I am a huge fan of being a minimalist when it comes to the equipment that I carry on a hike. Weight and fatigue as I carry everything in my backpack are always a concern so I try to pack light and only carry the things I need. As Photographers have a huge bounty of available equipment to us and I must say that not all of it is useful. I always want to keep in mind variables like weather, where I am going, what I plan to shoot, how long I am planning to be out, and what would be the minimum amount of equipment I would need to accomplish my goals for the day. This list covers only ten items but each are important and should be a part of any photographers basic kit of gear.
When starting out as a budding landscape photographer the tendency is to over pack with gear but with experience comes the knowledge that less is more. I really try to minimize what I carry down to the bare essentials because I would rather carry more water and food than anything else. Without the energy from the food you bring with you, You may as well pack up and go home because it will show in your images. Keep your focus sharp, carry only what you need and your mind and body will thank you for it!
1. Dust blower -This is probably one of the more important items that I carry with me and I would never be caught without one. Often when there is wind present there will be small particles of dust in the air which can get on your gear. I have taken a perfectly clean and dust free camera out of my backpack and within a few minutes there is dust present on the lens. Use the dust blower first for getting rid of those larger, pesky dust particles, It really will be an image saver when your out in the middle of nowhere. Dust is our enemy out in the field and this is out first weapon to fight it. There are several companies that make these in various forms, I personally use the Giotto’s Red Rocket which cost me about 11 bucks. Simple, cheap and effective.
2. Microfiber cleaning cloth – After the dust blower the microfiber cleaning cloth comes in handy to gently clean your optics for removing fingerprints, water spray and other small dust particles. I always keep a few on hand so I can rotate and wash them as needed. These are very cheap running under 10 bucks but it’s always something I have on me. I clean mine with a tiny amount of liquid soap and some warm water every so often to keep them in tip-top shape. Always use the microfiber cleaning cloth…Never packets of lens cleaning tissue. The wood fibers in the tissues are just too rough for delicate camera optics and gear. I learned early on that they can leave tiny scratches in your glass, I’m just not willing to chance ruining thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
3. Tripod – Ah, Our old friend the trusty tripod. This is the most important tool that we can carry around and I am comforted to know that it is there and will perform faithfully for me. Getting my images straight and sharp are important qualities in a landscape shot. This is an instance where buying cheap will do you no good. Cheap tripods are just that…Cheap. You will never be happy and spending the money to get even a modest one that you will have for quite a long time is always better. Excellent tripods can be found in the $150 to $300 dollar range and will serve most Photographers needs. I use an Induro 8m alloy tripod with a bhd-1 ball head and together they cost me $300 dollars or so but worth every penny. It is well constructed, very stable and it is a panoramic ball head so I can do more types of work than a cheaper set up.
4. Headlamp or flashlights – Often I shoot on the fringes of the day at sunrise, sunset or late at night and find myself needing a little light once in a while. Headlamps are very useful and can be found at any outdoor gear store or online. I use one made by Petzl and is very effective for night shots to illuminate parts of the scene or to otherwise add a little light on the subject at sunrise/sunset. You can find decent ones for $30 dollars and if you shoot when its dark out you are going to need one of these. Small, led flashlights are widely available on Amazon for cheap and I always carry one or two with me.
5. Circular Polarizer – One of the three must have filters for landscape and nature Photography. They reduce glare, Let you see through water and saturate colors. They can help transform an otherwise dull shot into a great one and I always carry a screw-in type and one for my Cokin filter system. These can be expensive with a screw-in type at 77mm costing over $100 dollars but again well worth the expense. You will get immediate payback with much better image quality.
6. Graduated neutral density filter – Another must have filter for the nature Photographer which come in different strengths, Some block more light and some block less. These filters are neutral grey on one half and clear on the other half allowing you to even out the exposure and block light in areas of the composition such as sky with the landscape in the foreground. These will save your bacon when out shooting during the day. A basic set of one, two and three stops is more than enough to capture most scenes. Currently I am using Cokin stackable ones with a Cokin filter holder and run about $25 dollars each but are worth the money. You can go all glass with this filters but then they start getting really expensive and you have to be much more careful with them.
7. Neutral density filter-The last of the must have filters for nature work. The neutral density filter works the same way as the graduated only the entire filter is neutral grey not one half which will block light throughout the image. These come in various strengths as well and help in achieving long exposure times. Again a set of one, two and three stop neutral density filters and are great for for most situations and will really help you to make better images. One note of caution: Regular Neutral density filters are harder to stack together as it can create weird color casts to your images depending on the shooting conditions. However I routinely stack two graduated filters together and never really had an issue with the color cast.
8. Extra batteries and memory cards -It seems simplistic but I always carry a plentiful supply of both. Video and live view mode generally suck up a lot of juice and I prefer to shoot stills but I like to have enough power with me to do both. Memory cards can fail or you may be doing a ton of shooting and they are cheap so always carry a lot of them.
9. Remote shutter release-While not entirely necessary I do carry Canons rc-1 remote with me at all times. For night time shooting and star trail work they are essential and that’s mainly what I use it for as well as long exposure work. The Canon one is small, simple, easy to use and cheap to replace if lost. If you have shaky hands or it’s really cold out I would highly recommend one for those situations.
10. Tripod mount for a smartphone- I am using the Adobe creative cloud photographers subscription that comes with the lightroom app. In that app is a really good manual camera that lets you change exposure settings as well as recording the image in dng format. I find it’s easier to share online this way as I can shoot and edit raw files on my phone. It also transfers them into lightroom wirelessly when your near your computer so an excellent addition to the subscription.