What’s in My Bag? A Look at the Kit of a Professional Landscape Photographer
What’s in my bag? It is a question I’m often asked. While there is no definitive kit list (what each photographer carries will depend on budget, brand preference, and weight limit), there are certain things I consider essential items for landscape photography. Some are obvious, others maybe less so, but I thought you might find it interesting and helpful if I unzipped my backpack and let you see “what’s in my bag” as a professional landscape photographer.
Landscape photographers don’t have to have the fastest or most robust camera. Instead, the top priorities are resolution, dynamic range, LiveView performance and good weather sealing. I’ve been a Nikon user since my teens and my current DSLR is the superb 46-megapixel Nikon D850.
Image quality and colour rendition are excellent, while its superb dynamic range helps me to capture detail even in awkward, high contrast landscapes. It is a great all round performer. If you want to know more about the camera, then read my review.
Further Reading: What’s the Best Camera for Landscape Photography?
This is the focal range I find I use most for landscape photography. Therefore, it is the lens I tend to keep attached to my D850 in readiness to take photographs. I love the stretched and dynamic perspective of ultra wide-angles. I often find myself working between 17-20mm, particularly when shooting seascapes when I often try to include a strong foreground object, or subject motion, to generate a three-dimensional feel. Although this an old lens, it is optically good and its fast maximum aperture aids composition and focusing.
This is a highly useful focal range. Personally, I generally favour zooms over prime lengths, due to their versatility – you can cover a wide range of focal lengths by carrying just a couple of lenses. Zooms help conserve space in my camera bag and require me to physically change lens less often – important, practical considerations. A 24-70mm is handy for a wide range of landscape types. It is a focal range that enables photographers to quickly switch the emphasis of their composition and react to changes in the light. This is a lens I wouldn’t go on location without.
This lens completes the so-called ‘Holy Trinity’ of zooms for landscape enthusiasts. Between the three lenses, I have everything from ultra wide-angle to medium telephoto covered. Although this is the focal range I use least for landscapes, it is perfect for isolating detail and interest within the landscape – for example, a landmark, tree or building. A telephoto’s ability to foreshorten perspective makes it perfectly suited to capturing views of rolling countryside, mountain peaks and misty conditions. I’ve opted for the f/4 lens – rather than the faster f/2.8 version – to reduce weight and conserve space.
As you might already know, I’m also a close-up photographer and so I always carry a macro lens in anticipation of finding miniature subjects to shoot. The 105mm is a lovely lens. It is not too big or heavy, but long enough to provide a practical working distance from subjects. Its VR is useful when you need to work handheld. The lens also allows me to highlight interesting detail within the landscape – geology, texture, shape and form. If you enjoy shooting this type of subject, keeping a macro lens (or close-up attachment) in your kit bag is a logical thing to do.
Further Reading: What’s the Best Lens for Landscape Photography?
Like many landscape photographers, I still consider physical filters essential to my work. I’ve used LEE Filters 100mm system for over 20-years now. The size of the system is important – smaller systems would cause vignetting combined with the large diameter lenses I use. A 100mm system is big enough, even in combination with the short end of my 17-35mm. I always carry at least a couple of holders with me, configured with two filter slots.
LEE Filters wide-angle adapter rings (multiple sizes)
I keep Lee Filters adapter rings permanently attached to my landscape lenses to enable me to quickly attach and detach the filter holder. I use wide-angle (w/a) rings, which are slightly recessed to help minimize the risk of vignetting. Rather than waste time attaching and detaching adapter rings, I keep them attached and use Lee Filter’s own 100mm protective caps to protect the front element – rather than using the lens’s original filters caps.
On sunny days, a polarising filter will deepen blue skies and accentuate cloud, while the filter’s ability to reduce or eliminate reflections (from non-metallic surfaces) make it a great accessory for shooting woodland interiors or any landscape containing water. It is such a useful filter that I wouldn’t want to shoot landscapes without one safely tucked away in my bag. The version I use is 105mm in size and compatible with the LEE holder via a polariser adapter ring to make it easier to use in combination with other filters. Its slim-line design reduces the risk of vignetting, although I still get a degree of vignette up to 19mm.
LEE Filters ND grads – selection of Soft, Medium and Hard-edged
I rely on graduated Neutral Density (ND) filters to balance the light in high contrast scenes – particularly during the golden hours, when scenes are often too contrasty for the camera to record unaided. Blending different exposes together during post processing in one solution, but I personally prefer to get things right in-camera when possible. The two ND grads I use most are a 2-stop hard-edged grad and a 3-stop medium. However, I carry a selection of soft, medium and hard gradients to ensure I can cope with different levels of contrast, and so that I can filter scenes with either a straight or uneven horizon.
Like many landscape photographers, I like to create the impression of motion in my shots by using longer exposures. In low light, shutter length is naturally long, but in good light the only way to generate creatively long exposures is by using solid ND filters. They have a neutral grey coating that absorbs light to allow photographers to select artificially lengthy shutter speeds – perfect for blurring the motion of running water, moving cloud or swaying crops. I carry four different densities – 3-, 4-, 6- and 10-stop versions – in order to create varying effects depending on the light and situation. I use LEE Filters new ProGlass IRND filters, which are wonderfully neutral and have an extremely accurate stop value. To learn more about using ND filters, check out this video featuring yours truly:
This is beginning to sound like an advert for LEE Filters, isn’t it? The reality is that they are my preferred filter brand and therefore my camera bag is home to array of LEE Filters things. To help keep my filters clean, safe and easily accessible, I use LEE Filters’ dedicated field pouch. It has a concertina design and slots for up to 10-filters. It has a belt loop, over-the-shoulder strap, or a tripod strap to ensure filters are always quickly accessible.
This is a handy little viewing accessory that you place over the camera’s monitor in order to review images glare-free. The HoodLoupe is great for assessing sharpness and composition and it more than justifies its place in my backpack.
Spare batteries (x2)
As you’d expect I carry a couple of fully charged spare batteries (NIKON EN-EL15a) for my Nikon D850. Battery life is good on the Nikon, so I rarely find I need to change battery on a day’s shoot. I also always carry spare batteries for my remote cord and head torch – you should always have spare batteries for anything in your kit bag that might require them.
Spare SD and XDQ memory/storage
No surprise that I also carry plenty of extra memory cards. My camera has duel slots – SD and XQD cards. I always use two cards – recording duplicate images to both. Therefore – in the unlikely event that a card gets lost, damaged or corrupted – I have an immediate back-up of all the images I take.
Living in Cornwall, I’m often shooting coastal landscapes. Sea spray can be a problem and using a cloth to remove spray only smears filters and exaggerates the problem. I always carry Zeiss lens wipes. They are like wet wipes for optics! They are disposable, but cut through spray and smears quickly and effectively. You can buy a pack of 200 for under a tenner on Amazon. Bargain!
#I always keep a couple of clean micro fibre lens cloths in my kit bag, ready to whisk away moisture from filters, or remove dirt or greasy marks. You should do the same.
Nikon MC-36 remote cord
When shooting landscapes, I almost always trigger the shutter remotely to eliminate any risk of camera movement caused by physically pressing the shutter release button. There are various remote cords and infrared devices available, but I use a Nikon MC-36. The cord also allows me to lock the shutter open in Bulb mode in order to capture exposures exceeding 30-seconds.
Landscape photographers are often walking to or from location in semi-darkness in order to capture the best light. A torch of some variety is essential for safety and a head torch is the most convenient, logical option. I always have one in my camera bag… and I recommend you do too.
In the winter months, and when working in cold or mountainous environments, it is important to wear suitable outdoor clothing. If you get cold, wet or uncomfortable, your creative juices will soon stop flowing, as you will just want to get somewhere warm. I suffer with cold hands, so I always carry two pairs of gloves – Apex + Etip gloves by The North Face, which are water and wind resistant, warm, yet thin enough to wear and still operate my camera easily.
I also carry thermal insulation Marmot on-piste gloves for more extreme weather. I also carry a hat and Paramo balaclava. Landscape photographers have to do a lot of waiting and standing around, so it is important to keep warm.
I also carry HotHands hand warmers – just in case my hands start to get really cold. These little disposable hand warmers do the trick nicely, providing up to 10-hours of heat. I always keep a few packets in my camera backpack.
F-Stop Gear Loka backpack (with XL ICU)
Lets not forget to mention the bag itself. For outdoor photographers, a good backpack is essential – an over the shoulder bag is uncomfortable and impractical on long hikes or when walking over rough, uneven terrain. F-Stop Gear bags are incredibly comfortable, lightweight, durable and well designed – I’ve now been using their bags for 5- or 6-years. You can buy inserts of varying size; depending on how much camera kit/clothing/food you are carrying. I have a XL ICU (Internal Camera Unit) in my Loka. I like the size of the Loka, but I do also have a larger SUKHA bag for when I need to carry more kit.
Although – technically speaking – they are not kept in my camera bag, there are a couple of other essential things I always carry when shooting landscapes. My Gitzo Systematic GT3541LS provides support and stability, while my Manfrotto 405 geared head offers allows me to precisely fine-tune composition. I also always carry my iPhone – Apps like PhotoPills, AyeTides, SunScout and MeteoEarth help me to evaluate the weather, sun’s position and generally plan my shoots.