My favorite type of photography is landscape photography — I love the peace and quiet of being in the great outdoors, the ever-changing moods of the clouds and the light, and the challenge of capturing the beauty in a photograph.
I’ve been traveling the world and shooting landscapes full time for six years now, and today I’m going to share with you the equipment you need for landscape photography. You’re also welcome to check out my full travel photography gear guide for more information.
All images in this post via Laurence Norah of Finding the Universe
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer — obviously, you’re going to need a camera! The main thing is to use a camera that you are comfortable with and know how to use properly. Check out the manual, learn the functions of all the buttons and dials and get comfortable with the process for changing lenses.
Lenses and hoods
Personally, I like to get as much of the landscape in as possible, so I like to shoot with a wide-angle lens. On my full-frame camera, that’s currently a 17-40mm lens. Previously, when shooting with a crop sensor Canon, my favorite lens was a 10-22mm ultra-wide.
However, landscape photography is not exclusively about getting the wide shots. Sometimes focusing in on the small details with a longer lens can reap huge dividends, which is why I also travel with a 70-200mm lens.
Weight is, of course, a consideration — and a major reason mirrorless cameras are so popular at the moment — so I’d advise only taking what you think you will need for the shot. Focus in on one style of photo for each shoot rather than trying to capture everything in one go.
Finally, don’t forget to bring (and actually use) your lens hood, if you have one. So often I see people with their lens hood just on the camera in the storage position, which offers no practical value. Lens hoods don’t just stop errant sun rays from causing unwanted flare effects — they also protect your lens from rain or waterfall spray.
Landscape photography is where lens filters come into their own. In addition to any clear UV filters you already use for protection, I suggest traveling with two types of filters: a polarizing filter and a set of neutral density filters.
A polarizing filter is fantastic for giving skies a gorgeous, rich blue color, as well as emphasizing clouds. Take a look at this split image of the same scene, with the polarized version on the right.
A polarizing filter also cuts out reflections, which can make for much more interesting water shots. The effects of a polarizing filter are very hard to replicate in post-processing.
Neutral density filter
The other type of filter I recommend traveling with is a neutral density (or ND) filter — ideally a set of them. Neutral density filters are designed to cut the amount of light that enters the camera, allowing you to get more creative. You can experiment with things like shooting longer exposures even in daylight — great for achieving beautiful shots of waterfalls even in the daytime.
ND filters are rated by how many stops of light they block out. I travel with a kit that includes a 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop filter. The latter is the one I use most often, as it allows for really long exposures even in the middle of the day.
A tripod is, without a doubt, the most important bit of equipment to have in your landscape photography kit.
Landscapes often require wide depths of field, which means shooting at narrow apertures, from f/8 – f/16. Those narrow apertures mean less light comes into the camera, meaning you either shoot at higher ISO ratings or slower shutter speeds.
Shooting at higher ISO ratings is inadvisable, as your photos will start to look noisy. Instead, you want to shoot at lower shutter speeds, and obviously, this means your camera needs to be steady to get sharp results.
If you start dabbling in longer exposure photography, you are also going to need a tripod to hold the camera steady for seconds or minutes at a time.
There’s a wide range of tripod options out there. Currently, I shoot with the VEO range from Vanguard, a travel-specific series of ultra-light tripods that aren’t too expensive. My favorite is their carbon fiber model. Make sure that whichever tripod you invest in is capable of holding your gear, is sturdy enough to withstand a bit of wind and isn’t going to be so heavy that you’ll never take it anywhere.
Remote shutter release
Another essential piece of landscape photography equipment is the remote shutter release. This is a device that allows you to trigger the shutter button remotely without having to press the shutter button itself.
This removes the slight movement caused by pressing the button on your camera, resulting in sharper images. Remote shutter releases’ bulb function is usually the only way to create exposure times longer than the 30 second–maximum that most cameras allow in manual mode.
If you have a more modern camera, it may have Wi-Fi built in, and you might find that there is a smartphone app for remote shutter releases. Just be aware that running Wi-Fi on your camera and smartphone can be a real battery drain.
Spare batteries and memory cards
Speaking of battery drain, I always travel with at least one spare battery for my camera. While my DSLR can last for a long time on one battery, I’d hate to miss a shot because I run out of juice! Cold weather conditions, in particular, can reduce battery life significantly, as can shooting with GPS or Wi-Fi enabled.
Memory cards are the same, but with such large capacities now available, I find that a pair of 64GB SD cards will last me for many days, even shooting in RAW.
Waterproof camera bag
The weather doesn’t always work in our favor, and in fact, I prefer shooting moodier, cloudy skies. Unfortunately, these also bring poor weather, so a high-quality waterproof camera bag is an essential bit of equipment, even if your camera is weather-sealed.
I also travel with a collection of ziplock bags. These are very cheap, light and inexpensive, and I can easily stuff my gear into them in an emergency.
This one should be obvious, but if you are heading out on a prolonged shoot, make sure you have the right clothing for potential weather conditions. In many parts of the world, the weather can change very quickly, so being prepared is important. Wet-weather gear, gloves, a hat — make sure your packing list reflects the possibilities before you!
Smartphone with apps
I always have a smartphone on me, and from a photography perspective, there are two apps that I love. One is a paid app called The Photographers Ephemeris, or TPE, (available for both iPhone and Android). This app shows you the direction and time of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset for any location in the world. This is incredibly useful for picking the right location for your photography.
The other app I use all the time is Google Maps, to help me get around. This is free, and you can load maps onto it before you set off to save your data costs and battery life.
A sense of adventure
Finally, the best landscape photographers need to have a sense of adventure! Finding a spot might require you to get a bit off the well-trodden path and head to new, different locations. You might also need to endure bad weather or poor light. My best shot of a lightning storm resulted in my tent being washed away and my having to spend a sleepless night in my SUV as the campsite around me flooded. I’d not advise putting yourself in danger, of course, but being prepared for a little bit of adventure will certainly help!