Essential Photography Gear for Nature Photography

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When we go out to shoot landscape images, it’s obvious that we need a camera and lenses for nature photography. But there are other pieces of gear that are just as essential to getting a good landscape shot and I wouldn’t think of heading out without them. You can deck yourself out with all kinds of accessories, but here are the essential items that you should have when you are creating a quality landscape image.

Photography Tripods

The first piece of gear that I consider essential is a good tripod. You will often find yourself shooting with slow shutter speeds, either because of the desired effect or because of low light. You will not be able to hand-hold your camera for that kind of image. A tripod also allows for precise composition and, because the camera doesn’t move between exposures, you can do bracketing or focus stacking for use later in your processing.

Notice I said “good” tripod. You will save yourself a lot of money in the long run and a tremendous amount of frustration if you get a nice tripod at the beginning.  Many of us, myself included sadly, buy a tripod based on cost and then discover that it doesn’t provide a stable base that allows for easy adjustments.

Nature Photographer Varina Patel using her Induro Carbon Fiber Tripod.

Nature Photographer Varina Patel using her Induro Carbon Fiber Tripod.

A good tripod is one that is sturdy, has easily-adjustable legs, and has a ball head that allows precise and easy adjustments to your composition. Once locked in place, the ball head should hold your camera very still and not slowly sag. Do some research about tripods and remember to consider what type of photography you will be doing. A macro photographer often has slightly different needs than someone shooting grand landscapes.

Cut Out the Glare

The second piece of equipment that I consider essential for nature photography is a circular polarizing filter. There are all kinds of filters on the market but many of them produce results that can later be achieved in post-processing. The polarizer is the one exception to this. You simply can’t get a polarizing effect in post-processing. You must capture that in the field. A polarizer works by allowing light to travel in only one direction through the lens. The result is a drastic reduction in glare from shiny or wet surfaces and often a deepening of the blue in the sky. To get the effect, simply rotate the outer ring of the filter and watch changes in the LCD or in the viewfinder, stopping when you like the result.

  • Unpolarized image. Note the glare on the water

  • A turn of the polarizing filter cuts the glare on the water and results in a much more pleasing image.

Quick Tip:  Be sure to turn the outer ring in the same direction that you screwed on the filter. If you turn it the other way, you could inadvertently unscrew the filter from the camera and it could fall and shatter.

Realize that a polarizer isn’t an “on-off” switch. You can partially polarize which often gives you a better result than fully polarizing.

A polarizing filter costs 1-2 stops of light, so you end up having a slightly longer shutter speed or slightly higher ISO than you would have without the filter. Use this to your advantage when trying to slow down a stream of water or get a little motion blur in your cloudy sky.  Buy high quality polarizing filters for each of your landscape lenses. Putting an inexpensive and/or poorly-made piece of glass in front of your beautiful lens’ front element is a common and costly mistake.

Example of Circular polarizer being used as an ND Filter for Nature Photography.

Example of Circular polarizer being used as an ND Filter for Nature Photography.

In the above image my polarizer cut the light by more than a stop, so I was able to slow my shutter speed. By partially polarizing, I cut the glare on the water but preserved the beautiful gold and blue reflections.

Remote Release

Another piece of gear that I often use in the field is a remote release for the camera’s shutter. While this is not absolutely necessary, it is certainly convenient. You could argue that you could use the two-second timer and have a stable camera when the shutter goes off and this is true. But it is difficult to anticipate the exact moment you want to take a shot when you must build in a two-second delay. Wired remotes tend to be less expensive. There are wireless remotes that, while slightly more expensive, are very convenient. If you go with the wired remote, be very careful that you don’t forget that you are holding the remote, start to walk away from your camera, and cause it to tip over and perhaps meet an untimely demise. This happens.

Camera Bags

You need a way to carry your gear from spot to spot. I recommend that you try out several different types of bags before settling on one that you like. Because I am often standing in mud or wading in water, I like to have a bag that I can access without setting it down on the ground or in the water.

Shimoda Design camera bag for Adventure & Nature Photography

Jay Patel with accessing Shimoda Design camera bag.

I use a belt system that I never take off while in the field. There are also backpacks that allow you to swing around a section of the pack to access gear in the front, thus keeping the pack on while being able to grab what you need. Be sure to have a rain cover for whatever pack you choose.

Weather and Rain Protection

Speaking of rain gear, I often find myself out on a very cloudy day because of the even, diffused light. But that means I have a good chance of encountering a rain shower. I have outer garments to keep me dry, and especially like waterproof pants for sitting on the ground when shooting macro.   I also think about protecting my gear when packing for the trip. I have waterproof rain covers for my camera and lenses that I consider essential for protecting my equipment in the event of rain. Even weather-sealed cameras and lenses don’t like heavy downpours, so be safe and have rain covers at the ready. I even have an umbrella that fits onto my tripod so that I can keep shooting in a drizzly rain.

The best time to photograph rocks and streams is when it is lightly raining. The rocks are wet and dark, and the lower light allows for a slower shutter speed to blur the motion of the water. Here, I am wearing waterproof outer garments and shooting underneath my tripod mounted umbrella.

Waterproof and sturdy hiking boots are my choice when heading out to photograph because I never know what terrain I’m going to encounter. The ankle support alone is worth considering this an essential piece of gear. I also feel safer in terms of slipping on wet rocks or in mud when I’m wearing boots with sturdy soles. If you are concerned about falling when scrambling over rocks. consider trekking poles (or perhaps just one pole) to help steady yourself as you try to find just the exact right composition that always seems to be in a difficult spot.

I try to take along a very small notebook and pen to write down things that I need to remember when post-processing. I always think I’ll remember, but then I find myself in front of the images wondering why I shot something the way I did.  A few notes and image numbers help me remember that when I’m processing the images from a shoot.

Research Tools

The last essential piece of gear for landscape photography isn’t really gear at all. It’s the internet. I do a lot of research before heading out for a landscape shoot. From checking on weather conditions to routing out my travel, I rely on the internet to help me plan my day. In addition, the internet can be a great source of education for honing your landscape photography techniques or post processing workflow.

Grab your essential gear and get out there and shoot some fun landscape images. Remember your cell phone in case of emergency and always tell someone where you are going.

The only way to become a better photographer is to practice! So, grab your gear and have fun! I hope to see you out there!

About Author Jane Palmer

Jane Palmer divides her time between being a Nurse Anesthetist and a landscape and underwater photographer. A lifelong passion for nature and animals led her to spend more time outdoors with her camera, observing animal behavior and photographing them in action. She has been an avid underwater photographer for 10 years and recently began teaching photography. She often leads dive trips to exotic locations and assists divers who want to learn more about underwater photography. Jane currently lives in St. Louis MO with her husband, who loves scuba diving as well. Jane’s strong background in Lightroom and Photoshop allows her to help her underwater students get the most out of their images. So whether she is hiking in the Smokies or scuba diving in the Philippines, you can be sure Jane has her camera in hand to capture the beauty that nature provides for us.