My journey into landscape photography was sort of rocky, for lack of better words. I was beginning my transition from portrait and fashion photography into a new genre that I knew little about. Hell, I had no clue if I would even enjoy it. Lucky for me, I did. If I were given the opportunity to travel in the past to Best Buy in 2014, carrying with me the knowledge I hold now, I would have gone about things very differently. Sadly, that is not something that I can do nor is it something I believe I would want to do either. What I do have now though is a website where I can spread my knowledge and a “student” of sorts in the small form of Melanie. So here I go, spreading my knowledge with bad analogies and poor humor sprinkled in for fun.
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If you were to ask me the single most important piece of equipment I currently have, besides that of my camera and lenses, I would no doubt mention my tripod. When I started shooting landscapes in the summer of 2015 (or was it 2016?), I was using an old tripod my father had tucked away, its limited use allowing for a nice collection of dust. It was not the best tripod to use as I could not get very low to the ground and it was a rather dinky thing. However, it got me started for a while with plenty of portfolio-worthy images. About a year later, when my landscape photography really began taking over, I purchased a Manfrotto tripod and ball head to match. This carbon-fiber tripod was much more expensive than the fifty-dollar tripod I was using – and it showed. But the expense was worth it as my images improved. How? Because I could now get tack-sharp images from whatever angle I wanted. Of course, there were other perks but the main reason behind getting a good tripod is for creating tack-sharp imagery.
When questioned about the second most important piece of equipment, I would tell you to get a remote trigger as quick as you can. Here is where you can chimp on price a bit since the only thing it needs to do is remotely fire the shutter. There are plenty of options out there ranging in price from a couple bucks to hundreds of dollars. Personally, I cannot fathom why people would spend so much money on something so simple, but that is beside the point. I believe the trigger I use costs around twenty-five dollars, but you can easily get a cheaper one. I just wanted one made by Nikon. So why is something like this necessary? Well, in truth, it isn’t. You can easily use the timer on your camera to set off the shutter or risk it and press the shutter button itself. However, the chances of you getting a tack-sharp image lessens by doing such things. With a remote trigger, you will not experience camera shake and therefore will not have a shaky image. Outside forces can obviously make turn this statement untrue but by taking precautions such as a remote trigger, they are not as likely.
Let’s get a bit controversial here for a moment. There is plenty of debate out there about whether landscape photographers need filters or if they can create the same effects in Photoshop with some effort. First off, as I mentioned in a previous post, I do not like spending a lot of time in editing software. I would sooner be spending that time outside in the field or writing these articles instead of sitting in front of my computer screen editing a single image for hours on end. I want everything as close to perfect in-camera. Filters do not cost that much, even for some of the higher quality ones. When I was looking for some good filters, I managed to stumble upon Formatt Hitech and fell in love. While I agree with many photographers that filters are needed, I do not agree that you need more than an ND filter and a polarizer. Neither of the affects these filters produce can be recreated in post-production, regardless of what anyone else tells you. Yeah, you can get close to the same effect, but it will not be nearly as good, nor will it be done with ease.
4. Extra Battery
This should no doubt be obvious, so I will keep this excerpt rather short. If you do not have at least two batteries for your camera – more if you are using a mirrorless setup – then you need to get on Amazon or B&H Photo Video right after you finish reading this and buy another battery. Being out in the field creating imagery, waiting for the light to turn, can be very time consuming. The last thing you want is for the light to fall just right and you find out your camera just will not turn on.
I don’t know for sure about you guys, but I use my phone for everything. My light meter for when I am shooting film is on my phone along with my maps, email, text, etc. The last thing I want is for my phone to die and – god forbid – something happens where I need help. For this reason alone, I do not often travel by myself but when I am on my own, I do not want this to happen to me. Therefore, I have decided to spend a couple bucks on a good portable charger. Although it cannot charge my camera – thanks for screwing that up Nikon – it keeps my phone charged and can last quite a long while. I have managed to charge both my and Melanie’s phone for two nights in a row. Granted, we were not draining the batteries that much but still, it is worth the investment.
Another obvious one, a designated hiking bag is most definitely a necessity. I will keep this short, but my ideal bag is one that has two parts to it: one to store my camera and one to store my extra gear, such as clothes and snacks. Furthermore, since it is going to be used as a camera bag, I need it to be able to securely carry my tripod. Oh yeah, it must be light too, even when I have it packed full. With these three aspects in mind, I can confidently say that the Manfrotto bag I have is perfect for me. For you, it may not work as well so go order one you like the look of and that has the aspects you desire. If you don’t like it…well, that’s why those big online stores have a return policy.
Okay, so the last four I am about to tell you are less photography and tech specific and are much more about general safety while hiking. With that said, let’s continue.
7. Hiking Boots
Whenever I am out on a hike, especially around waterfalls where the trails can be rocky and wet, my gears are ground upon seeing fellow hikers in sneakers or flipflops. I do not understand how someone can be so ignorant to their safety. One false step and you will not only be on your ass but the likelihood of you having a sprained – or broken – ankle is very high. And then what are you supposed to do, especially if you are alone? Rather than even risk this, I highly recommend you spend the money and get a good pair of hiking boots. Something with good ankle support is without a doubt the most important aspect. If they are waterproofed, even better. Just be sure they are made well, have a long warranty, and will support your ankles whilst hiking. They should be comfortable as well!
8. Camel Pack
Hydration bladder, water bladder, water bag, water pack, hydration pack. Call it however the hell you want – it does not take away the convenience it provides. Rather than struggling to find the room for three or four water bottles and crossing your fingers that they will stay cold all day, simply buy a 2L camel pack. Fill it with ice and cold water in the morning before slipping it into its designated spot in your hiking bag. Then you should be good to go all day. Here’s the one that I have – it works pretty well and has managed to keep my water cold throughout most of the day, even in the dead of summer.
9. Pepper Spray
I don’t mean to be sexist here but especially if you are a female photographer, this should be something you already have in your bag. Well, hopefully you have it in an easily accessible place but still. My parents bought me pepper spray – mine claims it can even be used to scare off a wild bear – as a Christmas gift because of my adventures. Although I have not had to use it since I had been given it, I still carry it with me on every adventure I go, with or without a partner. It’s simply smart to have as a precautionary measure.
If you are going out for the day, or even just half the day, you need to have water with you. With the camel pack, you have got that covered. In terms of food, you should bring protein bars or something with plenty of carbs and/or protein that will provide you with the energy your body needs for the hike. Simple as that. It sucks being out in the woods hours away from home and not having something to munch on before your next big meal when you get home, or back to camp for that matter.
Bonus: Book or Journal
Especially as landscape photographers, we are often caught waiting hours for the light to change. Sometimes that light never comes, never lying on your chosen composition in just the right way you need it to. With this in mind, you should have a book or journal with you, something to keep you company. Especially if you do not have a friend to keep you company, something to do while waiting for that beautiful light to come sinking in will be appreciated greatly.