideas and techniques, listening to suggestions and purchasing gadgets. As the number of photographers I met expanded in size, I realized some were equipment “junkies” that had to own every gadget on the market. Others were minimalists and stuck with basic gear. As I thought about past friendships I’ve had with photographers in both categories and everything in between, it gave me an idea for this week’s tip. I looked through my camera backpack and realized a lot of pieces of gear I consider staples weren’t even created for photography.

Whether you’re an equipment junkie, minimalist or somewhere in between, I share with you both the obvious and less obvious camera bag essentials. If you’re an involved photographer out in the field every day or a casual shooter who waits for special events, it doesn’t change what gets carried in the pack. While the following items may be obvious, I want to start the list by sharing the photo gear that should be carried: an array of various focal length lenses, extra batteries, charger with a car adapter, a polarizer, an extra camera body, a flash or reflector and extra memory cards. These items are considered givens and every camera bag should have a reserved place for each.

Below are the items that prompted me to compose this week’s tip. Almost none of them are even found in camera stores but are considered essential. Will they be utilized each time you head into the field? In all honesty you hope not, but you’ll thank your lucky stars when you encounter the times they become essential. None are heavy or take up bulk, making them well worth the slight bit of extra weight.

Camera Bag Essentials: Leatherman-Type Tool

It’s essential to have some brand of all-in-one tool. Be sure it has pliers, a screwdriver, knife, scissor and file all contained in a fold-up sheath that takes up little room. It has allowed me to make gear repairs or other modifications enabling me, or my safari participants, to continue in the field. If you travel by plane, transfer it into your checked luggage as it will get confiscated as carry on.


Much of the work we do requires us to be in the field before sunrise and after sunset. If the terrain is rocky, loose or tough to navigate, we want to see where we’re headed to prevent a twisted ankle or something worse, which puts a headlamp near the top of the list of less-obvious camera bag essentials.


Cell phones and smart watches can certainly save your life, but when all else fails regarding a cell signal or dead battery, a whistle may aid in your rescue. Here’s to hoping it never has to be used.

Camera Bag Essentials: String

If you photograph flowers or other small objects, background distractions can be eliminated. A piece of string can temporarily control the surrounding environment and allow you to return it to the way it was prior to making the photo. A simple strand may be invaluable for other bail-out purposes.

Duct Tape

Tape can be utilized for the same reason as string, but it can also be used to make temporary repairs that require waterproof solutions. Of even greater magnitude, it can be used medically in emergency to bind skin. The duct tape I carry is the size of a scotch tape roll.

Plastic Bag

I carry a large trash bag that takes up little room but can keep either me or my gear dry. If I get caught in the rain, it can be made into a poncho. If there’s a light drizzle, I can place it over my camera and tripod and still make photos. If the ground is wet and the best angle to make the photo is from down low, I lay it out and stay dry.

Camera Bag Essentials: Business Cards/Model Releases

There once was a circumstance where I was photographing an iconic scene and through it rode a bicyclist. I snapped away and struck up a conversation. I asked the rider to sign a release. I also provided a business card to add credibility and bestow a comfort level to get her signature.

Your Camera Manual

The last item in our list of less-obvious camera bag essentials is something many photographers soon forget about after purchasing a new camera: the manual. If something happens to your camera and the explanation is clearly written in black and white, you’ll thank your lucky stars you’ve been toting it around.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

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