One thing that I especially like about the photography business is that the majority of manufacturers care about us. Sure, they’d like us to spend money on their products, but they also like to make products that work. Over the last year, I’ve been using a variety of accessories that have made my photography better and easier, or both. I hesitate to say that these tools will be perfect for every photographer, as I’ve learned that this is rarely true with any photographic product, but I’ve found these accessories to be useful in my workflow.
Fast USB Jump Drives. We all fear losing our digital photographs. I put mine on my laptop as I travel, but a laptop can be stolen or a hard-drive crash can occur. I now carry USB jump drives for simple, portable backup (kept in a separate place than the laptop, of course). They don’t have capacities for long trips or for photographers who shoot a lot of images yet, but they’re one solution for backup. I’ve been using a DataTraveler HyperX unit from Kingston Technology (www.kingston.com); it’s a very fast drive, making uploading and downloading more convenient. Another small, but useful feature: The USB plug slides in and out of the drive, so you’re not constantly losing caps.
|Xotopro QMM1 macro flash unit|
Camera Level. A camera level is a great idea, but if you’re like me, you don’t always use one because they have a small problem—they can’t be kept on the camera when you put the camera away. I’ve found a new camera level that fits tight to your hot-shoe and allows you to leave it on the camera even when it goes into the bag. Now I can use a camera level all the time! The Ross Camera Level flips up to allow for vertical leveling, but lies flat to the top of your camera when shooting horizontally (cameralevel.com).
GPS Data. In the future we’ll see GPS capabilities in many cameras. Having the ability to pinpoint where you took a particular picture can be useful when you’re back home editing your images. ATP Electronics Photo Finder allows you to add GPS data to your image files (photofinder.atpinc.com). This unit records time-stamped GPS data as you photograph. Then plug your memory card into the Photo Finder so it can add that data to the metadata of your pictures based on the time. The unit has some limitations. First, it only works with JPEG files. That’s not a problem if you shoot RAW + JPEG or if you’re using it to scout with a pocket digital camera that only shoots JPEG. Second, it works best with SD memory cards. The unit has a built-in SD slot, but you need a card reader for CF cards, and I found that CF cards worked a little inconsistently.
|ATP Electronics Photo Finder|
Macro Flash. Sometimes for best macro and close-up work, you need to control the light with flash. Most close-up flash mounts haven’t been flexible enough for me. I’ve always wanted a flash mount that had truly bendable arms, and I found it in the Xotopro QMM1 macro twin flash unit (www.xotopro.com). The QMM1 uses articulated arms that make it easy to twist and position up to two flash units for best light on a close subject. The company also offers a complete kit, including a macro flash mount and a twin flash system to go with it for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony.
|Nik Silver Efex Pro|
Travel Tripod. We all know that using a tripod is an important way to get sharper pictures. But when you really need to travel light, such as on a short business trip, that tripod isn’t something you can pack in a carry-on. The Gitzo Traveler Titanium tripod is an exceptional unit with amazing rigidity in an extremely small package (titanium.gitzo.com). It folds to a mere 16 inches and weighs about two pounds. This is a blow to all airlines that want to charge more for baggage! When I pull this out, I’ve had photographers laugh at me because it seems so small. Yet I’ve shot with this little tripod all over the country with excellent results, which never would have been possible without a tripod. Sometimes I have to travel quickly and light, and this tripod is perfect for that.
Software. This past year has seen the introduction of a number of software programs that are useful for photographers. I’ve always liked Nik Software’s approach to software, which makes it photographer-friendly and effective (www.niksoftware.com). Dfine noise-reduction software is absolutely great for dealing with noise. In addition, I’m impressed with Silver Efex Pro for black-and-white photography—it offers the possibility of the most flexibility and control in working with black-and-white images that I’ve seen. Viveza, a nifty plug-in for Photoshop and similar programs, allows you to easily limit adjustments to only what needs adjusting without using layer masks.
A cool way of dealing with sharpness is to use a tilt-shift lens to limit the sharpness in a scene in a unique and high-impact way, but not all of us have such lenses. onOne Software developed an effective way of controlling sharp and out-of-focus areas in a photo with FocalPoint (www.ononesoftware.com). This is a fun program to play with—you can shift the sharp and soft parts of a photo all over for some great, high-impact results (but you must have a sharp photo to begin with).
|Kingston DataTraveler HyperX|
Finally, HDR is gaining more and more interest among major photographers, and for good reason; it finally allows us to capture an image as we see the real world. I discussed it in “HDR For The Landscape” (OP, August 2008). Since then I’ve found some new software. Essential HDR works easier and faster than Photomatix, plus I find it gives more natural colors and tonalities (www.imagingluminary.com). LR/Enfuse gives HDR possibilities directly from Lightroom, so I like its workflow (www.timothyarmes.com; go to the Me To You section, then Photographer tools). LR/Enfuse is a bit of a pain to install, but it works well.
Rob Sheppard’s latest book is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers Only. Visit his blog at www.photodigitary.com.