Inexpensive Accessories that Improve Photography

by Steve Meltzer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Digital cameras are amazing photo systems that come with a wide-range zoom lens and the ability to shoot at various ISO speeds, under a variety of lighting conditions and even in black and white. They are complete unto themselves, which makes them worlds apart from film cameras. Even at the end of the film era, the late 1990s, most film cameras still came with only a single focal length (50mm) "normal" lens, and the films we used were slow, and they required lots of extra lighting. The lighting had to match the color balance of the film exactly or the pictures would look wrong.

Although digital cameras are like Swiss army knives compared to film cameras, there are still inexpensive accessories from the days of film that can improve your crafts photography.

Digital cameras have stabilization systems that are effective for reducing camera shake in low light, so most people think that they don't need a tripod anymore. However, in my opinion, nothing beats a tripod for crafts photography, simply because it lets you reposition your work and change camera settings without losing your framing.

I have three kinds of tripods: a small tabletop tripod, a mid-sized "travel" tripod, and a walloping large studio tripod. My travel tripod is made by Sunpak, and it is lightweight and small; it is only about 18 inches long folded up and 50 inches high when extended. It has a three-way pan head with a quick-release base and plate. Set up, the tripod is stable, although it is only designed for digital cameras and video cams that weigh less than 4 pounds. To use the tripod, you extend the legs, attach the quick release plate to the camera, and slip the plate into the base on the tripod head; you are then ready to shoot. This tripod costs about $15, and although it is not as sturdy as my studio tripod, it works just fine with a small digital superzoom or point-and-shoot camera.

This travel tripod weighs less than 1 pound and costs around $20, but it works perfectly well for all types of photography.

Because these tripods are designed for travel, they are very lightweight and designed to fit into a suitcase. They are also among the least-expensive tripods you'll find anywhere. For just a few dollars more, $10 or $20 more, you can get tripods that extend to 60 inches and are a little heavier and sturdier. Two other tripods, the Aiptek ZAC-STD-5 and the Silk F143, have features similar to those of my Sunpak and cost around $20.

Another great, cheap accessory is the close-up lens. Getting close-ups of small work can be a problem, particularly for jewelers and craftspeople who work very small, making objects under 4 inches across. The typical digital zoom lens rarely focuses close enough for strong images. Many have their close-up setting at the wide-angle end of their zoom and not at a moderate telephoto setting, which would produce stronger photos.

Then, too, at close-up settings, these lenses are so physically close to their subjects that there's no room for lighting, making it very hard to get light onto the subject or to avoid the camera's shadow appearing in the picture.

A close-up lens is simply a magnifying glass that attaches to the front of the lens, either by screwing it into the lens or fitting it in a holder on the lens. It allows your ordinary lens to focus very close to an object. And it is really cheap. On eBay, a single close-up lens sells for less than $10, and a set of three lenses of different powers (+1, +2, and +3) costs around $20.

Can anything this cheap be any good? Yes, but with some precautionary notes. These lenses are center-sharp; that is, the middle of the picture will be very sharp, and the corners and edges of the frame may not be sharp. This is a problem if you are photographing a flat subject like a tiny engraving that requires edge-to-edge sharpness, but not if you are shooting a small pendant that is sitting in the middle of a smooth background. The other note is that a close-up lens has a fairly narrow depth of field, so it requires the use of small apertures like f/16 or f/22 to increase its depth of field enough to cover an entire object.

Another accessory that has almost been lost to digital technology is the remote release, which allows you to trip the shutter without touching the camera. Today's digital cameras don't have mechanical shutters that can be tripped by a cable release; they require an electronic remote release.

Digital cameras can use electronic remotes that plug into a mini jack on the camera body.

Before you run out and buy a remote release, take a look at your camera. Usually, there's a door on the body that covers the USB plug and other connectors. Look for what appears to be an ear phone jack; if you have one, you can use a remote release.

Hook-and-loop straps attach the Macro Flecta Reflector to the camera. It looks odd, but it works very well to bounce light to the front of close-up subjects.

Another accessory that is truly unique is the Macro Flecta Reflector. This is a tiny light reflector that fits around the camera lens, and it comes in a small 4-inch diameter case. When opened, the white reflector is about 12 inches across, and you use it to bounce light onto the front of a small subject.

The reflector mounts on the lens with little hook-and-loop straps; they are a little hard to use, but they do work. The reflector has two sides; one is flat white, and the other is silvered. The white surface bounces a soft light into the shadow areas of an object, lowering the contrast of the image and making the colors appear richer. The silver bounces a harder, sharper light onto subjects, and it works better for soft-surfaced materials. (Note: Besides crafts photography, this is a great accessory for improving close-ups of flowers, too.)

The accessories mentioned here can be purchased at online camera shops.