Traveling Companions: My Favorite Photo Accessories & Apps for Travel Photography

Butler Beach, Florida, about 6:30 a.m. From the Tide Chart app and Skyfire (within The Photographer’s Ephemeris), I got the weather information I needed to anticipate this setup for a workshop. Skyfire provides a visual representation of what the weather pattern might offer to a photographer. Photos © Deborah Sandidge

I ended the March 2017 column on my must-have lenses for travel photography and the tripods that support them with a promise that there’d be a part two on the gear that goes beyond cameras and lenses to enable me to get the pictures I envision.

And so, here are the essential photo accessories I don’t leave home without. I hope you find some worthwhile traveling companions here.

Hold Everything
A Really Right Stuff L-Plate provides quick and easy turning of my tripod-mounted camera from horizontal to vertical. It’s a must for moving swiftly from landscape to portrait, or vice versa, with absolute stability and ease, and I recommend it to my workshop students.

The Platypod Pro Max is billed as the flat tripod base for low angles and weird places, and that describes it perfectly. I use it in places where tripods won’t go or won’t be welcome. It’s great for eye-catching, low-angle points of view, and it’ll sit on shelves for different-looking vantage points.

The Filter Hive from MindShift Gear is a relatively small kit that organizes my filters for quick access. I can mount it on my tripod or wear it on a belt—meaning, no awkward reaching into my backpack for my ring mount filters, neutral density filters, color-enhancing filters, or the star filter. And I keep a few extra microfiber cloths in the kit to polish the filters before and after use.

Speaking of my backpack, I’m using the Kashmir from F-Stop Gear. It’s ultra-light and designed specifically for women. When I need a bigger bag, F-Stop’s Loka model provides a top-zipped compartment that’ll hold items like a rain jacket and scarf for me and a rain cover for my camera and lens.

I made a quick change from landscape to portrait mode using the Really Right Stuff L-Plate to get this under-the-archway twilight view of London’s Big Ben.

App Central
You know, of course, that the iPhone isn’t a phone. It’s an app box. And apps are vital to the traveling photographer. My essential apps include:

The NDTimer app for calculating the length of time for a long exposure.

Tower Bridge, London, with a 15-stop neutral density filter from the Filter Hive, and a cable release to handle the 4.5-minute exposure.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a planning app that offers Skyfire, an optional predictor for colorful sunrises and sunsets.

Snapp Guides, a GPS location-based shooting guide that provides destination information for the best locations, angles, times of day, even alternative compositions. It’s my go-to app for the best shooting locations.

Tide Chart offers tidal information that coincides with sunrises and sunsets for incoming or outgoing tides.

Time Out, an app for locating cafes and restaurants with an elevated or rooftop view. Also great for identifying upcoming local parades, street events, and happenings in the cities I travel to.

Google Maps provides location data and directions for an area. Great for preplanning location shoots and getting on-the-fly directions.

The Smaller Stuff
Among easy-to-pack small items that are hugely important I number memory card wallets to hold my SD, CompactFlash, and XQD cards in an organized way; the ones I use are made by Think Tank Photo and attach to the inside of my camera bag for easy access.

Detail of the Moulin Rouge windmill, Paris. This photo is about color, motion (caught in a 2.5-second exposure), angle—but it wouldn’t have been possible without my rain gear. It was pouring, but because I could protect my camera and lens, my backpack, and myself, I was able to make the shot. Rain gear can save the day, and the day’s shooting.

The Jackery Bar is a portable charger for iPhones. It’s small, but absolutely essential—with all the apps I rely on, my iPhone’s battery seems to always need a charge.

I love to convey a sense of passing time in my photos, and to do that I need a cable release for my camera for long exposures without camera movement. In general a cable release is a good idea for any tripod-mounted photography.

The St. Katherine’s Dock sundial, London, light-painted during a 25-second exposure with my Fenix flashlight (a super-bright 1000 lumens, and rechargeable) with a Rogue violet flash gel held in front of its lens.

Light painting is another favored technique, so I always carry a flashlight and color gels. My choices are the Fenix PD35 flashlight and Rogue flash gels to provide a variety of color effects when held in front of the flashlight’s lens.

Gaffers tape and twist ties—because you never know when something will have to be kept tight and secure.

That’s me holding the small crystal ball to illustrate its effect. This isn’t an on-location photo, it’s a fun shot with one of my Italy photos on my monitor providing the background. I say the small ball because I have one that’s bowling-ball size, which I carry only in the States when I have a car. In either case, it’s always fun explaining to TSA agents “what magic is here.”

Trakdot is a small luggage-tracker device that I tuck into my suitcase so I can track it when I’m traveling. If my luggage doesn’t arrive, or is sent to the wrong airport, or never even got on the plane, I can locate it. There’s software for the device—you can buy a subscription or a lifetime membership. Well worth it to be in peace-of-mind territory.

And then there’s the crystal ball. A little out there, but it makes for sparkling, colorful reflection images, which are especially beautiful when taken at the blue hour at a wide aperture. I love to have it when I’m teaching; students are amazed by its possibilities and results. But be prepared: TSA officials don’t know what it is; it confuses them. Not sure if you want to carry the crystal ball? Go to @AskTSA on Twitter, and follow their humorous posts on Instagram.

The Girl With a Dolphin Fountain in London, with Tower Bridge in the background. The Google Maps app helped me pinpoint the statue in relation to the bridge so I could locate the elements prior to scouting the area for a shooting position.

Finally, a pair of mirrored sunglasses for those landmark reflection shots. My students love making those pictures; chances are your family will feel the same. Just remember to use a telephoto lens to get the best results!

A selection of Deborah Sandidge’s world photography is at, along with cinemagraphs, photo tips, and a schedule of upcoming workshops, photo tours, and seminars.

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