What's In My Bag- Landscapes - Digital Photography School

What’s In My Bag- Landscapes

I’m often asked by beginning photographers about what I use to shoot my photos, whether it’s landscapes, portraits, sports, or some other subject.  Most often, they are referring to the camera used, the lenses, maybe the flash. But the truth is that there’s more to taking great photos than just the camera.  The truth is, the contents of my bag changes dependent on what I plan to be shooting. I’ve compiled a list of items that are always in my bag when I’m on a landscape photo outing, along with how they’ve helped me in my quest for better photos.

1. My Three-Legged Friend

Without a tripod and neutral density filters, I couldn't possibly hope to capture this image. Using a 6-stop ND filter, exposure was ISO 100, 10 seconds, at f/16.

Without a tripod and neutral density filters, I couldn’t possibly hope to capture this image. Using a 6-stop ND filter, exposure was ISO 100, 10 seconds, at f/16.

The truth is, I’d be lost without a tripod on a landscape outing. I currently have two I use regularly. Which ones I use is far less important than the process of choosing a tripod. Too often, beginning photographers skimp on the tripod purchase, going for something cheap that doesn’t suit their needs, and in the end, their images suffer. First and foremost, a tripod needs to support the weight you plan to put on it. This means taking the total weight of your camera and heaviest lens, and making sure your tripod will support that weight.  The fact is, a heavy tripod will better support the weight you put on it, but in today’s world a premium is put on lighter weight. Carbon fiber tripods are lighter weight and generally support heavier loads than aluminum tripods, but at a higher expense. One of the tripods I use is a Manfrotto XPro B, with an Arca Swiss B1 ball head.   This tripod and head combination weighs over 6 lbs., but is rock solid in any conditions. The tripod legs are rated to support 15.4 lbs, and the head is rated to support over 90 lbs! My other tripod is a Gitzo 1541T Traveler with an Acratech GPss ball head. The legs are rated to hold 17.6 lbs, and the head is rated to hold 25 lbs.  This is a smaller setup that folds down to about 20″, and weighs less than 3 lbs. This is what I use when I fly, or when I am hiking longer distances. The thing to realize about a tripod is that a good one is built to last. If you take care of it, a tripod can last a lifetime of shooting.

2. Stepping Up A Level

My trusty bubble level always reminds me to be sure my camera is straight. Nothing annoys me more than a crooked horizon line!

My trusty bubble level always reminds me to be sure my camera is straight. Nothing annoys me more than a crooked horizon line!

These days, just about every DSLR out there has a built-in electronic level, a feature I simply LOVE.  However, sometimes in the heat of the moment I will simply forget to level my camera properly, since the built-in level isn’t always visible on the screen.  Because of this, I still carry a hot-shoe mounted spirit level in my bag.  It’s hard to miss it sitting on top of the camera, and it always reminds me to be sure the camera is level.  And yes, while some tripods do have levels built-in, they aren’t always easy to see, and depending on where they are mounted, it may indicate the legs are level, but doesn’t mean the camera is level because the head can still tilt.

3. Filters

I’m a big fan of using neutral density filters and graduated neutral density filters for landscape work.  I have a set of Schneider filters that I use with a Lee filter holder. The Schneider filters are not cheap.  They are optical glass, heavy, and high quality. There are more economic options available in Lee-style filters, including Cokin, Formatt, and Lee.  The filters I use are 4×5 size, which allows me to adjust the horizon on the graduated filters based on my composition. My kit consists of 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-stop ND filters, and 2-,3-, and 4- stop grads, which come in both hard and soft-edged styles.  Which style you use is dependent on the scene in front of you.  I also have a circular polarizer I use often for controlling reflections and cutting haze.

4. Flashlight

I often find myself shooting before the sun rises, and after the sun sets. This means hiking to and from my location in the dark. A flashlight can be a lifesaver in these situations.  In addition, at times I go out to shoot night landscapes, to get stars in the sky, or the moon. If there’s no light in the foreground and I’d like some, a flashlight is the perfect way to paint some light back in.  I also carry a headlamp in my bag so I can work handsfree and have a light on while digging around in my bag.

5. Step-Up Rings

When you have lenses that have different diameter front elements, it can be maddening to have to buy filters for each lens. An easy workaround for this is to buy step-up rings.  I have a complete set that covers from 52mm up to 82mm.  I then simply purchase the filter for the largest lenses I own and use the step up rings for smaller lenses. Much easier and more cost effective than buying filters to fit each lens.

For this image, I used a 4-stop hard edged ND grad, to bring the sky back within the dynamic range of the camera. I used the hard edge here because there was nothing intersecting the horizon from the foreground, which made it very easy to line up the darkened edge with the horizon out on the bay. Exposure was 1.3 seconds, ISO 100, f/16. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 17-40 f/4L.

For this image, I used a 4-stop hard edged ND grad, to bring the sky back within the dynamic range of the camera. I used the hard edge here because there was nothing intersecting the horizon from the foreground, which made it very easy to line up the darkened edge with the horizon out on the bay. Exposure was 1.3 seconds, ISO 100, f/16. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 17-40 f/4L.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • http://www.cramerimaging.com/ Cramer Imaging

    I find that many of the tools listed here are incredibly useful for my landscape work as well. I can’t yet afford the fancy graduated filters but I do have polarizing filters for my critical glass that goes with me. I have even acquired a -4 neutral density filter for my telephoto lens. I used to use one of those cheap tripods that come with camera kits you can purchase on the internet. It broke quickly and I soon learned the virtue of having a reliable tripod. I have an aluminum variety but not a ball head yet. That’s on the future acquisition list when money is there. Some of these tools would make some of my landscape post-processing work much quicker in Photoshop. Thanks for the advice on the step up rings. I will have to check them out. I carry a flashlight on my person as it comes in handy for more than just photographic purposes.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/glendon27/ Glendon

    Interesting article. I’ve recently learned the pain of filter sizes. I had several 52mm filters for my old lens, none of which works on my new lens which requires 82mm filters.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I have never used a filter. Maybe there are many others like me and we would like to read about what difference it makes?

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Eeps

    @Mridula: With regards the filters mentioned here, a Neutral Density filter, or ND, reduces the amount of light that enters the lens, which allows the photographer to achieve certain effects. These can be either leaving the shutter open longer (slowing the shutter speed) so as to achieve the silky water effect seen in the top picture (or other motion based effects) or to open up the shutter wider, thus getting very shallow depth of field even in bright conditions.

    With regards to the graduated ND filters, these are useful when you have a huge variance of light between the foreground and the background, which usually happens when you shoot landscapes in low light conditions (which many photographers prefer, such as sunrise and sunset). The foreground is usually very dark while the sky is much brighter. This is very difficult for the camera to balance out so photographers take a reading of the lighting conditions between the sky and the ground/sea and use the appropriate ND grad filter to balance out the lighting conditions (dark portion goes above). The effect would be a nicely balanced exposure as seen in the bottom pic. If you didn’t use an ND grad filter, exposing for the sky would give you clearly defined sky but a very dark foreground. If you exposed for the ground, you would be able to define the rocks and water but have a blown out sky.

    A polarizer, as explained above, is used for cutting reflections, haze and glare. If you don’t have this kind of filter, try using a pair of polarized sunglasses and stick this in front of your lens. This should give you an idea of what type of effects a polarizer will have on your pictures. Hope that helps.

  • http://www.phote.co.uk Marc

    When I upgraded to a FF body I could no longer use my 10-22 which was great for landscapes. So now I’m really having to consider getting new wide angle lens – although I’m not sure which one to get yet, but that is half the fun investigating which lens is best. Great article, and I love the first shot. I agree with how useful the filters are, but sometimes I feel I overcook the image with them, and get the wrong results, but it’s all a learning curve :)

  • VB

    Nice article. I do have similar setup.

    @Marc get a 17-40 f/4 its best lens for ur ff body u can check my work at vaibhavbhosale.com or if u can afford get a 16-35mm

  • dave

    I’ve invested a small amt in some screw on ND filters but want to get a Big Stopper. Any one have any secrets to getting one? Any alternatives to the Lee’s Big Stopper?

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    @dave- There are several alternatives to the Big Stopper. In terms of a Lee style filter, try the Formatt Hi Tech filters. They are photographic resin, not glass, but work very well. Also, depending on budget, I will use the Schneider filters I mentioned. I have a 4-, 5-, and 6- stop ND filter, and combining two of those gives me 9, 10, or 11 stops of neutral density depending on the combination I use. I can also suggest trying the used market for the Lee if you’re set on that. eBay, Craigslist, or some of the photo websites that have buy and sell forums are a good place to look.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/peruvianprincess Lara Farhadi

    I have a cokin gradated nd filter. I now have to upgrade to the z series because I’m shooting full frame with a 16-35 mm and my current holder will show on that lens. I like that it uses different ring adapters for the same set of filter holder and filters, and they work very well. A bit more cumbersome than a screw on filter, but more versatile if using it with different diameter lenses.

  • http://www.mirchevphotography.com/ Nikolay Mirchev

    Wow I never thought of the step up rings. Nice reading it makes me take my gear and go out to shoot some landscape ;)

  • Vera

    I am heading to Alaska for a couple of weeks and have just upgraded my camera from the first T1I to the T5I and ma caught between buying the 10-22mm or the 17-40mm for landscape. Any advise?

  • https://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com marius2die4

    Very good article.Congrats!

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    Hi Vera- I’m going to assume you have a standard zoom- maybe the 18-135 or 18-55 that typically comes with a Rebel. My suggestion would be to get the 10-22. It’s an excellent lens, and would complement your standard lens very nicely. It’s a great wide angle lens for your Rebel. Enjoy Alaska. It’s one of my favorite places to shoot and I need to go back!

  • SR

    Very good article! Look forward to more such tips in future.

    1. Your suggestion regarding step-up ring is good. Any idea where it is available?

    2. I carry UV and ND filters for landscape photography. I put UV filter primarily to protect the lenses. Would you suggest any other filter? Graded ND would be a good choice, but it is quite expensive and is yet to be purchased.

  • http://photos.rickscheibner.net Rick

    Substitute the ND and GND filters for a polarizer, and that’s pretty much my setup.

  • http://JSLArtPhoto.com Jeffrey

    Rick,
    That is a great shot of sunset/sunrise, nice.
    You did not mention reverse grads but that scene looked ideal for that.
    Do you use those too?

  • http://Www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    @Jeff- I have never used a reverse ND grad. I’ve spoken to my friends that have, and gotten mixed reviews, so I never came away convinced that I needed one. Maybe one of these days when I get some spare change in my pocket I’ll invest in one.

Some older comments

  • Rick Berk

    May 27, 2013 01:50 am

    @Jeff- I have never used a reverse ND grad. I've spoken to my friends that have, and gotten mixed reviews, so I never came away convinced that I needed one. Maybe one of these days when I get some spare change in my pocket I'll invest in one.

  • Jeffrey

    May 27, 2013 12:12 am

    Rick,
    That is a great shot of sunset/sunrise, nice.
    You did not mention reverse grads but that scene looked ideal for that.
    Do you use those too?

  • Rick

    May 13, 2013 01:51 am

    Substitute the ND and GND filters for a polarizer, and that's pretty much my setup.

  • SR

    May 11, 2013 10:35 pm

    Very good article! Look forward to more such tips in future.

    1. Your suggestion regarding step-up ring is good. Any idea where it is available?

    2. I carry UV and ND filters for landscape photography. I put UV filter primarily to protect the lenses. Would you suggest any other filter? Graded ND would be a good choice, but it is quite expensive and is yet to be purchased.

  • Rick Berk

    May 11, 2013 11:01 am

    Hi Vera- I'm going to assume you have a standard zoom- maybe the 18-135 or 18-55 that typically comes with a Rebel. My suggestion would be to get the 10-22. It's an excellent lens, and would complement your standard lens very nicely. It's a great wide angle lens for your Rebel. Enjoy Alaska. It's one of my favorite places to shoot and I need to go back!

  • marius2die4

    May 10, 2013 03:24 am

    Very good article.Congrats!

  • Vera

    May 10, 2013 01:25 am

    I am heading to Alaska for a couple of weeks and have just upgraded my camera from the first T1I to the T5I and ma caught between buying the 10-22mm or the 17-40mm for landscape. Any advise?

  • Nikolay Mirchev

    May 9, 2013 07:34 am

    Wow I never thought of the step up rings. Nice reading it makes me take my gear and go out to shoot some landscape ;)

  • Lara Farhadi

    May 8, 2013 01:49 pm

    I have a cokin gradated nd filter. I now have to upgrade to the z series because I'm shooting full frame with a 16-35 mm and my current holder will show on that lens. I like that it uses different ring adapters for the same set of filter holder and filters, and they work very well. A bit more cumbersome than a screw on filter, but more versatile if using it with different diameter lenses.

  • Rick Berk

    May 6, 2013 10:26 pm

    @dave- There are several alternatives to the Big Stopper. In terms of a Lee style filter, try the Formatt Hi Tech filters. They are photographic resin, not glass, but work very well. Also, depending on budget, I will use the Schneider filters I mentioned. I have a 4-, 5-, and 6- stop ND filter, and combining two of those gives me 9, 10, or 11 stops of neutral density depending on the combination I use. I can also suggest trying the used market for the Lee if you're set on that. eBay, Craigslist, or some of the photo websites that have buy and sell forums are a good place to look.

  • dave

    May 6, 2013 03:53 pm

    I've invested a small amt in some screw on ND filters but want to get a Big Stopper. Any one have any secrets to getting one? Any alternatives to the Lee's Big Stopper?

  • VB

    May 6, 2013 12:45 pm

    Nice article. I do have similar setup.

    @Marc get a 17-40 f/4 its best lens for ur ff body u can check my work at vaibhavbhosale.com or if u can afford get a 16-35mm

  • Marc

    May 3, 2013 09:04 pm

    When I upgraded to a FF body I could no longer use my 10-22 which was great for landscapes. So now I'm really having to consider getting new wide angle lens - although I'm not sure which one to get yet, but that is half the fun investigating which lens is best. Great article, and I love the first shot. I agree with how useful the filters are, but sometimes I feel I overcook the image with them, and get the wrong results, but it's all a learning curve :)

  • Eeps

    May 3, 2013 07:32 pm

    @Mridula: With regards the filters mentioned here, a Neutral Density filter, or ND, reduces the amount of light that enters the lens, which allows the photographer to achieve certain effects. These can be either leaving the shutter open longer (slowing the shutter speed) so as to achieve the silky water effect seen in the top picture (or other motion based effects) or to open up the shutter wider, thus getting very shallow depth of field even in bright conditions.

    With regards to the graduated ND filters, these are useful when you have a huge variance of light between the foreground and the background, which usually happens when you shoot landscapes in low light conditions (which many photographers prefer, such as sunrise and sunset). The foreground is usually very dark while the sky is much brighter. This is very difficult for the camera to balance out so photographers take a reading of the lighting conditions between the sky and the ground/sea and use the appropriate ND grad filter to balance out the lighting conditions (dark portion goes above). The effect would be a nicely balanced exposure as seen in the bottom pic. If you didn't use an ND grad filter, exposing for the sky would give you clearly defined sky but a very dark foreground. If you exposed for the ground, you would be able to define the rocks and water but have a blown out sky.

    A polarizer, as explained above, is used for cutting reflections, haze and glare. If you don't have this kind of filter, try using a pair of polarized sunglasses and stick this in front of your lens. This should give you an idea of what type of effects a polarizer will have on your pictures. Hope that helps.

  • Mridula

    May 3, 2013 04:20 pm

    I have never used a filter. Maybe there are many others like me and we would like to read about what difference it makes?

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Glendon

    May 3, 2013 02:48 pm

    Interesting article. I've recently learned the pain of filter sizes. I had several 52mm filters for my old lens, none of which works on my new lens which requires 82mm filters.

  • Cramer Imaging

    May 3, 2013 02:40 pm

    I find that many of the tools listed here are incredibly useful for my landscape work as well. I can't yet afford the fancy graduated filters but I do have polarizing filters for my critical glass that goes with me. I have even acquired a -4 neutral density filter for my telephoto lens. I used to use one of those cheap tripods that come with camera kits you can purchase on the internet. It broke quickly and I soon learned the virtue of having a reliable tripod. I have an aluminum variety but not a ball head yet. That's on the future acquisition list when money is there. Some of these tools would make some of my landscape post-processing work much quicker in Photoshop. Thanks for the advice on the step up rings. I will have to check them out. I carry a flashlight on my person as it comes in handy for more than just photographic purposes.

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