Landscape Photo Equipment
If you want to take better landscape photos, then you’ll need some equipment that will make the job easier.
Choice of Camera
First, having a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses is the best option. Many people however, don’t like the overheads of carrying an SLR – the weight of the camera, the amount of space it and extra lenses take, etc., and prefer the ease of use of a compact camera.
Lenses For Landscape Photography
For landscape photography, it helps if your compact camera has a zoom lens and is able to take wide-angle shots. For a digital SLR, you’ll need a wide-angle lens; this can either be a prime lens (i.e. a lens of fixed focal length such as a 24mm lens) or a zoom lens that covers the wide angle range. Most digital SLRs now come supplied with an 18-55mm zoom lens (or equivalent) which is fine for landscape photography.
Here is where SLRs win out. Filter holders are available for all sizes of lens, making it easy to attach filters to a lens. Some filters are designed to fit a lens of a certain diameter (e.g. a 58mm diameter lens). In such cases, if you have several lenses each with different diameters, you may need to buy a filter for each lens. If your lenses are all the same diameter, you can easily swap your filters between them. Typical filters of this type are polarizing filters, skylight filters and UV filters.
The other types of filter are rectangular, gelatin filters from manufacturers like Cokin and Lee. These have their own special filter holders. These holders are attached to lenses via adapter rings which can be easily slotted in and out of the holder so that the filter holder can be attached to different lenses. So, rather than having multiple filter holders, you have one filter holder and multiple adapter rings.
Compact cameras tend not to be built with the idea of being able to attach filters. They are point-and-shoot cameras after all. Nevertheless, some cameras do have filter attachments or can have filters attached via filter holders from independent manufacturers, so if you think you’ll be using filters down the line, you should do some research and find out if your compact camera (or one you’re thinking of buying) can take filters.
Steadying The Camera
The most atmospheric landscape photographs tend to be taken during the “magic” hour. This is the hour just after sunrise or the hour just before sunset when the light is at its warmest. That means that the camera may need to take long exposures, longer than a photographer can hold a camera steady. In normal conditions, if you hand-hold a a camera for more than one over the focal length of the lens (in seconds), camera shake will ruin the photo.
So if you have a 50mm lens, you wouldn’t want to hand-hold the camera for longer than 1/50th of a second. The nearest standard shutter speed to that (that’s shorter) is 1/60th of a second. Obviously, if you’re using a wide-angle lens like a 24mm, you could hand hold for 1/30th of a second. With telephoto lenses, the time is much shorter. A 200mm lens hand-held for longer than 1/200th of a second will result in a blurred picture.
So to steady the camera for long exposures, you need to put the camera on something fixed. That can be something like a rock or a tree branch but finding one which allows to to compose a picture with a level horizon is pretty unusual.
One item many landscape photographers carry with them is a bean bag. They’re light and easily fit in a pocket. They can be draped over rocks, branches, posts, etc. and the camera can be pushed into them so that the bag provides support either for the camera body or the lens.
A better solution though is to use a tripod. Tripods are a whole subject in themselves and range from small ones you can carry in your pocket to heavy, cumbersome models designed for heavy-duty work. My advice is to get one that’s light and portable so you won’t groan if you know you have carry one to a shoot. It needs to be steady though and some of the cheaper, plasticky makes aren’t particularly sturdy. A gust of wind catching the camera could ruin a shot on such a tripod.
Avoiding Camera Shake
While bean bags and tripods will steady a camera, there’s one thing that is guaranteed to ruin that steadiness. And that’s you, the photographer. Simply pressing the shutter to take a photograph will cause a small amount of camera shake; enough to ruin a photo if a long exposure is required.
So another essential is a cable release. With the older film-based cameras, a cable release screwed into the shutter button and pressing the plunger fired the shutter. Since the photographer was separated from the camera by the cable release, no camera shake was induced.
Today’s digital cameras now require electronic cable releases. These tend to be more expensive than the older cable releases but cheap non-branded releases are often available on eBay for just a couple of dollars.
These electronic releases connect to the camera via a jack somewhere on the camera body. Some cameras also have remote control releases so that the shutter can be fired from a distance without a trailing cord. These remote releases are well suited to wildlife photography where the photographer needs to be out of sight of the intended wildlife.
So while excellent landscape photographs can be taken with a camera, whether a compact or an SLR, the addition of some other equipment can open up some extra possibilities for taking more unusual landscape photos, especially those that require long exposure times, whether that’s by design or because of low light conditions.