There are a lot of things more expensive then photography. Yachts. Flying. Custom cars. Politics. There are a lot of things cheaper too--a rear lens cap costs $6.99, when it's no more complicated than the screw lid to a peanut butter jar. You know it; slap the word "photo" on something and it costs five times as much. Add "professional" to double. Add "digital" and roll a 6 or greater to quadruple word score!
The point of the matter is, there are non-photographic things that can be adapted for photographic uses. Here are my favorites.
Microfiber lens cloth
A thick, fluffy but lint-less cloth is the basics in lens care. But why settle for an expensive 6x7 square when you can get a towel meant for electronics for a little bit more (or often, the same or less). Cut with scissors. If you really want to save, go for the giant car towels.
Eclipse cleaning solution
Please please please don't use tap water to clean your lenses. You'll leave ugly mineral deposits that can solidify on the glass. Alcohol can cause fogging and doesn't lift oils. Household glass cleaners will damage the anti-glare coatings you paid so much for. Eclipse cleaning solution is the photographic solution, but the photo industry isn't the only one that has had to clean coated glass!
I'm not going to explain this one. Suffice to say that a $100 service at your local camera store can be done with a cut off plastic spoon, a rubber band, some cleaning solution, a pec pad and a brave heart. Link.
The first step in cleaning is the blower (DO NOT use compressed air--it can damage components with too much force or chemical exhaust). But who you kidding, Giottos? This isn't a fancy tripod you're selling us, it's a baby's snot-sucker.
Tripods are funny shaped things; you can't just stick them in your backpack, that's for sure. What about your golf bag? Too many pockets? Try a baseball bat bag.
Frankly, I'd recommend buying a good camera bag. It's worth it. But if you're really, really cheap I'd tell you that the insulation on soft-sided 6/12/18-pack cooler totes. As a side benefit, a lot of them don't look like please-steal-me-camera-bags. (I found one that looks like a purse below). If you're packing a lot, try a diaper bag--no one will steal that!
I found these at amazon. They're stylish, but rather expensive. Since we're working the ugly and cheap, I suggest your local target--I bought a clutch of these to hold studio lights at about $3 each.
Way too many people keep their lenses on the bookshelf. That's a good way to ruin them. Aside from dust, pets, and children playing telescope, the major killer of lenses is mold. Eats the coatings, secretes an acid that etches the glass, making them unrepairable. I keep all my glass in airtight boxes with a silica air dryer. My boxes don't say "Pelican" on the side though--they say things like "25 LINKED SHELL FOR CANON" and "50MM NATO COUNT 200."
Manufactured for the US government to be hardy, waterproof, and indestructible, Ammo cans come in all sizes and shapes and cost 10% of Pelican boxes, which were manufactured by private industry to be hardy, waterproof, and indestructible. Both are crazy heavy though.
The most common size you'll see for sale is the 50mm, which is about the size of a few lunchboxes stacked together. If you're buying the large ones, I recommend your local surplus store--shipping can be killer on these. Keep in mind that Ammo cans usually open on one of the narrow sides (like a trash can, not like a suitcase).
You'll also need silica gel packets. You can buy them online, or you can start saving the ones that come in cracker boxes, dry seaweed, etc. They look like little packets with tiny pink balls in them (they turn blue when they're saturated, heat in over to reactivate). If you pull a packet and it feels like it's full of sand, throw away. That's a different kind of desiccant; one use only.
Don't use generic inks. They have a smaller color gamut, low availability of custom profiles, and will make your prints less than the best they can be. Just pay the outrageous $1 a mL extortion and write to your congressperson.
Kirkland professional smooth gloss photo inkjet paper, available only at costco, is an excellent deal. Costco used to sell deeply discounted Ilford inkjet paper, but stopped when they started selling their own Kirkland brand. Ilford is made in Switzerland. Kirkland paper is made in Switzerland. People swear that it's the same (except for a slightly different core?), draw your own conclusions. It's under $20 for 100 8x11s.
I don't recommend that you take a stick or cane and shove in a 1/4" threaded screw. That would probably work though--did you know that your tripod mount takes the same standard screws you see at the hardware store? Lots of possibilities there.
Anyway, if you're looking for mobile stability on the cheap, try picking up a 1/4 inch eye bolt and filing off the tip. This screws into the bottom of your camera, making a ring to thread a goodly length of rope into. Tie a loop at the end of the rope and step on it, pulling the rope taut. This should make a triangle between the rope, your body, and your forearms (brake your elbows against your body). With some practice, this should give you a bit more stability. I'll MSPaint a picture sometime.
If you're using a Canon 300D or 350D, your cable release trigger is a standard 2.5mm audio jack. You can roll your own cable release, or use certain cheapo handsfree sets. Or even your PDA or universal remote, for the wireless.
That's it for now. I may do a future article like this about substitutes for the photo studio environment. Happy shooting.