You might have heard the saying ‘it’s not about the gear but the photographer behind it‘.
This statement is in many ways correct but there’s no secret that professional photographers rely on having the best possible equipment. The hard truth is that some techniques aren’t possible without specific equipment. At least not if you want to maintain a high quality in your images.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the essential equipment for landscape photography along with some recommendations to the specific brands and models.
#1 The Camera and Lenses
Obviously, it’s hard to be a photographer without having a camera. Exactly what camera you need will depend on the purpose of your photography and how your images are used; a smartphone camera is good enough if you just want to upload images on Instagram.
The best cameras and lenses for landscape photography is a huge topic with an abundance of opinions but let me break down some important pointers that you should keep in mind when choosing your next camera:
Beginner photographers should avoid buying the most expensive gear.
You do not need it! The most important thing as a beginner is to learn how to operate the camera and how to use the fundamental settings to change the appearance of an image.
The differences between entry-level and expensive cameras aren’t big for most.
While the difference in price can be enormous, the hard truth is that the differences between an entry-level camera and a professional camera are microscopic for most users. Don’t get me wrong; a professional camera is a lot more advanced and the quality is significantly better. However, for most people’s purposes, the differences won’t be noticed.
If you’re into ‘regular’ landscape photography and don’t do much more than post your images online, there’s no need to spend the money on an expensive camera. It’s first when you start printing your images in large formats that you’ll see a noticeable difference between the two.
It’s also worth mentioning that more expensive cameras handle higher ISO values better, meaning they’re more suitable for night photography.
Spend your money on quality lenses.
If you’re determined to spend money on camera gear I highly recommend that you invest in quality lenses. Their expected lifetime is a lot longer than a camera and it’s quite likely that you keep quality lenses when updating to a new camera.
#2 A Quality Tripod
A solid tripod is my number one recommendation besides the camera and lens. This is something you should have strapped to your backpack already from day one.
While I use the tripod less today than what I did a few years ago, it’s still an essential tool that allows me to achieve certain techniques as well as high-quality and razor-sharp images.
The tripod is something you should invest a few extra dollars into. Do yourself a favour and avoid the $20 tripods found in most electronic shops. In the long run, these are going to cause more problems (and cost more money) than getting a higher quality one right away.
Trust me. I’ve learned that the hard way!
When I first started photography, I chose to save the money and went for a low-end option from the local electronic shop. It didn’t take more than a few weeks until it broke. Cheap tripods are simply not made to be used for nature and outdoor photography, especially in harsh conditions.
In addition to breaking easily, cheap tripods are harder to keep steady when used in wind or elements such as rivers and seascapes. This unsteadiness leads to an undesired camera shake and a lack of sharpness in your photos.
Keep in mind that the tripod and ballhead you choose needs to be strong enough to carry your camera and biggest lens. An expensive but lightweight tripod might not be strong enough to carry a full-frame camera, a top-notch lens with filters attached.
You don’t need to go for the most expensive models but, in this case, you do pay for quality.
#3 Filters to Improve Your Photography
There are many tools and types of gear that may sound nice and useful but in reality, they’re not much more than money-making machines for certain companies. Filters are not in that category. In fact, they are considered to be essential equipment for landscape photography.
You certainly don’t need them for every single shot you take, it’s no hiding the fact that many images can benefit it.
Recommended Reading: Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography
There are many types of filters for landscape photography but there are in particular three you should have in your backpack:
- a circular polarizer
- graduated neutral density filters
- neutral density filters
A Circular Polarizer filter is used to increase contrast and remove unwanted shine from water or reflecting elements. They are great to use during daytime to ‘make the sky pop’ but also during late evenings.
Neutral Density Filters allow you to use a longer shutter speed than you normally could achieve. These filters are darkened glass that is placed in front of the lens and reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor. You’ve probably seen more than a few images with silky soft water and stretched clouds. These effects are some of what you can achieve by using Neutral Density Filters.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters are the third type of filters that are popular amongst landscape photographers. Unlike the regular Neutral Density filters, these are transparent at the bottom and gradually darkened above the middle. This is a great way to balance out scenes with a big contrast between the sky and landscape. In other words, using these filters you no longer have to worry about a blown out sky or underexposed foreground!
#4 A Remote Shutter Release
We previously talked about how using a tripod helps reduce camera shake to capture sharper images. If you combine this with the use of a remote shutter release, your images can go from “sharp” to “out-of-this-world-sharp”.
Hey, we all need a little exaggeration in our life!
It’s not a joke though. When you’re using semi-slow shutter speeds and have the camera mounted on a tripod, it’s hard to avoid causing some vibration by pressing the shutter button on the camera. Using a remote shutter removes this factor and allows the camera to be completely still when the image is taken.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend lots of money on it. A simple $10 option will do the job. That being said, the more expensive models typically have a fair amount of additional features that might come in handy from time to time.
The type of remote shutter release you should purchase depends on your camera. Different cameras have different mounts so make sure that the one you choose fits your camera. You can browse through Amazon’s offerings here to find one that suits your need. It’s also possible to use a shutter release such as the MIOPS Smart to control the camera from your phone.
#5 An L-Bracket
The fifth piece of essential equipment for landscape photography is one that I can’t imagine being without, an L-Bracket.
This is a piece of equipment that’s used by the majority of professional landscape photographers but, for some reason, it’s also one that’s rarely talked about.
An L-Bracket is best described as an L-shaped piece of metal that’s mounted to your camera. This is used instead of a regular tripod plate and works very similar. The main difference being that you can quickly switch from shooting horizontal to vertical without moving or adjusting the tripod itself.
There are many benefits of this but the two most important is that you don’t risk the tripod being unbalanced when tilting to vertical alignment and that you can keep the same compositional centerpoint. Another benefit is that it can, to some degree, help protect the camera if dropped.
#6 Cleaning Equipment for the Camera
The final piece of essential equipment for landscape photography I’m going to mention is perhaps the most important one: cleaning material. I know, not very exciting!
Let’s be honest, though, it’s important to take care of the camera equipment. After all, we spend all this money to capture quality images so we don’t want to ruin them by having dust spots and smudges all over.
Regularly cleaning the camera saves you a lot of time in post-production but also allows you to keep using the equipment for longer.
Cleaning the sensor isn’t as difficult as you might think but if you’re not comfortable using a lens swab you should make it a habit to send the camera to a store for cleaning at least once a year. This is especially important if you find yourself often photographing outside in rough conditions.
You also need to clean the lenses on a regular basis. Personally, I always have microfiber cloths and pre-moisturized lens wipes in the camera bag. These are extremely useful for outdoor photographers and helps you to always keep those front elements free for smudges and dust spots.
I want to briefly get back to the quote that I began this article with: It’s not about the gear but the photographer behind it.
There is a lot of truth to this statement as the real recipe behind consistently capturing beautiful images is to learn the fundamentals of photography. It’s this basic knowledge and understanding that makes you a successful photographer, not the price tag of the equipment.
The main benefit of having better and more advanced equipment lays in the additional creative possibilities they offer. Yet, without the fundamental knowledge, you aren’t able to fully take advantage of these possibilities.
Just like a painter can create stunning art with only two colors, a photographer can capture good images with just a smartphone. However, creative options become limited.
What do you consider to be the most essential equipment in your camera bag? Are there any specific brands or products you’re extra satisfied with? Let us know in a comment below!