A Guide to Accessories for Landscape Photography

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More than just cameras and lenses, landscape photography is about being prepared, being able to get to the place you need to go, and being able to bring everything you need with you. Unlike studio photography, landscape photographers need to compile a select kit of tools they can carry into the outdoors. Portability is a premium, however; so is stability, accuracy, and precision—sometimes a heavy tripod is necessary, and other times maybe you can forgo the tripod entirely for a day of handheld shooting. Regardless of what is necessary to pack for a day, week, or even month of shooting, balance, and sometimes compromise, should be kept in mind. Sometimes it’s the accessories that can round out your shooting kit, and really make your cameras and lenses fulfill their maximum potential.

Tripods

We’ll start with the most commonly thought-of accessory for landscape photography: a tripod. Since long shutter speeds and small apertures will often be the norm for shooting traditional landscapes, a tripod would be the third leg in this equation. Without going too deeply into the seemingly endless pool of tripod options, there is a handful of considerations especially pertinent to landscape shooters.

Beginning with carbon fiber versus aluminum; for me, the answer is always carbon fiber. Especially if you will be hiking while shooting, the weight savings on a carbon fiber tripod is immensely helpful. Also, if you’re shooting in very hot or very cold temperatures, carbon fiber is significantly easier to handle in extreme temperatures. There are also claims that carbon fiber damps vibrations more effectively than aluminum, but in practice, I think the weight and handling attributes are the real selling points over aluminum. Folded length, maximum height, and leg sections are the next pieces of information to consider. In an ideal world, there would be a three-section tripod that folds down to 18" and extends up to 60". Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. You have to prioritize the most desired attributes, depending on your situation. If you’re backpacking or traveling on an airplane, a shorter folded length may be more welcome than a taller extended length. If fitting the tripod into a pack is not a concern, then a taller extended length can help achieve higher perspectives and is more flexible when positioning your tripod on steep slopes.

Sirui T-025X Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head

Tripod heads

Similarly, endless in options and personal preferences, tripod heads are the second component to a complete tripod setup, and in many ways are equally, if not more, important than the legs themselves. A tripod head is something you will be interacting with much more than the legs most times, and affords you more precise control over how the camera is positioned. For landscape shooters, there are two main schools of tripod heads: ball heads and pan/tilt heads (which typically extends to include geared heads). The differences between the two mainly boil down to preference: many prefer the speed and intuitiveness of a ball head, whereas others prefer the precision and independent axis control of a pan/tilt head, which is further magnified by the slow and exacting control of geared heads. Neither design is universally better than the other; the key is to learn which style you prefer and then to seek out the features and weight requirements you need in a head.

Manfrotto 405 Pro Digital Geared Head

Light meter

Yes, it’s true—all modern digital cameras have a built-in light meter, and a very sophisticated meter, at that. However, there are some instances where a handheld meter can outperform a camera’s internal meter, simply due to flexibility. When working from a tripod, a handheld meter allows you to make precise, selective light measurements without having to remove your camera from the tripod and disrupt your composition. Spot meters are especially beneficial to landscape photographers since they let you take narrower readings of a scene than averaging metering types, which benefits working with distant subjects. And even if you can still get perfectly acceptable readings using an in-camera system in conjunction with reviewing test exposures on your screen, the ability to work with a meter to dial-in your reading can save you time and help you learn how to expose areas properly with great contrast.

Sekonic L-758CINE-U DigitalMaster Light Meter

Filters

Even though most optical filters have been replaced by digital post-processing, there are still a few filters whose results cannot fully be duplicated in a digital process. Chief among these is a polarizing filter, and more specifically for most people’s needs, a circular polarizing filter. These filters reduce non-metallic reflections, such as reflections on a water’s surface, and increase saturation, to make blues and greens punchier. The second type of filter that is often used by landscape photographers is a neutral density (ND) filter and, more specifically, solid ND and graduated ND filters. Solid NDs reduce the overall amount of light entering the lens, which enables the use of longer-than-normal shutter speeds or larger apertures. By increasing your shutter speed, you can blur the movement of water or other moving objects for dramatic effects. Graduated ND filters, on the other hand, are used to balance exposures when one area of a scene is noticeably brighter than another, such as a landscape at sunset, where the sky may be a few stops brighter than the shadowed foreground. With a graduated ND in place, you can make a single exposure to gain the necessary detail in a bright sky without losing all of the detail in the foreground, and vice versa.

Hoya 77mm NXT Circular Polarizer Filter

Remotes and cable releases

Again, pertaining to working atop a tripod, remote shutter releases, or for you film photographers out there, threaded cable releases, are a simple way to help prevent unwanted shake when making a photo. By removing the need for you to physically press and hold—in the cases of long exposures—the shutter button on your camera, you eliminate the possibility of your wavering hands from causing unwanted vibrations during the shot.

Vello FreeWave Plus Wireless Remote Shutter Release for Canon

Odds and ends

Closing up our look at essential accessories are a few additional tools that don’t quite fit into a larger category, but certainly complement a landscape photographer’s kit.

Protective wraps If you’re the type of photographer whose kit doesn’t always conform to or necessitate a structured and dedicated photo bag, protective wraps are a simple and indispensable tool that provide a bit of extra protection for your gear.

Ruggard 19 x 19" Padded Equipment Wrap

Pen and paper Making notes on exposure info, shooting locations, reminders, itineraries, or even for journaling, a paper notebook and a pen or pencil should find their way into every photographer’s bag. A unique option for the outdoor shooter is Rite in the Rain, which produces all-weather paper notebooks and pens for writing in less-than-ideal environmental conditions.

Rite in the Rain Pen and All-Weather Notebook

Extra Power Necessary for almost any photographer, spare batteries ensure you won’t miss a shooting opportunity due to low battery power. Beyond extra individual batteries, another unique option is Tether Tools’ Case Relay Power System, which can be paired with a portable battery bank, to provide continuous, uninterrupted power that is especially well suited to time-lapse and astrophotography applications.

Xcellon 12,000mAh Power Bank with AC and USB Outlets

GPS A bit of overkill for your daily shoots, but critical for back-country and overnight trips, a dedicated handheld GPS navigation system can be essential when working in regions without reliable cell service. Besides being useful for emergency communication, it can also be useful for simply tracking and sharing your location details.

Garmin Montana 680t Handheld GPS

Flashlight If you’re working at night—but also useful for sunrise and sunset shooters, too—a flashlight, or a headlamp, if you want to keep both hands free, or is an obligatory, simple, and indispensable tool for scouting locations in low light or for even searching for that loose memory card in the bottom of your backpack.

Vulta Blizzard 2400 Lumen Search and Rescue LED Flashlight

Aspiring landscape photographers: what else might you want to carry into the field to assist in your image making? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

9 Comments

In the paragraph on Filters, there's a mistake in the text.  It says: "By increasing your shutter speed, you can blur the movement of water or other moving objects for dramatic effects." BUT IT SHOULD SAY: "By DEcreasing your shutter speed, you can blur the movement of water or other moving objects for dramatic effects."  Proof reading...a lost art, I guess! ;-(

I see you what you mean, Henry, but in this case, I think the word "increasing" could go either way depending on context. If you take the word "increase" to mean "add" or "extend" or "lengthen," then we've arrived at the same conclusion that you need to have a longer exposure time to achieve the desired effect, which is stated in the prior sentence.

I have been doing it for a while and have a few suggestions. Working at the outdoors will make your lens and equipment dusty, I will carry a dust blower and a very soft and nice microfiber cloth. When small dots of sand ( like taking pictures at the ebach ) reach your lens and filters always try to remove the sand first with the blower, going straight to the cloth could scratch or mark the glass. Another one, when taking pictures when the sun is almost gone a nice head lamp will make your way back to the camp or to your car easy and more secure. And very important for me is to have a very confortable, light and sturdy backpack, with a place to carry the tripod. Walking at the outdoors with free hands is a most in order to minimize accidents with wet lands, rocks a when climbing. I do not use a light meter, using your camera histogram and knowing to interpret it well can save you to carry an extra item.  If money allows, a GPS watch is great for Geo Locating your panoramic views.  Hope that helps. Best wishes from Mexico City. Roberto.

Hello

A lens hood is most valuable in landscape photography. There are a few cameras that don't need a lens hood for most work. These are an exception.

dan Coakley

If you plan on shooting panoramas, it's useful to have a "nodal point adapter" to avoid parallax errors when images are stitched together in post-processing. I was able to construct one for my Sony SLT-a77 camera.

I like to carry my addon Canon GPS device that runs on AA batteries to help me reconstruct a trip and remind me of where an image was taken.

Dear Sirs,

What would be the total cost for all your recommended items, inclusive shipping to Malaysia.  Tripod carbon fibre is the the choice.

YF Siew,

The easiest way to determine costs and shipping would be to add the items you are interested in purchasing to your shopping cart which can be done by clicking the links provided in the article. Once on the shopping cart page you will have the ability to enter in the country you are looking to ship to which will then show approximate costs and options. Should you need any specific recommendations, or have any further questions please email [email protected].

Carry a large, 5 gallon, plastic bag to put gear( possibly your whole back pack of gear) in case of rain.  Also a small waterproof pad to kneel on in case your on wet terrain and you need to get down to get that shot.

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