You’ve spent hours planning your visit to your next landscape photography location, but have you given any thought to the kit you are taking? Most landscape photographers won’t head out without some sort of a plan. The weather will be checked, tide times verified and sun/moon charts referenced. After all, a good plan will increase the chances of a successful shoot.
However, as well as planning for things like the weather and alternative locations, it’s just as important to pack the right items in your bag. It doesn’t matter if you have a small shoulder bag or a large volume backpack, taking the right gear will not only help ensure you get the images you were planning for, but it will also greatly improve your enjoyment of the whole experience. Make the most out your landscape adventure by creating a packing list.
What to Pack
The packing list I’m going to suggest to you is broken down into 3 categories, essential gear, accessories, and clothing. I will talk about each item in detail, but here is the summary list to get you started:
- Essential Gear
- Tripod and head
- Cable release
- Cleaning accessories
- Rain cover
- Food and drink
- Spare batteries and memory cards
- Plastic bag
- Hand gel
- Mobile / cell phone
- Portable battery charger
- Compass and map
- Tape and tools
- Waterproof outer shell
- Down jacket
- Tactical pants/walking trousers
- Low top waterproof boots
The list is somewhat subjective and it will depend on what equipment you have, where you are going and when, and what you feel is important. However, these are the items I always take or at least consider taking on each landscape shoot.
This is the gear that I consider essential for any landscape photography shoot. It’s the kit that’s always top of my list and I wouldn’t consider leaving home without it.
- Camera – literally any camera will do here. Take a smart phone, or a DSLR, or a mirrorless camera, or a film camera. What camera you take is somewhat irrelevant. Take the camera or cameras that are going to suit the location and style of landscape photography you are planning.
- Batteries and Memory Cards – Do I even need to mention these items? It's always worth checking that your camera has a fully charged battery in it and that you have formatted your memory cards. Nothing will shorten your trip out with the camera more than leaving your battery at home.
- Lenses – this is very much a personal choice and largely depends on what you are planning to shoot. Normally I’ll take my 16-35mm and 24-70mm, but if I think I’ll need it my 70-200mm will make an appearance in my bag as well. If I’m going to be in mountains and I want to save weight, the 24-70mm is the lens that covers most of the bases for me.
- Tripod and Head – I rarely shoot landscapes handheld so the tripod is an essential bit of kit. Unless you are sure you won’t need a tripod, I would always take one, especially if you will be shooting the golden hours. It doesn’t really matter what tripod you have, as long as its sturdy and stable. I have a lightweight tripod with a head for when I’m in the mountains, but owning multiple tripods is certainly not essential.
- Filters – I never go out on a shoot without my filters. While some effects can be created through bracketing or post processing, the effects of a polariser or neutral density filter are either impossible or very difficult to recreate. As a landscape photographer, I like to “get it right in camera” so I can spend more time outdoors. If you are taking filters I would recommend keeping them all in a filter holder for easy access and to reduce the amount of room they take up in your bag. There are lots of great articles on Improve Photography on how and when to use filters:
- Cable Release – Yes, the cable release for me is still an essential piece of gear. Sure, you can use the 2-second timer, but sometimes I want the precision of a cable release. If I’m shooting a seascape, timing the shutter release with a crashing wave is much easier with a cable release.
- Bag – Where do you start on bags? There are hundreds to choose from and what you buy is very much a personal choice. For landscape photography though, I prefer the backpack style of bag as this means I can carry heavy loads with ease. Any good backpack should have comfortable shoulder straps, a sternum strap, a hip belt, compression straps and plenty of pockets for all your accessories. My personal choice is the F-Stop Gear system but again, just search Improve Photography for bag reviews where you’ll find some great advice.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials on our packing list, let’s look at accessories. What you select to take here can vary significantly depending on where and when you are going, so I’m not suggesting you need everything on this part of the packing list. However, I would place all the items on your own list and then review the need to take an item each time you pack a bag for a shoot. This way you’ll be making a conscious decision to take an item or not, and in the process hopefully not forget something important.
- Drone – The drone isn't that far off becoming an essential item but given you can't fly it anywhere I would still consider it an optional item. With drones like the DJI Mavic Pro being roughly the same size as a 24-70mm though the decision to pack one needn't always be a tough one. Check out this Improve Photography article on travelling with your drone
- Cleaning Accessories – If you’re shooting close to the sea, somewhere wet or dusty be sure to take some lens wipes and micro fibre clothes.
- Rain Cover – Talking of shooting somewhere wet, taking a rain cover can sometimes be useful. This could be something as simple as a shower cap from a hotel room to something a bit more custom.
- Food and Drink – Even on short shoots, I always take a bottle of water out with me. Nothing hampers creativity more than dehydration. For longer days, I will also take plenty of food. A lack of energy due to hunger will soon cut your day short.
- Spare Batteries – The need to take spare batteries out will depend very much on your camera and how many frames you will take. Even on full day shoots I rarely switch to my spare battery. However, I'd never leave home without one.
- Spare Memory Cards – Even if you don’t expect to fill a memory card, taking a spare will save you if in the unlikely event that the card in your camera becomes unusable.
- Money – Most places take cards these days but having a little cash on you is always a good idea. It comes in very handy for that unexpected car park charge or getting something to eat and drink.
- Plastic Bag – Even if you don't create any litter, it's always nice to pick up the odd item of litter that someone else less caring might have dropped.
- Hand Gel – No matter if you've just eaten a sandwich or met the call of nature, some anti-bacterial hand gel will keep your hands clean and not mess up your precious camera gear.
- Mobile / Cell Phone – Useful for so many reasons. You might want to use your favourite photography app, take a reference picture with it, log a location or call for help. It’s not far from being an essential item these days. If it's going to be wet consider a waterproof holder for your phone.
- Portable Battery Charger – If you do take your mobile/cell phone consider taking a portable battery charger with you. If you're on an all-day shoot you'll be lucky if that phone battery lasts you all day so having a portable battery to charge your phone will be essential.
- Compass and Map – If you are heading out into the wilderness take a map and compass. Sure, you might have GPS / Sat Nav on your phone but what happens in the battery fails or there is no signal. It can be easy to get lost and no one wants to be the person that gets rescued because you weren't properly equipped for where you were going. You also need to know how to use the map and compass.
- Tape and Tools – Though it's a rare occurrence your gear can sometimes go wrong so take a roll of electrical / gaffers tape and a multi-tool. I’ve had a battery compartment fail on me that I fixed with tape and a loose tripod leg that I tightened up with the multi-tool.
This isn’t strictly a photography item but I can literally spend hours in the car getting from one location to the next, so I like to make the journey a bit more entertaining. For shorter journeys, pass the time with one of the great Improve Photography podcasts. Tripod is the show to listen to if landscape and outdoor photography are your passion.
For longer journeys, I recommend audio books like those from Audible (an Amazon company). I don’t know about you but I don’t have time to actually sit down and read A Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) by George R R Martin. However, you’ll soon get through a few volumes with all those sunset and sunrise trips to the national park!
As a landscape photographer, you should never underestimate the need to have suitable and good quality outdoor clothing. Nothing will make you want to end your time out with the camera more than being cold, wet, or uncomfortable. Having the right clothing for the conditions you will be shooting in will greatly improve your enjoyment of the shoot. You will be more focused on the creativity side of things rather than how hot and sweaty you might have become.
- Waterproof Outer Shell – Most landscape photographers avoid clear sunny days in favour of more dramatic weather. Having an outer shell with taped seams and no insulation means that it will not only keep you dry but also allow you to wear it in warmer conditions.
- Down Jacket – You’ll never regret buying a packable down puffer jacket. These jackets are very light weight and compact, and will keep you warm in even the coldest of conditions. They are typically showerproof, so for those wilder conditions, you wear your waterproof outer shell over the top.
- Tactical Pants / Walking Trousers – A good pair of walking trousers or tactical pants is a must for the outdoor photographer. Not only will they be more comfortable for walking in, but they offer lots of room to move in when you need to crouch down to get that awkward angle shot.
- Low Top Waterproof Boots – Comfortable feet equals a happy photographer. While high top boots offer a little more protection choosing a low top boot will allow your feet to breathe a little more. Get a pair that you are comfortable with and offer you the protection you require for the environments you will be in and you’ll forever thank yourself for spending money on good boots.
- Gloves – For the summer months get a lightweight pair of gloves with finger cut-outs. The temperatures can be considerably colder first thing in the morning or up on a mountain peak so you’ll always be thankful you have a pair with you. For the winter get yourself a heavyweight pair of gloves. Adjusting those small dials and buttons on your camera with numb fingers is no fun at all!
- Hat – As with gloves best have a lighter weight one for the summer and a thicker one for the winter. Most of the bodies heat escapes via your head so keep your head covered when the temperature drops.
If you want some more details on recommended clothing why not check out Jim Harmer’s article on Landscape Photography clothing.
Some Things Not on the List
So, you’re going on a multi-day landscape shoot or you’re be doing a bit of travelling to get there, then you’re probably also thinking about battery chargers and laptops. If so, why not check out Improve Photography’s Ultimate Packing List for Travel Photography where you’ll find some additional items for your list.
Enjoy the Outdoors!
As a landscape photographer, you probably already have a love for the outdoors and the adventure it can bring. Hopefully this list will remind you to take a few things that you might not have previously thought about and in turn make your time outdoors even more enjoyable.
Do you have any favourite items you like to take out? Is there anything I’ve missed that should be there? Let me know in the comments below.