Faulty or missing equipment can cost the photographer an unrepeatable, precious moment. That’s why we always have to ensure we carry everything we need and that our gear is working properly.
Here we have a list to help newcomers and veterans guarantee they didn’t leave anything behind and save them the frustration of finding malfunctioning equipment when it’s already too late to do something about it on location.
Let’s get an overview of the essential gear that every photographer, regardless of experience, should have in their bag before leaving the house. Then, we’ll break it down in more detail.
To our aspiring photographers, welcome to the exciting world of photography. You might find this checklist helpful when picking your gear if you haven’t already. If you already got it, make a habit of going through it every time you head out.
Essential Equipment for Photography
You simply cannot take pictures without a camera. Strictly speaking, even your phone camera is better than “no camera,” but we’re going to focus on DSLR cameras and mirrorless, preferably full-frame bodies. Micro Four Thirds and APS-C will probably feel quite limiting as you gain experience and get bolder
It’s not a very extensive list when you work with a fixed lens, but if you’re working with interchangeable ones, you will want to go through your lens checklist every time you head out, no matter what type of photography you practice.
If you haven’t experienced it yet, let me give you a heads-up. It’s not the coolest thing when you’re out on a job or just practicing, and you need to slow down the shutter speed to get a brighter image only to realize you forgot your tripod. The worst part is that no matter how incredibly still you may think you’re holding your camera, it’s very unlikely you’ll get a perfectly still image on a handheld. Always bring your tripod!
Batteries and Charger
You must keep your backup batteries fully charged at all times. Don’t forget to bring your charger so you can recharge your used-up batteries "on the go".
Cameras nowadays work with digital formats, so you’re going to need memory cards to save your images. Word of advice: invest in memory cards with the most capacity. Pictures taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras pack a lot more image data than pictures taken with your phone’s camera and point-and-shoot digital cameras, so they’re pretty hefty and will fill anything under 64Gb in the blink of an eye.
Perfect for wiping off dust and fingerprints from lenses and LCD screens. You can also use them to clean your filters.
It is probably the easiest way to remove dust particles from your camera’s sensor, whether it is a DSLR body or a mirrorless camera. A common issue with interchangeable lenses, regardless of build, is that you can accidentally get dust or hair on the sensor when changing lenses, which is why you should change lenses with the body of the camera facing down.
Do not use compressed air because that’s not actually air; it’s more like a thin chemical spray that could potentially damage the camera. That’s the good thing about a portable air blaster; it sucks air from the environment and blows it directly to wherever you aim it at.
It’s not any regular ol’ backpack. You’re going to need a backpack specifically made to carry photography gear. It should have slots big enough for a fully assembled camera or secure the body alone when you dismount the lens. It has to keep dust and water out. It should also have pockets for your lenses, batteries, chargers, and other accessories.
Camera Body Checklist for
Chase Jarvis, winner of the International Photography Award and many other prestigious honors, once said: “the best camera is the one that’s with you.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re working with your phone’s camera or a full-frame, 35mm DSLR. As long as you can capture the moment, any camera will do. That’s not to say quality equipment is not important. On the contrary, while creativity and experience make up 95% of your skillset, the right camera can help you close that 5% gap between “resourceful,” “excellent technique,” and “breathtaking.”
So, which type of camera body cannot go missing in your photography arsenal? Let’s go over them.
If you’re still unsure if photography is your calling, you will naturally be hesitant to invest $2000 in a fancy camera. However, you will still need something to learn the fundamentals, especially when setting exposure in manual mode. That’s where advanced compact cameras come in handy. These digital cameras are almost as portable as the point-and-shoot compacts, but they have a bigger sensor and other features usually found in DSLR cameras.
One of these will set you back about $650 if you’re looking for the newest budget-friendly compact camera, though you can also find more specialized ones for about $1000, and that’s still a fraction of the price of a full-frame camera. The newest model will be somewhere around $5000, but for that money, you might as well buy a DSLR.
Should you go for an advanced compact camera, what features will you need?
It needs to have manual mode so you can adjust exposure to your liking
You must be able to set aperture, shutter speed, and sensitivity manually. Automatic mode will be infuriating for your creative process and a detriment to your training as a photographer.
It must be cable to capture RAW images
In short, it must be able to store your images in raw data files. No processing, no compression means more color data, which makes editing much easier.
Perhaps the most inconvenient setback of advanced compact cameras is the fixed lens. There are mirrorless cameras that use interchangeable lenses, but those are much more expensive.
DSLR? What does that even mean?
Well, back in the mid-1800s, cameras offered no live preview, only a very inaccurate viewfinder to compose the image. Often, the image captured on film would not match the viewfinder.
Aligning a mirror with the viewfinder and enabling it to move with the shutter to expose the film to the incoming light allowed photographers to capture an image as seen through the picture-taking lens. And so, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) was born. We eventually swapped film with sensors, memory cards, and digital formats, thus the name: Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR).
DSLR cameras are the most popular option for beginners and professionals mainly due to their advanced options and large sensors. DSLR is cumbersome by design, but they also have the largest sensor of them all, which means more pixels with a larger surface area reacting to the light being captured. A higher response to light results in less “noise” and ultimately clearer images.
This type of camera is typically used for architecture photography, landscape, street, documentary photography, portraiture, and fast-paced scenes in sports events and wildlife. Keep in mind DSLR cameras are all about fine-tuning and capturing the most image data possible, but you will still have to carefully choose your lens based on the subject or scene you decide to work with, which will also add to your checklist.
The mirrorless build has many advanced features taken from DSLR cameras. Still, it replaces the Single Lens Reflex and viewfinder with an electronic viewfinder, and it adds a large sensor for more pixels, and therefore, better quality images.
Your digital display gets a direct feed from the sensor, eliminating the need for mirrors and pentaprisms to get a preview of the subject or scene. The result is a lightweight camera sitting close behind the DSLR design in terms of image quality.
There are a couple of setbacks, though. The sensor in mirrorless cameras is bigger than in a point-and-shoot camera, but it’s still smaller than DSLR camera sensors, which means you’re getting fewer image data. You’re still getting pretty decent images, but you may not be able to edit them or expand them as much as pictures captured with a DSLR.
Then there’s a matter of lenses. If you’re just starting in photography, you should be good with the lens already built-in with the camera or the one that came in the box, assuming it’s an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera.
Seasoned photographers switching to mirrorless and hoping to still use the lenses from their DSLR cameras should steer clear from Micro Four Thirds and APS-C mirrorless. Those sensors are too small, and your DSLR lenses won’t be compatible. If possible, get full-frame mirrorless cameras instead, and make sure to include a lens adapter in your checklist just for good measure.
So, who should get a mirrorless camera? It fits the needs of enthusiasts and beginners better. Know that some entry-level mirrorless cameras tend to be more expensive than entry-level DSLR cameras. That being the case, you might as well get an entry-level DSLR camera.
On a final note, we’ve seen some promising breakthroughs paving the way for bigger sensors, and who knows, maybe even let mirrorless go toe-to-toe with DSLR cameras. It’s extremely unlikely that DSLR cameras will ever go away, but mirrorless cameras might just dethrone them and eventually become the most popular type of camera body.
Camera Lens Checklist for Photography
The first lens in your checklist will probably be a wide-angle lens or zoom lens because most camera bodies come with one of these as part of the kit. The focal length on these lenses is usually 21-35 mm, which is fine for indoor photography and ideal for architecture and landscapes.
The thing about wide-angle lenses is that they tend to distort the images, especially around the corners, when you get too close to your subject. Something to keep in mind when doing portraits.
Prime lenses are all about fast apertures at a fixed focal length, which may feel like a bit of a trade-off when you have to move around or switch lenses, but it’s all worth it when you look at the shallow depth of field, soft bokeh, and sharp details. The most popular ones are the 35mm, the nifty-fifty (50mm - f/1.8), and the 85mm primes.
35mm lenses are perfect for street and product photography, though many photographers are known to use them for macro photography.
“Nifty-Fifty” 50mm Lenses
The 50mm or nifty-fifty is the closest you can find to the human eye, which gives the image a more natural look and a touch of realism. Also great for taking pictures in dim lighting.
85mm - f/1.8C
This type of prime is used for portraits almost exclusively.
Prime lenses come in many focal lengths at varying fast apertures, but those three are the ones that will most likely end up on your checklist.
Telephoto Lenses - 70-200mm
Due to their long focal length, these lenses are mostly used in sports events and wildlife photography, though many photographers also use them to seclude their subjects from the background.
Again, telephoto lenses are designed to capture the action from a distance, so they need to be fast, which is why most of them work with apertures of at least f2.8. Of course, the faster it snaps, the more expensive it is. The stabilizers in these lenses are also amazing.
Telephotos are quite an investment for a very specific use. For anyone still getting the fundamentals down, it’s not a must-have in their checklist, but it’s definitely a priority for sport or wildlife photojournalism.
Lighting Equipment Checklist for Photography
It may not be a priority depending on the photographer’s style, but it’s a tool that every photographer should have in their backpack, nevertheless. You could come across a problematic light source that you might not be able to control when working indoors. Having a flash with you could help you even out odd lighting or freeze fast-moving subjects. Do not underestimate the versatility of a flash, but know that including it in your checklist means you also have to throw a pair of batteries or two.
Also known as an exposure meter , it is a precision device that can tell you what values to punch in in your camera when setting the exposure for a picture; particularly useful in studios. Light meters are a worthy inclusion in your photography gear checklist if you regularly work in studios though they’re also helpful outdoors.
Bag Checklist for Photography
- Camera body
- Memory cards
- Rechargeable batteries for your camera (main and backup) or battery grips if you prefer.
- Charger for your camera’s batteries
- Backpack for photography gear (throw in silica packet or two)
- Plastic bag
- Tripod for gimbal if you are shooting videos
- Batteries for your flash
- Camera cleaning kit (microfiber towel and blower)
- Your phone’s charger
Battery Checklist for Photography
- Two or more pairs of rechargeable batteries for your camera
- Charger for your camera’s batteries
- Portable battery or power bank (for mirrorless cameras only)
- Two or more pairs of batteries for your flash
- At least two pairs of rechargeable batteries for your remote shutter release
Memory Card for Photography
- Two memory cards: main and backup. The more capacity, the better.
A must in your checklist if you work with studio photography. Portraits, product photography, and even food photography.
If you still have a little bit of glare or reflections, you can just pop a filter on your lens, and that should solve the problem. It could also help you enhance the colors of your shot.
Remember: microfiber and a blower
Word of warning: these can make your rig about ¼ - ¾ lbs heavier. On the other hand, you won’t have to worry about batteries for a while.
Remote Shutter Release
Let’s say you’re working with long-exposure photography . Pressing the shutter alone can ruin your shot. With delicate shots like that, it’s best if you don’t even touch the camera and get yourself a remote shutter release. Also great for self-portraits.
Very similar to a remote shutter release, only the remote is attached to the camerawith a cable. You’ll find it useful for long exposure, not so much for self-portraits.
Transfer your pictures and videos to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop even if they don’t have a slot for SD cards. You can save your work on any device with a USB or a C-Type USB slot instead of connecting your camera to a computer.
Keep your gear nice and dry. It doesn’t matter if your backpack is waterproof; you can never go wrong with a plastic bag.
Excellent for aerial shots.You will probably have to get a suitcase instead of a backpack, though. Keep in mind drones have their type of storage, accessories, and maintenance tools. You will have to include those in your checklist as well.
Collapsible Reflector Disc
An invaluable tool when adjusting the lighting in photoshoots and videos. You’ll have more control in a studio, but they’re also pretty handy outdoors. You will need at least one of these for interviews.
Make big cameras a bit more portable. You could hang them on your belt or the straps of your backpack. It also makes you look cooler.
Essential prop in studio photography. Not only does it make it easier for your model not to have to stand the whole time, but it also helps them come up with poses.
Ladders and Stepladders
Very helpful when setting up your lighting scheme and decorating your set. It could even be a prop!
So there you have it, a complete checklist for all the things you could need when heading out to work on that portfolio or gig.
The bare minimum for photographers at any level is the camera body, lenses, backup batteries, charger, and a waterproof backpack specifically made for carrying photography equipment. If you’re working with fixed lenses, you may not have to worry too much about cleaning equipment.
Make a habit of going through this checklist before you leave the house, and you will rarely, if ever, experience the frustration of realizing you left something at home. Do this, and you will deliver stress-free quality work with ease.