Want to know what is the required equipment to get into Landscape/Nightscape photography? To give you a clearer picture, I think it would be better for me to share with you what I have in my camera bag. (or something that I have used before)
Without wasting any more time, let’s get started! 😀
P.s. for non-Nikon users, you can still base on my suggestion to find the similar equipment for your camera system. 😉
First, is the camera (obviously) but I believe that you must have owned one now. If not, you may not even be reading this article now. Currently, I own a Nikon D610, and occasionally I have accessed to Nikon D750 and Nikon Z7, depending on the project I’m working on at that time. All these three cameras are Full Frame camera, but my first pick would be Nikon Z7. It is a mirrorless camera, not only it can produce an image with superior quality at 45.7 megapixels (with high-level of detail!) but also is smaller and lighter. That’s very convenient for a travel photographer like me.
Normally, cameras can be categorized based on the Sensor Size, from micro fourth-third, crop sensor, full frame to medium format. Basically, the bigger the sensor, the better the image quality.
Photo that taken by Nikon Z7
Most of the time, if I’m travelling, I would always carry two cameras with me. So that there’s a backup camera if one fails to operate.
One thing I would like to highlight here, regardless of what camera (or what brand) that you own, always remember it is still you that in charge in taking a good photo. What you need to do is to understand the strength and the limit of your camera and learn how to make the best out of it.
“It’s not the camera but the person behind the camera”
Second, let’s talk about the lenses. Owning an Ultra Wide Angle (UWA) Lens is essential for a Landscape photographer. Based on my experience, most of my photos are taken at focal length between 16mm and 35mm. Sometimes, at 14mm but that’s more for Interior Architecture shooting.
For Night sky (Milky Way, star trails, etc.) photography, you may also consider having a UWA lens with a wide aperture, at f/2.8 or wider. A wider Aperture gives you an advantage in taking the photo in a low light environment, without the need of boosting your ISO. Higher ISO would generate more Noises on your image.
Currently, I own a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens, and that’s the best lens I ever have. The 14-24mm focal length not only covers most of the scenes that I ever photographed but also allows me to take a better photo of the nightscape. (Thanks to f/2.8) One lens for almost everything. The only drawback is the lens can’t use a screw in filter due to its protruding front element. For a workaround, there’re filter holders that specially designed for lenses like Nikkor 14-24mm which you can attach the holder directly on the lens hood. However, both the holder and filters for such kind of lens are more bulky and expensive. If you are looking for the filters for your UWA lens, you can check out Athabasca filters.
Here are some other UWA lenses with wide aperture for your reference:
Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens
Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC
Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8 (APS-C)
Here are some of the photos that taken with lenses different focal length. The different focal length provides different Lens Compression effect, making the background appeared closer to the foreground.
For focal length beyond 35mm, it is less common in Landscape/Nightscape photography but is good to have one of these lenses in case you need extra zoom in on a scene.
The lenses that I have are:
Rokinon/Samyang 24mm f1.4 ED AS IF UMC – I bought this lens due to its f1.4 Aperture and is mainly for Astrophotography.
NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.8G
NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Tripod is crucial, especially for photographers like us that often taking photos by doing long exposure shots with Shuter Speed can go more than 1 seconds or even up to minutes. A good tripod not only give you better stabilizer and shake reduction but also very durable. I have bought a few tripods before and they are still working great after years of using. (undamaged but I lost one at an airport year ago, sigh)
That’s why it is worth to invest in a good tripod. (also because you are going to put your expensive camera and lens on it!)
The current tripods that I’m using are
Fotopro C5C – a good solid built, portable tripod. This model is discontinued, but you can find similar type in other brands like Sirui, Leofoto.
Gitzo GT2531lvl + FLM CB-38F Ballhead – my heavy duty tripod. It is taller, bigger, better stability and shake reduction, and is versatile in any shooting condition.
If you prefer lightweight, small size, easy to carry around, you can consider travel tripod like Fotopro C5C. If you prefer better stability and versatile, go for a bigger tripod like Gitzo GT2531lvl. I have been using my Gitzo to take photos even in windy weather or setting it into the sea when taking photos of the seascape.
How I setup my tripod at Moeraki Boulder beach for photo shooting. Photo credited to my friend Jo.
Shutter Cable Release
Next, let’s talk about some other accessories that I think is important, and Shutter Cable Release is one of them. It is basically a shutter controller that attach to your camera via cable, for you to trigger the camera’s shutter without touching your camera hence avoiding any possible shaking. I’m using a photic shutter cable release but any brand would work the same.
If you don’t have the Shutter Cable Release, you can use your camera self-timer function as an alternative. However, please beware of the blinking light when the timer is counting down, the light can still light up the foreground and affecting other photographers. You can try to disable the light via your camera menu, or you can just use a tape to cover it. (if you can’t disable)
L-bracket is very useful if you are taking photos in portrait orientation. Instead of having your camera turned to a side of the tripod, and the lens weight can cause the whole setup to sag. An L-bracket is attached fitted to your camera to avoid rotation of your tripod plate, with the weight directly pushing down on the top of the ball head even in portrait orientation. In other words, more stable.
Currently what I have is Sunwayfoto PNL-D600 L-bracket for my Nikon D610.
Here’s the setup comparison between with and without using an L-bracket.
Landscape photographers love taking photos during the sunrise/sunset, but the lighting condition can be so intensive that your camera won’t be able to cope with it. That can result in getting a photo with an overexposed sky. To overcome that, either you do a series of bracketed shots or use a Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter to darken the sky, depending on which method you more prefer.
With a combination of ND and GND filters, not only I able to balance the exposure between the sky and ground, but also able to slow down my shutter speed to create smooth water flowing effect.
If you are interested in doing bracketed shots, you can check out my previous post: “Exposure bracketing for perfect details“
Aside from the GND filter, there’s also a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is a fully coated black glass/resin and a GND filter is half coated. With ND filter, you can darken the overall scenery, so that you can use slower shutter speed to create a long exposure effect, e.g. smoothen out the water or adding motion for the cloud. That’s something you can’t get with bracketing.
Currently, I’m using Athabasca filters and below is a list of the type of the filters that I have now:
GND8 (3 stops) 150mm filter
ND64 (6 stops)150mm filter
ND1000 (10 stops) 150mm filter
GND32 (5 stops) 100mm filter
ND400 (8 2/3 stops) 100mm filter
RGND8 (3 stops) 100mm filter
There are two filters system from above listing, the 150mm filters are for my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. The 100mm version is for normal lenses like Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G, which is smaller and cheaper.
Long exposure shot using Athabasca ND1000 (10 stops) + GND8 (3 stops)
Filters or Bracketing?
Usually, I would stick with bracketing, as it is more flexible. However, when doing a long exposure shot, I would prefer using both GND and ND filters, to save time from doing multiple exposure shots. I also prefer filters when taking photos in a situation that I’m unable to keep the same composition due to factor like waves when taking photos at the seaside, or taking photos without a tripod. It will be tricky to do bracketing and align the photos later. (Want to know more about the difference between filters and bracketing? I’m going to write a blog post about it, stay tuned!)
Here’s something good to have but you only use it under certain shooting condition.
Want to capture the skyline view of the city? Sometime, you may need to take the photo from a restaurant, rooftop bar or hotel. That can be tricky when you are taking photos at a non-public area, which a standard tripod is often not allowed and this is where the mini tripod comes into the picture. It is more discreet, won’t blocking an area and causing disturbance to others.
The Mini Tripod that I’m using is Manfrotto Pixi. It is small, cheap and just good enough to hold a DSLR camera. At least, it has no problem in holding my Nikon camera and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens, but let’s not testing its limit with lens that’s a lot more heavy.
If the mini tripod is also not allowed, you can try your luck with a clamp. (For the last resort, you will have to take the photo handheld.) Below is a photo of Manfrotto Super Clamp (035), it has a very strong grip and has no problem to hold on a fence or glass firmly. (Just be careful not to break the glass by overtightening the grip)
To use the super clamp, you will need to get an additional stud (sell separately), so that you can attach a ball head on the clamp.
Here’s how the setup look like when using the super clamp. Basically, your camera is going to be outside the building. 😛
If you are serious into panorama photography and being tired of fixing the alignment of a photo after stitching, you may consider using a panoramic head. With the tool, you can capture a series of photos easily from left to right at a fixed degree rotation between each photo. All the photos are properly levelled and aligned so that the photos can merge perfectly later in post-processing without having the parallax problem.
I’m using Nodal Ninja 4 Panoramic Head for panorama photography. It is a great tool and I can even do a multi-row panorama photo with it. The only drawback is the weight.
A panorama photo that taken using Nodal Ninja.
That’s all for this post, I hope it will help you as a reference to pick the right gear for both landscape and night sky photography. See you in next post!
Happy shooting! 😀
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