What’s the best landscape photography gear? What gear do you need to take stunning landscape photos?
In this article, I share with you my 10 most essential gear items – items that I use all the time in my own landscape photography, and items that I highly recommend you purchase if you’re after the best landscape shots.
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. The internet
Whenever I plan a landscape photography photoshoot, I usually begin by googling the area. If it’s a relatively well-known location, you will probably find some very interesting, comprehensive websites made by other photographers or adventurers/bloggers.
The problem is that if it’s a famous location, you will also get a ton of not-so-interesting (and even incorrect) information, as well. 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, reading a few sentences of a blog will clue you in as to whether or not the information you’ve found is worth considering.
If you can’t find two or three really good blogs about 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.
2. A strong backpack
When it comes to landscape photography gear, a backpack is absolutely essential – and it’s not a good place to go cheap. You get what you pay for, and it’s very important you use a strong, water-resistant bag, one with reinforced padding.
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.
3. A weather-sealed camera
Eventually, you’re going to drop a camera. It happens to the best of us (at least, that’s what everyone told me the first time I dropped a camera!), especially those of us who shoot in less-than-perfect weather conditions.
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 that camera could survive being run over by a small truck. A perfect companion for the clumsy beginner that I was back then.
Also 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 will tear easily and won’t stay put in windy conditions. Instead, get a cover that is heavy duty because one good coat will last a long time, and they aren’t too pricey.
4. A sturdy tripod
A tripod is an item you don’t want to mess around with. In fact, this is the one item more than any other that I would recommend you consider really splurging on.
Why? A tripod is designed to keep your camera steady, to handle poor footing out in the muddy, rocky, sandy wilderness, and to 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. Spending a few extra bucks goes a long way toward having a more stable, secure setup.
To find an excellent tripod, check out Really Right Stuff, Manfrotto, Gitzo, and Feisol. In my opinion, you should strongly consider carbon fiber tripods over aluminum; they’re lightweight, and 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 can have the finest camera, tripod, backpack, memory cards, and accessories available – but if you don’t have quality glass, you’ll seriously struggle to take a great 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 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, 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.
But here’s my suggestion: Before buying any lens, prime or zoom, rent it first. Because you can’t know how the lens will work for you until you use it in various situations.
6. A reliable remote trigger or shutter release
Remote triggers are often overlooked by landscape photographers. But I firmly believe that a remote trigger 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 no matter how securely fastened the camera is to the tripod, this will introduce some shake.
So if you want a tack-sharp image, don’t let anything touch the camera. Get your setup as steady as a concrete slab.
Instead of pressing the shutter button with your finger, invest in a reliable remote shutter release. They aren’t expensive, and 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 stick with just a few basic filters I always travel with.
A circular polarizer
A polarizing filter helps mitigate the nasty, harsh reflections of the sun off shiny objects such as water and wet rocks. Using a circular polarizer is easy; you simply turn the filter until you see the glare disappear.
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.
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.
For example, a 3-stop ND filter allows through three stops less light than you’d get without the filter attached. A 5-stop ND filter will allow five stops less light, and so on.
For the serious landscape photographer, I’d recommend carrying a 2-stop, 3-stop, and 10-stop ND filter. If you want to do some long exposure waterscape work, the 10-stop filter will help make the water silky smooth. You can also stretch out clouds or turn people into invisible ghosts with ND filters.
A graduated neutral density filter
GND filters are similar to ND filters, but only the upper portion of the filter is darkened. And the darkening effect is gradual, starting strong at the top and getting darker as you move toward the middle:
When would you need a GND filter?
Generally, in sunrise and sunset situations when the sky is brighter than your foreground. You can use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the horizon while keeping the foreground nice and bright.
In other words, a GND filter balances the light from the brighter horizon and the darker foreground.
A reverse graduated neutral density filter
A reverse GND filter is like a standard GND, except the tint gets darker as you move from the outer edge of the glass toward the middle.
When would you use a reverse GND filter? They’re great for shooting sunrises and sunsets where the horizon line is the brightest area of the frame and the sky gets progressively darker as you move upward.
A UV or clear filter
I want to do everything I can to protect my lenses from wear and tear.
So I always have a clear or UV filter on the front of every lens I own.
This does nothing to help improve the photograph, but it does a great job protecting the front lens element from dirt and dust, or from me walking into a door lens-first, which has happened more times than I prefer to admit.
8. Extra batteries and memory cards
Always, without exception, carry an extra battery for your camera, an extra memory card, and extra batteries for other battery-powered devices.
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 the one time when you do want them and wish you had thought to pack them.
9. The Photographer’s Ephemeris
The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a clever 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, this app is a must-have.
10. 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 especially holds true on longer hikes, so invest in a good pair of hiking boots. 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 buy the gear you need. Then get out, have fun, and start shooting!
What do you view as essential landscape photography gear? What gear do you always take with you when shooting landscapes? Share your thoughts in the comments below!