This is my third installment in my How to Shoot landscapes section.
In this installment I am going to cover all my Landscape Photography Gear I use to shoot landscapes. What I use, why I use it and how I use it.
With photography you can easily fall in the bottomless pit of buying what you want and not what you need. Myself included. I have some items in my bag that I cant even recall when last I have used it or if I have EVER used it! The fact is we can all get by with way less gear, and in the case of shooting landscapes, less is more, cause if you have to lugg around a heavy bag up some godforsaken mountain you will be swearing like a trooper all the way to the top. So for my general landscape outings I keep it as simple and light as possible. Once you start doing extended trips for a weekend or a week up the mountain or to a remote location, then yes, you will have to pack more as you never know what you might encounter on your trip.
Right, where do you start, I normally do it in this order:
Your clothing is VERY important. You will be exposed to the elements when shooting landscapes so you have to be protected against the elements. Probably one of the best investments you can make is a decent spare of boots. Boots will protect your feet and ankles when you are out there bashing over rough terrain. You don’t want to sprain an ankle half way up the mountain or in some remote location, so make sure your boots can handle the terrain. I own a pair of Keen boots and I must say that it’s probably one of the most comfortable shoes I own. They are waterproof and so far have been bombproof as I don’t go easy on them.
Get a decent set of quick-dry pants and shirts. These quick-dry materials will save you on cold and warm days, as it wicks sweat away quickly so you would most likely not stay wet for long on a hot day and not very cold on a wet day. I own shirts by Columbia and from First Ascent and it has been a great investment. I prefer long trousers and purely the main reason for this is it stops bushes from scratching up your legs while out hiking. The other reason is it is a good barrier between your skin and ticks! It has saved me a few times from being bitten by a tick as they first need to climb into your pants to get to your skin. I prefer long-sleeved shirts as it lends so much more protection from the elements and the bush. Normally these clothing items will also have an SPF rating which would really help against harmful UV rays when out and about. Next is a Buff. This piece of fabric has helped me more times I care to remember, from acting as a sweat band, to a scarf, on hot and cold days, to covering my head from pesky mosquitoes and “miggies” to just keeping warm at night. Wear it in any weather and you will see the benefits from it. Warm jacket, scarf and gloves. These are all essential when shooting in winter, as a decent layer jacket would not only keep you warm, it will also keep out the wind and rain. Last but not least, a wide-brim hat. Why a wide brim, cause it covers everything from the back of your neck, your ears and your face. Having sunburn in the back of your neck or the tips of your ears is not fun.
My iPhone 5 goes with me everywhere. It is as a big part of my photography as is my main camera. On my iPhone I can capture snapshots that would quickly show me if there is a possibility for a good image without having to set up all my gear first. I also post behind the scenes images to my social media while out shooting. But the best part is that I use it mainly in my planning and I use apps like ‘The Photographers Ephimeris’ to plan my locations and shooting times, google maps to get me there and find new places and also apps that help you calculate exposures, calculate your hyperfocal distances and then to help you shoot as well. Trigger trap is a very helpful device that connects your iPhone to your camera and then turns it into a powerful machine with all sorts of features from motion detection to timelapse. I also shoot with a Canon EOS 6D and it has built in WiFi. With this I can connect my iPhone directly to my camera and have full access to my camera to shoot remotely and to view images remotely. I can also download a high resolution JPEG file to my phone to have a quick edit in Snapseed just to see what I can create with the image afterwards.
I am a proud Canon Shooter and I just love their gear. I used to shoot with a Canon EOS 5D MKii and that was my main body for almost 3 years, then when it was time to upgrade I was looking at buying the new Canon 5D MKiii, but it was just out of my pricebracket. I ended up buying the Canon EOS 6D. To say that this was one of my greatest buys is an understatement. I do loads of research before I spend that kind of money on new gear and all the reviews I found looked promising. It is an awesome piece of machinery. It has all the bells and whistles you could ask for and it is smaller and lighter than the 5D MKiii, which is a huge advantage when hiking. In the beginning I was very skeptical as I was used to the age old workhorse the 5D2 but once I started shooting with it I was blown away. It is a sharper camera, it has a way better focussing system than the 5D2, it has better colour rendition and a couple of other small advantages but the one that stood out the most is probably the high ISO capabilities. I can now shoot at very high ISO’s without having to worry about too much noise. This is a huge advantage for night time photography. Two other features the 6D has what most of the other bodies do not have is WiFi and GPS. The GPS helps when you find a new location and want to save it for reference at a later stage. The GPS function joins up with Google Maps in Lightroom and you can clearly see your exact spot you shot from in the maps feature. Now the WiFI, this is probably one of the best features of the 6D, I can connect my camera and phone and shoot it remotely from a distance and I can change all my settings from my phone. I can also see the image on my phone after I took it. This is nice for awkward angles and on those freezing days you can sit in your car and shoot with your camera set up outside. You can also download a high resolution JPEG image to your phone. This can then be edited in an app like Snapseed and you can do sharing from right there on site. This works great if you are on a commissioned shoot and want to show your client if he is not with you. Simply brilliant. Now my 5D is my back up system and a damn good back up system as well. I would often set it up for a time lapse shoot while I am shooting stills with my 6D. Both the 6D and the 5D2 is weather sealed, which has helped me a lot when shooting out in the elements. I have been drenched in rain and spray from waterfalls and not to even mention being splashed by waves and both bodies still work perfectly. So when you choose a camera body for your landscape images, try to buy a full frame body, the advantages is just so much more versus a crop factor body.
Here I travel light and I currently own only 4 lenses. A 17-40 f4 L USM, 24-70 f2.8 L USM, 50 f1.8 and a 70-200 f4 L USM. Of these four my workhorse lenses is the 17-40 and the 70-200. Both of them is super light and deliver amazing results. On most landscape shoots I will just have my 17-40 with me and my 70-200 just incase I can get a different perspective of the scene I am shooting. When I am carrying my whole kit with me the 5D will have my 24-70 lens on, but that is on rare occasions as it is just to heavy to lug around and not use it. The 17-40 gives an awesome wide angle perspective of a scene. To have a good wide angle on a full frame camera body is almost a necessity. You just get the most out of a scene and you get to capture the best detail possible. As with wide angle lenses, there is one important thing to remember, the wide perspective will give you lots of distortion. This is hardly noticeable in wide open landscapes but as soon as you start adding human elements to the scene you have to be very careful with where you place them in the frame. If you place them to close to the edges you will get lots of distortion and people, buildings and structures could look deformed. You will not notice this on things like rocks, bushes or trees(unless the tree has a very straight trunk). On the zoomed in side this lens works great for panorama images. I like to shoot my panorama’s zoomed in to get the least amount of distortion so that I get a seamless stitch in Photoshop. The 70-200 f4 L USM is a magic lens and for all my portrait work this lens is my go-to lens. It is razor sharp and super light so I can easily hike with this lens up any mountain. I use this lens to get a close up of an object or to isolate an object in the frame. It also adds compression to the image and it will make mountains, trees etc seem closer to the viewer. I also use this lens for panorama work as there is hardly any distortion in the images. Then I would also pack the 50mm, but that is only for selected shoots. It is an amazing little lens that is super light and has amzing image quality. The 24-70 is my least favourite of the lenses, its heavy, bulky and when shooting wide open at 2.8 it is not the sharpest glass on the shelf. Now I often shoot my timelapse clips with this or a bit of video footage that I again use at different times.
Top Quality lenses needs top quality filters, and for that I own a set of Lee Filters. This is probably one of the best investments I could have made towards my landscape photography. It has taken my work to the next level. Yes there is times I still shoot brackets to blend in Photoshop afterwards, but these filters has not only cut my editing time drastically but also helped me create better work in camera. I do not own the full set of Lee filters yet. I have found that the ones I do have is more than adequate to do the job at hand. I own a resin soft grad set. The 0.3, which is a one stop darker filter, the 0.6, which is a two stop darker filter and the 0.9, which is a 3 stop darker filter. These can also be stacked up to give an even darker effect. Like you can add a 0.6 and a 0.9 filters to get an effective 5 stops darker effect! I generally don’t go more than 4 unless the exposure difference is so much that more would be needed. Generally i would start out with a 0.6 and see what the effect is, if it is still not dark enough I will go to the 0.9. 95% of the times these two filters will be the ones I use for my images. How do I position the filters when shooting, easy, I use my cameras live view function and then you will see the effect of the filter as you move it up and down in the filter holder. With this technique you will also see if you would need to add another filter to balance out the scene. Then I also use a Lee Big Stopper which is a 10 stop solid glass Natural Density or ND filter. This will cut of the light completely and it will make for some awesome long exposure images. You can easily shoot in bright daylight and get an exposure of more than a minute. Ideal to create the soft effect of water or a waterfall or to blur moving clouds. I am not a huge fan of the Big Stopper as it has quite a heavy cold color cast to the images that could be tricky to correct, but on certain occasions it was a great help. It is definitely a filter for creative type stuff.
I use a Manfrotto tripod and the model I currently own is the 055XPRO Legs and the 804RC2 head. It is an aluminium tripod and it is not the lightest tripod you will find, but when I bought it it fitted into the budget and today, nearly 4 years later it is still my most used item in my kit. It has seen rivers, beaches, rocks, mountains, weddings and studio shoots and it just never fails me. It just amazes me the amount of abuse I have given that thing and it is still working perfectly! At this stage I am looking to get a new tripod and I am looking at a travel system as this one just does not fold up small enough for easy travel. And also to shoot more time lapses while I am shooting stills. I can then mount my 5D on the side and I can shoot still from the other. Invest in a decent tripod, it will be one of your best investments yet.
One thing about camera bags is that you will NEVER have the perfect bag. Something just always does not fit as it should. You will constantly be on the look for a new bag that can work in a different situation. My current kit bag is a Lowepro Pro Runner 450AW backpack. It is big and it holds all my cameras, lenses, flashes and batteries. I use this pack to carry all my stuff in when I am on normal shoots like weddings etc. But for when I am hiking I use a Clik Elite Seeker Waist pack. It fits around my middle and it looks like a big moonbag. In here I can fit my 6D with my 17-40 lens attached, my 50mm, a flash, cable release and a cleaning cloth as well as a spare battery and one or two small odds and ends. In the front zip compartment I can have my gopro and extra memory cards. It has sections on the side where I can attach extra holders such as a lens holder for my 70-200 and a filter pouch on the other side for all my filters. So when I am going on a short outing and that is all the gear I might need, that will be all I take with. Should I go for bit of an overnight hike I can easily use my backpack for packing food and stuff in and have my camera free in its own pouch. So once I am set up at the camp site I can go explore without having to carry the big pack with.
The type of extras I would generally have with me for my landscape shoots is stuff like, extra batteries, cable release, cleaning cloth for wiping dust and spray of lenses and filters, water and a snack of some sort. Something I try to always have with me is a headlamp. Because landscapes does not always get shot during times when it is still light, a headlamp comes in handy to avoid stumbling down a slope or into a ditch while walking back to the car. It also helps when you are doing night shoots as you can use it to paint the subject and to focus your camera in the dark. I highly recommend that you get a decent cable release and if you are planning on shooting exposures longer than 30 seconds, it must have a lock feature as well. Then you can switch to bulb mode on your camera and keep the shutter open for as long as you need.
And there you have it. I try to travel as light as possible as often as possible.
Things I will be looking at adding to this in the future is a new and lighter tripod, a macro lens and a new and better hiking bag to carry my gear and my clothes. Like with all parts of photography, there will always be more things to add to an ever growing list of gear, but for now, I am happy and what I have is producing the goods.
If you liked this article, please check out my new venture called Afriscapes. It is a company dedicated to bringing you some of the best landscape photography in Southern Africa. I am looking forward to seeing all of you guys there.