While the camera and lenses are the main photography purchases most photography enthusiasts and professionals make, accessories and other gadgets are surprisingly important. In fact, if you surveyed serious photographers, I’m sure many would admit that they have closets full of trinkets and camera bags filled with other accessories. I know I do.
Therein lies the problem. There are tons of ostensibly useful and cool photography accessories, but many turn out to be total duds. The other challenge with a list like this is that there are easily 10 standard accessories every photographer should have (wired remote, polarizing filter, flash, etc.), many of which don’t need much commentary. Then you have unique items that will be used less, and can be gimmicky garbage (I’m looking at you, Sony QX100).
For this list, I’m trying to strike a balance between practical items that could use some commentary along with fun things that aren’t as necessary, but open a lot of creative doors (without being gimmicky). To that end, I suppose it’s not a real “top” 10, but I think it’s a useful list nonetheless.
With that said, in no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite photography accessories for Disney Parks photography and beyond…
10. Memory Card – You might think I got stuck at 9 and threw this no-brainer one on the list since you can’t use a camera without a memory card, but there’s actually more nuance to it than that. Ever had a cheap memory card fail, losing all of your photos? Missed a shot because your memory card was writing while trying to shoot parade photos? On both counts, I have.
When one of these things happens, you’ll understand the importance of a fast and reliable memory card. In my experience, there’s nothing better than SanDisk’s Extreme line. What size to get is a matter of personal preference. I tend to like the 64GB size because (for me) that’s at least a full day of shooting. I will caution you on the larger sizes: don’t be tempted to shoot several days in a row without transferring photos over to a computer. If you lose your camera or the memory card does fail, you’ve lost everything.
9. Camera Sling – Only two types of people use the straps that come with their camera: newbies and those who buy expensive cameras and want to flaunt the expensive camera name largely imprinted on the strap. (I’m looking at you, Nikon D4s owners. You really think that’s the best strap for a $6k camera?!) For a long time, I was a BlackRapid loyalist, but after having two of their straps fail on me (one might’ve been user error, the other most definitely was not), I asked myself why I was paying a premium for their product.
I switched to this Fotasy Sling Strap last May and have been using it extensively ever since. As you can see from the photo above, it’s ever-so-stylish (if you can get past the rad baja I’m rocking), too! I actually find it more comfortable than the BlackRapid strap–and at a fraction of the cost! A couple of weeks ago, I started testing the Peak Design CapturePRO, and I’m really liking it thus far for a hands-free option, but am not quite ready to give it a full endorsement yet. Once I use it a bit longer, I’ll give my ultimate verdict.
8. Rain Cover – If you’ve ever experienced an afternoon monsoon in Florida (and you have if you’ve visited during the months of…pretty much any of them), you know that rain can sneak up on you like a cat burglar. If you’re so fortunate to have this happen in the evening, you want to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to get killer reflections photos. You need a rain cover to do that.
For years, I was using throwaway Op/Tech covers that get the job done but are basically glorified ponchos. After shooting in the rain enough, I decided to get something more robust (and reusable). I debated between this $15 Altura DSLR Rain Cover and more form-fitting options, but ultimately the latter proved too expensive ($50+), so I settled for the Altura case. It is a bit cumbersome, but for $15, the quality is great and it’s very effective for rain or World of Color.
7. Flash Gels – This one presupposes that you own an external flash, which is an accessory unto itself that didn’t make the list (I didn’t want a list full of “basic” stuff). Portrait photographers and strobists have been using gels for years so that their light matches the light in the scene, but I prefer a different approach. Instead, I like to get wacky with gels, and bring artificial color and light to a scene that wasn’t there in the first place.
I’ll be honest: the success rate for this type of shot is very low, as it doesn’t “work” for many subjects. Given that they cost $10 and take up almost no space in your camera bag, who cares? Plus, when you get something cool, it can be really cool. For me, these are a great way to give myself a shot in the arm creatively when I’m in a dry spell. Almost any photo you take with a blue or magenta gel is going to be different than the norm, so originality abounds when using gels.
6. Cleaning Kit – I will be the first to admit that my “camera hygiene” has left a lot to be desired in the past. I’ve shot through dirty lenses, failed to get dust specks off my sensor long after first seeing them in photos, and have been lazy in general. I’ve suffered the consequences of this, spending an inordinate amount of time using the healing brush in Photoshop. (Wasting hours on things I could’ve fixed in minutes in the field.)
I’ve since learned my lesson, and I now occasionally wet-clean my camera sensors (not something I recommend for the faint of heart) and properly clean my lenses. I started with this Altura Kit, but I don’t recommend it–it’s cheap and the blower lacks a filter. Instead, spend a little more and get the Giottos Cleaning Kit. Much higher quality, and won’t simply redistribute dust.
5. Neutral Density Filter – This one is not going to be essential for everyone. If you’re traveling with kids or otherwise aren’t taking trips with a heavy photography component, you can safely skip the ND filter. For best results, it’s something you’ll use during the middle of the day along with a tripod. Many (or most!) people don’t have time for that nonsense.
However, one of the signs that, like me, you’ve gone off the deep end is that you are willing to do that because you want some eye-catching and striking photos. You can see some examples of what I’m talking about in this post. For daytime use like that, I recommend the Hoya 9-Stop ND Filter. It will enable you to take 30-second exposures to emphasize moving clouds (or to eliminate people from landscapes). If you’re only interested in long-exposure fireworks like these, you can go the less costly route and grab the CHEAP-O® Variable ND Filter. If you want to compare other options, read my Neutral Density Filter Reviews & Buying Guide post.
4. Camera Bag – I have come to the realization that I will never be satisfied when it comes to camera bags. I’ve gone through a lot of camera bags on my quest for the perfect one, and for Disney, I already wrote about how I’ve pretty much found it with the LowePro Flipside Sport 20L. (If you only have a single DSLR and only 2-3 lenses, I’d recommend downsizing to the LowePro Flipside Sport 10L.) However, now I’m on the hunt for a lower-profile bag more suitable for urban travel. I think I might’ve found that bag with the Peak Design Everyday Messenger, but the quest continues so I can be sure.
Perhaps when I’m 80, I’ll be able to open a museum showcasing all of the camera bags. Is that something you’d pay admission to see? I sure hope so, because I need to recoup some of the money (I don’t even want to think about how much) that I’ve sunk into camera bags over the years.
3. Green Pod Platform – Despite owning a tripod, I’ve been in the market for a good bean-bag camera support for a while now. I’ve tried a few options, and none hit the sweet spot for me. Most were either too large, designed for car window use (for wildlife photographers), or were just glorified bean bags. I stumbled upon this little-known option by accident, and I’m left wondering why it’s not much more popular.
For me, the Green Pod is very compelling for a few reasons. First, I can take it places where tripods aren’t allowed (namely, Tokyo DisneySea & Disneyland). Second, it can be used for low angles or in circumstances like in a random high spot where a tripod simply would not fit. Third, it has a tripod mounting screw and strap for stabilization. Finally, it’s very light and small. If you don’t want to bother with a tripod, it’s an amazing solution, but even for tripod shooters, this can bring something new to the table.
April 2016 Update: Just returned from Tokyo Disney Resort, where I used this a ton. It worked like a charm, and I was able to take 30+ second exposures with no issue. No added tip is that I’d recommend using a self-timer of 5″ seconds or more (or a remote). This is because it takes the bag a few seconds to “settle” after you last touch the camera.
2. Memory Card Case – This actually became necessary for me thanks to the LowePro 20L’s poor compartment organization, and now I don’t know how I lived without it. It’s nice to have all of my memory cards organized in one spot, and the case holds the cards safely in place.
Think of this case as the cockroach of your camera bag–if the worst happens, everything else might get smashed, water-damaged, etc., and be ruined. This case is waterproof and shockproof, so if all of your other gear is irretrievably fried, at least you still have the photos. There are more expensive alternatives to this case that do the same thing, but I’ve been very happy with the Fotasy 12-Slot Memory Card Case.
1. Luxi L Tripod – The best tripod for Disney photography is so mind-blowingly awesome that, like hover-boards, it’s too dangerous for Amazon and other retailers to stock. The only place you can find it is from eBay sellers in China. Why? I have no idea, but as I wrote in my review, it’s absolutely worth getting.
Tripods are a touchy subject among photographers, and prevailing wisdom is that you have to make a sacrifice in weight, size, or stability…or be willing to pay a lot of money. For me, the Luxi L is the narwhal of photography: rare, majestic, and so inexplicably perfect that it defies logic. It has no problem supporting my Nikon D810 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in the parks, which is all I need in terms of stability. It’s light, compact, and tall enough for fireworks. For Disney photography, it is a no-compromise tripod. With that said, I still recommend the MeFoto RoadTrip for heavy duty use, now that I’m made the jump to mirrorless, I might just use the Luxi L in the National Parks, too. (Last weekend at Yosemite, the RoadTrip felt like overkill.)
This list truly just scratches the surface of what I feel are the highlights (although I didn’t realize until I had already discussed 10 items that I forgot to include my Wacom Intuos Tablet, which is great for photo editing. Oops!) of my photography accessories. I’m sure other photographers out there have their own top picks, and I’d love to see more ideas (as if I need to spend more money on this hobby…) shared in the comments.
Want to learn more about photography to take great photos in the Disney theme parks and beyond? The best place to start is Tom’s Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide, which covers a variety of topics from links to tutorials, tips, and tricks to recommendations for point & shoots, DSLRs, lenses, and more!
If you do want to purchase new photography equipment, we recommend the following trusted & authorized retailers. Buying from these retailers helps support this blog, and doesn’t cost you a thing:
For other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
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Do you use any of these accessories? Like or dislike them? Any items in your camera bag that you’d add to the list? Any other photography gadgets you’re considering? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!