10 Essential Pieces of Gear you Need for Landscape Photography

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If you are interested in going out and getting some high quality landscape photographs, here’s a comprehensive list of items you will either want to consider, or must have, in order to increase your chances of getting some keepers:

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#1 – The Internet

Whenever I start to plan a photo shoot to a particular location, I usually begin by googling the area. If it’s a relatively well-known location, you will probably find some very interesting, and comprehensive, websites made by other photographers or adventurists/bloggers. The problem is, if it’s a famous location, you will also get a ton of not-so-interesting and even incorrect information as well. Weeding through Google to isolate the helpful and high quality blogs or websites from the crummy ones is an art form all its own. Once you get used to perusing Google, reading just a few sentences of a blog will clue you in as to whether or not the information you’ve found is worth taking it to heart or not.

If you aren’t lucky enough to find two or three really good blogs about the location, head over to Alltrails.com. It has a sizeable database of locations around the country that have been hiked, including user’s reviews of the location and the level of difficulty in getting there. If it’s a famous site, TripAdvisor.com has a good database of information, including the places to stay nearby.

From there, you’ll be off and running with more information than you probably need. In most cases, what becomes tricky is weeding through everything you find and parsing it down into just a few brief paragraphs on your overall plan of action.

#2 – A Strong Backpack

If you’re looking for a place to save some money, a backpack is not where you want to be counting pennies. You get what you pay for, and when it comes to choosing a backpack to take on a landscape shoot, it is very important you use a bag that is strong and water resistant, with reinforced padding.

Don’t fall victim to the lame zipper bug (you know you’ve been there before, trying to unzip the bag and before you know it, the zipper pops off the bag like a cricket). Do yourself a favor and invest in a high quality bag, like the Tamrac Expedition Series, or the Lowepro Pro Trekker. It will last you many years, and will help you take care of your camera and lenses in the long run.

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#3 – A Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera

Generally speaking, for various reasons, I still much prefer a DSLR (such as the Nikon D810) over a full-frame mirrorless camera (such as the Sony A7r) for landscape photography. One reason is that certain DSLR models are significantly more rugged and weatherproof than mirrorless.

Eventually you’re going to drop a camera. It happens to all of us (at least that’s what everyone told me the first time I dropped a camera), especially those of us who are out in less than perfect weather conditions. DSLRs made from composite magnesium handle some rough treatment much better than the plastic-bodied entry level DSLRs. My first full-frame DSLR was the Nikon 700. That camera could survive being run over by a small truck. A perfect companion for the clumsy, just-starting-out landscape photographer that I was then.

Also consider investing in a quality raincoat for your lens/camera. I don’t recommend getting one of the cheap, flimsy, clear plastic covers made from recycled sandwich bags…they will tear easily and won’t stay put in windy conditions. Get a cover that is heavy duty…one good coat will last a long time, and they aren’t pricey.

#4 – A Sturdy Tripod

To handle poor footing out in the muddy, rocky, sandy wilderness, and to protect your camera lens setup, a tripod is one item you don’t want to mess around with. In fact, this is the one item more than any other that I would recommend you consider heading to the northern end of your projected budget in order to select a high quality tripod.

A flimsy tripod could end up costing you a chunk of a paycheck in repair bills. It only takes one good gust of wind to knock over an unstable tripod. Having a nice camera and lens, but an entry-level tripod is like putting four worn down, old tires on a Ferrari. It won’t run properly and it’s dangerous for the rest of the setup.

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A good tripod will outlive both of us, so it’s rare you’ll need to invest in more than one over the course of many years. A few extra bucks goes a long way towards getting having a more stable, secure setup.

See Really Right Stuff, Manfrotto, Gitzo, or Feisol for excellent tripods. In my opinion, you should strongly consider carbon fiber over aluminum; they are the lightest and strongest on the market.

#5 – Lenses

This is where the fun begins, and your wallet ends. Lenses are the single most important piece of equipment in photography. You can have the finest camera, tripod, backpack, media card, and accessories available, but if you don’t have quality glass, it will severely complicate your ability to take a good photograph.

I typically prefer to shoot with prime (fixed focal length) lenses, as opposed to using zoom lenses. My preference for primes is mostly about making sure that I get as personal and into the scene as possible.

With zoom lenses, I tend to get a bit lazy and shoot without adequately working the scene. There is no substitute for moving your feet and SEEING the composition with your own eyes, and not just through the viewfinder. The element of perspective is lost if you simply zoom, instead of walking around and checking things out with your own eyes first.

That said, it’s strictly a subjective thing. I know plenty of photographers who prefer using zoom lenses, and that’s great. Most of the time, the best gear for you is the gear you’re most comfortable with. The key suggestion here, with any lens, prime or zoom, is that you RENT one and try it out before buying it. You can’t know how the lens will work for you until you use it in various situations.

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#6 – A Reliable Remote Trigger or Shutter Release

This is often overlooked by many photographers, but I firmly believe having a remote trigger makes a big difference. Without one, you have to physically press on the top of the camera. No matter how careful you are, and no matter how securely fastened the camera is to the tripod, this will introduce some micro-shake into the setup. If you want your image to be as tack-sharp as possible, you don’t want anything touching the camera that doesn’t have to. Once the mirror locks up, you want your setup to be as steady as a concrete slab. Every DSLR has its own proprietary remote shutters, and you can also find quality third-party remote shutters available at a lower cost.

#7 – Filters

For landscape photography, some filters are almost as essential as lenses. I’ll keep it brief here and stick with just a few basic filters I would always want to travel with:

Circular Polarizer

A polarizing filter helps mitigate the nasty, harsh reflection of the sun off of shiny objects such as water or anything wet. To get it to work, you simply turn the filter until you see the glare disappear, then you stop turning the filter. A polarizer will also help darken a blue sky and make it a deeper, richer blue. Some people like that look, some don’t. If you do, a polarizer will help you achieve it. I use a polarizer practically all of the time when shooting in daylight.

Neutral Density Filter

An ND filter basically acts as sunglasses for your lens, it blocks some light from reaching the camera’s sensor, thereby slowing down the exposure. For example, a 3-stop ND filter (usually denoted as an 8X or 0.9 ND filter) allows three stops less light through than you’d get without the filter attached. A 5-stop ND filter will allow five stops less light, and so on. For the serious landscape photographer I’d recommend having a 2-stop, 3-stop and 10-stop ND filter. If you want to do some long exposure waterscape work, the 10-stop will come in handy to help make the water look silky smooth. You can also stretch out clouds or turn people into invisible ghosts with ND filters.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

These are similar to ND filters, but instead of the entire filter being tinted, only the upper portion is darkened, with the tint getting darker from the middle to the edge. So, for example, if you’re photographing a horizon with a sky that’s two or three stops brighter than your foreground, you could use a graduated ND filter to help bring out the foreground more, without blowing out the horizon. It will effectively balance the amount of light received from both the brighter horizon and the darker foreground. Usually just a two or three stop GND filter is necessary. Here’s a photograph of a Graduated ND Filter:

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Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Same principle as the one above, except instead of the tint getting darker from the middle of the filter to the edge, it’s reversed. The middle of the filter starts out the darkest, and gradually gets lighter as you travel towards the edge. These are excellent for shooting sunrises and sunsets, where the horizon line is the brightest area of the frame, and as you go higher in the sky, it becomes less bright. This is what a Reverse Graduated ND Filter looks like:

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UV or Clear Filter

If it’s my lens, I want to do everything I can to protect it from wear and tear. I always have a clear, or UV, filter on the front of every lens I own. It does nothing to help improve the photograph in any discernible way, but it does a great job protecting the front lens element from dirt and dust, or from me walking into a door lens-first, which has happened more times than I prefer to admit.

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#8 – Extra Batteries and Media Cards

Always, without exception, carry an extra battery for your camera, an extra media card, and an extra battery for any other battery-consuming device. If you’re bringing along a flash that takes four AA batteries, take an extra set of four with you. Chances are you won’t ever need them, but there will always be the one time when you do, and you’ll wish you had them.

#9 – The Photographer’s Ephemeris

This clever app (TPE) does an amazingly accurate job at detailing when and where the sun, and moon, will rise and set. If you’re out chasing sunsets and sunrises for photographs, this app is a must-have.

#10 – A good pair of shoes

No joke; having a comfortable pair of shoes is like having good vision. If your feet aren’t comfy, then nothing else matters. You will not be as good a photographer as you otherwise would be with comfy feet. This especially holds true on longer hikes; invest in a good pair of hiking boots. A pair that strike a balance between breathing well but also offering some water resistance.

That’s enough for the list of equipment you’d want to consider having to photograph landscapes. If you’ve made it this far in this article, I hope you’ve gotten something useful out of it. Have fun shooting those landscapes!

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Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Jeb Buchman is a self-taught, professional real estate and architectural photographer based in Baltimore, Maryland. Although he spends his days photographing the interiors of homes and buildings, he spends his free time in the outdoors, capturing the natural beauty of landscapes and waterscapes he discovers along the way.

  • Nizmo

    Climbing mountain with D810? You should check yourself on this symptom:
    http://youtu.be/xNo5H1cK_gQ

  • diane walker

    I think the weather proof camera is the most important part. Nice tips!
    alldayphotography.com

  • Good read. Thank you

  • Frode

    3. “One reason is that certain DSLR models are significantly more rugged and weatherproof than mirrorless.” <— This is a myth. It really depends on the camera make and model, (most DSLRs aren't weatherproof either), so you can't really make a general statement about mirrorless like that. Weatherproofing in the camera won't do you much good if your lenses aren't weatherproofed as well, and no system has that across the board for every lens. In addition to the raincoat, it might not be a bad idea to have a small bag of rice with you as well, which you can use to soak up any moisture that might get in.

    Most DSLRs are also generally heavier than mirrorless systems, which means that if you drop them, they're going to have to dissipate a lot more energy from the shock of hitting the ground, meaning they either break more often, or need to be better reinforced to handle the resulting drop. A mirrorless camera wouldn't need that to the same degree.

    6. Remote shutters – some cameras now have Wi-Fi and accompanying apps that let you use your cell phone or tablet as a remote shutter, some with a lot more advanced functionality.

  • Sophie
  • Andy Whiteman

    Another really good article – thank you.

  • Steven Rey Reyes Bulohabo

    Frode, tell me what mirrorless camera is weatherproof?

  • Frode

    Olympus E-M1, E-M5 and E-M5 mII cameras, Panasonic GH3/GH4, Fujifilm X-T1 and probably a couple of others which I’m not familiar with. Sony A7 cameras are dust and moisture “resistant”, not weather “sealed”, as defined by Sony. One thing to note is that NO interchangeable lens cameras (DSLR or mirrorless) currently have an IP rating that I’m aware of, which means they would be designed to withstand actual immersion in water etc. There are very real limits to what kind of conditions they can withstand, and without an IP rating or standardized independent testing (which no one seems to have performed, probably due to the costs involved), it’s really difficult to know which ones are better, though there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence on the web if you do a search.

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    bug spray

  • Good advice. I love any article about Photography. Tips and knowledge from others is always a good read. thanks.

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  • Fox

    The Nikon 1 AW1 is an ILC that is designed for submersion up to 60 min. in depths up to 15 m, and it features an IP rating, albeit for its resistance to dust, not water.

    In regard to weather resistance in general, Pentax seems to be the most useful system with the widest range of weather resistant glass. Most other systems have very few and pricey weather resistant lenses, and with Canon one often even has to add a filter. Pentax seems to be the only brand delivering affordable, weather resistant kit lenses.

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  • Eyestar Creations

    Agree with everything you say. I would also add that, along with good, sturdy shoes, you invest in knee high wellies (dunno what they’re called outside of Oz but they’re plastic type high boots used for walking in mud). These have been a godsend to me on many occasions when I was shooting in mud/wet and was sinking in gunk trying to get into position.

  • Kenneth

    Anyone got any advice for me, I am looking for a good landscape camera for under £1000 (just for the body). so far the best ones I have found have been the nikon d5500 and the Pentax k-70. Both seem like great cameras but I can’t help but feel that I am missing something. I was hoping a fellow landscape photographer could give me a few pointers and show me the way.

    Kenneth

  • Kenneth,

    Have you considered buying a previously owned (used) camera? You can get a used Nikon D810 (which is, IMO, still one of the best landscape cameras on the market) well within your price range on eBay.

    Jeb

  • While the D810 is a great camera it is certainly not entry-level. The D5600 just came out but the D5500 I’m sure would serve you well. Consider going with the Nikon over the Pentax as you’ll have more lens choices including 3rd party ones made by Tamron and Sigma (less options for Pentax). You can make great photos with any camera. Start with one you can afford and understand.

  • drdroad

    I have a wired remote that recently wouldn’t work (I think I squeezed the wiring too much). So I just set the shutter release timer to 2 seconds. No need to touch the camera. No issues, except that tedious 2 seconds.

  • Jeff Ore

    They have D7100 & D7200 for under $1,000.00 US

  • Very true, drdroad…if you don’t have a remote shutter release, you can set the camera’s timer to several seconds, thereby mitigating any need to touch the camera during the shot. However, if you plan on taking a long-exposure photograph, with a shutter speed longer than your camera settings allow (i.e. longer than 30 seconds), a remote shutter is usually a necessity.

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