The Photographer’s Toolkit

Are you looking to get serious about making photographs? What should be in your photography tool kit? (that’s the photography equipment that is taken with you when you go on your photography adventures)

The “Photography Equipment List” provides not only the essential, must have, camera gear to get you started;  but also items that can be added to your toolkit in the future.

The “Other Essential Items” are those items that need to be added to your camera bag to make your photography experiences in the field easier and more comfortable.

Photographer's Toolkit


There’s no doubt that choosing your camera equipment comes with a price tag, but you can start out slow and add to your tool kit over time.

Making a wish list of all your “wants” and then prioritizing the list is a good first step. Those priorities on the list can and will change over time, but it’s a great place to start.

With so many options available, here are some suggestions to help simplify the process, so you can make some intelligent choices.

1. A DSLR Camera & Lenses

At the top of the wish list is the necessary camera and lenses. Try to look ahead at long term use, as well as what kind of photography you find of interest, such as macro, wildlife, portraits, or landscapes. This will help you to determine your priorities – which lenses to purchase first.

There are many manufacturers with an array of DSLR cameras and lens options. Most provide discounted kits that include the camera and a couple of lenses – not necessarily the best glass, but a good starting point. Balance it all within your budget, while at the same time you’ll want these expensive items to grow with your abilities and interests.

Note: many quality point-and-shoot cameras and cell phone cameras serve a role too. “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” – Chase Jarvis


2. A Means of Carrying All Your Camera Gear

As you accumulate more and more photography supplies, you’ll want a means of toting them all with you. Again, try to look ahead (check your “wish” list) so you don’t have to buy new bags over and over again.

Some of the features to consider are whether it is made of water repellant materials, if it has a number of padded compartments and pockets, and provides easy access to your gear. It should manage the weight with comfort and stand the test of frequent use over time.

There are a variety of ways to carry your gear and I would suggest one smaller bag for short excursions and one bag for those all day adventures, or…. One of my chosen favorites is a belt with modular rotating components – take a couple of pieces of gear or a lot.

It has all of the above features, plus flexibility. And, you can start with just what’s needed now and add modules as you accumulate additional items.

camera bag - photographers equipment list


3. Camera Strap

You’ll want a camera strap that is made to last and one which will be comfortable even after hours of photographing. It should not only hold your camera securely, but it should be highly functional.

There are many straps from which to choose, and again, a huge selection of camera straps on Amazon.

4. Tripod & Ball Head

Whether your goal is to create tack sharp or stunning creative images, such as those using slower shutter speeds, a good tripod and ball head will be an absolute essential. They all have pros and cons, so it is really important to do your research. A good ball head and tripod should last you for years to come.

Learn more about the features you’ll need to consider when choosing a tripod and ball head. Read our  review about Manfrotto’s 055 series carbon fiber tripod and magnesium ballhead or the Acratech GP Ballhead and Lever Clamp.


Acratech GP Ballhead and Lever Clamp

Manfrotto 055 series carbon fiber tripod and ball head.
Manfrotto 055 series carbon fiber tripod and ballhead.
GorillaPod Focus & Ballhead X
GorillaPod Focus & Ballhead X


This is a great little addition to your full-sized tripod. It’s a mini tripod that is light weight, sturdy and literally, very flexible. It’s perfect when you need a steady base for the camera but don’t want to carry a full tripod with you. You can find GorillaPods on Amazon.  Learn more about the GorillaPod Focus and Ballhead X.

5. Hoodman Loupe

I would classify the Hoodman Loupe as another must-have item. It provides glare-free viewing of the images on your camera’s LCD screen, so you can easily check that image for good composition, exposure and clarity before you leave a location.

Hoodman Loupe - photography equipment
Hoodman Loupe

6. Lens Filters

There is a wide variety of lens filters on the market, but there are three types of filters that should be considered – UV, Neutral Density (varying degrees of ND filters is good too) and a Polarizing Filter. I’ve added a Warming filter to my kit, to produce soft, warm tones in an image, but it’s not an essential. Start with the first three and then add filters as you go along.

You can learn what these filters will do for your photography by going to the Tiffen Filter product reviews.

Tiffen Filters
Tiffen Filters

7. Diffuser & Reflector Kit

With diffusers and reflectors you can control the direction or the amount of light on a subject by diffusing, bouncing, angling, reflecting, and softening the light. You can tone down or eliminate shadows and even change the color tone. Lastolite makes an 8 in 1 kit that is made for ease of use and portability.

Lastolite Diffuser & Reflection Kit
Lastolite Diffuser & Reflection Kit

8. Exposure Meter

Reflective in-camera light meters can give misleading readings when there is a wide contrast variance in a scene, such as a dark foreground and bright sky, or when the light is bouncing off reflective surfaces. An incident exposure meter, such as this one from Gossen, will solve your exposure problems.

Gossen DigiPro F Exposure Meter

Gossen DigiPro F Exposure Meter

9. External Flash Units (LED/Metz)

Your in-camera flash will not have the capabilities of an external flash, so if you add this item to your toolkit, you will be able to direct, bounce, diffuse, soften, angle, and regulate the amount of flash light on your subject. You can even add color gels to produce various warm color tones.

You can learn more about flashguns by reading reviews on the Manfrotto LED Light and the Metz Digital Flash Unit.

Manfrotto LED Light

Manfrotto LED Light

Metz Digital Flash Unit

Metz Digital Flash Unit

10. Remote Shutter Release

The tripod is holding your camera steady, but just the touch of the shutter release can cause a vibration blur in an image. To get those really sharp images, a remote shutter release is essential.

11. Extra Camera Battery and Memory Card

The last thing you’ll want is to have a depleted battery or run out of space on your memory card in the middle of making photos, so an extra battery and memory card are very high on the list!

Note: If you are traveling out of town, don’t forget your battery charger and then make charging your battery a nightly habit.

12. Camera and Lens Cleaning Supplies

There are many, many products on the market, and you’ll want items to clean both your lenses and your camera’s sensor. Giottos cleaning kits are a good place to start and are some of the best. Visit a camera store or go online to learn more about them, and then include these items in your toolkit – cleaning clothes, lens “pens”, brushes, solutions, and the Giottos Rocket Blasters.

Note: If you have not cleaned your camera’s sensor previously, are unsure which products to use, or feel uncomfortable doing so, visit your local camera store. They may be willing to teach you or can do it for you.

I would also carry a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe down your camera after photographing in unforeseen environmental elements (extreme dust, sand, moisture, etc.).

13. Lens Hood

Many photographers place a lens hoods on their lenses. One, it acts as a protective shield around the lens in case you drop your camera, and second, it blocks the angled light that is coming into the lens, which in turn can cause lens flare – those hexagon or octagon shaped spots on your photos.


1. Your Camera Manual

Never leave home without it. You’ll never know when you’ll want or need to refer to it. And maybe you’ve forgotten or haven’t even tried some really great features of your camera. Make the continued learning about your camera an adventure and learn to experiment by trying something new.

2. Note Pad, Pens, Model Releases and Property Releases

If you plan on publishing your images, we always suggest that model and property releases be signed. These are written agreements, either between you and the person you are photographing, or between you and the owner of a property that you are photographing.

3. Protective All Weather Gear

Ground Cover: You can purchase one or save some dollars by just cutting down a brown tarp. You can also use a large, black garbage bag (super lightweight and easily replaceable).

Note: Don’t use bright colored items for your ground cover, as that color can reflect onto your photo subject.

Protect your camera from rain, snow or wind-blown dust or sand: Again, you can certainly purchase inexpensive protective sleeves or use gallon baggies and cut a hole in the corner for the front of your lens and a small hole for the viewfinder.

Protect Yourself:  Depending on the weather of course, have these items available – rain poncho, hat, gloves and sunscreen. If you’re driving, you could also have an extra set of clothes in the car, along with a sweater or jacket. Don’t forget to protect your eyes with sunglasses.

4. Small Pen Light or Flashlight

Many of your treks may include getting to a chosen location before sunrise or after sunset, so be prepared so you can see in the dark.

5. String, Fish Line & Pocket Knife

String and fish line are great to tie back unwanted distractions from your image, such as weeds or other plant stems getting in the way of the perfect flower composition. Be sure to leave things as you found them, so remove the string or fish line when you have finished photographing.

Choose a pocket knife which includes small scissors so you could do a bit of pruning of dried leaves or stems.  Pay attention here so you don’t interfere with some small critter’s ecosystem. It’s their home and we are only guests.

6. First Aid Items

Be prepared: Make yourself a mini first aid kit that can include a few band aids, antibacterial wipes and some pain relieve medication for headache or muscle pain (some come in little pre-packaged packets of 2).

7. Small Snacks

Take a couple of snack bars or nut packs with you, so if you get hungry, you can fill the void.


This may sound like a whole lot of stuff to carry around, but remember some items are essential, but quite small and weigh very little. Depending on your photo journey, some camera equipment can remain in your car if you’ll be close by. If you’re walking to a location for some distance, then you’ll want to take it all with you so you don’t miss out on any great photo opportunities.

Happy Photographing!

by Marla Meier, APM Editor

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

2 Comments on The Photographer’s Toolkit

  1. I think there is some misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “essential”.

    All that is ESSENTIAL are a camera, lens, storage card (or film!) and battery (unless you are using a manual camera with film).

    Everything else makes life easier or makes possible the capture of a wider variety of images, but nothing else: not bags, not filters, not special cleaning equipment, not a tripod, not extra lenses or spare batteries … is essential.

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