Landscape Photography Tips: 1. Equipment
I have called this series ‘Landscape Photography Tips’ however, it will go beyond ‘tips’ and hopefully explain everything in a non-technical, easy to understand way. By the end of it, you will be a Pro at Landscape Photography!
Tutorial 2 – Equipment for Landscape Photography
The first thing to say about equipment is that it is never as important as people think; so don’t get bogged down thinking ‘If only I had that camera or this lens’. Even some smartphones now allow you manual control some of the camera settings. If yours doesn’t, then there are plenty of apps that will make this possible.
Many people think that an expensive camera will guarantee good results. On the contrary, the opposite is often the case. Professional equipment is wasted when it is used on an automatic setting. To be most effective, it needs a certain amount of know-how from the user. Without that knowledge, the results will not match your expectation. Likewise, cheap equipment will not mean poor results. It is not the camera that makes the picture, but the person behind it. If you are going to remember any of my Landscape Photography tips, make it this one.
Do not go out and spend your whole budget on the best camera you can afford. Hold off and hopefully, by the end of this article, you will understand that there is a lot more equipment that goes into getting the perfect landscape image. This equipment will not go out of date as quickly as your camera body, will be with you for longer, and can influence the final image far more than a few extra pixels!
People spend hours debating the benefits of Sony over Canon or Canon over Nikon and visa versa. I use Canon, a significant reason is that I am also a filmmaker and canon lenses focus the same way as a film lens. Nikon lenses work the opposite way round.
Ideally, you should choose a brand that you will stick with as long as possible. It is possible to switch from say Canon to Nikon later, but it can be a hassle. Nikon lenses will not fit a Canon body and visa versa. So if say you have a large selection of Canon lenses, you will either need to buy adapters for them or buy new lenses.
When choosing a camera the most important thing is that all the settings are easily adjusted. You must be able to quickly adjust, aperture, ISO, and shutter speed at a minimum. If you have to go into a menu to change any of these settings, you will not be able to react quickly enough to changing conditions. The dappled light on that far hillside will have disappeared by the time you are ready to shoot. Ideally, you also want to be able to shoot RAW, which will give you much more control of your images when editing.
People often get caught up in the number of megapixels a camera has. If you are not going to be making large prints (over a meter wide), then you do not need more than 12 megapixels.
Sometimes referred to as ‘glass’, lenses are either ‘prime’ or ‘zoom’. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length meaning you cannot zoom in or out, whereas with zoom lenses, you can. There are three main categories of focal length used in Landscape photography: Wide, Standard, and Telephoto. They are roughly divided up as follows.
Telephoto: 60mm and above
While traditionally wide lenses would be considered more common in Landscape Photography, I find I probably shoot as much or even more on my 70-200mm lens. One of my top Landscape Photography Tips is; if you have a telephoto lens, use it! Get it out and use it to isolate different parts of the landscape you are seeing.
You will find that lenses have differing ‘speeds’ (maximum apertures) depending on how much light they allow in through the lens and on to the sensor. In general, the fastest lenses you will find, will be around f1.4 or f2.8. The smaller the number, the more light they allow in and thus, the better they are in low light conditions. For more information, see my ‘cheat sheet’ that you can download here and the article I wrote explaining it (I will publish this with my next Landscape Photography Tips post!).
Bulky, heavy and often annoying to pack, it’s often tempting to leave them behind. However, a sturdy tripod is an essential tool in landscape photography.
Long-exposure photography is impossible without them. For low-light photography, tripods are pretty essential. There are sometimes workarounds, if you find yourself without one, a nicely shaped rock or a jacket can sometimes do the job, and a good beanbag is an excellent bit of kit that can help.
In choosing a tripod, you need to find the right balance between its sturdiness and its weight. A heavier tripod will be better in windy conditions. A lighter tripod will be easier to carry up the mountain. One trick with a lighter tripod is to hook something heavy, like your bag, underneath to add extra stability, some tripods even have a hook for doing just that.
Filters can be vital to get certain shots in Landscape Photography.
Optical filters play an important role in landscape photography. They are essentially a bit of glass that you put in front of the lens to further control (‘filter’) the light that is reaching the sensor.
There are two ways to attach filters to the front of your lens. Either screw the filter on to the front element. Or you use a matte box (a sort of bracket that screws on to the front element) and then place the filters in that. There are pros and cons to both methods. Screwing the filters in is often less fiddly and allows you to but the camera in your bag with the filter still attached. Using a matte box means that the filters do not have to fit the front element of your lens exactly, so can be used with different lenses.
You don’t necessarily need these filters to start with. However, there are some instances, like long-exposure photography, where it is difficult to get the desired effect without a filter. As you become more advanced, filters will enhance your pictures, and allow you to produce certain desired effects.
For example, with a polarizing filter, you can intensify, or eliminate reflections on water. You can also use it to increase the saturation and contrast of the sky, clouds, rainbows and plants. With an ND or Neutral Density filter, you can achieve longer exposure times, enabling shots like the one below. The Neutral Density filter acts like sunglasses on the front of the lens cutting down on the light that is reaching the sensor.
Light pollution filters are used in night shots to reduce light pollution from artificial lighting in the sky. UV filters are also commercially available, but they have hardly any effect on modern coated lenses, they can though be handy in protecting an expensive lens from getting scratched.
There are many brands of filters out there. In my opinion Lee make some of the best filters, but you do pay for that quality. Followed by Hoya and Cokin, For an inexpensive ‘matte box holder’ that you can then update with higher quality glass, this by NiSI is a good option. The holder that fits on to the front of your lens is good quality and that is what you will keep as you buy better filters in the future (nb: the NiSi set is only for the holder)
Intervalometer or Remote Release
A remote release is a useful thing to have because you can release the shutter without touching the camera, thus avoiding motion blur when using slower shutter speeds. Radio triggers are useful and help in wildlife photography; however, to start with, a cabled trigger will do just fine. I would though recommend getting an Intervalometer instead of a remote trigger. They are not much more expensive and allow you to shoot timelapse photography or use longer shutter speeds than your camera might allow. I use a cheap and cheerful option like this from Neewer.
Among the most frustrating things that people can forget is battery power. If you run out of memory, you can always delete a few of your weakest images. If you run out of battery power, all you can do is pack up, sit and admire the view till you go home! All your other kit is useless without power. Remember that batteries hate the cold. Even batteries left in your bag will lose their power in extreme cold, and those in your camera will last for much shorter periods. If you are going to be working in the cold, try and keep your spare batteries inside your jacket so that they stay warm, this way you will get much more out of them.
If it gets really cold, batteries can struggle to charge. I have, in extreme circumstances had to get in to my sleeping bag with batteries trying to warm them up enough to take a charge!
Memory is so cheap nowadays that there is never any excuse to run out. Always go with a trusted brand, if a memory card fails and you lose your images you will regret trying to skimp on the cost. I always use SanDisk.
Memory card have various bits of information written on the front, in addition to capacity, (16GB, 32GB, 64GB etc) they also have a ‘write speed’ signified by a number and then MB/s. This stands for Megabyte per second. If you are just taking stills, then extremely high write speeds are unnecessary. Write speed comes into play when you are taking a burst of images on your camera, at a high rate, or when you are transferring files from the card. I would go for a Class 10 card that has a write speed of at least 100MB/s unless you think you may want to start shooting 4K video. You will find most camera use either SDHC cards or Compact Flash cards. For more in-depth information Park Cameras have a great article here. I mainly use 32GB Compact Flash cards like this. While it is cheaper to buy fewer cards of greater capacity, you do risk loosing much more if there is an issue with that card.
As a landscape photographer, a good bag is essential, especially in bad weather, and I am a firm believer that the worst weather for Landscape Photography is a sunny day.
The worse the weather gets, the more dramatic your images can be! This can make a sturdy, weatherproof, photography bag essential. I prefer a photography backpack. Backpacks keep your hands free and are generally best for your posture as the load is spread evenly across your shoulders. When choosing the right photography backpack, the key factors are:
Protecting your equipment- Is the bag weatherproof or have a good rain cover? Does it have a flexible interior that you can adapt to different equipment?
Size- Will the bag hold the equipment you need for a shoot? If you might be flying, does it conform to the hand luggage sizes?
Ease of access- Are you able to quickly get to the kit that you need? This is vital! More bags nowadays are starting to be ‘back-loading’, so that you access your camera kit through the bag pad, where the straps are. This means if you are in a muddy/wet situation, you can put the bag down with the weatherproofed part touching the ground and the straps will stay dry and mud-free.
Be warned, speaking from experience, you can end up with endless bags, each one suited to a slightly different situation. Ideally, you want a bag that you can use in multiple situations. I generally go for LowePro or Kata bags. At the moment I use the LowePro Whistler 450 BP AWII, which I find brilliant. I will write a review of it soon, and hopefully, a post recommending the best landscape photography bags. Watch this space for more Landscape Photography Tips!
What to pack!
This is the eternal question. Weight vs practicality, there is no point packing every lens you have, and a backup camera, if once it is all packed, and on your back, you can’t get up the hill in front of you. Think carefully about each piece of kit you put in your bag and pay attention to what bits you don’t use, or wish that you had with you. At the end of a trip, I often make a note of these.
After reading this I hope you will have a good idea of what your ideal Landscape Photography equipment set up will be. In my next Landscape Photography Tips post, here , I will be looking at camera settings, in many ways much more important than having the right equipment. Keep in mind this quote from the great man Ansel Adams:
If there is anything else you would like to know thatI do not cover in my Landscape Photography Tips Series, feel free to leave a comment below and i will do my best to get you an answer!