My Travel Gear
10 Accessories To Improve Your 35mm Images

Break the rules when traveling. Try using wide angle lenses for close-ups, as I did in this flower photograph. Use a telephoto lens for landscapes when you want to compress the element in a scene. (Canon EOS 1N, 20mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100).
Photos © 1999, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Never before has 35mm photography been so easy, so exciting, and so much fun. What's creating all the hoopla in this time-proven format--the choice of most photojournalists, travel photographers, and amateur shooters? For one thing, just about all the major camera manufacturers have introduced new 35mm AF SLRs in the past year or so. These new cameras offer faster focusing, more sophisticated exposure metering, and easier operation. What's more, new SLRs are more ergonomically designed--which means they fit in your hands more comfortably.

For some shooters, having a new camera does something else: It unlocks hidden creative talent because the user feels more creative with his or her new "toy."

No matter what camera model you use, there are several important accessories that will help you capture on film the image you see in your mind's eye. Here are the ones I travel with when I'm taking pictures on assignment--or traveling on self-assignments.

Lenses. Years ago, zoom lenses were not that sharp, which is why pros always used fixed focal length lenses. Today's zooms are super sharp--so sharp, in fact, that you probably can't tell the difference between a picture taken with a zoom or a fixed focal length lens.

I travel with two Canon zoom lenses, a 17-35mm and a 70-200mm. Most of my shooting, if not all, is done with these two lenses. (I also pack a 20mm, 24mm, and 100mm lens--just in case I accidentally drop a lens and need a back up.) My third basic lens is a Canon 50mm macro, which I use mostly for flower and insect pictures; it's also useful for indoor, low-light portraits. With these three lenses, I can cover just about any assignment.

Telephoto zoom lenses are a "must" for serious shooters. One important feature is that they provide a comfortable shooting distance between you and your subject. (Canon EOS 1N, 70-200mm at 200mm, Kodachrome 200.)

Tripods. A tripod does more than just steady a camera, which is sometimes needed when shooting in low light, when making long exposures, and when shooting with telephoto lenses. A tripod slows down the shooting process--and the photographer. In this fast-paced world, however, slowing down can be a good thing. It can add to the enjoyment of the picture taking experience. What's more, when a camera is mounted on a tripod and the photographer looks through the viewfinder, he or she can take lots of time searching for important, as well as distracting, elements in a scene. The result of this added viewing time often can make for a more effective composition.

Filters. I'd only be exaggerating a bit if I said I never take a landscape or seascape picture without a polarizing filter. This filter has a few cool effects on a photograph: It can darken a blue sky and brighten white clouds (if the sun is off to your side); reduce the sun's reflection on water; cut through atmospheric haze; and minimize glare on dew-covered grass and foliage. The result: In many of these situations, the picture will be more pleasing.

My other favorite filter is an 81A warming filter. I use this filter when photographing people and places at midday when I want to create the effect that the picture was taken later in the day--when the light is "warmer."

Wanna have fun on your travels? Try a new lens. A 15mm full frame fisheye lens was used to bend the horizon line and create this unique photograph. (Canon EOS 1N, 15mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100.)

Accessory Flash. Sure, many SLRs feature built-in flashes that can do the job. However, for serious shooters, an accessory flash is a must. An accessory flash offers more flash power, so you can take pictures of subjects at greater distances. Other advantages: Most flash units feature swivel heads for bounce lighting (which softens the light). Some models even offer control over flash output (over and under the automatic TTL setting) for fine-tuning flash exposure to individual creative needs.

Flash Accessories. My favorite flash accessory is the LumiQuest flash diffuser. This accessory attaches to my flash with touch fastener strips and softens the light to the point where my flash pictures don't look like flash pictures (when I balance the flash output to the available light).

Another one of my way-cool accessories is a flash extender. With this device mounted on my flash, I can photograph distant animals that are beyond the standard maximum flash range.

Films. I never was a Boy Scout, but I know the Scout's motto: Be Prepared. With this thought in mind, I always travel with a selection of films for all the different shooting situations I may encounter: Kodachrome 64 for pictures when I want natural colors and super sharpness; Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 when I want to create impact with enhanced color (and when there is not a lot of color and I want to add some); Elite Chrome 200 for action shots (which I push two stops when shooting light is low); and Elite Chrome 100 for my general travel photography.
Cleaning Accessories. When I was growing up, my mother told me on more than one occasion: "Cleanliness is next to godliness." I took my mother's advice, and I clean my cameras before a trip, at the end of each shooting day, and when I return home.

I use dust-free cloths, lens cleaning fluid, "canned air," and a fine-hair paintbrush to keep my cameras and lenses free from dust and grit that can be harmful to my gear and pictures. Remember: A single speck of grit inside your camera can scratch a few frames--and ruin all your hard work.

Whenever possible, include a person in a picture for scale. (Canon EOS 1N, 15mm lens, Kodak Elite Chrome 100.)

Digital Darkroom Programs. In '90, I attended a meeting at which commercial photographer Jody Doyle was speaking. One of his comments: "If a professional is not into digital imaging, he's dead."

Well, I paid no attention to Doyle's comment--until May of '98, when I opened Adobe Photoshop on my computer. The program was overwhelming, but I was committed to learning just one technique per day. I figured at that rate, I'd learn about 30 techniques a month.
Now, I teach basic Photoshop to students--showing them how to create new and exciting images. No, I don't show them how to put an elephant in the sky, or a fish in the desert. I show them how the program can be used to make one's pictures look better--correcting color and enhancing color, contrast, and detail; working with highlight and shadow areas is also one of the major benefits of Photoshop.

My point is that with digital darkroom imaging programs like Photo-shop, you can, like Ansel Adams, who spent thousands of hours in the conventional darkroom, get new and improved 35mm images.

Scanners--flat-bed and film--are making it easy to get slides and negatives into the digital darkroom. So are picture disks and picture compact disks, on which you can have your favorite pictures stored. A Photo CD is another great way to get your pictures scanned and into your computer.

Printers. Once you have a digital image, desktop printer, like the Epson Photo Stylus EX printer I use, you can see the results of your efforts in a few minutes.

Well, enough talk. All this stuff typing about 35mm photography has gotten me excited. I'm gonna run--and go out and shoot some pictures.