Photography2Art Tutorials

Photographic Equipment Recommendations



We are fortunate to live in an era of rapid and exciting developments in every facet of photographic equipment and materials. We subscribe to the "less is more" school of equipment selection. It is all too easy to become enamored with the latest technology advances and resulting onslaught of gadgets. Our advice is keep it simple and become proficient with each piece of equipment before you add a new component to your system or kit. Our suggestions are targeted at digital users.


Virtually any camera can be used at our workshops. We recommend a digital SLR or single-lens-reflex camera with interchangeable lenses. Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony are popular brands and all make excellent digital SLR systems. A system based on the 35mm film frame size (36 x 24 mm) is a very flexible choice.

The heart of a digital camera is the CCD or CMOS sensor which collects photons and produces an electrical output proportional to the number of photons "hitting" the sensor's photosites (or pixels). The important characteristics of sensors are physical size (or format), number of pixels (measured in millions of pixels), dynamic range and noise performance (expressed as the maximum ISO speed that can be used before noise deteriorates the image).

Generally speaking the more pixels the better for landscape photography since the number of pixels determines the maximum print size that can be made without special processing. Typically cameras with 12- to 24-megapixels sensors are suitable. You can use either a cropped sensor (smaller than the 36 x 24 mm 35 mm size film) or a full-frame sensor that is the same size of the 35 mm film frame. There are pros and cons to both cropped and full-frame sensors. The full-frame sensors take advantage of the large angle-of-view of your wide angle lenses whereas the cropped sensors can have an advantage when using a telephoto lens.

A medium format digital SLR system currently represents the pinnacle of image quality and flexibility (for example systems from Hasselblad, Leica and Phase One), although the gap has narrowed a bit in the last year (2008-2009). A rangefinder digital camera (such as the Leica M8 or M9) is also capable of creating beautiful fine art landscape images. On the other end of the spectrum there is a new breed of point and shoot cameras like the Olympus E-P1 Pen, Panasonic GH1 and some new upcoming models that feature the 4/3 sensor size and interchangeable lenses that are very capable.


An entire book can be written about lenses and, in fact, many have! The key here, again is to keep it simple. Todays zoom lenses are often as good as prime lenses and are sometimes better, so it is less important whether you use zoom lenses or prime lenses.

An excellent workshop exercise is to bring only two prime lenses! Many of the world's great photographers, especially those using large format sheet film-based view cameras, use only two lenses: a wide angle lens and a moderate telephoto lens.

The most important characteristic of a lens is angle-of-view or focal length, expressed in millimeters or mm. A 50 mm lens on a 35 mm format full-frame digital SLR will have an angle-of-view very similar to the field of normal vision, a 24 mm lens, on that same camera, will have a very wide angle-of-view and a 200 mm lens will have a very narrow angle-of-view. If your camera features a full-frame sensor we recommend you bring two lenses, a 24 mm wide angle lens and a 85 mm telephoto lens, or a zoom lens that is capable of covering the 24 mm to 85 mm range.

If you are using a camera with a cropped sensor (such as DX for Nikon or APS-C for Canon) bring an approximately 18 mm (effectively a wide angle lens) and a 60 mm lens (effectively a moderate telephoto lens), or a zoom lens capable of covering the 18 mm to 60 mm range. A flexible choice, available in most systems, is an 18-200 mm zoom lens.

While it is hard to generalize, we find that wider angle lenses are usually more sought after in landscape work than longer telephoto lenses (the exception of course is if your interest is in wildlife photography). A 14-24 mm full-frame (or 10-24 mm in cropped format) is very useful.

Finally a Macro lens can be a worthwhile addition to your kit of lenses. Macro lenses allow much closer focusing distance than regular lenses; you can get closer to your subject whether it is a flower, plant, insect or rock.

The important concept to keep in mind is weight, a little becomes a lot when you are out in the field so resist the urge to bring every lens that you own or would like to own.

Tripod & Head

We strongly recommend a sturdy tripod and ball-type tripod head. A sturdy tripod is a joy to work with and essential for sharp images. We recommend a carbon fiber tripod like those made by Gitzo or Induro. While they are expensive you absolutely need a stable platform for your work in the field.

A ball-type head is recommended for use in landscape photography. There are many manufacturers to choose from including Arca Swiss, Kirk Enterprises, Novaflex, Really Right Stuff and others.

The ball-type head should be fitted with an Arca Swiss style dovetail receiver plate. You also need an Arca Swiss compatible L-bracket fitted for your particular brand of camera such as those manufactured by Kirk Enterprises or Really Right Stuff.

Cable Release

We strongly recommend a remote cable release for triggering the shutter when the camera is mounted on a tripod. You need one designed specifically for you brand of camera.

Bags & Straps

A backpack style camera bag is usually the most effective for landscape photography. There is always some walking and hiking involved and a backpack-style bag will be more comfortable than a shoulder or sling type bag. A comfortable neck strap for your camera can also be useful as well as a tripod carrying bag.

Batteries & Power

We suggest bringing at least three batteries of the type designed for your specific camera, the 120VAC battery charger and any necessary 120VAC cable to connect the battery charger to the wall outlet.

If your camera system features an optional 12VDC charging system it can be helpful for charging a battery in the car during the day. Another option is a 12VDC to 120VAC power inverter, which can be used for charging batteries from your car's 12VDC system coupled with the standard 120VAC battery charger designed for your camera system.

A multi-outlet 120VAC extension cable is very handy, since many hotel rooms do not provide easily accessible power outlets, or enough of them, to allow connection of your laptop, camera battery charger, cell phone charger, etc.

Electronic Flash

An electronic flash unit is not needed for our workshops unless specifically called out on the workshop information page. However, working with electronic flash or other artificial light sources outdoors can create interesting and creative images. Obviously you need an electronic flash system designed to work with your particular brand of camera.

A high power handheld spotlight, LED flashlight or incandescent bulb-based flashlight can be useful for "light painting" at dusk or after dark.

Computer & Storage

A PC or Macintosh personal portable computer is essential to bring on our workshops. An image library and processing program is essential, such as Adobe Lightroom, Apple iPhoto or Apple Aperture. Adobe Photoshop CS4 is also useful but not necessary. While we strongly recommend having the latest released versions of software being one or two revisions back is not usually an issue.

Bring an ample supply of CF or SD storage cards for your camera, a CF or SD card reader and any necessary cables to attach the reader (USB or Firewire). We take a lot of photographs during the day and suggest you never delete any of your work in the field. We suggest at least two cards that can each hold about 100 to 200 of your camera's RAW images.

It is essential to have enough room on your computer's hard drive for storing each day's work. A good solution is to bring two portable USB or Firewire drives in the 160 GB or greater storage size. Use one to hold your imaging software's working library (iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom) and the second to use to make backup copies of your working library each day. If it is going to go wrong it will go wrong out here :)

Also make sure your computer has enough USB or Firewire ports to support your reader and two disk drives, if not you may want to bring a USB or Firewire hub and in the case of USB it should probably be a powered hub with any necessary cables and 120VAC power adaptors.

Cleaning Supplies

Photography in the field is a magnet for dust collection on your sensor and lenses. The most effective tool is a good squeeze type air blower.

Here is how it is done: begin by placing your camera into sensor cleaning mode, hold the camera with the lens mount facing the ground in one hand and hold the blower in the other hand. Aim the blower up into the lens mount but be careful not to touch any part of the camera with the blower. Squeeze and release the blower several times aiming the blower to the different corners of the camera mount. Release the sensor cleaning mode and attach a lens on the camera immediately. This is all you need to do 90% of the time.

Sensor cleaning swabs and cleaning fluid solution designed specifically for digital sensors is very useful. This should be viewed as a last resort and you must spend the time to learn the procedure suitable for your particular camera, brand of cleaning swabs and solution.

Never use compressed air to blow dust off of a digital sensor!