If there is one thing photographers like almost as much as buying a new camera, it’s buying little toys to go with it. Unfortunately, many of the more popular accessories — flash units, filters, tripods– can be quite expensive.
That’s why, when you can, you should save a little money by buying your accessories at the grocery store.
No, they don’t have monopods at the supermarket. But here are 10 accessories you can find there — inexpensive items that every photographer can use:
1. Zipper plastic bags. I use them for everything from an impromptu rain cover for the camera to keeping lenses and other expensive gear clean and dry inside my bag or vest. When I’m traveling, It’s easy for airline security to see what’s in them, too. Buy several sizes from one quart to three gallon; they have a million uses. Cost: $3-5.
2. Heavy-duty garbage bags. I keep several garbage bags in my shooting vest and in my shoulder bag. If I get caught in a downpour, all the gear gets stashed immediately. Cost: about $7 for a box of 32.
3. Small flashlight. Finding and reading all of those tiny dials and switches on your camera is tough once the sun sets, or if you’re in a dark room. A little flashlight is also great for reading maps in a dark car (dome lights are worthless). And it just might save your life if you get lost in the wilderness while shooting the great outdoors. Cost: under $5.
4. Disposable lighter. I wouldn’t go into the wilderness — even a nearby state park — without a lighter. You can use it to start an emergency fire, light punks to keep mosquitos away, or even signal for help. Cost: under $2.
5. Laminated maps. Most grocery stores have a pretty good selection of local and regional maps. Laminated maps last for years (I have a Manhattan map I’ve had for 10 years), they fold very flat and you can mark them up with China markers and then wipe them clean. Cost: about $8.
6. Trail mix. If you fly a lot on assignment, you know how hard it is to catch a snack between flights. And if you’re shooting while trekking in the city or woods, a bag of trail mix can save your sanity and your mood. Cost: under $5.
7. Rain poncho. A few weeks ago I got caught in a horrific downpour while photographing the Statue of Liberty. My poncho kept me and my gear 100 percent dry. Cost: under $8 and worth every cent.
8. Duct tape. A small roll of duct tape or electrical tape has a million uses — from patching tears in a camera bag, to quick-fixing a broken battery compartment door, to repairing a blown-out flip-flop. Look for the bright neon colors; they’re easier to find in your gear, and you can use the tape to mark trails if you start to get disoriented in the woods. Cost: under $5.
9. Travel soap dish. The unbreakable plastic variety are great for keeping small accessories like memory cards and batteries from floating around in your bag. They’re also a good place for stashing some extra cash. Cost: under $2.
10. Small bungee cords. These are absolutely indispensable for keeping tripod legs together or backing up your shoulder bag’s zipper lid during the airport shuffle. Use them for securing a water bottle to your tripod leg, too. Cost: under $5 for a pack of five.
Next time you’re trying to come up with a creative gift for a photographer in your life, why not fill a gift bag with each of the items above? It’ll cost you less than $50 — and provide a lot more value than an overpriced do-dad that gets tossed in the bottom of the camera bag.