In landscape photography, equipment fortunately does not have to be very expensive. You can do fine with just a camera and nothing else if you want.
Discussing gear is popular in all photography genres. But is gear the most important factor for great images? I will argue not. Many photographers will disagree with this statement. What landscape photography equipment you need and is a personal choice and dependent on your ambitions.
Will new photography equipment make you a better landscape photographer?
Many photographs will never be seen anywhere else than on a computer screen or on the Internet. If displayed on a screen no one will be able to tell if the image was taken with this or that camera.
Because of this some photographers brag about which camera and lens they used, in particular if these are the expensive ones. Status and the feeling of having the best is important, also in photography.
The truth is the best images you see on display on the Internet is not because of an expensive camera but because the image was made by a photographer knowing how to compose and light a great image.
Gear is important - sometimes
For a pro working with clients and where big prints are made, the landscape photography equipment he use is more important. Premium equipment might be the only way to get the required results.
For professional landscape photographers the equipment robustness and ability to stand rough conditions in the field is important. Robustness is often the most important difference between expensive and less expensive equipment.
The most important is you
What landscape photography equipment you need is of course dependent on your ambitions as a photographer. In the technology focused photography industry you should never forget that you and your brain is the most important gear.
No camera or other photography equipment can make great landscape photographs without a decent photographer behind the camera - that is a fact. Knowledge is something that never get obsolete. Everything you learn about photography are assets you will bring with you the rest of your life.
DSLR or iPhone?
In my landscape photography, equipment is kept at a minimum. I have a good camera the Nikon D800 and a few lenses. And I find myself using my iPhone more and more.
I strongly believe it is not the cameras I use that makes my images look the way they do. It is my photography skills, the practicing I have done over years, training and workshops I have taken and all the other stuff I have read and learned about photography.
I know there are photographers way better than me, I know because I see their images every day. I also know these photographers not always have a better camera than me, they just have the ability to make images that appeal to me.
So what landscape photography equipment do you need?
My take on equipment is, buy what you need and can afford. If you don't need it, don’t buy it. You can always get new stuff later as you learn more about photography and your requirements. Get a camera and start practicing.
Camera, lenses and tripod are the most expensive landscape photography equipment you will buy. You get them in all price levels. Because you spend quite a bit of money on this stuff you want to do some research before you buy.
I am not recommending any particular brands here. I just want you to know about the options available. There are many other sites on the Internet doing in-depth reviews. DPreview is an excellent source to check out.
Obviously the camera is the most important equipment for landscape photography. You can shoot landscape photos with any camera from the most expensive digital system camera to a camera phone.
If you are more than average interested in landscape photography, you will probably want to use a system camera with exchangeable lenses - a DSLR or Mirrorless camera.
You can make it with a Smartphone
It is amazing how good the cameras in smartphones have become the recent years. Smartphones might not be there yet if you are one of those magnifying the photo up to 400% on the screen to see if you can find noise.
There are photographers creating art with their phones. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the landscape photos of this Dutch photographer. He shoots with different cameras from very expensive Hasselblad to his iPhone. This is a good example that if you know what you are doing you can make great photos with any camera.
To decide what is the best camera for you, make you own list of requirements. Unsure what to look for before buying a new camera - learn more about camera features here
If you are looking for the best possible image quality, it is actually good lenses that make the big difference. Ironically too many photographers buy expensive cameras and use low-quality lenses with this camera.
My recommendation if you are going to spend a decent amount of money on camera equipment, set aside a some money for lenses and do not use it all on the camera.
Spending some money on lenses is smart
Lenses are not updated as often as cameras so chances are good you will be happy with your lens for a long time. If you are looking to buy a new system camera, the manufacturers line of lenses is important. Some of the newer systems have a limited range of lenses.
A tripod is a must have equipment for landscape photography (my opinion of course). If you want to photograph at the best times of the day when the light is nicest a tripod is a must.
If you like me like to shoot around sunset or sunrise or even after dark, you definitely need a tripod. In these situations, you use long shutter speeds, and you can not handhold your camera if you want sharp images.
The tripod changed my photography
My photography took a big leap many years ago when I started using a tripod. It changed my whole photography. I can’t understand today I photographed without a tripod for many years.
The tripod allows you to do creative photos with long exposure, you know these photos with blurry waterfalls or “moving” sky. There is so much more you can do if you use a tripod.
Read more about what you should look for when buying a tripod
Other landscape photography equipment to consider
Filters used to be an important part of a photographer's toolbox, in particular for landscape photographers. It is not quite like that anymore.
Polarizing and ND grad filter - that's it
Today many of the effects you achieved with filters are possible to do when post processing your images. In my opinion there are only two must have filters a landscape photographer need - a polarizing and a Neutral Density filter (ND-filter). These two filters do something that can not be created in Photoshop.
Some will argue you need a Graduated Neutral Density filter as well. To some extent I agree but in most situations you can do fine without an ND grad.
Filter as protection - really?
The last filter still with a certain use is a UV filter. The filters were originally made to avoid unwanted UV light hitting the film. Most digital cameras already have a UV filter in front of the sensor. Another UV filter in front of the lens is not needed if the purpose is to avoid UV light hitting the sensor.
The UV filter is more important as a protection of your lens front element. It is supposed to protect your lens from scratches and dust. Extra glass in front of the lens can degrade the image quality unless it is a good (often) expensive filter.
I use the lens hood all the time and I have removed the filter from all my lenses. The lens hood protects your lens as much as a filter and it prevents lens glare.
The ones that probably argue the hardest you must buy a UV filter are the guys in the camera shops. After you have spent money on a new lens they want you to buy more. They will always try get their hands on some extra of your hard earned money.
A remote release is one of those landscape photography equipment not everyone think of. If you are doing long exposure or exposure bracketing it is very useful.
With a remote release you can take the photo without having to touch the shutter button. If you touch the button, you might move the camera slightly, and your image will not be sharp.
Cable or Wireless
Remote releases come either with a cable you connect to the camera or as wireless type. What you chose is not that important.
The wireless one comes in handy when shooting wildlife as you can hide and release the shutter from quite a distance. In landscape photography you rarely have to hide so it is not a big deal. It is rather how much you want to spend. The wireless ones are more expensive.
The lens hood is important and has two purposes. The first purpose is to protect your lens. As I have already mentioned rather than using a UV filter in front of my lens, I always use the lens hood. If you by accident bump your lens against something (hard) the hood in most cases will take the hit, and you save your lens from being scratched or even worse, broken glass.
The other and more important reason for the lens hood is to avoid annoying lens flare in your photos. Lens flare is unwanted light hitting the front of your lens. This light might be reflected and scattered inside the lens and finally hitting the sensor. The result is this typical bright spots (flare) in your photo. I hate them, and I am sure you do as well.
A good camera bag is both for carrying your gear but also to protect it. In general bags comes as backpacks or shoulder bags. What camera bag you choose depends on your needs. If you hike a lot, the bag must be comfortable to carry. So if you hike a shoulder bag is probably not the right bag for you.
The bag should ideally be weather sealed, and it must of course be big enough to fit all you gear (don’t forget your long lenses). What you want to look for when deciding on a camera bag is:
- Weight and size
- Backpack or shoulder type
- Can you get to your gear without having to take off the bag
- Some bags have built in rain cover
Extra memory card
With today's high megapixel count cameras, you need a lot of storage, a lot. And a lot of megabytes takes time to transfer, so you want a card that is fast.
When choosing memory cards the most important is the size (not the physical size of the card but how many photos you can store on it) and the speed. If you shoot in RAW, which I recommend, you will fit approximately 286 photos on a 16 GB card if your camera is 16 MP. That is not much is it? If you shoot JPG only you will fit about ten times more photos on the same card.
So many memory cards to choose from
The most common memory card types are SD (Secure Digital) and CF (Compact Flash card). It is likely your camera uses one of these types.
The cards are categorized into different classes depending on their speed (transfer rate). There are two speed factors to consider on a card - read and write speed.
Write and Read speed
Write speed is how fast data is written to the card. In sports photography where the photographer often shoots a lot of frames per second, this speed is important. In landscape photography where you shoot in a much more comfortable frame rate, it is not important.
Read speed is how fast you can read from the card when transferring photos to your computer. You want this to be as fast as possible if you are impatient like me. Waiting for the photos to show up on the computer after a shoot can sometimes take uncomfortable long time. Because you want to see your photos immediately, right.
Cards are important so use trusted brands
The safest bet on memory cards is the brands from Sandisk and Lexar. I have used my Sandisk and Lexar cards for years, and they have never (till now) failed on me.
Memory card reader
Which card reader you have is also important for the transfer speed from the memory card to the computer. If you have a fast card and your reader is an old slow one, the transfer will take long time. If you are on a Mac the fastest readers have Firewire connection and on a PC you should aim for a USB 3.0 reader.
Spare camera batteries
I always bring fully charged spare batteries for my camera with me. In cold weather and using a lot of long exposures the batteries drains fast. What is more annoying than the camera dying in front of you just before the perfect light. Dying because the battery is drained.
Original batteries from the camera manufacturers are expensive. There are a lot of other options from third party battery suppliers at very affordable prices.
You should always bring something you can clean the front of your lens with when you are out shooting. When it rains, it is impossible to prevent raindrops on the lens. What is more frustrating than coming home and find you have been shooting with raindrops on the front of the lens.
I used lens tissue paper for many years, but I found it was less expensive and even better to use a microfiber cloth for this purpose. You can use tissue paper with cleaning agent when you are back home for a proper clean of the lens.
In addition to lens cleaning, you will at some point need to clean your camera sensor. As you use the camera and you swap lenses, dust will enter into the camera. Dust inside the camera is one of the disadvantages exchangeable lens systems have.
There are many different options for sensor cleaning. The simplest and easiest option is a blower. If the sensor is really messy, the blower is not enough. In this case you should buy a dedicated sensor cleaning kit or the new gel stick. The latter is a new system that have received a lot of good reviews.
Another not so obvious landscape photography equipment is a small torch or headlamp. Once I missed a great opportunity for a great moon set. I left early in the morning after having planned the time and location.
It was pitch dark when I arrived, and I had to walk on a dark trail for 5-600 meters. When I arrived, stopped the car and turned off the headlight, I realized I could not see the hand I front of me. At that time I realized I had forgotten to bring a flashlight - embarrassing. I lost that opportunity. Lesson learned, now I always make sure to bring light if I plan for an after dark shoot.
Photographing in the rain does not sound like a good idea. Most photographers stay inside when it rains, but those who go out often get back with great photos. Bad weather and storms can be very interesting as the conditions change fast, and great light can suddenly appear.
Rain sleeves come in many variations, but I have found the ones from Optechusa to be good. They are cheap and take little space in the camera bag. These sleeves can be used on longer lenses as well. There are other more expensive and durable option as well.
Proper clothing and boots
Landscape photographers always have to think about what to wear. As your working space is outside, sometimes waiting for a long time in cold weather, warm and comfortable clothes are important. You must keep warm from fingers to toes.
Good shoes with solid soles and a good grip are important if you hike in mountains and rocky areas. If you shoot along the ocean waterproof shoes or even rubber boots are essential. I have filled my boots numerous times while photographing waves in Iceland and Lofoten.
Gloves, where you can open up for the fingers or gloves without fingers, are practical as you can handle the camera and buttons while still keeping your hands warm. In real cold weather in winter hand and foot warmers can be very useful. You put these small bags inside your gloves and shoes, and they will keep you warm for up to 10 hours