1. Camera + Camera bag. Get a decent, padded camera bag for shlepping your stuff. Mine is a backpack with lots of room for a laptop, a few lenses and the essentials. I bought mine on sale years ago, here's an update on what I use. Your camera? Get whatever you can afford and practice on that before making a huge investment.
2. Tripod. I had a cheap, crummy tripod for years and it did the trick. In the past year, I've upgraded to a more sturdy tripod by Manfrotto. Mostly I use my tripod for architectural/interiors images, rarely do I use it when shooting people or food. So this could be a wish list item if you are just starting out, but man, what a difference it makes photographing spaces and homes!
3. Reflectors. I love my pop out circular reflector, but more often then not I use my handy trifold piece of cardboard I got at the drugstore. I refer to how I use that in last week's post. On the go, having a reflector is helpful when you're photographing a person, use the white surface to bounce some light onto the shadowed side of their face or photographing smaller items within a home.
4. Assorted Lenses. If you can afford having a few different lenses, great — if not, that's really not a problem. When starting out, I shot for a lot of magazines and Apartment Therapy with the kit lens my first camera, a Canon Rebel T1i came with. I worked that thing with superb results! I make my living as a photographer so I need the right lens for the right job; typically I use a 50mm prime for portraiture and food and a 16-35mm for architecture/interior spaces (this wide angle makes spaces look bigger than they actually are!) and a 24-70mm for an all-purpose, great for everything lens.
5. Extra CF/SD cards. You never know if one will fail on you and that cannot happen on a job. Having a few extra cards ensures your shoot will be captured properly.
6. External Flash. I use an external flash when doing a big artificial lighting set up isn't possible, for time or practical reasons or just won't look right. The flash gives just a kiss of light to a subject and you can move the output around to face a wall, not your subject, giving a softer look.
7. Batteries. The flash eats batteries at a horrible rate. Always have extra!
8. Diana Camera + Film. I still love the imperfection of a funny old camera and usually shoot a bit of whatever I'm doing digitally with this Diana from the 1950s. The results are dreamy and romantic, sometimes far more interesting than the hyper realism of digital photography.
9. Comfy Clothes. Shooting a space or people is a very dynamic, physical job. Wear comfy clothes you don't mind getting on the ground in, weaseling into corners and standing on table tops. The heels and pencil skirts must be reserved for planning meetings, not actual shoot days!
10. Colorful Scarf. If I'm photographing someone wearing a dour outfit or a plain white shirt, a scarf can be a great way to add life and color to the image. I once made my subject wear my sweater because she had a big stain on her top and she was to appear in a National magazine! The scarf works like a charm and fits everyone.
11. Chocolate. Everyone will love you if you arrive with chocolate. Enough said.
12. Toys. Bringing something for the little people to play with can set a crying kid in a good mood, in an instant. If you're responsible for a great image of a family, come prepared.
13. Tape. It always seems to come in handy, for windy days and table cloths or curtains that are giving you trouble.
14. Snacks. You gotta think clearly on the job and you're moving around a ton. Don't arrive hungry— your brain needs fuel to be creative and problem solve on the fly.
15. Business cards. Don't leave home without them. No matter how big or small the job, you just never know what the next job might be. So be nice to people you're working with, they will most likely be responsible for future work!
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)