Useful Equipment for Landscape Photography


useful-equipment-for-landscape-photography

Preface

This article looks at what equipment and accessories is useful for landscape photography. Whether it be photographing close up macros, star trails or capturing a beautiful waterfall, this article will touch on all the equipment needed to photograph those various situations.


In landscape photography, equipment and accessories can be a great aid when used appropriately. Whether that be a head torch for when you’re stumbling out of a location after dark or even using it to light paint a scene. This post will take a look at the various types of equipment and accessories at our disposal while touching on the vital part of landscape photography, you, the photographer.

Shouldn’t landscape photography be relatively straight forward when it comes to gear?

Star trails from the Tasmanian East Coast

Star trails from the Tasmanian East Coast

You would think as far as different types of photography go, landscape photography would be one where minimal equipment is required and a wide lens and camera body is all you need. Compared to say portrait and high end fashion photography where you need prime lenses, good lights and various studio backgrounds and accessories.

While I’m a big advocate of less is best and let’s just get out and shoot, there is quite a bit of equipment that can be useful for landscape photography. There are areas of landscape photography where you might be constrained without the right gear. Whether that being macro photography and requiring a macro lens or an intervalometer for star trail photography. But having the right equipment and knowing how and when to use it is what separates average landscape photographers and great landscape photographers.

Choosing the right camera

Well it goes without saying, a camera might help just a little… Or I guess you could just be one of those people that composes a photo with their hands?
 

Jokes aside, with the evolution of the digital camera we’re lucky that even your basic point and shoots provide some level of manual control over your camera. While this is great news, I’m a big advocate of using the semi manual mode of Aperture Priority.  Using Aperture Priority or AV as it’s referred on Canon cameras, allows you to restrict what aperture your camera will photograph at. So for example, if you want to photograph an image at f/16, it will select an appropriate shutter speed based on this aperture you have defined. Why is this handy?  For landscape photography where it’s important to nail the sharpness, shooting at an aperture that offers great depth of field is key. It’s recommended by those much smarter than I, that this ideal aperture range for landscape photography is around the f/9-f/16 mark.

Ice covered rock pools at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Ice covered rock pools at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

 
Some key points to note when purchasing a new camera:
  • Does it allow for manual control of the aperture and shutter speed?
  • Are you able to change the ISO?
  • Does it allow for long exposure times? For nearly all major cameras this is 30 seconds
  • Does it have a bulb mode (used for exposure times longer than 30 seconds)?
  • Does it have any level of weather sealing? This isn’t a must but a nice to have

If I can give one piece of advice when it comes to camera selection – don’t spend the majority of your budget on a camera body. I’m still happily using my Canon 5D Mark II which is now two releases behind and I have no inclination of upgrading. In the long run, its your lenses and filters that will out live your camera body. I’m still using the same Canon 24-70 that I had when I first started shooting with a Canon 350D 5+ years ago.  So if you can, avoid spending all your bank on a camera body and kit lens. Instead, budget it so you are able to purchase a reasonable camera body but investing in the future with a semi-decent lens.

Lenses for Landscape Photography

As indicated earlier in the post, the lenses used for landscape photography vary considerably to other styles of photography. For portraiture photography where depth of field is key, photographers often opt for a lens that is capable of shooting wide open (i.e. F/1.4). With landscape photography, you are often photographing around the F/11-F/16 range, which reduces the need for a fast lens. This isn’t to dismiss fast lenses as they definitely have their use whether that be for star photography or where there is little available light.


Chasing that golden hour light at Bicheno, Tasmania

Chasing that golden hour light at Bicheno, Tasmania

So why bother investing in expensive pro lenses if you are just going to shoot at F/11-16? The weather sealing provided in more lenses that are expensive provides much more piece of mind when shooting in the varying conditions that you will experience with landscape photography. I’ve had a Canon 17-40 L take a swim at a waterfall and it’s still working perfectly to this day.

In addition to this, your more expensive lenses do provide superior image quality and are capable of shooting at a lower aperture  which is especially useful for shooting stars.

If you are happy to make some trade-offs, cheaper lenses are still very capable of doing the job and shouldn’t be dismissed. Having nice gear in photography does help but it’s not essential. Just look at what people are doing with an iPhone and the avgcampro app. Long exposures captured with just an iPhone. Wow. Don’t feel like your equipment constrains you.

This section will be broken into four categories:

Comparing focal lengths at Rye, Victoria ranging from 24mm to 200mm

Comparing focal lengths at Rye, Victoria ranging from 24mm to 200mm

  • Ultra wide angle lens – The qeuintessential lens for landscape photography offering a wide field of view to capture all the elements
  • Mid-range lens – The perfect walk around lens. Not too cumbersome while offering you a good balance of wideness and zoom
  • Telephoto lens – Longer lens that allows for enlarging distant objects. A favourite for wildlife scenes
  • Macro lens – Great for those close up images of insects or natures footprint

In an attempt to avoid getting too bogged down in the various lens brand debates, this guide will provide a high level view of available lenses. Generally, the key elements described for each lens (focal length, aperture and image stabilisation) are available under different brands however may just differ slightly (i.e. Canon’s 17-40 may be a Nikon 14-27).

Ultra Wide Angle

Shooting with an UWA lens give you the luxury of including much more in your composition

Shooting with an UWA lens give you the luxury of including much more in your composition

Ultra wide-angle (UWA) lenses and landscape photography go hand in hand making it a fantastic landscape lens.  What is an UWA lens and what makes it so great for landscape photography? An UWA lens, depending on if you are shooting with a full frame or crop body, will generally have a maximum focal length of up to 40mm on full frame and 25mm on crop based cameras. UWA lenses are great for landscape photography as they provide more field of view and as an added bonus, give you more depth of field at any given aperture.

Prime or zoom? For me this is personal preference.

Prime lenses can provide better image quality, sometimes be cheaper and allow the benefit of shooting at a wider aperture (i.e. F/2.8). For landscape photography where you are often shooting in the F11-F16 range having the ability to photograph at F/2.8 is especially useful when photographing stars where you sometimes need all the light you can get.  One downside of a prime lens is that you are constrained to that focal length and have to ‘zoom with your feet’ so to speak.

Zoom lenses on the other hand provide you the ability to have different focal lengths available. Personally, I prefer zoom lenses especially when photographing seascapes where you may be physically constrained by objects and cannot zoom with your feet’ as you would with a prime and instead you are reliant on changing the focal length to get the right frame.

Positives:

  • High field of view allowing you to capture most of your scene without having to rely on stitching panoramic images
  • Stopping down a lens will provide you with front and back sharpness. Attempting to do similar on a telephoto/zoom lens would make it challenging to get the front and back sharpness
  • As you are shooting with such a wide angle lens, this gives the illusion that the horizon seem further away than it actually is and adds to the wideness of the photo

Negatives:

  • Objects in the distance appear smaller
  • Shooting with such a wide field of view can result in issues of empty space
  • When shooting as wide as possible this can result in some edge distortion depending on the lens

Mid-Range

Getting wet at Cape Schanck, Victoria

Getting wet at Cape Schanck, Victoria

While a lot of landscape photography is shot using wide angle lenses referred to previously under the ultra wide angle lens section great photos can be had with a midrange zoom.

What is a mid range zoom? A mid range zoom is characterised by having the ability to photograph at a relatively wide angle while providing that bit extra in the zoom department which an ultra wide lens doesn’t provide. Typically the focal range of a mid range lens is 18mm at the widest end and 70mm at the longer end. In recent times we have seen the introduction of more versatile mid range zooms that still allow you to shoot at a wide focal length but provide longer reach like the Canon 18-200mm.
 
Why should you consider a mid range zoom? Through providing the best of both worlds of being able to shoot wide and long when required, this makes the mid range zoom the perfect walk around lens. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, the Canon 24-70 never left my camera. Sure, at times it would have been nice to shoot wider than 24mm but being able to zoom longer than my Canon 17-40mm made it a good compromise. The focal range provided me with enough room to play with to get most travel shots without feeling the need to pull out a wider or longer lens.
 
Positives:
  • Ability to shoot wide while having some zoom to play with
  • Great walk around lens due to its versatility
Negatives:
  • Most mid range lenses are relatively slow and generally will be f/3.5 at the wide end and f/5.6 at the long end. Personally speaking, I don’t see this as a huge negative however wanted to highlight this if you intend on using it as a walk around lens. Shooting hand-held at f/5.6 and onwards can be limiting in low light conditions. This is offset however through modern DSLR bodies providing great performance at high ISO levels and image stabilisation

Telephoto

Using a telephoto lens at 190mm to capture this bird from a far

Using a telephoto lens at 190mm to capture this bird from a far

Telephoto lenses are a powerful tool for enlarging distant subjects to make them appear closer while also providing shallow depth of field to really direct your focus on a particular object.

Generally a telephoto lens starts at the 70mm range with most lenses extending to 300-400mm. One of the more common uses for a telephoto lens is wildlife photography where the lens allows you to get close without disrupting the behaviour of the animal. I recently took one away to Sri Lanka for this purpose and had some fun just snapping local wild life from a far. The image to the right is an example of a photo taken with a telephoto lens and shows the lenses ability to get close and isolate the subject through shallow depth of field making the bird the point of focus.

Telephoto lenses aren’t exclusive to wildlife photography and also make great lenses for landscape photography allowing you to capture compositions which are unique to that you would capture with an ultra wide angle lens. Where your wide angle lens exaggerates the depth of a photo by making things appear smaller than they appear, the telephoto lens works slightly differently by compressing the depth of the image.

The end result to Jon's image being captured to the right. Note the close perspective the telephoto lens provides Image: Jonathan Sander

The end result to Jon’s image being captured to the right. Note the close perspective the telephoto lens provides
Image: Jonathan Sander

Photographer (Jon Sander) photographing the 12 Apostles with a telephoto lens

Photographer (Jon Sander) photographing the 12 Apostles with a telephoto lens

A popular composition technique for landscape photography with telephoto lenses is using this compression of the depth of field to our advantage by composing a scene that is full of layered subject matters that are captured at different distances between one another. When executed well the effect provides great depth to an image.

Positives:

  • Great for getting close when you physically cannot
  • The perspective of a telephoto lens allows you to compress the visual elements of a scene making more nearer and more distant elements appear closer together
  • Ability to isolate subjects with depth of field

Negatives:

  • Large lens filter diameter means that your normal filters like a circular polariser won’t fit requiring specific (and a lot more expensive) filter to suit the higher lens diameter size. Although with that being said, it’s unlikely you would put a 10 stop neutral density filter on a telephoto lens as keeping it still through a long exposure would be a nightmare
  • Generally expensive for high quality lenses
  • Large and heavy which at times will require the use of a tripod to maintain stability

Macro

Getting up close and personal with a bee. Shot with a Canon MPE-65mm. A challenging but rewarding lens

Getting up close and personal with a bee. Shot with a Canon MPE-65mm. A challenging but rewarding lens

Macro lenses are defined by their ability to capture a subject at a 1:1 to 10:1 ratio which in plain English, means the magnification of a subject either 1 or 10 times the actual size of the subject.  This allows you to capture the details of nature which may not be possible with the other lenses in your kit.

When photographing with a macro lens, there are some limitations and quirks worth noting. Firstly, as you magnify a subject this in a sense magnifies camera shake. For this reason it is advised to use a tripod when shooting with a macro lens.  While another thing worth noting is the shallow depth of field of macro lenses.  This in turn requires you to make decisions to what should be the most in focus and how to light the subject to maximise depth of field.

Some of my favourite tools for macro photography include:

  • Canon 100mm 2.8 IS L macro – One of the best macro lenses in Canon’s lineup thanks to its excellent image quality allowing for 1:1 magnification, inclusion of image stabilisation and solid build.
  • Canon MPE-65mm  – Incredibly specialised macro lens which allows for the magnification of up to 5:1. I owned this lens for a period of time and was amazed
  • Lens reversing ring – An affordable way of playing around with macro photography by placing your lens on your camera backwards.  The system works by having a camera mount on one side and on the other, a threaded screw to attach your lens to the front of your camera. As you have the back of your camera lens exposed using this method, I’d recommend using a cheaper lens like the Canon 50mm f1.8 or even an old film lens to avoid damaging one of your more expensive lenses
    Capturing the detail of a rain drop with the Canon MPE-65mm

    Capturing the detail of a rain drop with the Canon MPE-65mm

  • Extension tubes – Another affordable way of playing around with macro photography by placing extension tubes between your camera and lens. This in turn creates an extension of your lens allowing you to get closer to your subject than close up lenses. There are two types of extension tubes on the market from those that don’t maintain an electrical connection between the lens and the camera and those that do. Tubes not maintaining an electrical connection result in your camera unable to set the aperture (unless of course the lens has a manual aperture ring). As a result, the lens aperture will be constrained to the widest aperture that means a very shallow depth of field. Spending a little more for extension tubes that include electrical connections allow for you to retain control over your aperture and not have this constraint of the cheaper tubes.
  • Macro flash  – Normally appears in the form of a ring style flash, which attaches to the front of your lens element. This allows you to capture images that may not otherwise be possible through natural light and allow you to increase your depth of field.

Admittedly this section about macro lenses only touches the surface for macro photography and for those seeking further information I’d highly recommend this article by Cambridge in Colour which is insightful and detailed on the subject.

Filters for Landscape Photography

Using a neutral density to completely transform a scene with a 5 minute long exposure

Using a neutral density to completely transform a scene with a 5 minute long exposure

Filters come in all sizes and can provide various benefit for a photographer whether that be helping to blur the water of a waterfall or reduce the glare from water, they are hugely beneficial.

With the rise of improved and new post processing techniques, some would argue that the requirement for filters has become less and although I would tend to agree somewhat they still very much have a place in my landscape kit.

Circular Polariser

Circular polariser filters provide various benefits include the reduction of glare off reflective surfaces, acts as a semi neutral density filter by blocking out 1-3 stops of light depending on the filter and intensifies and increases the colour saturation (something easily replicated in post processing). I’m a big advocate of the circular polariser filter for its ability to reduce glare which provides a huge benefit when photographing waterfalls where you are surrounded by reflective rocks. Having the ability to minimise the glare coming off these rocks can really transform an image.

Don’t forget to check out my complete guide on photographing waterfalls

Neutral Density Filters

Examples of a screw on and rectangular neutral density filter

Examples of a screw on and rectangular neutral density filter

Neutral density filters are an essential part of my landscape photography bag and I’ve become a huge fan of them over the years. Neutral density filters come in various shapes and sizes from rectangle filters like below or circular screw on filters like a normal filter. Not all neutral density filters are equal however and come in various ‘strengths’ which determine how much f-stops they block out. For most people, a 4 stop or 6 stop neutral density filter is suitable.

What are neutral density filters and why should you use them? To put it simply, neutral density filters are a dark filter you place in front of the lens, blocking out light and as a result forces your camera to capture more light to compensate. This is especially useful for when photographing waterfalls where you want a longer exposure time to blur the water of the waterfall for that mystic like effect.

One thing I love about neutral density filters is their ability to completely transform a scene. The below photograph shows you a before and after of a photograph taken with the B+W 110 10 stop neutral density filter with a 5 minute long exposure at Mortimer Bay.  The 5 minute exposure was made possible by using the B+W 110 filter which completely smoothed the water and blurred the rain clouds as they moved above during the 5 minutes. Neutral density filters provide a great way to uniquely capture a scene.

Before and After of a day time long exposure at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania. The first shot with a quick exposure and then another for 5 minutes using the B+W 110 neutral density filter More details about this photo and how it was processed can be read in my Mortimer Bay – Before and After post.

Interested in how to capture long exposures during the photo above? Check out my guide on daytime long exposure photography
An example of a graduated neutral density filter

An example of a graduated neutral density filter, filter holder and lens adapter

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Graduated neutral density filters are useful when photographing environments where the sky is brighter than the foreground element (quite common when photographing a bright sunset). Graduated neutral density differ to normal neutral density filters where the top half of the frame is 100% neutral density and slowly graduates/fades to clear. The image to the right is a Cokin Z-Pro graduated neutral density filter, the adaptor the filter slides into and lens ring which connects to the filter holder. This is from the Cokin Z-Pro neutral density kit.

Why should I use graduated neutral density filters when Lightroom offers the same? Some would argue graduated neutral density filters as irrelevant now with the rise of post processing techniques, which allow you to perform a similar function without the filter. They’re right and it can definitely be achieved in Adobe Lightroom and other post processing tools which now offer a software based neutral density tool. The tool is quite effective when you have a) shot in RAW and b) haven’t blown out the sky considerably.  Alternatively, you can apply a similar effect through the use of image blending techniques which allows for more granular control.

Using a graduated neutral density filter I was able to balance the harsh light of the sun

Using a graduated neutral density filter I was able to balance the harsh light of the sun

Personally speaking –  I use both. Graduated neutral density filters are restrictive when photographing a scene that has a large object filling part of the sky like a cliff face for example. As a result your graduated neutral density filter will gradually darken the cliff face and give an odd look to your image. In this situation I prefer to shoot without filters in this situation and use post processing techniques.  However I do love my graduated neutral density filters when the sky is clear and not obstructed by objects like I’ve just mentioned. They can drastically reduce your post processing workflow and also great for trying to balance the exposure of that bright sun peaking through the clouds on sunset.

Still wanting a bit more information about graduated neutral density filters? Be sure to read my complete guide to neutral density filters

Ultraviolet (UV) Filters

UV filters reduce haziness created by ultraviolet lights and protect that all important front glass element of your expensive lens. Personally I don’t use UV filters (and maybe I should) but why add more filters to the front of your lens? Consequently this will have an effect on your image quality whether that be the introduction of vignetting or just an overall degradation to your image quality.

Do the positives outweigh the bad? That’s up for you to decide.  If you are set on purchasing a UV filter, don’t skimp on quality and purchase a decent brand like the Hoya multi coated glass filter to avoid any degradation to image quality.

Other Equipment for Landscape Photography

Having the right camera and lens is great but you also need the right accessories and equipment to back it up. This section looks at the various pieces of equipment I carry in addition to my camera and lenses discussing the benefits and necessity of having these items in your landscape kit.

Bag

Having a good photography bag makes walking with your gear a lot more comfortable and secure

Having a good photography bag makes walking with your gear a lot more comfortable and secure

Camera bags come in all forms and sizes and I don’t think there is one right bag that fits the bill for everyone. For me, I prefer the Lowepro AW Trekker backpack that allows me to carry all my gear with a strap to carry the tripod and includes a raincoat to cover the bag in case of rain. This style of ‘backpack’ is ergonomically comfortable for those landscape shoots where you are walking a few hours to get to your location.

For those not looking for a backpack style bag and something more minimalist for shorter trips, there are also messenger/sling bags. Thee are great for those short trips where packing all your gear is overkill and you know in advanced what equipment you will be shooting with. A favourite of mine is the Lowepro Pro Messenger 160 AW  which provides the ruggedness of other bigger camera bags while offering fast access when you want to pull your camera out. One thing to note with smaller bags like this is that not all come with rain protection like their bigger brothers but really, if you are travelling lightly  make a great portable bag for those shorter trips where carrying a big bulky bag is cumbersome. As a compromise though, the easy to access on the fly and portability of these small bags make them great to have.

Tripod

A tripod is a must for capturing that smooth water affect you see in waterfall photographs

A tripod is a must for capturing that smooth water affect you see in waterfall photographs

Having a tripod is an essential piece of kit when it comes to landscape photography. Largely this is due to working with a small aperture where as you increase your f-stop, less light enters your camera thus requiring you to leave the shutter open for longer to allow for more light to enter the camera.  As your camera requires this additional light sometimes the required shutter speed will be too slow to capture an image hand-held. It is for this reason we look at using a tripod allowing for a sharp image to be captured.  Sure, you can get around this by increasing your ISO but through doing so you compromise on image quality by potentially introducing grain to your image.

Not only are tripods great for ensuring image sharpness, they also allow for you to explore and be creative with slow shutter speeds. Some of my favourite uses are for waterfall and seascape photography where shooting with a slightly longer than normal exposure can transform a scene. These styles of photographs are not possible handheld and require the stabilisation of a tripod to make it possible.

Which tripod should you purchase? Personally speaking,  I tend to go the entry/mid range Manfrotto range and avoid the lure of carbon tripods. Why? I’m often shooting seascapes where my tripod gets wet and if not maintained well, can corrode the joints of the tripod over time.  Sure this can be mitigated be ensuring you clean your tripod well after a shoot but the weight difference between carbon and aluminium isn’t a consideration and I’m content with the aluminium based tripods.

Hot shoe spirit level

A hot shoe level is a little piece of equipment that is used to assist in getting your horizon straight. To be honest while I have one in my kit, I rarely (if at all) use it, preferring to get the horizon as straight as possible in camera and make any corrections in Photoshop which is a 5 second job. Shooting with a 22MP camera I am not bothered if I lose a miniscule amount of pixels to fix a tiny horizon correction. Alternatively, a new feature becoming standard on modern cameras include a virtual horizon level which from all accounts can be quite useful.

As I was writing this point I was quite curious to see the popularity of hot shoe levels amongst other landscape photographers. I note Ben Edge is a big fan of his hot shoe level but feel as if the ‘time and labour’ to correct an image in Photoshop is over stated.  For more information I put together this quick video which shows me correcting the horizon for a photograph in both Lightroom and Photoshop. As you can see below it’s literally a 5 second job. But hey, for the extremely low cost that a hot shoe spirit level costs ($6.99 on Amazon last checked) I would recommend at least purchasing one to see whether it’s right for you.

Shutter release cable or intervalometer

My Phottix intervalometer

My trusty Phottix intervalometer that has survived many accidental swims in rivers and the ocean

Intervalometers (always a struggle to spell and pronounce) are especially useful as they give you specific control over your exposure time, camera exposure interval time between shots and allow you to minimise vibrations by using a remote to trigger your camera remotely. With this control, you can then set your camera up for timelapse photography where you can configure the intervalometers to fire a photo every 5 seconds. Run this for an hour and you will have yourself enough images to compile into a timelapse. Alternatively these remotes also allow you to capture exposure times longer than 30 seconds (the maximum exposure time for nearly all cameras). The Canon TC-80N3 intervalometer is a great tool to have in your bag for this.

Another way I like to use an intervalometers is for capturing star trails through multiple exposures and layering them in Photoshop. We are all forever seeking to reduce noise in our images. Photographing long (60 minute) photos of stars moving is naturally going to create a degree of noise in your image. I use an intervalometers to mitigate this issue by setting the intervalometers to capture a 5 minute exposure and upon the exposure being complete, firing another in quick succession. The process repeats until I press stop on the intervolometer. Alternatively, you can define how many shots you want the intervolometer to take. This is great as it then gives me 12 5s minute long exposures (assuming it’s a 60 minute exposure) which I can then easily drop into Photoshop as layers.

Be sure to check out a previous article written where I stacked multiple exposures using a intervalometer for a star trail photo

Head Torch

As landscape photographers, we are forever chasing that great light which often occurs around sunset and sunrise. This mean we are often arriving at a scene in the dark (for sunrise) or leaving in the dark (sunset). Don’t be like me who for years would rely on my mobile phone to emit enough light as I awkwardly stumbled my way back to the car or tent. Instead, invest in a good quality head torch that will be reliable and provide you with that extra layer of safety.

The real value in having a head torch handy though is their ability to assist in finding focus in the dark and act as a light source for light painting. Occasionally when photographing a sunset, there will remain some great colour in the sky but my foreground elements will be dark and the detail almost lost.  One way of getting around this is to light paint the objects of the scene using your head torch.  If the light source comes on too strong, I find using baking paper over the front of the light provides a nice diffusion and more natural feel to the light. Just be aware that different head torches will have different colour temperatures so not all are great for light painting. I’m fond of the Fenix range of head torches which never lets me down with its strong light throw.

Lens Cloth

Blue hour long exposures

Blue hour long exposures

If there’s one thing you should go out and purchase after reading this guide make it a lens cloth. Whether it be photographing waterfalls or shooting by the sea, you will inevitably run into spray causing havoc on the front of your lens. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as giving it a quick wipe with your t-shirt. Investing in a good quality lens cloth, like those sold at opticians, are essential for keeping your lens clean in challenging environments.  Whenever I’m out shooting I’ll always make a habit of having one in my pocket and another in my bag as a spare for myself or friends.

Moo cards

You don’t need to be a professional photographer to carry cards with your website and contact details on them. Through my journeys as a landscape photographer, I’ve met some great photographers and have found being able to quickly give them a card with my details works much better than attempting to scramble details down in the dark.

Having cards is also great for non-photography passers by who you might exchange a few words with that express interest in seeing more of your work. Having a card on hand makes you appear professional and if executed well, the card will be memorable and make them check your website when they return home.

My go to for cards is Moo Cards, which provide business cards of all shapes and sizes. I’m a big fan of the Mini Cards range, which is half the size of a business card, allow you to have multiple variations in an order and are affordable at $16.95 (AUD) for 100 double-sided cards. My preference is to run my better images for the front facing (eye catching for the recipient) and contact information on the back.  My card sit in the MiniCard Holder which are a great way of holding and safeguarding 12 cards without taking too much space up in your camera bag.

Be sure to give Moo Cards a look for their vast range of products including regular sized, square and mini business cards, letterpress business cards, letterheads and more.

But most importantly… Yourself

Having a reliable and sturdy tripod is essential for when you want to go the extra step

Having a reliable and sturdy tripod is essential for when you want to go the extra step

I was procrastinating whether to include this as a last section to the post but really when it comes down to it, gear is over rated. Hey, doesn’t that just completely contradict the whole post I just wrote? Well no not really, you can have all the equipment and accessories you like but if you don’t know how to use it properly or know how to compose a photograph then really, what’s the point?

Where most people go wrong when first starting out in landscape photography

When you’re going out to take photos next. Stop and ask yourself some questions before you plant your tripod down and press the camera trigger:

  • What is it exactly I’m taking a photo of?
  • What parts of the composition are actually necessary? Do I really need to include that shrub to the left of the image?
  • Is there something striking in the image?
  • Is the shot balanced? Do I really need to make 70% of the frame the sky when it’s overcast and adds nothing to the image?

The biggest mistake made by people starting out in photography is their composition. I’m a huge advocate of less is best. Simplify things. This isn’t to say it’s a rule that you should simplify things. Go out there and photograph compositions that make you happy and express your creativity.

Why? Next time you look at a photo you really like, notice that your eyes are instantly drawn to aspects of the photo. Whether that be a powerful foreground image or leading lines that guides your eyes. Too often (and I won’t lie – my photography were like this at the start too) beginner photographers take too many photos without slowing down their process and considering what they are capturing. You want your viewer to look at the image and without even realising, their eyes locked on certain parts of the image.

Looking at what others do is a huge source of inspiration

Peter Dombrovskis

Giant kelp, Hasselborough Bay, Macquarie Island, Tasmania by Peter Dombrovskis

So how do we improve our composition skills? I draw a lot of my inspiration from the late Peter Dombrovskis, who used powerful foreground elements to lead the viewer into the frame.

A prime example is technique is this image by Peter Dombrovskis captured at Macquarie Island, Tasmania in 1984 (yikes!). He’s not relying on a great sunset or sunrise to wow the viewer, he has used some giant kelp to act as his foreground element which leads the viewer up through the frame.  Similar can be said about Galen Rowell who uses a similar composition technique with his images. Both are amazing photographers and I’d highly recommend you view their work.

Looking at some types of compositions that I’ve taken over the years

No doubt like you, I am my own biggest critic and I’d like to use some of my own photographs to illustrate poor composition. Looking through the 67,466 photos in my library, there are some shockers and make great examples of poor composition.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania

Let’s start with two images from Howrah Beach, Tasmania. The photos were captured on a rather dull sunset but fortunately there was some movement in the water from the tide going in and out so I hoped to use this to my advantage.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania - Shooting before I thought about the scene

Howrah Beach, Tasmania – Shooting before I thought about the scene

The first image was captured upon arising at the location and is a great example of what happens when you don’t consider what you are taking a photo of, whether there is anything striking in the photo and consider the balance of the photo.  This is a terrible photo and here’s why:

  1. Too much sky – As a general rule of thumb, try to mix up the % of land and % of water you include in a shot. You will notice in Peter Dombrovskis’ shot referred to earlier in this post, he has 20% of his image dedicated to the sky. Why? It’s overcast and doesn’t overly add anything to the image. You definitely need some sky but in this instance having 50% of the sky in the frame added nothing to the image
  2.  Uninteresting composition – There is nothing nice about this composition. As a viewer it gives me a headache looking at it. Where am I supposed to look? Do I look to the right where there is some water cascading over the rocks but hidden by another rock? The subject is uninteresting and doesn’t include any striking elements
  3. Empty space adds nothing to the image – What was I thinking? Not much clearly. When composing your image be mindful of the empty space created whether this be from a clear blue sky or the sea like in this image. Empty space can be used to your advantage

Looking at my viewfinder all of the above went through my mind and I decided to take a step back to evaluate the scene to find something interesting and simple that would grab the viewer. If you notice to the right of the image you can vaguely see water streaming over the rocks. With the sky not doing much, I decided to focus on the water flowing over the rocks as my key foreground component that would strike the viewer.

Howrah Beach, Tasmania

Howrah Beach, Tasmania – This time putting some thought in before hitting the shutter

Landscape photography is a game of patience whether it be for that light to break through the clouds of the right bit of swell to hit. After what felt forever (only really 10 minutes) I eventually got a big enough water washing through to create that waterfall effect over the rock shelf. This creates a better image to the previous as it actually gives you, the viewer, something to quickly identify as the foreground composition for the image.

Hopetoun Falls, Victoria

Hopetoun Falls, Victoria

Hopetoun Falls, Victoria

Finding a unique angle at a popular shot location that doesn’t offer much in the way of different angles can be one of the biggest challenges for landscape photographers. In the search of trying to add my own personal touch to a popular scene, I’ll often try find something striking to act as a foreground element that leads the viewer into the main attraction (in this case – Hopetoun Falls).

An example being this photo taken at the ever popular Hopetoun Falls. The waterfall is beautiful and understandably often shot by photographers. Sure, you could arrive and just take a photo of the waterfall and it would be a nice photo but why not go that little bit further and try add your own touch? Really, that’s what photography is all about. Expressing your creativity and trying to stand out from others.

With this in mind, I went about using this rock as my key foreground element capturing the water rushing past it to lead the viewer to the key attraction – Hopetoun Falls.

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

Another common technique used by landscape photographers for better compositions is using leading lines.  By using lead lines in your photo, you give the viewer an easy path for their eye to follow as they start from the bottom of the frame and gradually lead towards the main subject.

Leading lines are all around us and some of my favourites include:

  • Roads that create a sense of infinity
  • Washed up logs on the beach
  • Fences
  • Bridges
  • Lines of trees

An example of this technique is this photo captured at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania way back in 2006 (how time flies!). Fencing was introduced at Mortimer Bay to protect the nesting area of the local shorebirds. The fence acts as a great leading line to lead the viewer from the right of the frame into the background elements (mountain and sunset colours).

Summary

My landscape kit (May 2015)

My slightly worn landscape kit (May 2015)

From something that was only meant to be a small guide about my recommended gear for landscape photography slowly morphed into something much larger. If you’ve made it this far – thank you for hanging in there and I hope parts of the article resonated with you and provided some benefit. Feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter by clicking one of the share buttons below.

For those curious, this is what’s in my landscape kit:

If I can leave one parting comment about landscape equipment which admittedly slightly contradicts this article however don’t get too caught up in the equipment. As quoted at the start of this post by Chase Jarvis

The best camera is the one that’s with you

 

Don’t get too bothered if you can’t afford the latest and greatest camera body or lens. Make the most if what equipment you have at your disposal whether this be a DSLR setup or even an iPhone. It’s how you use the equipment that’s most important.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or drop an email through the Enquiries page.

Thanks for reading,

Chasing that golden hour light

Chasing that golden hour light

– Alex

Additional Resources

  • What are neutral density filters and how do you use them – This article looks at the various types of neutral density filters out there from circular screw on to rectangular types
  • How to photograph waterfalls –  Photographing waterfalls is one of my favourite past times. There’s nothing better than standing knee deep in a stream (even if a bit chilly). This article looks at how to photograph waterfalls with samples of how different exposure times can affect the look of your waterfall and what equipment is recommended for waterfall photography
  • Create yourself a neutral density filter with welding glass – Interested in playing around with neutral density filters but not sure if it’s for you? Go the DIY method and use a piece of welding glass as explained in this guide
  • How to take daytime long exposure photographs – Curious how people take long exposures of a few minutes during the day? This guide explains the equipment you’l
  • Long exposure photography ideas – With all this talk of long exposures, what makes good long exposure photography subjects?  Be sure to give this guide I put together which includes many different types of scenes that look great with a long exposure
  • Before and After Series – An ongoing project where I share the before and after for some of my favourite photos, walking you through how I photographed them and then post processed the photo

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