Picking the right landscape photography gear – whether you’re a beginner, an enthusiast, or an established professional – can be an overwhelming task. There are dozens of cameras and hundreds of lenses, not to mention thousands of accessories, and choosing the perfect equipment can make a huge difference to your photos.
Fortunately, I’ve been capturing landscapes for quite a few years now, so I’ve been exactly where you are. I know the gear that matters and the gear you should avoid, and in this article, I share with you my 11 most essential equipment items.
So read through this list. And ask yourself, “What am I missing?” Then, if you can, take a trip to the (online) camera store!
Let’s get started.
1. A strong backpack
When it comes to landscape photography gear, a backpack is absolutely essential – and it’s not the place to skimp on quality. You get what you pay for, and it’s very important you use a strong, water-resistant bag, one with reinforced padding. The goal here is to protect your equipment and keep things comfortable, and while protection and comfort may not currently seem like a pressing issue, wait until you spend a day hiking through the forest through a downpour!
So do yourself a favor and invest in a high-quality bag, like the Lowepro Pro Trekker. It will take care of your camera and lenses, and it will last you many years. As you consider different options, pay attention to the size of the bag and how it matches your own cameras, lenses, and accessories. Check user reviews to assess comfort, and see if you can find a durable model that gives you some room to grow.
2. A weather-sealed camera
Every landscape photographer needs a camera, of course, but it’s important that you don’t grab the first (or cheapest) model you encounter. The best landscape cameras tend to feature a large sensor (APS-C can work, but full frame is better), a reasonably high megapixel count, and solid ergonomics. It can also help to buy a camera with a fully articulating or tilting screen; that way, you can capture low-angle shots without getting down in the dirt.
It’s also important to think about weather-sealing. Eventually, you’re going to find yourself working in difficult conditions (e.g., heavy snow). Because adverse weather can make for amazing photos, you won’t want to stop shooting – but unless your camera is adequately protected from the elements, you risk causing serious harm to the electronics.
So make sure you purchase a camera made from durable materials – go for a metal alloy body instead of a plasticky, entry-level camera. My first full-frame DSLR was the Nikon D700, and it would’ve survived anything – even being run over by a small truck.
On a related note, consider investing in a quality raincoat for your lens/camera. I don’t recommend getting one of the cheap, flimsy, clear plastic covers made from recycled sandwich bags; they tear easily and won’t stay put in windy conditions. Instead, get a heavy-duty cover that’ll last a long time. It won’t be too pricey, and it’ll keep you shooting in tough scenarios.
3. A sturdy tripod
When it comes to landscape photography, a tripod is one item you don’t want to mess around with. In fact, it’s the other accessory – along with a backpack – that I recommend you really put a lot of money into.
Why? A tripod is designed to keep your camera steady, handle poor footing out in the muddy, rocky, sandy wilderness, and protect your camera setup from sudden falls. This requires ultra-solid construction – which doesn’t come cheap.
Plus, a flimsy tripod could end up costing you a chunk of cash in repair bills. It only takes one good gust of wind to knock over an unstable tripod. If you buy a nice camera and lens but mount it on an entry-level tripod, it’s like putting old, worn tires on a Ferrari. The car won’t run properly, and it’s dangerous for the rest of the setup.
A good tripod will outlive the rest of your kit, so it’s rare you’ll need to invest in more than one over the course of many years. In my experience, spending a few extra bucks will go a long way toward ensuring a stable, secure setup.
To find an excellent landscape tripod, check out Really Right Stuff, Manfrotto, Gitzo, and Feisol. I’d recommend strongly considering carbon fiber tripods over aluminum models; they’re lightweight, but they’re also ridiculously strong.
Lenses are where the fun begins and your wallet ends.
See, lenses are the single most important piece of landscape photography equipment you can buy. You might have the best camera, tripod, backpack, memory cards, and other accessories available – but if you don’t have quality glass, you’ll struggle to take a sharp photograph.
I typically prefer to shoot with prime lenses as opposed to zoom lenses. Why? Because I want to get as intimate with the scene as possible. With zoom lenses, I tend to get a bit lazy and shoot without adequately working the scene. There is simply no substitute for moving your feet and seeing the composition with your own eyes rather than through the viewfinder. This special perspective is lost if you zoom instead of walking around and considering the scene.
That said, landscape lens choice is pretty subjective. I know plenty of photographers who prefer using zoom lenses; that’s great, and most of the time, the best gear for you is the gear you’re most comfortable with.
Here’s my suggestion: Before buying any lens, prime or zoom, rent it first. You can’t know how the lens will work for you until you use it in various situations, and while user reviews and recommendations are great, your style and preferences are always going to be unique.
5. The internet
Most landscape photography gear is expensive, but the internet is (basically) free, and it can be a huge help when researching locations. Whenever I plan a landscape photography photoshoot, I usually begin by googling the area, and I suggest you do the same. If you’re planning to shoot in a relatively well-known location (e.g., a national park), you’ll probably find some very interesting, comprehensive websites made by other photographers or adventurers/bloggers.
The problem is that, if your location is famous, you’ll also get a ton of not-so-interesting (and even incorrect) information, too. Going through Google results to separate the helpful and high-quality blogs or websites from the crummy ones is an art form. But with a little practice, you’ll be able to quickly evaluate whether the information you’ve found is worth considering.
If you can’t find two or three really good blogs that cover your location, head over to AllTrails. It has a sizeable database of locations that have been hiked, including user reviews of the location and the level of difficulty. If you’re planning to photograph a famous site, Tripadvisor has a good database of information, including nearby places to stay.
With blogs, AllTrails, and/or Tripadvisor, you’ll be off and running (probably with more information than you need). In most cases, the tricky part is searching through everything you find and turning it into an overall plan of action.
6. A reliable remote trigger or shutter release
Remote triggers are often overlooked by landscape photographers, but I firmly believe that a remote makes a big difference.
Without a remote, you have to physically press the shutter button on top of the camera, and no matter how careful you are and how securely fastened the camera is to the tripod, it’ll introduce some shake. Whereas a remote will let you fire the shutter from a distance (even from dozens of paces away, which can come in handy if you want to avoid including your shadow in the frame).
So if you want a tack-sharp image, don’t let anything touch the camera. Get your setup as steady as a concrete slab, then – instead of pressing the shutter button with your finger – invest in a reliable remote shutter release. These aren’t expensive, but they can go a long way toward keeping your photos sharp.
In landscape photography, some filters are almost as essential as good lenses. I’ll keep it brief here and mention a few basic filters I always travel with:
A circular polarizer
A polarizing filter helps mitigate nasty, harsh reflections off shiny objects such as waxy leaves and wet rocks. Therefore, it’s especially useful when photographing fall foliage and scenes involving water.
Using a circular polarizer is easy; you simply mount the filter on the end of your lens, then turn the front element until you see the glare disappear. Note that you’ll lose some light when shooting through a polarizer, but as long as you have a solid tripod, this shouldn’t be a big issue.
A polarizer will also help darken the sky and make it a deeper, richer blue. Some people like that look, and some don’t. I use a polarizer practically all the time when shooting in daylight, and while I don’t necessarily expect you to do the same, I highly recommend carrying one for each of your primary landscape lenses.
A neutral-density filter
An ND filter basically acts as sunglasses for your lens: it blocks some light from reaching the camera’s sensor, thereby slowing down the exposure.
A 3-stop ND filter, for example, reduces the amount of light hitting your camera sensor by three stops. A 5-stop ND filter will reduce the amount of light by five stops, and so on.
I recommend that serious landscape photographers carry a 2-stop, 3-stop, and 10-stop ND filter, though if you’re just starting out, it might make sense to begin with a 10-stop unit and go from there. If you want to do some long-exposure waterscape work, the 10-stop filter will help make the water silky smooth. You can also use a 10-stop filter to stretch out the clouds (depending on the lighting conditions and the wind speeds, of course).
A graduated neutral-density filter
GND filters are similar to ND filters, but only the upper portion of the filter is darkened:
Generally, these filters are handy in sunrise and sunset situations when the sky is brighter than your foreground. You use a GND filter to darken the horizon while keeping the foreground nice and bright; it allows you to capture these high dynamic ranges scenes without losing detail.
That said, good GND filters are expensive, and you can produce a similar result using bracketing and HDR blending techniques. Some landscape shooters prefer to use physical filters, while others prefer to take the HDR route. Both options have their merits, and at the end of the day, it’s really up to you!
A clear or UV filter
I want to do everything I can to protect my lenses from wear and tear, so I mount a clear or UV filter on the front of every lens I own.
A clear filter does nothing to help improve the photograph, but it will do a great job of protecting the front lens element from dirt and dust. (It’ll also protect the lens in case I walk into a door lens-first, which has happened more times than I care to admit.)
Note that there are a lot of poor-quality clear filters out there, so make sure you buy from a reputable brand such as Hoya or B+W.
Always, without exception, carry an extra battery for your camera and extra batteries for any other battery-powered devices (such as your remote release and flash). You don’t want to head out for a lengthy landscape photography adventure only to have your camera die mid-shoot! Modern mirrorless cameras tend to require a lot of battery recharging, so if you plan to spend several days out shooting, consider purchasing a few additional batteries to be safe.
By the way, if you’re bringing along a flash that takes four batteries, take an extra set of four with you. Chances are you won’t need them – but there will always be that one time when you do want them and wish you had thought to include them in your bag!
Memory cards, like batteries, tend to stop working in the most inopportune situations. They can run out of space, they can require formatting, or they can just fail on you. If you’re not prepared, a memory card issue can turn into a trip-ending disaster.
Therefore, make sure you carry at least one extra memory card, though carrying two or more spares is safer. Depending on your shooting habits, it may even make sense to cart around a whole case full of memory cards!
10. The Photographer’s Ephemeris
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a clever little app that accurately details when and where the sun and moon will rise and set. If you’re out chasing sunsets and sunrises for photographs, it’s a must-have.
What’s especially cool about TPE is that you can use it to determine the exact time and location the sun and moon will appear in your compositions – so if you envision a frame that features the moon just above a mountain, thanks to the app, you won’t need to spend hours or days figuring out how to get the shot.
11. A good pair of shoes
No joke. For landscape photographers, having a comfortable pair of shoes is like having good vision. If your feet aren’t comfy, then nothing else matters; you will not be as good a photographer as you would be with comfy feet.
This is especially true if you plan to embark on some longer hikes, so invest in a good pair of hiking boots. Also, make sure the boots strike a balance between breathing well and offering some water resistance.
Essential landscape photography gear: conclusion
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know all about the best landscape photography gear – and you’re hopefully ready to take a few stunning landscape photos of your own!
So figure out which gear you need, and enjoy a shopping trip. Then get out, have fun, and start shooting!
What do you view as essential landscape photography equipment? What gear do you always take with you when shooting landscapes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!