Landscape photography is one of the most popular subjects for photographers, and on the face of it you might think you hardly need any special equipment beyond a camera and a stout pair of walking boots.
But if you look at the kit carried around by landscape specialists, you see there might be a bit more to it than that. So this guide aims to explain all the kit used in landscape photography, what it does, how it works and when you might need it.
This is not a list of everything you have to buy before you even step out of the door. More, it’s a list of all the useful items that we and countless landscape photographers have found useful, and sometimes indispensable on outdoor expeditions.
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Everything you need for landscape photography in 2023
Much of this kit will be familiar, and you may even have a lot of it already. But landscape photography as a genre brings its own challenges and opportunities that can affect the gear you choose, whether you’re buying new equipment or simply choosing what to pack.
1. The camera
Obviously you’ll need a camera. The key thing here is to have interchangeable lenses, so a DSLR or mirrorless camera is best. DSLRs tend to be a little bigger and heavier, but also have a longer battery life, which can be useful out in the field. The point is that either is fine.
Resolution matters, but it’s not everything. A 20MP camera will capture all the fine detail you’re likely to need, even for quite large prints, for publishing in magazines and books and certainly any kind of online display.
But other factors like weatherproofing do become more important for landscape photography. And if you don’t much like carrying or using tripods, in-body stabilization or lenses with IS is definitely an advantage as the light fades and the wind rises.
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A standard camera kit lens in the range 24-70mm or its equivalent will be fine for many shots, but an extra-wide-angle lens will help you capture huge, sweeping vistas and will be perfect if you try your hand at astrophotography or the northern lights.
A telephoto zoom can be surprisingly useful too. Longer focal lengths don’t just let you pick out distant detail, they compress perspectives too, so that large-scale backdrops like mountains and forests look much larger and more imposing.
3. Tripods and other supports
Should you take a tripod? This is a very personal choice, especially if you have to hike miles and miles to reach your subject. It’s true that tripods add weight and take time to set up, but for landscape photography they have some important advantages.
First, they let you use slower shutter speeds, smaller lens apertures and lower ISO settings without worrying about camera shake. If you’ve gone to some effort to reach your location, you don’t want to throw it all away with sloppy technique.
Second, they open up whole new techniques, notably long exposure blur of skies and water, and dramatic astro images after dark.
Third, they leave your hands free to swap filters, change batteries, pick a different lens or grab a snack or a hot drink. Very often in landscape photography you’re waiting for the light to be just right, and that’s a long time to be waiting with a camera in your hands.
In windy conditions outdoors, a heavy solid tripod may be more stable, but for portability a travel tripod may be a better compromise. It’ll be lighter to carry and smaller when it’s packed down, and most have a hook at the base of the center column to hang your camera bag for extra stability.
There are many different filter types for landscape photography, notably polarizing filters, graduated filters and neutral density filters, though not all are quite as essential today with digital imaging and the best photo editing software.
The most expendable filter type is the graduated filter. These are designed to tone down bright skies for a more balanced exposure with the landscape, but as long as you take care to choose an exposure that doesn’t blow out the sky (raw files will give you more leeway), it’s easier to do that later in software than it is to try to juggle handfuls of filters.
Polarizing filters are more useful, but not always essential. They are known for making blue skies richer and deeper, but you need to watch out with wide-angle lenses because the polarizing effect will not be even across the sky. This is something else that’s often easier in software.
However, polarizing filters can also cut reflections from vegetation and water, increasing overall saturation and making the bottoms of rivers and lakes, for example, more visible. This is an optical effect you can’t reproduce digitally.
ND, or ’neutral density’ filters are perhaps the most useful. All they do is cut down the light entering the lens so that you can use long exposures of many seconds, even in bright daylight. You will need a tripod for this. The long exposure will blur clouds and water for that ‘silky’ look so popular in landscape photography right now.
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If you’re going to use all this gear for your landscape photography you’ll need a backpack to carry it around in. For urban photography or travel, we might also recommend a shoulder bag for faster access to your gear, but n landscape photography, where you’re often walking some distance to your location, the extra capacity, load-bearing capability and comfort makes a backpack a much better choice.
If you’re taking a tripod, choose a backpack with external straps or pockets designed to attach it securely or, if you have an especially compact travel tripod, you might even be able to fit it inside.
Most backpacks are weatherproof to some degree, but some come with fold-away rain covers for when the weather really closes in.
6. What about a drone?
The best camera backpacks don’t just make carrying a lot of gear over long distances more comfortable, the larger ones have space for drones, controllers and other accessories too.
Drones have become very popular amongst landscape photographers for overhead views and perspectives and shooting positions you can’t reach, and not just for stills photography but video intros too. You will need to make sure that you’re allowed to fly a drone at your chosen location, and strong winds may be too much for lighter consumer drones like the Mavic Mini. Drones use a lot of power, so make sure you take spare batteries, which we cover in our final section.
For today’s digital photographers, batteries are a constant pre-occupation, especially with mirrorless models. If you’re having to travel some distance to get to your shooting location, it would be crazy not to take spare batteries.
A portable power bank is another alternative since the best power banks can contain enough power to recharge a camera battery several times over. But charging takes time, and some older cameras don’t support USB charging at all. A portable power bank is a good fallback, but it’s not as quick as just swapping out a battery.
Spare memory cards are a good idea too. Maybe you use larger capacity memory cards you’re never going to fill up? Even here, though, memory cards can get corrupted or just stop working. It’s rare, but it’s typically at the worst possible time.
The great outdoors can be messy, muddy and wet, so take a selection of cleaning materials too. A microfiber cloth is handy for wiping down cameras and lens barrels, but proper lens cloths or wipes are best for optical surfaces.
Cameras and lenses can generally shrug off a little light rain or spray, but you don’t want any on the lens because that will spoil your shots. So our final tip is to take a lens hood and use it. These are designed to reduce flare from bright light (like the sun) just outside the frame, but they also help shield the front of the lens from rain.
So that’s our roundup of everything you need for landscape photography. We hope we haven’t forgotten anything. You will probably have your own ideas about some extras, such as a thermos full of hot tea and some snacks. No landscape photography expedition is complete without snacks.
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