I have been doing landscape photography for many years now although I have only started to take it more seriously in the last few years, there has been a lot of trial and error along the way including lack of vital equipment, I thought it would be useful to share some of the essential equipment and planning when embarking on a landscape photography outing.
When taking landscape shots a tripod is essential, it stabilises the camera which means you will get sharp photos at slower shutter speeds, invariably with landscapes you want the image to be sharp front to back which means smaller apertures and slower shutter speeds, sometimes you will want to force slower shutter speeds to capture cloud movement or water movement so your camera needs to be steady.
Not only will a tripod help you keep the camera steady but it will help you keep it level, I am sure we have all seen photos with wonky horizons, a lot of tripods do have spirit levels built in so you can make sure it is level or there are other ways I will get to later.
Always make sure your camera is well secured, the tripod is stable and be especially careful in windy conditions I say this because I have experienced a strong wind blowing my camera over which resulted in a very costly lens repair even still it could have been a lot worse. Some tripods have hooks on the centre column so you can hang you camera bag off it giving more stability.
Remember when buying a tripod make sure it is not to heavy and is quick and easy to set up, I will do a separate article on tripods soon.
Remote shutter release
Even on a tripod the act of pushing the button can cause camera movement so a remote shutter release will help eliminate this, these come in many forms cabled, Infrared, radio etc. A simple cable one can be bought for less than £10 and usually will support 3 modes i.e. half push for focus, full push to take the picture and locked push which is useful for long exposures when the camera is set to bulb mode.
There are more advanced remote shutter release cables which allow you take multiple shots with delays between each one, fix the shutter speed in bulb mode etc, these are more expensive, require batteries and are bulkier, I have both but tend to use the cheaper one the most.
A shutter release cable will stop you physically moving the camera when you press the button however with a DSLR even the movement of the mirror can cause camera shake, to overcome this there is mirror lockup mode which lifts the mirror prior to the exposure being taken.
If you don’t have a shutter release cable then the camera’s self timer function can also be used, sometimes it is necessary to use the self timer anyway with a shutter release cable especially if you are casting a shadow in the picture.
Pictured above an advanced remote (left) and a simpler 3 mode remote.
Hot shoe spirit level
Even though my camera has an electronic level built in and my tripod has spirit levels built in I still use a hot shoe spirit level, these can be bought for a few pounds and will work in landscape and portrait mode.
A level horizon makes all the difference to the final photo, you can correct wonky horizons in post processing but in doing so you will lose part of the image, the amount will vary depending on how much you need to straighten it by.
Pictured above a hot shoe spirit level, I ordered two of these off a well known auction site.
These are optional but generally filters will help you achieve a more accurate reproduction of what your eye sees, your eye has more dynamic range and is better at balancing the light on dark parts of the image, remember your eye and brain is an exceptional piece of engineering which the camera cannot achieve.
I said these were optional but in honesty filters are a landscape photographers friend.
I plan on covering filters in more detail in a future article however I personally use a circular polariser (reduces reflections, enhances colours and blues of skies), ND Grads (balances bright skies against darker land or vice versa) and ND filters (Slows down shutter speeds for cloud and water movement).
Cloths and Brushes
This is something that is easily overlooked, invariably you will notice dust on your lens in which case a brush with a blower is the quickest and safest way of cleaning this off, rain drops on your lens will ruin good photos so a lens cloth is essential here and a good lint free soft cloth for drying and cleaning your camera when out in the field is essential.
If you do use a cloth on your lens always take great care by being gentle and ensuring the cloth is clean and contains no sand, dirt or grit that could scratch the lens.
A cloth to cover the top of your filters when doing long exposures is a good idea, this will prevent light leaking in and ruining the image. Most camera straps do also incorporate a cover for the view finder as well to prevent light leaking through there also.
A cloth and a brush, the cloth doubles up as a gray card for setting a custom white balance.
Spare batteries and Memory Cards
Always make sure your batteries are fully charged and you have spares, remember if it is cold batteries will discharge quicker than in warm conditions.
I always take way more memory cards than I need as you never know what you are going to see, a protective case for your cards is a good idea, a good tip here is to put your unused memory cards in face up and used ones face down so you know at a glance the next available card.
An aluminium memory card holder, this will hold 8 SD cards and offers excellent protection, similar ones are available for CF cards.
A good comfortable camera bag is a must especially if you have to carry you camera for a short or long distance, it needs to be strong, well padded to protect your camera gear should you drop it or slip over, have easy quick access and be shower proof. A lot of camera bags have built in rain covers and tripod holders as well.
I have three different camera bags that I use depending on how much camera gear I have to carry.
Camera bags come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, fortunately the major manufacturers have good guides on their websites to help you choose the right bag.
My camera bag after returning from a landscape trip on Exmoor this week, everything I needed is quickly accessible.
Whether you’re on the beach or in a field it can be a bit mucky so a bin liner is handy to lay on the ground for either you to kneel on or to place your camera bag on, you can even bring two as they don’t take up much space.
Boots, clothing, food and drink
A good set of comfy walking boots and or wellies depending on how mucky where you are going is are essential, I tend to drive in ordinary shoes and change them when I get to my location.
If it is going to be cold make sure you have suitable clothing and wear plenty of layers with a hat, gloves, a good coat and waterproof leggings, thermal socks (if it is really cold), you want to enjoy this and take your time so make yourself comfortable.
Make sure you have plenty of water to drink and food if you are planning on being out for a while, if you are going to a local pub or café make sure they are open on the day you are going and what the opening times are and the times they serve food.
Know your equipment
Spend time getting to know your equipment whether it is the operation of the camera or the tripod, the last thing you want as the sun is rising or setting is to be mucking around trying to get everything set up correctly, you should be well ahead of the game here so you can react accordingly to additional photo opportunities.
When it comes to the camera you don’t want to be shooting in Auto mode, get to know manual mode and then look at aperture priority, shutter priority, exposure compensation and the histogram. Auto mode doesn’t know what you are trying to achieve with your photograph only you know that, look up some of the professional landscape photographers in your area a lot of them do training including one to ones which whilst they aren’t cheap they are extremely valuable and will get you off to a very good start, a lot of them will ask you beforehand what you want to learn and tailor the training to your needs.
I still attend training sessions and one to ones as it is good to mix with other photographers and there is always plenty to learn.
One final thing worth considering is to carry any special tools that are supplied for adjusting any of your camera gear, I got caught out recently when my tripod head was slumping forward with the weight of the camera, I did manage but on returning home and after referring to the manual it turned out that I needed to tighten it up with a hex key that was supplied with the head, I will be carrying this in future so lesson learnt!
Do plenty of research on the area, if you are travelling a long way try and work out multiple photographic locations and plan them accordingly for example location A is great for sunrises location B is best mid-morning. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts and have a plan b for example if it is cloudy it will be a good black and white subject or I will go to the woods or do some river photos.
Look at other people’s photos on the internet for ideas and inspiration, look at how accessible the location is and plan your route.
If you are in the area prior to your landscape shoot then take some test shots you can review when you get home, it doesn’t matter what camera this is on it is to get an idea of what is around.
This is the most important thing don’t take unnecessary risks, there have been countless tragedies in the last few years where photographers have fallen off cliffs or been washed out to sea, always respect the power of nature and don’t go out in dangerous conditions.
Always have a mobile phone with you and tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back, you can always phone them and let them know if you are going to be later.
If it is an area you are unfamiliar with then always take an up to date map and compass, research the area and any potential dangers for example mud you can get stuck in, boggy ground or firing ranges.