By William H. Mullins
In these days of decreasing income amid increasing expenses, any way to save a few dollars is welcome. The following tips and tricks are certainly not earth-shaking; just simple advice to help with day-to-day problems encountered by outdoor photographers.
1. Duct Tape. Duct tape is perhaps one of the handiest repair items for anything from gunstocks, fishing rods and camera gear to even temporary patching for rafts or float tubes. However, a full roll of this handy fix-it stuff is bulky and heavy. Instead of packing a full roll in my already-overloaded camera pack, I wrap several layers around a tripod leg. It is quickly accessible, takes up little room, adds minimal weight, is easy to find and costs very little.
2. Tripod leg protectors. Fancy polyethylene tripod leg covers are available from a variety of manufacturers. These covers function as insulation for aluminum legs in cold weather and provide padding when carrying a heavy telephoto/camera combo on your shoulder. These foam protectors, designed especially for tripods, cost $40-50 from mail-order camera outlets. You can buy 6-foot polyethylene pipe insulation tubes from home improvement stores like Home Depot for less than $2. You need two to do the job. Simply slit the tube down its long side and slip it around the tripod leg. To keep it on, wrap the leg with camouflage camo duct tape, which costs about $8.
3. Tripod foot protection. Tripod legs tend to sink in marsh muck, loose sand and other soft surfaces. An easy way to prevent this and keep the bottoms of your tripod legs clean is to take a tennis ball, cut an “x” into it and pop it on the tripod leg. Easy to install, easy to remove. A tube of three new tennis balls is less than $3.
4. Rain protection. Look in any outdoor photography magazine and you will likely find ads for fancy camera “rain coats.” Cheaper ones go for about $7 per pair. Heavy-duty garbage bags can be altered to fit any camera-lens-tripod combination. A package of 10 bags costs less than $3. They are also useful for making short jaunts in boats (i.e. shuttles from a boat to land) where bow spray can be problematic. Simply cram a half dozen or so with your gear; they are lightweight, take up little room and are cheap.
5. Lens caps. I am always losing lens caps. You can buy lens cap keepers, but a piece of the aforementioned duct tape works great when placed on the cap and the lens barrel as sort of a hinge. The cost is next to nothing.
6. Image captions. This has more to do with saving time rather than money. I sometimes photograph animals in zoos, especially in foreign countries. Sometimes, there isn’t time to write down all the caption data. Instead, I take a picture of the nearby interpretive sign so I can quickly move on to the next subject. Unless you are shooting film, there is no cost.
7. Beanbags. For keeping your lens steady, beanbags are the next best thing to tripods. They are also quite heavy, especially when flying with today’s strict weight restrictions on airplanes. I take several large Ziploc bags and fill them with sand, rice or whatever is available when I arrive on site. Don’t overfill – just enough to make a shallow cradle for your lens. A heavy jacket or similar piece of clothing can also serve the same purpose.
8. Reflectors. Reflectors are great for bouncing light onto a subject to add drama. Several collapsible reflector discs are available commercially, but cost anywhere from $20 to $60. A cheap alternative is to carry a few sheets of aluminum foil and a piece of cardboard. When you need the reflector, crinkle the foil to reduce hot spots, wrap it around the piece of cardboard and use it to reflect sunlight onto your subject. Adjust the intensity of the reflection by adjusting the distance between the reflector and your subject. The total cost is a few cents – just remember to recycle the foil.
Use these tips to help you save a few bucks and solve problems you may encounter in the field.
Happy shooting! ◊
William H. Mullins, of Boise, Idaho, is a freelance photographer, retired wildlife biologist and a 20-year member of OWAA.
Eight cheap tips and tricks for photographers
By William H. Mullins