7 Ways to Do Landscape Photography on a Budget
If you’re looking to dip your toes into landscape photography, but also need to make sure you can pay your bills, don’t worry – there’s hope! Landscape photography is one of the genres which I feel you can easily do it on a low budget and enjoy the heck out of.
Having focused on landscape photography now for the past 10 years, I know quite a bit about what I need, and what I don’t need, and how to not eat ramen noodles (although delicious in a weird way) every night. Here are seven tips on how to do landscape photography on a budget.
1. You create the image, not the camera
One of, if not the most frequent, thing I hear is “Man, I need a better camera.” So let’s nip this one in the bud quickly. Sure, having a top-of-the-line camera can open up doors to better quality images, but it does not open up the door to better composed images, and composition is everything in photography.
Think about it this way: somewhere in the world, someone is creating spectacular images with less than what you have. Don’t let not having a $3000 camera with a $2300 lens on it be an excuse for not getting into landscape photography.
Whether you are starting out on a point-and-shoot, entry-level DSLR or a pro-level camera, you are the one creating the image and not the camera. Put your eyes and mind to work and use what you have.
2. Zoom lenses for the win
When it comes to landscapes, there isn’t much of a need for an expensive prime lens. Sure, with primes you may get a tad sharper image and a wider aperture, but most landscape images aren’t shot at a wide aperture anyway. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I shot a landscape (excluding night sky) image at an aperture lower than f/5.6.
Read more: The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography
The pros to going with a zoom lens over a prime are that they are typically less expensive and, more importantly, they give you the ability to change your focal length without changing your lens. This is quite important in landscape photography as most of your frames will need a bit of zooming in or out from your vantage point. That flexibility can be absolutely huge for your composition.
3. Filters – the double edged sword
Yes, you will look way more sophisticated while out there in the field by sliding filters in front of your lens, but are they really worth the investment? Well, it all depends.
Graduated filters used to be more beneficial, but with the ability to layer mask and blend exposures within Photoshop, I actually don’t find myself pulling these filters out anymore. So I recommend saving some money and not investing in graduated filters.
I do recommend, however, investing in a circular polariser and at least one neutral density filter (either a 6- or 10-stop). Now, once again, you don’t need to go out and purchase the top of the line filters.
Read more: The Essential Guide to Filters for Landscape Photography
4. You’re not here to be pampered
Sure, it would be so nice to wake up in a 5-star hotel, breakfast in bed, and even one of those swan towel things greeting you in your room… but, you’re wherever you are to shoot landscapes and will barely be in your hotel room.
Now I’m not recommending to run off and find the cheapest bed-bug-filled motel, but consider what is necessary for your trip. For me, I find myself either in one of three places in order to keep my expenses lower.
Hostels are great, but not for everyone. AirBNB’s are wonderful, and can be extremely cheap if you’re looking for just a private room. But my favorite way to have accommodation while being able to shoot landscapes is… *drum roll*… camping.
Yep, good ole camping. Not glamping – camping. Purchasing a decent tent, a propane stove, and keeping things simple gives you the ability to travel on a lower budget and also be intertwined with the landscape you’re wanting to shoot even more! Camp sites can run as cheap as just a few bucks to maybe up to $30 or so for a night… so way cheaper than a hotel reservation.
5. Shop locally
There’s no problem with finding that local delicacy to enjoy a tasty meal at, but doing so every night while out traveling can get expensive quickly, especially in Scandinavian countries (yes, I’m talking to you, Iceland). My recommendation for saving some money is to shop at the local markets for meals. Fruit and oatmeal can make for an inexpensive breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and maybe a freeze dried meal for dinner.
Once again, landscape photography isn’t about being pampered! I’ve found that what it costs for one day of eating out while on a trip can be what it costs for about 2-3 days of eating from local markets.
6. Watch for travel deals
I’ll be one of the first ones to tell you that I enjoy traveling to shooting locations by car rather than plane. Sure, getting there quickly is awesome, but so many little hidden gems can be found while driving. But if you do need to fly somewhere, keep an eye out for airfare deals. There are several different websites out there that can help alert you when fares rise or drop. AirFareWatchdog and SkyScanner are both great places to start.
Also, a fun little thing I’ve learned over the years whilst traveling: when you get to the gate check-in stand for your flight, ask how full the flight is. Many airlines tend to overbook and offer flight vouchers for those willing to be bumped to a later flight that day. These vouchers can then be applied to future flights and result in either a free flight, or a nice discount on an expensive ticket.
7. National park pass
If you’re planning to visit multiple national parks in the USA, it may be worth the investment in a National Park’s annual pass. In the states, these run at about $80. Sure, it’s a pricey investment, but if you plan on visiting more than four national parks in a year, it can pay itself off and then some.
Read more: Where to Photograph Landscapes in the USA
Bonus Tip: Tripod, tripod, tripod!
Although this article is about landscape photography on a budget, the one thing you should invest in initially that can save you money in the long run is a decent tripod. Think about it: you invest in a camera and lens, and then put it on a flimsy, untrustworthy tripod.
The smallest gust of wind or uneven surface can cause that tripod to topple over with your gear on top of it. Just like that, boom, your gear is broken and needing repairs. I see this happen more times than not with those tripods, so choose carefully and take that money you’re saving from other aspects of your shooting and apply it to getting a sturdy tripod.
Read more: The Best Equipment for Landscape Photography
Landscape photography is an absolute blast of a subject to focus on and can be done in an inexpensive, yet comfortable, manner. Think about what you really need to make your images happen and then get out there and explore!