Monday, September 18, 2017

Landscape Photography: Tools of the Trade

I have been asked a lot of questions over the years but the #1 question is, "What camera do you have?" I'm sure that I am not alone. The rest of the time I am asked about gear recommendations and how to shoot certain subjects. I've decided to address these questions in a series of posts beginning with my suggestions for someone interested in landscape photography.
The best camera is the one that’s with you. – Chase Jarvis
You may have heard someone recite this quote or something similar and there is good reason - seldom are truer words spoken. I almost always use my smartphone when I am out shooting - it isn't my primary camera but I like to post on social media and using the camera makes it easy to do on-the-fly. I cannot always carry my DSLR with me but I (almost) always have my phone. The quality of the latest generation of smartphones are incredible and there are some, such as Kalebra Kelby, who shoot nothing but smartphones. I'm not suggesting that the phone is as good as a DSLR but it is better than saying, "You should have seen the sunset! I wish I had a camera...."

I have also published a video on this topic on my YouTube channel - Landscape Photography: Tools of the Trade

The Essentials

The obvious answer is - a camera and a lens. That's all you really need to get started in landscape photography and when I started out many years ago I had a fixed lens rangefinder.

Camera

My current camera is a Canon EOS Rebel T3i which is a crop-sensor. My go-to landscape lens is the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. The camera has a crop factor of 1.6 making this lens a 29-216mm zoom. While I would prefer to have something wider, this has suited me well. If I truly need something wider, I will shoot a panorama to be stitched in Lightroom.

Tripod

You absolutely must have a good tripod. I started to put this in the "near essential" category but changed my mind. You can get away without a tripod but you are going to severely limit yourself and will come away disappointed a lot. Landscape photography is about many things and depth of field is one; we want our images sharp from foreground to background and for that we need to stop down the lens. I will typically shoot between f/8 and f/16. This can require shutter speeds that are below our ability to handhold. There are other advantages to using a tripod, such as being able to find your composition, setting the shot up and then waiting for the light. It also allows you to shoot long exposures (with the help of ND filters, if-necessary) adding drama to moving clouds or smoothing out running water.

Circular Polarizer Filter

I firmly believe that the last essential piece of equipment is a circular polarizer filter. You can buy them as the screw-in filter for the front of your lens or as part of a "filter system". They range in price from about $10 to more than $300. The polarizer is an invaluable addition to your bag and serves multiple purposes. It can be used to add drama to your sky - if you have a nice, blue sky with clouds the polarizer will darken (saturate) the blue making the clouds pop. The caveat is that the greatest effect is when the sun is at 90° to you in the sky. If you are shooting panoramas, you have to be careful. The other use for a polarizer is to reduce, or eliminate, reflections. This is particularly helpful when you are shooting water. I use it a lot when I have a stream with rocks in and around it; there are often harsh reflections coming off the water and rocks, the polarizer will remove this giving you a much more pleasing image.

The Near Essentials

What is a near essential? I consider them to be things you need but can get away without. This list would include:
  • Neutral density filters (solid and split)
  • Telephoto zoom lens
  • Remote shutter release
These are all great to have but I have gotten great results over the years without them.

Neutral Density (ND) filters

Neutral density filters come in a variety of configurations and densities. They are, essentially, sunglasses for the lens and range from 1 to 16 stops in light reduction. They come in solid, soft-edge split and hard-edge split. The "split" filters have the darkened portion covering only half of the filter while the other half is clear. They are used when the sky and land require dramatically different exposures, such as sunrise and sunset. You can buy the filters as screw-in for the front of your lens or as part of a filter system. Personally, I like having the filter system because I don't need a set of filters for each lens. The filter system also allows you to adjust the location of the "split" whereas a screw-in filter will always have it in the middle of the frame.

Common scenarios for using ND filters include sunrise/sunset, shooting moving water and when you want shallow depth of field.

Telephoto Zoom Lens

A telephoto lens may seem to be counter-intuitive for landscape photography but it does have its place. Most of us associate landscape photography with wide, sweeping views but there are also the intimate views or for isolating distant subjects. The telephoto also lends a different perspective to the landscape by compressing the foreground and background. The next time you are out, break out the telephoto and see how it transform what you see.

Remote Shutter Release

This accessory could easily be included in the "Essentials" list for there are times when you absolutely, positively, must have one. If you are using shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds, you must have a remote release that locks. The reason for using the remote release is that it minimizes the need to touch the camera, thereby removing one opportunity to introduce camera shake. You can use a 2-second timer but that removes the spontaneity and there are times when you just don't have that mush warning. They are one of the most inexpensive things you can add to your bag and you will get a whole lot of use from it.

The Nice-To-Haves

This is a pretty broad category and I include it just to give you some ideas on what is available. This equipment is by no means necessary, in fact, I don't have some of the things on this list and I have done quite well.

Nodal Point Tripod Head

Many of you may not know what this is, I know I didn't until about a year or so ago. This is a special tripod head that is used to shoot panoramas. What makes is special is that it mounts the camera so that the "nodal point" is over the center column of the tripod. By doing this you reduce or remove the parallax inherent with other methods. I know this is a whole lot of mumbo jumbo but I wanted to let you know this exists. They tend to be quite expensive and something that I consider a luxury.

Smartphone Apps

While technically not equipment, I want to mention apps. I use a few when I am planning a photo excursion - mainly ones that tell me where the sun and moon will be at any given time and location. I also have an app giving me the times for "Golden Hour", "Blue Hour", "Twilight", etc.... I use these, along with a website called Suncalc, to plan my sunrise and sunset trips, in particular.

Rope / Gaffers Tape

I almost always have cordage of some type with me; I currently have 150 feet of paracord in my daypack. You never know when you will need to secure something or make a "battlefield" repair. I used some cord to tie a small tripod to a tree when shooting one of my YouTube videos. The tape can be used to help secure a tripod leg if the locking mechanism fails. As a Boy Scout I was told to "be prepared" and so I carry these things with me.

Miscellaneous

As I mentioned, being a Boy Scout means I like to be prepared and that means carrying stuff "just in case." If you watched my video review of the Tamrac Hoodoo 20 daypack you have seen a lot of what I carry but here is a list, along with some other suggested items.
  • Swiss Army Knife®
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Eyeglass screwdriver
  • Small First Aid kit
  • Notebook and pen
  • Emergency whistle
  • Magnifying glass
  • Map & Compass
  • Flashlight / Headlamp
  • Handheld GPS
This is the standard list of what I always carry when I venture out. I have been fortunate enough to not need many of these items while out but I would rather have something that I don't need than need something I don't have. If you are heading out alone I would add the "emergency whistle" to your "Must Have" list, especially if you are going to be in an area that isn't heavily trafficked. I have started wearing a Tactical Survival Braceletcomposed of paracord, compass, fire starter, emergency whistle and emergency knife but I still have the others in my pack.

In conclusion

I hope this post has answered any questions you may have about equipment for landscape photography and that I have inspired you to get out and shoot. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them in the comments section below. If you feel I have left something out, let me know. What is your essential list?

Thanks for stopping by.

DISCLAIMER: The above list is for informational purposes only. I do not have personal experience with all of the products and do not vouch for their quality - use at your own risk.
I am an Amazon Affiliate and get a small commission for anything purchased through one of the above links. This does not affect the price that you pay.

Suggested Equipment w/ Amazon links


All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at valencia32photo@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I'm on YouTube!

I have been wanting to launch a YouTube channel for a while and I am happy to say it went live yesterday! I published a 5 minute introductory video featuring some of my images - many of which have appeared in this blog.

I am currently working on video reviews of the MeFOTO RoadTrip tripod and Tamrac Hoodoo backpack and they should be available soon. If you have been enjoying this blog, I would ask that you check out my YouTube channel and subscribe to that, too.