It goes without saying that your camera and choice of lenses are THE most important items to capture great landscape photography images, and I recommend having a range of focal lengths to capture many different types of compositions even standing in the same spot - you can read which lenses I rate highly for landscape photography here. But having a good camera and lenses isn't enough to create amazing images, there are many other important accessories that I wouldn't leave home without. Some of these contribute directly to ensuring you take a well-composed, well-exposed artful image such as having the right neutral density filters and a stable tripod, while others contribute indirectly to how well you enjoy your experiences while out in the field which can also have a huge impact on your ability to be able to create great shots!
Here are my 10 essential landscape photography accessories that I don't leave home without!
A set of high-quality neutral density filters are my number one accessory to create amazing look landscape images to convey a sense of movement or silky flow with long exposures, or to achieve a well-exposed balance between sky and foreground during challenging lighting conditions. You won't believe the difference they can make to a scene! There are many different filter brands on the market, but having tried out several brands over the years with different designs, I can safely say that you won't find better filters than Kase Filters, I believe in their products so much that I decided to become the NZ distributor for the brand.
I use both the Kase K100 square 100mm filter system for the convenience of stacking 3 filters together and using a graduated filter, and the Kase Magnetic Professional ND Kit - their magnetic sets are revolutionary in the market and have been endorsed by many well-known photographers and videographers - the beauty of these sets are that they are super lightweight and portable when you're out and about and have limited weight or space. I find them really great to use around waterfalls and rivers when I'm often precariously balanced and they're a lot easier to just snap on the front of the lens as one set rather than having to attach one by one.
Still not sure about what difference filters will make? Here's a before and after showing how a polariser will cut through glare in the forest in the water and on the leaves while adding a 6-stop ND filter as well allows the shutter speed to be slowed down to produce the silky water flow effect.
What should you look for in a set of filters? Ones that are nano-coated so they repel water and are easy to clean, as well as being scratch resistant and shock-proof (though no glass is indestructible so you can't just throw them around!). I don't recommend going for an all-in-one solution like a variable ND filter - these can produce some horrific looking results, you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to quality in filters. If you want to know more about Kase Filters drop me a line, I'm always happy to provide advice based on your personal camera and lens set up and what you want to achieve with your filters.
If you want to shoot sharply focused images during sunrise or sunset or in the forest or in any location with low light, a tripod is essential. Even though image stabilisation can be amazing on cameras these days, you can't possibly shoot long exposures without a tripod and it's a sure fire way to guarantee you haven't accidentally caused camera shake during your shot. I always err on the side of caution and use a tripod for 90% of my landscape shots because I know I can trust the stability of my tripod - I use the Sirui W-2204 tripod with K20x ball-head.
Speaking of stability, not all tripods are created equal. I've seen many a landscape photography workshop attendee have a near-miss or an actual disaster (think camera falling face first into the sea) because they've put their trust in a poorly designed tripod or one that is not equipped to carry the weight of their camera. I upgraded my tripod just over a year ago and I now wish I'd done it much sooner. My new tripod is taller for a start so there's less hunching over to squint through the viewfinder, and way more stable. And although I thought upgrading to a bigger tripod would mean more to carry, buying carbon fibre meant I barely increased my weight from my smaller travel tripod. Getting a ball head also gives you much greater ability to change your camera's position on the fly rather than a pan and tilt style head. Here are my top tips when it comes to a tripod:
I remember thinking L Brackets were a bit of a gimmick and just another way to add weight to add to your camera, boy was I wrong! If you've ever tried shooting a vertical composition with a tripod without one, you might like me have been frustrated by blurry photos. That's because once your camera's centre of gravity is off to one side, there's a huge amount of pressure on your tripod head attachment to take the weight of the camera and lens without slowly drooping down over time causing blur.
An L Bracket allows you to switch from horizontal to vertical with ease whilst maintaining the centre of gravity on top of the tripod and has meant I've been able to capture some great sharp telephoto vertical shots with a long zoom lens that I never would have dreamed possible before.
If you want to take long exposure images with filters or in very low light you can generally rely on using your camera's inbuilt 2, 5 or 10 second timer for exposures up to 30 seconds. But what happens when you want to take a really long exposure? Then you have to be able to use BULB mode, and to successfully do that you need a remote control timer. These are relatively inexpensive and you don't need a named brand, they all do the job. You can choose from a wired or wireless version, the advantage of wireless is that you can be a decent distance away from your camera and still press the shutter button, pretty handy if you want to capture a selfie! If you choose one that has an ability to set a sequence you can even set up a timelapse which is also handy for star trails, then you can set and forget and sit in the warmth of the car on a cold night!
Not all memory cards are created equal. For a start, you need to get a memory card that has sufficient capacity, better still have more than one in case one fails. But memory cards also have different speeds and abilities so make sure you do your research as to what will work for your camera and the style of photography you do. If you need to take high speed images of wildlife or sports action for example, you'll want a memory card that doesn't buffer and stop taking photos once you've clicked a few shots. I use Lexar Professional 150 MB/S - I don't often shoot in high burst mode so for me this is plenty fast enough, but do your research before jumping in!
PhotoPills is without a doubt THE best smartphone app ever invented for landscape and astrophotography. I would be lost without it, in fact many of the shots I have been able to capture are only as a result of the planning and research I've done via this app in advance. It costs about $18 NZD (at time of writing) but I'd pay this over and over for all the help it has given me over the years.
Say you're going on a trip in a few months' time, and you want to scout out good locations in advance. You can find your exact location, date and time to see where the angle of the sun and moon are to determine what it will be like shooting there on that day. If you're into astrophotography you can see the exact position of the Milky Way and how it rises and sets at any given location on any given day - talk about a powerful tool! And if you're on location but are trying to determine the angle of the sun, moon or Milky Way for a different day or time you can use the Augmented Reality to take the guesswork out of your compositions. You can also save these settings for a location at a particular day/time to come back to which is really handy.
Anyone who changes lenses regularly will know what a pain it is to get dust spots on your sensor, and for that reason it's a good idea to get your camera sensor cleaned at least once a year (or if you are brave you can learn how to do it yourself - I'm not!). But when you're in the field, it's a great idea to carry microfibre cloths to be able to wipe your filters and lenses with and always have a dust blower on hand - sometimes that's all that is need to dislodge a problematic spot, otherwise it can be tedious to remove these in editing later!
You might think this is overkill but even on some of NZ's shorter day hikes there is little or no cellphone reception, and if you ever hike alone you'd be crazy not to carry one. Because I lead landscape photography workshops with various sized groups, I always carry my Garmin Inreach mini satellite phone with me and it is peace of mind knowing that at the push of a button emergency services will be notified and come to our aid. Having the ability to hook into the satellite coverage is also a great way to keep in touch with your loved ones via text if you are going to be off the grid for a few days with no cellphone coverage. If you prefer just to carry a PLB (personal locator beacon) this is the bare minimum that I'd recommend when hiking for photography.
Even with the best of intentions and reading the weather forecast, it's very easy to get caught out in NZ's changeable weather conditions. Whilst I try and avoid shooting in the rain at all costs, there are times when I haven't wanted to give up and quit despite it being very wet. Once such time was at Wharariki Beach on my weekend photography workshop last year, the light was amazing and even though drenching showers were coming through it was creating amazing moody light. Not to mention the fact we were a good half an hour's walk from the carpark AND there was really nowhere easy to shelter in the sand dunes, so we just had to make the best of it. That's when I got the waterproof camera sleeve out and carried on merrily taking shots even with sideways rain that was sneaking in under the umbrella from time to time, and I'm glad I did. This shot was one of my favourites from 2020!
Over the years I've used a few head lamps, and most of the time I've been decidedly underwhelmed by their performance and been somewhat jealous of fellow photographers who've had much better set ups. So when my last head lamp died (funnily enough after it got wet walking back from the evening above at Wharariki Beach and the batteries leaked), I decided I'd better invest in a big boy headlamp. Enter the H7.2 Led Lenser. The brightness and area this lamp covers is insane at full boost, and it means I'm far more confident even when walking on uneven terrain in the dark.
So once you have all your essential gear, you really need the right bag to carry them in. You owe it to yourself to find a camera bag that is right for your amount of equipment and that is comfortable to wear for a few hours at a time. I've always used the Lowepro brand of bags and most recently invested in the Flipside Trek 450. Previously I owned the Fastpack 250 and even though I thought I'd use the side opening function a lot, in reality I rarely did, and over time it just wasn't big enough for all my gear. I love the Flip-side Trek as it is very comfortable to wear (almost as good as my proper hiking pack), and I have actually found myself using the flipside function to lay the camera flat while still attached around my waist - one such moment was at New Brighton Pier standing in the wet sand in the middle of an amazing sunrise when I wanted to change my lenses over. I wanted to get a closer zoomed in shot, and if I'd had to walk back to the dry sand I'd have lost a good few minutes when the colour was at its best.
There's no such thing as the 'best' camera bag, you need to do your own research and find the bag that's right for you for the amount of equipment you want to carry and to future proof if you do get more gear. I do feel like this bag will be with me for the long haul, I love it.
OK, here's an extra-special Meghan tip for free. If you ever shoot on cold mornings that are near or below zero, you'll have experienced the bone chilling cold that seeps up from the ground and makes your feet numb within a few minutes. I discovered these disposable toe warmers a few winters ago and they are a life saver. They really increase my staying power when it comes to winter shoots, especially on cold evenings when you're out shooting astrophotography and standing still for long periods of time. Even more recently I've also invested in a pair of insulated gumboots which are a godsend and I find myself using the toe warmers less, but they are a quick and easy fix to shove in your hiking boots or trainers. The best way to use them is to open them and give them about 10-15 minutes before putting them in your shoes as they are air activated - that way they'll be piping hot!
Of course there's a never ending list of things you 'could' buy for your photography hobby, passion or career so do choose wisely. Some of these items may seem superfluous to your requirements and that's fine, but the sum of these items combined make a big difference to my enjoyment levels and success when shooting landscape photography images.
I'd love to hear what's on your 'essential accessories' list? What can't you live without? Drop me a line and we can chat!
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