Through the Gadling Lens: the most overrated photography-related items take on a trip

Every now and then, while I’m out in public, I’ll see someone who clearly was seduced by the “coolness” of a camera-related item or gadget, but who clearly has no idea what it does. (A most recent case in point: at my daughter’s Christmas recital, a man with an expensive SLR camera, a 300mm lens and a flash that was worth more than my car. Umm, excuse me, sir? You’re focusing on something that is about a GYMNASIUM LENGTH AWAY. Your flash is doing absolutely nothing to help you with that shot. Really. It’s not.) Similarly, while on a trip, I’ll occasionally notice fellow tourists traveling with items that seem … well, let’s just say … overkill for the purposes of a leisurely family vacation. So lest you get seduced by all the bells and whistles of various photography gadgets out there, I thought I’d share with you some of the items which, in my opinion, are completely useless when coming to photography when traveling on leisure (although, admittedly, there might be some uses for them in other photography applications. MIGHT be.)
1. A photographer’s vest. I know, I know — when you watch a television adventure reality show, and you see the intrepid traveler on safari wearing his elaborate photographer’s vest, there is just something about him that looks tragically hip and incredibly cool, right? And perhaps, if you happen to be a photographer for National Geographic, you’ll be able to pull it off that look with aplomb. The thing is? Very few of us are National Geographic photographers. Furthermore, if you’re walking around the beach at the resort in your laden photographer’s vest, while the rest of us are sitting in our swimsuits drinking fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas floating in them, no one is going to believe you’re a National Geographic photographer. Besides, those vests are heavy and sweaty. And often unintentionally broadcast the message “Mug me — I’m carrying expensive camera gear, and God knows what else.” Go ahead and leave them at home.

“But, Karen!” I hear some of you protesting, “I have to carry … things! I need those pockets!”

Really, you don’t. You can take a daypack like the rest of us. Or better still, just stick the lens cap in your swimsuit, shorts or cover-up pocket while you shoot. It’ll be fine. Trust me.

2. A full-size tripod. I know I’ve mentioned in the past that there are some great uses for a tripod: particularly if you’re shooting in low light, and don’t want to pull out a flash. But have you ever looked at the size of a tripod? They’re big. And they’re somewhat heavy. And while they might actually fit under the seat in front of you (or in the overhead bin above your seat), they may not actually fit in your carry-on, and then you’ll be over the carry-on-bag-number limit, and then where would you be? They’re bulky, and annoying, and really, best left at home. You’re not going to want to pull it out when you’re on site, trust me.

Still, I will admit that there may be an occasion or two where you’d like to have the support of a tripod — like, for example, if you’re taking a photograph in a cave. In this case, I would strongly recommend grabbing a Gorillapod and throwing it into your carry-on bag. They’re light, flexible, and can be used pretty much anywhere. It will definitely be all you need.

3. A GPS adapter for your camera. I’d never actually heard of these little gadgets until my husband clued me in: apparently these handy little systems allow you to “to ‘geotag’ your images with valuable information such as latitude, longitude, altitude and time information.” Which, you know, sounds kind of cool until you look at the price: anywhere from US$ 150-220.

Um… excuse me?

Okay, pardon me for asking, but why would I possibly want to spend this kind of money on a gadget that, in theory, tells me exactly where I was and what time it was when I took the photograph? Wouldn’t I already know that? And besides, most cameras — both SLRs and point-and-shoots — will already time stamp images. All I’d need to do when I got back in front of my computer is pull up Google Earth and input my location, and the application will spit out the associated latitude and longitude … for free.

Again, I suppose it is possible that there are some professional photographers which will find this little tool invaluable — the photographer assistant to Indiana Jones or some other archeologist or geologist, say — but for those of us who are just taking beautiful pictures of picturesque places or stunning faces to remember, I’d say we should just save our money for a cool new lens, instead.

4. A removable flash. An admission before I begin: I am not particularly big on flash photography. I find that, in general, using a flash creates a clearly artificial light effect on the resulting image (undesirable unless you’re sitting in a studio, or shooting a wedding); in addition, in most instances, a comfortable knowledge of ISO, shutter speed and aperture setting obviates the need for a flash altogether, anyway. I own quite a fancy flash, thanks to a generous husband who gave it to me as a Christmas gift several years ago, but the truth is that I can count the number of times on one hand that I ever actually used the thing. And I have never, ever taken it with me on a trip. Ever.

That is not to say, of course, that I haven’t used the flash that is built-in on my camera — in a pinch, I have resorted to popping that baby out. But I’m far more likely to just adjust the settings of my camera. The final result, in my opinion, is far more authentic.

So, there you have it. This of course, is not to say that there aren’t valid reasons why certain specialized photographers wouldn’t find the above gadgets and items useful — or even invaluable — but I do maintain that for the serious amateur who simply likes to take photographs when they travel, all of the above are rather ineffective, or, at the very least, noncritical. Greater minds may differ; and in fact, if you do, I’d love to hear it in the comments below. And as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
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