Landscape photography can become an addiction — including your photography gear. When is the right time to give in to the urge of trying something new — and what's important in the beginning?
No Gear Can Replace Your Skill
Let’s make it clear in the beginning: No gear can replace your skills and your artistic view. Photographers using their phones manage to shoot breath-taking photographs of landscapes, because they simply know how to compose an alluring image.
Far too often, we see beginners crave for gear that will lift their photographs to a whole new level – completely in vain. There is no way to work around the most important gear: your own body. One does not simply point one’s lens at something and shoot a stunning image. Landscape photos need some effort. Of course, there are some occasions when we get lucky. Still, the often-heard sentence “Wow, your camera makes beautiful photographs” usually refers to the fortune of a nice sunset or outstanding scenery – not to the gear.
When to Upgrade Your Gear
There are, however, limitations. Once you shot your first breath-taking landscapes, you might come across sceneries and image sections, which you physically can’t capture; you’d love to get greater detail and add new techniques to your repertoire, but you can’t. In this case, an upgrade might be reasonable.
Depending on your degree of addiction to landscapes, your gear might grow continuously. It’s okay – as long as it doesn’t grow to fast. Otherwise, you might get disappointed: I bought and sold a 70-200mm lens. Twice. In both cases, I thought it would add to my photography. Instead, it just added weight to my bag and reduced the weight of my wallet.
The following steps are meant to demonstrate a possible journey through landscape photography – it’s not a dogma but a rough guideline.
Trying out Landscape Photography
The first steps into landscape photography are easy: You don’t need a model, you don’t need a lot of gear, you don’t need to travel far – there are beautiful sceneries everywhere. All that you need is a camera and the willingness to control your image. You might hike up a hill, find a beautiful tree on the field, or visit the seaside. Timing is everything: Season, weather and light are the most important ingredients for landscape photography.
Any camera will be fine. You can shoot with your phone or your entry level camera. Crop sensor, MFT, mirrorless, or DSLR; It doesn’t matter – as long as it’s with you.
For your first landscapes, any medium to wide angle will be fine. Every modern kit lens can produce images which are worth sharing with others. The scene and your dedication count.
Interested in Landscapes
At one point you figured out that you enjoyed the time outside and that landscape photography would make a good hobby. Great, welcome to the club! Let’s get into more serious photography. Image quality gets more important, because you don’t want to scout a location for hours only to find your image blurred, do you?
It doesn’t make sense to start with a $3,000 full frame camera. Many beginners crave for a Full Frame body. Unfortunately, investing into other gear will be far more rewarding at this point. Stick to your approved system, or make a good bargain on a cheap camera with interchangeable lenses.
Wide angle lenses are not the only choice for landscape photography. Long lenses occupy an important place in landscape photography, too. Yet, they are quite expensive and bulky. From my point of view, a wide lens makes more sense for beginning landscape photographers. I personally love to shoot with 20mm or 24mm lenses. I love primes, because they force you to think more about your composition. Other people like zoom lenses: The old version of the 24-70mm Tamron lens was my first all-rounder. For landscapes an even wider lens like a 17-35mm will also be a good investment. Especially, when you shoot on a crop sensor, because it reduces the field of view.
Far more important than your camera is the tripod. Even an entry level tripod will bring your landscape photography to the next level. It allows you to use a longer shutter speed, reduces your camera shake, and keeps your composition fixed while you are waiting for the perfect light. I love a light travel tripod like the Manfrotto Befree series. It’s not too steady – yet easy to carry wherever I need it.
The day will come soon: Your photographs are printable, your friends and family envy you for your skills, and you can’t get enough of this new hobby. Since you are regularly shooting amazing photographs, you figured out that you want to try something new. Perspective, techniques and filters come to your mind.
More megapixels, full-frame sensor – everything is fine. Just remember that lenses for full-frame systems are usually more expensive. Your old lenses might also be limited to a crop body. Changing systems is possible, but not always necessary. After all, most modern crop sensors offer extremely high image quality.
You still have your wide-angle lens, but you might get sick of the typical big-foreground-plus-nice-sunset-in-the-background game every now and then. A tele lens gives you the freedom to isolate beautiful aspects of the landscape. For that reason, a 70-200mm can be found in many photographers’ bags. For landscapes, you don’t even need to long for the heavy f/2.8 version – the lighter f/4 version is cheaper and will get the job done.
Yes, you reach your goals by using multiple exposures, self-timer, and a steady surface. Your life will be easier by adding some gear. A better tripod combined with a remote shutter release will allow you to defy the elements and reduce camera shake to a minimum. Your first filter should be a polarizing filter to clear the water surface from reflections and bring contrast into the sky. An additional ND filter helps you with long-exposure effects. If you are sick of HDR processing or multiple exposures, a graduated ND will balance the light between the sky and the earth’s surface.
If you didn’t buy it already, you probably need a comfortable backpack to store all your gear. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t find the one and only solution, here.
Addicted to Landscape Photography
What happens when landscape photography becomes your life? You can’t stop thinking about it and you’re willing to spend all your money on your hobby. That makes you a victim of G.A.S (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Many people reach the level of the most expensive gear before they reach the highest skill level. The best photographers know which gear they need and how to deal with its limitations. After all, you can’t bring everything to every location.
Collecting gear is an open-ended activity, the marginal benefit gets smaller with every piece you buy. But here is the maximum of what sounds sensible to me:
Probably, you own more than just one body. Maybe, you even launched a YouTube channel and need a second camera. Additionally, you’re also sick of switching lenses all the time, so you just grab another body from your backpack.
Your gear includes the full range of possibilities: Ultrawide to wide, a 16-35mm is quite common here, a mid-range lens of 24-70mm, and a tele of about 70-200mm. Maybe you even bought some teleconverters to cover really far away subjects. You also own a light-sensitive, wide angle lens for astrophotography, along with some primes, just in case.
You’ve got a selection of tripods from heavy models to light-weight solutions. One bag isn’t enough, you own a whole collection to be prepared for different adventures. Your Lee Filter Set leaves nothing to be desired. It’s more expensive than your first camera. There’s nothing that can stop you from shooting stunning landscape images – well except from yourself.
There is Even More Gear to Consider
As I said in the beginning: You don’t need all that gear for satisfying results. I shoot with a very puristic setup consisting of a worn-out full-frame camera, a 20mm prime, and an 85mm prime. I own two tripods and usually prefer to take the lighter one. For everyday photography, I use a small MFT system with a 35mm equivalent lens; It fits into my belt bag. Bulky gear is my archenemy and I don’t like to spend too much money for a level of quality which I don’t need. Second handed gear is my choice whenever it’s available. It saved me hundreds (maybe even thousands) of Euros.
The most important gear, in my opinion, is not camera related: Shoes, warm-clothes, a coffee machine, a camping stove. All the things that make your trip comfortable and unforgettable.