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At the most basic level, all that you need to take landscape photographs is a camera and a location. One of the reasons that landscape photography is so popular is that it is so accessible, without the necessity for the newest camera bodies or most expensive lenses. You can pick up any entry-level DSLR and kit lens and be able to make great landscape images.
However, there are a few extra tools that, if included in your camera bag, will help you improve your landscape photography in terms of both your technique and resulting images. Below is a selection of accessories that serious landscape photographers do not leave home without and the majority are cheaper than a basic kit lens.
This has the potential to be the most expensive item on this list, but it is probably the most crucial accessory for every landscape photographer. They come in all weights and sizes, and therefore costs, however a tripod can be key to ensuring you can capture sharp landscape images. A lot of landscape photographs are captured at the beginning and end of the day, under low light conditions, meaning that it is not always possible to handhold the camera and still achieve shake-free images. Also, a tripod is a good way of becoming more methodical in your approach to composing your landscape images, forcing you to slow down and critically assess the view through your viewfinder
Graduated neutral density (ND) filters are crucial for balancing the exposure between bright sky and dark land, overcoming the limited dynamic range of most DSLR sensors. Generally, half of the filter is darker to reduce the amount of light allowed though across half of the frame. Without them, if you expose for the sky the land will be in silhouette or if you expose for the land, the sky will be blown out. You can use exposure bracketing to overcome this, however that will then require more time spent in front of a computer blending the multiple exposures. Using graduated ND filters allows you to capture both the sky and land, correctly exposed, in one shot.
Check out this recent article on the basics of choosing, buying and using graduated ND filters.
Probably the cheapest accessory on this list, but a valuable tool none the less. Just slide the spirit level in to the hot shoe to help ensure your horizons are perfectly level. Some of the latest cameras now come with in-built level gauges, however they struggle to match the fidelity of an actual spirit level. Here’s the most popular one on Amazon which is less than $10.
A remote shutter release allows you to release the shutter, when your camera is on a tripod, without touching the camera and introducing any movement. Also, as these remotes allow you to lock the shutter open, they are very useful if you want to make exposures over 30 seconds, using ‘bulb mode’. In some instances, the remotes also have a digital display telling you how long the shutter has been open or a programmable timer mode so you can define the exposure length before taking the shot.
Similar to the graduated filters mentioned above, however in this instance, the entire filter is of uniform density, meaning that light is blocked out across the entire frame. You can get them 1-stop, 2-stop or 3-stop densities if you want to marginally slow the shutter speed for shooting waterfalls or introducing some movement, or you can get them as dense as 10-stops for seriously long shutter speeds.
Polarising filters are often used to increase the saturation of blue skies, however they are more useful in suppressing reflections from non-metallic objects, such as foliage or water. This helps to increase the saturation of foliage, even on overcast days, and remove glare from the surface of any water in the scene, revealing detail below the waters surface. An invaluable tool when shooting landscape scenes that include water.
The items above could almost be considered the essentials to go along with your camera and lens. There are options that cater to all budgets meaning that you can build your self an effective landscape photographers toolbox without breaking the bank, and once you start using them, you will find you can exert much greater creative control over your landscape photography, and improve the images you make.
August 17, 2013 06:29 am
A Neutral Density Filter is an essential part of any photographer's bag. I use one when photographing sunny summer weddings here in Minneapolis, as even at 100 or L ISO my images can become overexposed when photographing with a 2.0 or lower aperture. I have also used ND filters many times for long exposures and landscape photography.
August 11, 2013 01:22 am
Rick, why shouldn't people use GND filters? I was about to pick up a set after reading this post.
August 6, 2013 01:52 pm
Friends don't let friends use GND filters.
July 28, 2013 07:08 pm
I just bought my first "proper" cam, a Sony Alpha 65, partly because you can see the built-in level indicator both in the tiltable display (for compensating my lack of height and for shooting from kids' perspective) and in the view finder. So I don't even need the spirit level in my tripod. It used to be important for my point'n shoot which had no view finder (Fujitsu W1, i. e. a stereo camera), but now it's just great not to have to get away from the camera to check for level. But a cheap plug-in one surely is better than our fallible human senses, especially when zooming in on buildings where "falling lines" play very bad tricks on you.
I'm just starting on my dad's old filter set. His ancient Yashica may be dozens of years old, but 55mm are still 55mm. The ND (neutral density) filter might be the most helpful one, the polar filter will take some getting into.
July 26, 2013 10:54 pm
Love the ND filters, they completely change the scene!
July 26, 2013 01:59 pm
Image stabilisation is no substitute for a (good) tripod, even though it usually does a reasonable job. But the magic hours for landscapes are when light levels are low, near sunrise/sunset. That is when long exposures are needed.
Make sure your tripod is rigid enough to take the full weight of your camera plus largest lens, then some.
July 20, 2013 05:55 am
When I shoot landscapes I make sure that I have a 4x6 or 5x7 picture frame matt. I use this because I saw a video of Ansel Adams and he used one to compose his photos before setting up his camera. Quite versatile in setting up a shot. You could use your hands and do the finger thing but I actually like the matt. It doesn't take up any room in the bag because it is flat.
I use Cokin filters simply because I can use them on any lens that I have in my kit and I'm not spending lots of money on getting the same filter for different lenses. If I get a lens that doesn't fit my adapter all I have to do is buy another adapter for less than US $20.
Nice article by the way. Tripods are a slippery slope when you start looking. I thought I had a good one until I started traveling internationally. Now I have a short collapsible tripod that will fit in my suitcase. I took the one I had apart when I traveled last and my bag was always searched. Lesson learned. Look long and hard before committing to one tripod.
July 20, 2013 03:46 am
If you're shooting with a Nikon D800 many of these assessories is mandatory like tripod, cable release and filters if you want the best from the camera.
July 19, 2013 08:15 pm
As always you publish articles that are valuable to shooting professionals as well as aspiring enthusiasts. People ask me for camera advice all of the time because they magically expect to take great photos with expensive cameras and sometimes get disappointing results.
Sometimes the simplest of accessories make a huge difference, like the addition of a remote release to use with a tripod. Like the previous comment by Tim suggests, there is a big drop off in quality and durability with non Original Equipment Manufactures remote shutter releases.
Also, a bubble level is a great suggestion by Elliot. It's handy, easy to bring along, affordable and great for architectural photography too in addition to landscape photography.
Happy Shooting everyone!
July 19, 2013 06:15 pm
Good article. I agree with the items on the list, but not in hat order: good tripod, shooter remote, filters and hot shoe level. I have also a piece of textil macrofibre, UV filter for mountain or see, a rain cover, step-up and down ring for filters and greycard. Olympus lenses coms with parasolar.
Some of my pics:
July 19, 2013 08:13 am
I am not a landscape photographer, but last week I decided that I needed some waterfall shoots.
I have a tripod that has gathered a good selection of spiders webs.
I quickly realised the only way to photograph waterfalls was to climb down to the bottom, not an easy task for a 70 year old, but I found my tripod was a great asset climbing down and up the side of the falls.
It has a spike at the end for gripping slippery ground or holding onto cracks in rocks, it is adjustable for assisting on short and long drops, allowing even and balanced weight support. also I have a built in spirit level built into the fixing shoe from the bottom of my camera to the tripod.
I almost forgot it's also good at holding my camera level on a variable level at the bottom of a rocky/ pebble waterfall
July 19, 2013 06:27 am
Since getting a tripod I look back on all my previous photography as amateur. So much thought now goes into my composition that anything I accomplished before was at least part luck. Now every element in the frame is there by choice. Now my focal point is at the correct hyperfocal distance and camera shake had been eliminated. Now the horizon is always level. Bracketing at multiple base EV's means I always have at least one "perfectly" exposed HDR shot. It solved so many problems my biggest concerns now are creative rather than technical. Very nice.
July 19, 2013 05:34 am
Great list and excellent writeup. Interestingly, every single one of these items has been put on my
Amazon wish list in the last couple of weeks.
I've been looking and I think I would probably prefer the bullseye style bubble level that fits more flush in the hot shoe so that it is less obstructive and I don't have to remove it as often.
July 19, 2013 01:49 am
Since all my lenses have image stabilizer I never thaught of using a tripod. Does IS affects image quality?
July 16, 2013 06:43 pm
I absolutely love using polarizers for what they can do to the foliage. I picked up a fade ND filter to experiment and wish I had just sprung for a proper ND filter instead.
On the bubble level front, a lot of new cameras have built in levels, as such that could be one less thing to carry around if desired.
July 16, 2013 09:21 am
Good article on the basic accessories. I fully agree that of the list, a good tripod is the most critical.
I feel compelled to add one note of warning about the non-name brand shutter releases you mentioned. I have the exact brand you pictured for one of my cameras, and the name brand (Canon) for another camera. I've had the canon for 6-7 years and it has functioned flawlessly, despite being dropped in the stream a time or two. The Shoot brand, however, has not been as robust. Within a couple years, the cable insulation broke right where it meets the strain relief. So, now the wires bend freely when I'm moving it around or placing it in my bag. it's just a matter of time before those metal wires break and then the remote will be useless.
Yes, its tempting to save some $'s and get the off brand. In this case, I found I got what I paid for.
July 16, 2013 06:41 am
I've been working on landscape photography for a few years and have a piece of every equipment item listed above save the graduated filters. I've been wanting to try them but money is still a problem there. I look forward to the day when I can finally order my own set and take those babies for a spin.
I've seen that even tripods are coming with a built in level these days. Those levels aren't as precise as the simple spirit level in the hot shoe mount. I like to brag about finding one on Amazon for $7.50 when Adorama and B&H were asking at least $25 for the same thing. Check out Amazon there.
@ Mridula, you really should consider at the very least trying out the polarizing filter. It will make a world of difference in your photography.
July 16, 2013 03:17 am
I've always felt a little intimidated by filters - now I feel like giving one of these a try :)
July 15, 2013 09:08 pm
I have never used a filter, wondering if it is time to try out one of the three mentioned at least.
July 15, 2013 04:52 pm
What is your favourite. ..camera. ..and why?
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