Landscape Photography Kit Essentials

In this second part of the series on Landscape photography I’m going to go through some kit essentials that you might want to consider.

Full disclosure here, the Amazon links are affiliate links which means I earn a few % commission if you buy anything through the link. You will still deal with Amazon and their sellers, I have nothing to do with the financial transaction, I simply get an introducers commission, paid by Amazon about 3 months after you make your purchase.

What Lens Do I Need For Landscape Photography?

So, firstly let’s talk about lenses. The usual choice is a wide angle to maximise the field of view, something like a 24mm. If you’re not sure what focal length you might need and you have a kit lens like an 18-55mm, take some shots at different focal lengths and see the range you like.

With all lenses you have a choice between a fixed focal length ‘prime’ lens and a variable focal length zoom. It’s generally acknowledged that prime lenses give better performance – improved sharpness and wider aperture. But unless you are a professional you are not likely to notice the difference. I generally recommend a wide angle zoom, something like an 18-40mm.

You will normally be shooting at higher f-stops (greater than f/5.6) and so ‘fast’ lenses are not so critical. My advice is always to buy the best lens you can afford – while camera bodies and technology develop constantly, lenses can last for many years.

Wide Angle Lenses for Landscape Photography

A general link to wide angle lenses http://amzn.to/2mRuBSy

Or, being more camera specific;

Are Samyang lenses any good?

Samyang (also known as Rokinon) have been around now for a few years. I use a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens on my Canon and really like the style it produces. The pictures have a softer edge and a slightly retro and interesting colour/ contrast look which I really like. Not a lens for a purist, but certainly a great lens for the money.

Do I need a tripod for landscape photography?

In almost every case, the answer here is yes.

You will mostly be shooting with high f-stop which means small aperture and therefore longer shutter speeds. The only way to eliminate camera shake is to put it on a tripod. Remember here that if you use a tripod, turn off lens stabilisation as it may cause shake via something called a feedback loop.

The dilemma with tripods is that the heavier it is the more stable it will be – but carrying it will become a pain. Buy a nice lightweight tripod and it will be flimsy, bendy and not stable outdoors in a breeze. Finding a balance can be difficult. I have a heavy Benro tripod that I bought on eBay for studio work and a lightweight Velbon for carrying around.

These days carbon fibre is the choice for professionals – offering strength, rigidity and low weight – but at a price.

Other aspects to consider when looking at tripods are;

Locking mechanism – do the legs lock by a clipping mechanism or by twisting. Both work fine (beware of very cheap models as this is where they usually fall down). My personal preference is clipped.

Tripod height – if you’re a tall person you might want to check how high the tripod will go. Can it raise the camera to your eye level. If not, you’ll be doing a lot of bending or stooping.

Is the centre column removable – modern designs sometimes allow the centre column to be removed and rotated 90 degrees to you can shoot straight down. This is quite a handy feature that you’ll use if you have it. You might also be able to turn it upside down to enable the camera to be held underneath the tripod, low to the ground. Again, more useful that you might think.

Can you add extra weight – One way to add stability to the tripod is to suspend extra weight underneath from the centre. Your camera bag is a good option, keeping it off the ground. Or a bag carrying stones. Some tripods come with a hook to make this really easy.

What is a tripod head and what one should I get?

The other aspect of a tripod is the head. This is the bit that the camera screws on to and you move, tilt and pan. Some tripods come with a head already attached, others come without so you can add your choice.  The main options are;

  • Ball Head
  • Tilt and Pan Head
  • Fluid Head
  • Video Head
  • Pistol Grip

Here’s a great link that explains what the different types are so you can decide what type of tripod head you need.

And here is a list of popular makers of tripods roughly from most expensive to least. As mentioned above, beware of cheap non-branded tripods as they are rarely any good. Just ask yourself, would you want to leave a camera worth many hundreds (or thousands) of pounds balanced on some flimsy plastic that cost ten or twenty?

If you’re more of a hiker/ photographer you might want to look for a monopod rather than tripod;

What are ND filters and how do i use them?

Filters are a whole topic in themselves. For landscape photography you are likely to use a neutral density (ND) filter. This filter reduces the amount of light coming into the lens and allows a longer shutter speed to be used. Longer shutter speeds can produce some nice effects with water or moving trees (look out for some examples in Part 3). Another popular filter type is a Graduated ND filter. This type is dark at the top and clear at the bottom, thereby solving the problem of how to expose for a bright sky and a darker landmass at the same time.

Popular makers of filters include Lee and Cokin but cheaper alternatives are available. The cheaper makes may add a slight colour cast to your shots in some instances but nothing that can’t be fixed in post production (especially if you shoot in Raw – and you do, right?) and for beginners starting to experiment I would recommend going for cheaper versions initially, you can always upgrade later. There’s a good second hand market on eBay for filters – I bought a few when I was starting out – so why not try there to buy your first filters then sell them back later!

This brings up the issue of buying second hand – I’ll write something about this in a future blog post.

Some other useful items you might want when out shooting landscapes include;

Photography apps for landscape photographers

Finally, there are some very good apps for smartphones that help Landscape photographers. Maps for weather, charting the path of the sun, finding dark skies (for astrophotography), calculating hyperfocal distance, metering light, scouting locations etc.

A couple of websites have some useful recommendations;

The ones I currently have that you might like to check out;

  • Flashlight Galaxy – everyone needs a torch app
  • Hyperfocal Pro which I discussed here 
  • DoF Calc
  • Exsate Golden Hour

Finally finally, if you’re going out looking for some wild remote site to take pictures, make sure you keep a well-charged phone with you and tell someone where you will be – even if you only know the approximate area. And tell them when you expect to be back. If you’re not back by that time then they will know something may have happened and can try and contact you.

Be safe!

In the third part of this series I’ll put up some links to some pro Landscape photographers that you might like to check out.

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