So you’ve got your dSLR, and as portrait is often a scary subject to undertake, landscapes is more accessable, as you don’t need to walk up to a tree or a mountain to ask if it’s ok if you take it’s picture. Well, don’t get the idea that landscape photography is any less complicated as portrait phototgraphy, they’re just different subjects with their own demands, but at least you don’t have to ask to if it’s ok to take a picture of them. But we’re not gonna do a landscape tutorial, I leave that for another day.
What I’ve notice on many forums is that beginners often ask what gear to get when starting out in landscape photography, and as a respons to that I thought i should give you a little help here. This is not meant as set-in-stone rules for what you need to start out, but it’s a great start platform for you to build your landscape gear.
|Holmaholen, Nikon D800, Nikon AF 28mm f2.8D, Kenko Pro1 Circular Polarizer, Formatt Hitech 85 Series 0.6 Hard edge ND-grad.|
What to put in the bag?
– A good comfortable bag
– Cable release
– Graduated neutral density filters (futher on just refered to as ND-grad)
– Standar neutral density (futher on just refered to as ND-filter)
– Circular polarizer
– Spirit level
Do I need to get a high resolution camera like the Nikon D800, some other full format sensor camera or a medium format camera? The answer is no. Any dSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangable lenses will work fine, from a humble entry level camera like the Nikon D3200 to high end camera like the Nikon D800. What camera you choose is all up to you. I’m not gonna go into detail on crop sensor vs full format here as I see no point to elaborate on the pros and cons of the different sensor sizes now, neither will I go into detail on wether Nikon is better than Canon, Pentax, Sony or Olympus. As a beginner/novice most don’t own a full format sensor, or have the experience to judge wether Nikon yields better files or dynamic range than Canon, Pentax, Olympus or Sony. Also, in landscape photography, there is no need for quick auto-focus or a large burst of frames, so many of the pros and cons of the different camera makes falls through. Choose the camera that feel most comfortable in your hands that also offers what you see might be in your bag in the future.
As a novice/beginner, I will advice you to not go for the Nikon D800/E in the beginning, as this camera will put all of your skills, expertice and technique to the max to yield the best images, as well as that you need to buy the best optics you can get. This camera operates more like medium format camera than a normal dSLR like Nikon’s D7100 or D600.
What you can consider when buying a camera is to take a look at a second hand camera. Here you can get much camera with tons of specifications that still is usefull for much less money then you would have to put on the table for new one. This is what I did when I started out. The benefit of buying a second hand camera to cheaper price then a newer camera is that it might give you more money to put into where it counts the most, on good quality glass and a sturdy tripod.
Is there any features that work good with landscapes?
Yes there is, and that is mirror lock-up. In these days of digital there is two kind of mirror lock-up, one is for cleaning the sensor and the other is for exposure. The mirror lock-up for sensor cleaning is not usable for exposure in any way. You will find the mirror lock-up setting on the motordrive of the camera. Most prosumer camera have this feature along with the high end pro cameras. But this feature is not a must have when you start out. If your camera have Liveview, as many cameras have these days, you will get a sort of mirror lock-up feature when using this feature.
Bracketing is another feature that is used in landscapes. It is mostly used when shooting a HDR sequence, but it’s not a must have, as you can easily make the brackets manually either through exposure compensation or setting the shutter 1 stop up or down for each image in the sequence.
Examples of good starter camerabodies:
– Nikon D3200
– Nikon D5200
– Nikon D7100
– Nikon D600
– Nikon D7000
– Nikon D300
– Nikon D700
Since I use Nikon, this is the manufacture I would recommend, but if you like Canon, Pentax, Sony or Olympus, you should aim for models from these manufactures that is the competitor to the Nikon models I’ve mentioned.
Do I need to spend a lot of money on fast glass, or does my kit lens hold for a start?
The kit lens will in many cases do just a good of job as a fast high end zoom in the beginning. What is most important is that the lens does not have a rotating front. Lenses with a rotating front will make the use of filters (which we will talk about later) more problematic, especially the circular polarizer. So why is it important to get good quality glass? The reasons is many, from greater quality in optics with less distortion than a kit lens, faster f-stops that will make it easier to work in low light, and the build quality. But when you start out you should aim for a good quality lens (within your budget) with the focal length that is most suited for landscapes.
So what focal lengths should I choose?
As landscapes tend to favour the wide angle, a good kit lens that covers the focal range of 28-75mm or 28-105mm on full format sensor is great place to start. For those of you who use a crop sensor camera, that would be around 17-55mm/17-75mm. Also, there is less need for a lens that is fast like a continous f2.8 through the entire zoom-range, so a variable f-stop lens will do, as in landscape we mostly use aperatures of f8-16 to yield a larger depth of field (sharpness from foreground to background).
Examples of Lenses:
Crop sensor lenses
– Tamron SP 10-24MM F/3.5-4.5 Di II
– Tamron SP 17-50MM F/2.8 Di II
– Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro (OS)* HSM | C
– Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC (HSM)
– Tamron SP 28-75mm F/2.8
This is where you should invest the most in the start besides optics. What you should look for in a good tripod is that the entire tripod set-up will hold the maxium weight of your gear and some extra. This mean that tripod legs must support the weight of you heaviest lens, flash, camerabody, and tripod head combined. Let say that if the camera weighs 0,6 kg/1.3 lb, the lens weighs 0,4 kg/0.9 lb, the flash weighs 0,4 kg/0.9 lb with batteries, and the tripodhead (ballhead) 0,4 kg/0.9 lb, the tripodlegs must at least support 6 kg/13.2 lb of weight, and the tripod head must support at least 4 kg/8.8 lb of weight, making the tripod support a total of 4 kg/8.8 lb of gear (one always reads the weight from the least supportive number of the tripod (if the head support 12 kg/26.4 lb, but the legs only support 8 kg/17.6 lb, the tripod will support 8 kg in total)). As rule of thumb you should choose a tripod setup that support the double of cameragear.
There are many types and materials to choose from, so what to choose?
Well, this depend really on how serious you want to go with your photography. There is no need to buy an expensive carbon fibre tripod legs and an expensive ball head, if you just do your photography on your days of, as a recreational activity. What you should aim for is a tripod that will allow you separate movment of the legs, that extend to roughly eyelevel, and that is fairly light enough to carry over longer periods, but is also sturdy enough to don’t fall over in the slightest case of wind. Choosing a flimsy tripod or a to heavy tripod will often make you drop out using it, so put some good thoughts into it. Also having a tripod with suportstruts that extend out from centercolum will make it cumbersome and ustable to use in the field as the landscape is NOT a level and even ground.
What head to chose?
The first I thing I will recommend is that you go for a tripod set-up that allows you to chose legs and head separate from each other. Since many of us is different, what is right for me, is not right for the next guy. So my advice here is that you try both a ballhead and a 3-way head to see what feel most natural to you. Neither is better than the other. Many choose a ball head as this type is easy to set up and makes it easy to quickly change position of the camera. 3-way heads is more bulky and slow to set up compared to a ballhead, but makes it easier to switch position of just one axies compared to a ballhead, and is also easier to use for panning if you do wildlife photography.
There is also one more thing to think about when you choose a tripodhead, and that is the mountingplate. Some are universal like the Acra-Swiss type and others are specific to the manufacturer. Ballheads comes with either of the mountingplates, and there is small differnces in the price between the two. My advice here would be to go for the Acra-Swiss type of mountingplate as this opens up to use third party mountingplates like L-brackets and nodalplates for panoramawork.
With 3-way head, most have manufacturer’s own style of mountingplate along with a quick release system. This is ok if you can get mountingplates seperate for use with longer lenses like the 70-200mm f2.8. Then you can have one plate permanently attached to the camera and one for the lens-collar. There are also some 3-way head that is set up with Acra-Swiss type mountingplate, but these are more expensive then the majority of 3-way heads.
Depending on your wallet, there is also some other heads that is not specific ballhead or 3-way head, but build on the consept of either system, like Manfrotto’s gear heads. Such head are also more expensive then the simple ballhead or 3-way head.
What else you should consider when buying a tripod is a means of leveling the tripod (not the camera) which will be important if you want to do stiched panoramas. Also a level tripod makes it easier to level the horison when the camera is mounted (use a separately spirit/buble level on the camera (either electronically built in to the camera or hotshoe mounted)) .
Redged RNB-1 Ballhead with an Acra-Swiss type attachmentplate.
Giottos MH-5001 3-way head with a quick release plate.
Examples of tripod set-up
– Giottos MTL-9251 B / Giottos MH-5001
– Giottos MTL-9251 B / Giottos MH-1302
If you do landscapes, filters is gonna be your bread and butter. But there’s a jungle out there of filters, rangeing from the humble U/V filters, warm up filters, ND, ND-grads to coloured graduated filters and effect-filters, and to get all is gonna cost you a fortune, not to say that the majority of these is no longer need as we can do much of the same digitally. This have also spawned the talk that one no longer need filters. Some is valid, and some is misleading. I’m not goning to go indepth into what can be done digitally as there is loads of tutorial available out there on the web. What I’m going to focus on here is what filters you need, as these is either impossible to recreate digital or is harder to get right digitally.
Filters come in both screw-in and squares. Screw-in types is most common with U/V and polarizers (also some varible strength ND-filters), and is connected as the name implies, screw into the front of the lens. Square filters need a filterholder and lens adapter to be fitted to the lens.
First of is the polarizer. This is a filter that is not possible to do digital as this is filter that “manipulate” the physics of the light it self. What this filter does is more than just make skies dark blue, it also cut glare and haze with the benefit of more saturated colours. The filter also reduse reflections on non metallic surfaces, such as water or glass. So this is a filter that you really want to get for your gear, and if you ask me, should be the first filter to buy. Also an added benefit is that the filter also works great as 2 stop ND-filter.
Then there’s the U/V filter. I didn’t mention it in the list since it’s more up to each photographer if they want to use it. The filter has little effect to the picture these days than it had compared to film. Now it’s mostly used to protect the front element of your lens from dust, scratches or salt and sea spray, and that is what I use them for. I personally shoot much along the coast (I live on the westcoast of Norway, with much rain and wind), and the U/V filter helps to shield the front element against seaspray and salt. If you need this filter, is as I said, up to you, but if you shoot near the coast or in the desert where sand and dust is likely to hit your lens front element, then get it. If not, you can leave this out.
Another filter that makes exposure easier is the ND-grad filters (is not for use to make the milky type watereffect, that is the ND filter). These filters is designed to hold back the exposure of skies or other parts where you have higher exposure latitude then what the sensor is capable of capturing. What this filter is mostly used for is to hold back the exposure of the sky. Yes, this is a filter that one can replicate digital, but to get this right digital one must either shoot two images or do it as HDR-shot. Both of these options has their cons compared to get it right in camera. Many think that they can do it digital with either Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw or via layers in Photoshop, but this is limited because if you have burned out highlights, there is no way to regain this information in post production. So to either get this right, one need to shoot one image for the forground and one image for the background, and this takes time in the digital darkroom to mask and align. The other way is HDR (High Dynamic Range), but this also takes time in the digital darkroom, and present the problem with ghosting (part of the image where an object have moved between frames). My view is that one should spend less time tied to the computer trying to make the images work, when it’s easy to fix in the field. Another problem with exposureblending and HDR is that the images need to be aligned, so this makes handholding a problem. Also if you have long exposures, there is a bigger chance that the images is not going to end up align in the post prossess, and have the precence of ghosting as mentioned earlier.
But there is almost an entire forest of ND-grad available, so what to get when one is starting out. Galen Rowell had a good rule of thumb there (Galen Rowell was also one of the photographer to make ND-grad popular again), and that is to get a three stop soft edge and a two stop hard edge.
Soft edge? Hard edge? Yes, ND-grad comes in two versions, one where the gradation is hard and have a hard transition between the filtered part and the non filtered part. These types is good where you have a clear horizon, like when you shoot by the sea where the horizon is a clear line. The other type has a soft gradation of the filtered part and also the tranistion is very gradual. These work great where you have a non-clear horizon like one would get where you have mountains or treeline “clutter” the horizonline. Personally I use the 2 stop hard edge 80% of the time.
Besides ND-grads, you have standard ND filters. Those filters don’t have a part of the filter that is clear, as you get with the ND-grad, they effect the entire frame. ND filters is used to hold back the exposure when you have need either to shoot with a longer shutterspeed or larger aperature then what is possible with the light at the scene. As with ND-grad, these also comes in different strengths, from 1 stop up to 11 stops. So which to get of these filters. Ideal one should have different strengths, but when you start out, there is no need to invest in large amount of gear, so for start one could use the polarizer to get a two stop ND filter as the polarizer will cut the exposure with around one and half to two stops of exposure. But for daylight photography, this may not be enough to get the effect of a slow shutter speed, so you could combine it with either a second two stop or four stop ND filter which makes a combined exposurecut of either 4 or 6 stop in total.
Formatt Hitech 85 Series Standard ND filter set (0.3, 0.6, 0.9)
Formatt Hitech 85 Series ND-grad set hard edge and soft edge (0.3, 0.6, 0.9)
Kenko Pro1 Circular Polarizer and Hoya Skylight 1A filter.
Flash? Isn’t flash just for portraits and macro work? No, flash also has it’s place in landscapes. A flash is great to use to lift shadows or to put focus on the foreground elements. You don’t need to lug around a big flashgun to get good results. My advice is to get a good second hand speedlight like a Nikon SB-600 or maybe an older one like SB-28. If you don’t need the iTTL-metering for other work, all you need is a flash/speedlight that has around guidenumber of 28. Since the flash/speedlight is not going to be your main light, you don’t need to worry about metering for the flash in the same sence you do in straight flash photography.
There is also some smart bits and pieces to get that will help your landscapes. First of is the cable release/remote release. This can be a cheep bit of gear as many entry level cameras like the Nikon D3200 have an infared sensor which let you use a little remote to fire the shutter. These remotes cost nearly next to nothing, and is made either by the camera makers or third party companies. There is also remote releases that double as an off-camera flash trigger, and as with the cable release comes in both cheep and very expensive versions. Personally I would recommend that you choose both types as it’s a pain in the neck if the remote trigger/cable release is dead and that’s the only option you have to remotely fire your camera. This is based on my own personal experience.
Another piece of gear that will improve your landscapes is a spirit level that connects to your camera’s hotshoe. These are inexpensive bits of gear. They are either a 2 way version or 3 way version.
Filterholder is another piece of gear to get if you choose to use square filters. They are either made of aluminum or plastic. Also they need a lens adapter to be connected to the lens. What type to choose depend mostly on what type/size of square filters you choose.
Formatt Hitech 85 Series Modular filterholder, Formatt Hitech 100 Series 3 slots filterholder with assessoryring, Cokin P-series 3 slots filterholder.
Formatt Hitech 100 Series Wide angle lens adapter, Cokin P-series lens adapter (also fits the Formatt Hitech 85 Series Modular filterholder).
Hähnel Cable release, Nikon Remote release, Hähnel RT-Combo (Remote Trigger for both camera and flash), 2-way bouble level and 3 way bouble level.
When it comes to what bag to choose, there is many things to consider. Should you go for traditional shoulder bag or a backpack/slingtype bag. I personally recommend a backpack for landscapes. To haul a shoulderbag over longer distances will be uncomfortable (believe me, I tried both). But what to consider when you buy a backpack/slingbag?
What to think of first is how much gear are you gonna haul, and by this I mean both camera and personal gear/food/hydration. There are tons of different size and models to choose from, so you should have no problem finding one that suits you, but when you shop around take into account what gear you have, and what gear you will buy in the future. There is no need to buy a new bag every time you expand your gear with some new aditions. So make your self room to expand your gear when you buy a bag. Also try to get a bag that also holds a tripod. To carry your tripod over long distance will take up one hand, and also make bringing the tripod easier if you don’t have to carry it in your hands. Another thing to keep in mind is the entry for the cameragear. Many bags traditionally have the opening in the front, where you place the bag with the back down on the ground. Yes, it makes it easier to put the gear in the bag and put it down in a stable enviroment, but outside it can make it easier to go for a bag that opens in the back like the Lowepro Flipside series. This makes it easier to put down the bag without getting the back moist/wet or dirty in the field. After all, it’s the backside of the bag that goes onto your own back, so if it gets dirty or moist/wet this will be transfered from the bag onto you clothes, and in some cases make the bag uncomfortable on long hauls.
This here is not gear/equipment need to start out in landscapes, but is either to help you on your journey or to be considered.
Yes, an external lightmeter will do the job better then your built in lightmeter in your camera. The built in lightmeter is fine for when you have an even lighting situation, but with landscapes the lighting is very often not even. We’re often faced with high dynamic scenes where the sky is over 2 stops higher then the foreground making us either expose right for the sky or the forground, but either cliping the highlights in the sky or clogging up the shadows. With an external lightmeter we find the exposure of the light falling onto the scene and not the one reflecting of it as with the lightmeter built into the camera. This makes it also easier to figure out what strength of ND-gradfilter needed to compress the dynamic range of the scene.
Also many external lightmeter like Sekonic L-358 and the more advanced L-758D/DR have spotmetering either built in (L758D/DR) or as an optional attachment (L-358). What sets this spotmeter apart from the built in spotmeter of the camera is that they both offer a spotmeasurement of 1º (degree) which is essential if you wish to take a crack at the zone system (an exposure system developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Acher in the 1940’s and 1950’s). The built in spotmeter of most cameras feature a spotmeasurement of around 5º (degree) which is not as precise. Also the degree of the spot depend upon the focal length of the lens attached to the camera, which is not the case with the external spotmeter.
But as I said in the beginning of this section, this is gear that you might want to think about and is not essential to start out. Most cameras will give you descent exposure if you learn how they work.
Apps on our smartphones have come to the world of photography and can really aid us when shooting. I will present you here with the apps I use when I’m on locations or planing a shoot.
The Photographer’s Ephemeris: I use this app as a desktop program to pre-plan where I will shoot. The program/app will let you see how the light will fall onto a scene and provide you with information on sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonfall. The desktop program is based around google maps and is free to download, but the app is not free. Don’t let that put you away, for this program/app is godsend to plan your location, and should be in any landscapeshooter’s arsenal of tools of planing.
Photo Tools: This app is handy for on-site planing and help. It has a large arsenal of tools/aids to help with many problems that one is faced with. It got a very rudimentary ephemeris which will only give you the time of sunrise/sunset at any given location (that you either plot using the gps of the smartphone at the location or by manually ploting the location using gps-coordinates). Besides that there’s also a timer, a stopwatch, sunny 16 exposurechart, flash exposure calculator, checklist for planing shoots, and many other small tools to aid you.
DoF: This is a tool great for maximizing the sharpness of your shoot. With primes you get this scale printed onto the lensbarrel, but zoomlenses don’t have this feature, so this app helps you find the hyper focal point of your chosen focal length based on the camera you use. It also has the option to plot in the circle of confusion of any camera/cropfactor. This is why I recommend this.
Some education goes along way when you want to learn landscapephotography and I’ll give you here some good books that will help you on the way.
Transient Light by Ian Cameron
This book is good inspiration and well written. It covers most of the bases you will encounter in landscapephotography. There is chapters on equipment, exposure, shootingconditions and some on post production, but Ian Cameron uses an analog medium format camera shooting film, so the post production chapter is not that relevant to today’s situation, but the rest of the book is great as what he explains applies to both film and digital.
Digital Landscape Photography by Michael Frye
This book is great if you have a digital workflow. Michael Frye convey the skills needed to capture great landscapes digital in a good and easy way. Great for both beginner and intermediate.
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