Starting out in any field can seem daunting, and photography is no exception. There’s so much gear or equipment out there and trying to single-out what you need in your field carry-ons can be quite confusing and difficult, without proper research or guidance.
In this article, we'll talk about what you need, to get started in landscape and long exposure photography. I mentioned "long exposure" because if you're just looking for simple point and shoot options during travel, then you won't need to get everything on this list. A compact camera may be the only thing you need. But if you’d like to take it a step further and gear up for a semi-professional tour, then read on.
The list I am going to mention is made up of stuff I got or should've gotten when I started with Landscape photography. To give a little background, I had my first tour March of 2018, and there was a lot of equipment I brought and didn't bring, apparently. Not bringing the essential gear on your trips may cost you to miss out on important activities during the tour. I for one forgot to bring a remote trigger on my first tour and I could not do a long exposure shot without shaking my camera when pressing the shutter button during exposure, luckily one of the participants had a spare remote I could use.
To start off, here are the essential things you need to grab for your photo tours:
1. Digital Camera
The first thing you should figure out is to get a digital camera. You can opt to use your phone, but the gears associated with it should also be included such as lens filters, tripods, etc. Now if you go for a digital camera, don't overly concern yourself with options such as full frame, APS-Cs, or mirrorless cameras. For now, just go with a camera that's sturdy and has weather sealing. You'd definitely need weather sealing when shooting in harsh environments such as seascapes or blizzards, so invest in a good camera with weather sealing, to start off.
You can get away with a few bucks by getting a second-hand camera, as long as you buy it from a reputable source. It's also worth noting that APC cameras are much cheaper (but not by a lot) than their full frame counterparts and the APS-C lenses are priced lesser than full frame lenses. I know I mentioned that you shouldn't think about it, but if you're trying to save some money, but when it comes to price, it's also worth considering. APCs have a smaller sensor size than a full frame, which is modeled from the 35mm film back in the day. But in essence, you get almost the same amount of quality for either sensor size anyway.
Let’s say you've decided which camera to buy, then the next thing you need to get yourself is a lens. Now if you got a camera kit then it's already a good starting point however, there are many better quality lenses out in the market if depending on your budget and purpose. If you're purely going to shoot landscapes then a wide-angle lens is what I'd recommend. When I started out, I picked up a third-party 14mm f/2.8 manual lens and it only cost me a fraction of what flagship lenses cost. I took these photos using that lens so you can't say cheaper means weaker.
I did graduate on from that lens and eventually sold it and bought myself a Sony 24-105 f/4 lens which is the lens I use 90% of the time. The cost will still depend if you get it second hand or brand new. I found that the focal length of 24mm is much more appealing to my view than something wider like 14 or 16mm. The preference for focal lengths will ultimately depend on you. You have to read reviews and factor in cost if you’re just starting out.
3. SD Cards and Extra Batteries
SD Cards or batteries aren’t as huge as cameras or lenses in terms of necessities but are still essential. Having access to multiple SD cards help you get more shots in without worrying about memory real estate. Bring at least one or two SD cards for a two to three-day trip, and that helps keep you focused on just shooting without thinking of deleting any photo.
Extra batteries nowadays are a requirement when going on trips. Due to the amount of usage our cameras endure during shoots, batteries wear out very quickly, especially during long exposures. Though recently, camera manufacturers redesigned their batteries for newer models to last longer, but if you buy older models then you'd definitely need extras. I have 6 batteries in total for my a7R mark II simply because I do a lot of long exposure shots and it chews on batteries like it's chocolate, so I always have them charging during downtime and before leaving for the shoot location.
Tripods are one of the essential things you should get for landscape photography. Having it is a necessity in long exposure because it helps keep the shot stable. There are two types of tripods: aluminum and carbon fiber. Carbon fiber tripods are stiffer, lighter, more weather, corrosion, and scratch-resistant, and in general, stronger than aluminum. They also look and feel nicer! Aluminum tripods are more stable (due to their increased weight), and often cost less than half the price of an equivalent carbon fiber tripod. You would have to pick between weight and cost when it comes to tripods, but I generally recommend travel-friendly tripods for long trips.
5. ND Filters
ND Filters are the last of the essential items you need to acquire for landscapes. It is absolutely needed when doing long exposure shots for landscapes or architecture. If you see moving skies or glass-looking water on photos, these are achieved by doing a long exposure shot or “LE” through the use of filters.
One thing you have to consider when buying filters is to research or check if the filters are known to have a color cast. Color casts are quite common to filters due to the tint of the glass. It's most common to filters of higher ND values. There are some images with color casts that can be corrected in post-processing, but It's always good to get the correct colors during the shoot. Another thing to consider is the filter size versus the thread of your lens. Usually, wide-angle lenses have a specialized holder and bigger size filters to avoid vignetting.
It wouldn’t matter if you buy starter kits or single glasses, but I'd always recommend having a 6-stop and 10-stop ND filter, a CPL, and a 3-stop soft GND to begin with. ND filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera through the lens and is measured by stops. A CPL reduces glare that helps refine reflections or accentuate the sky. “GNDs” or Graduated Neutral Density filters or ND Grad are filters that are transitioned starting from dark gray at one end, to clear at the other. These filters don't darken the whole image, just on one end, and is mainly used to balance exposure in an image that contains a bright sky and darker foreground. The good thing about filters and their holders is that you can stack them to get the exposure you want.
6. Remote Shutter
Lastly, you can't go leaving your house without a remote shutter, in case your camera doesn't support longer exposure times. Usually, if you will expose longer than 30 seconds to 2 minutes (for certain cameras) you would need to go on Bulb mode and manually press the shutter. During long exposures, any slight movement on the camera during would cause the image to blur because of the shake, so having a remote trigger is necessary. I made this mistake when I went on my first tour two years ago. Luckily, one of the participants had a spare IR remote that I used during the trip. Remote triggers aren’t expensive and range around 10-20 USD depending on the features and the brand.
That sums up it up! These items are what I found as essential based on my experience doing photo tours. Definitely not a final list, I may have missed some, so let me know if you have other things you find important (other than a bag)!