My Essential Landscape Gear

As I prepare for my first 2019 Ladies Magic in the Tetons Retreat, I thought I would share the tools that I carry in my bag to capture the beauty around me. Landscape Photography is a genre that tends to be heavy on gear. And quite often I will weigh down my shoulders in order to have all the creative options available to me. If you read my recent article on the Best Lenses for Landscape Photography, you know that there is not just one lens that works best for every scene. Add in tripods and filters and my bag gets pretty full! Keep reading and you can learn about my favorite and most used gear and why each is essential to my landscape work.

1. Promaster City Backpack

I absolutely love my Promaster bag. It has a big main section that fits 2 camera bodies plus several lenses. The top flap has a thin compartment that is perfect for carrying an iPad, small laptop, or important papers or items to stash away in a safe area while out and about. There are several zippered compartments perfect for holding my other gear I will share below such as an intervalometer, filters, extra batteries and memory cards. One side has a pocket perfect for my water bottle or coffee thermos and both sides have straps to hold a travel tripod.

2. Nikon D850 & Nikon D810

My D850 is my workhorse camera and it is the main body I use to capture the majority of my images. It has incredible resolution and is super sharp. The tilt and touch screen is amazing for capturing unique perspectives and all the buttons are so intuitive and easy to adjust settings with ease. My D810 is my well loved second body and I always have it with me not only as a back up but to be able to set it up for a time lapse or shoot fast shutter speed images while my D850 is shooting long exposures.

3. Tripod

My tripod is an essential item in my landscape bag. I have two lightweight carbon fiber tripods that travel with me for my landscape photography trips. My lightest and most compact tripod is my Gitzo GIGT1555T Traveler Series 1 Carbon Fiber Tripod. It is extremely light and compact and can fold up to fit in a carry on roller bag. My other tripod is a Promaster Specialist Professional Tripod and it is also very light with flip lock legs. I love that there is a soft foam area on one tripod leg for carrying as the tripod legs can get extremely cold in frigid weather. A tripod is essential to have for long exposures, night photography and time lapse photography. I will often have two tripods so that I can do time lapse and long exposures at the same time.

4. Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G

This wide angle lens spends a lot of time on my camera. I love a wide angle that showcases dramatic skies or the jaw dropping expanse of a mountain range. 16mm can capture an extensive scene while 35mm is still a wide angle but brings the scene closer to what our eyes experience in real life. It is a perfect range for capturing the incredible landscapes of the world.

16mm

16mm

5. Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8

My 24-70mm lens is my go to lens when I go on a hike and just want to carry my camera with one lens. At 24mm, you can get a nice wide expanse. At 70mm you can zoom in and get more detail. In the mid range, the images beautifully represent the landscape the way our eye experiences the scene.

24mm

24mm

60mm

60mm

6. Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8

I adore my 70-200mm f/2.8. The lens is extremely sharp and captures those beautiful details that are far away from me. This telephoto lens allows me to capture the beauty of light hitting a mountain peak or filling my frame with details and texture that draw me in. While the wide angle focal lengths capture the great expanse of the whole scene, the telephoto captures those far off details.

200mm

200mm

7. Sigma 14mm f/1.8 & Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8

These two lenses are my go to lenses for astrophotography. Both of these lenses are extraordinary choices for shooting the night sky. Not only do their ultra wide angles capture an incredible number of stars but they are also fast, allowing me to keep my ISO lower as I open up the aperture. One might ask why have two lenses for astrophotography but I love to set one to take a time lapse while I experiment with compositions with my other camera & lens.

14mm

14mm

8. Sigma 150-60mm

This lens is a beast of a lens but it is perfect for capturing those very far off details like the tip of a mountain top, a tree with beautiful light across a lake or wildlife in which you must keep a safe distance.

550mm

550mm

9. Breakthrough Photography Filters

Filters are an essential technical and creative tool in my landscape imagery. Polarizers, Neutral Density Filters, and Graduated Neutral Density Filters are each helpful in their own way. Polarizers cut out haze and glare and give greater definition to clouds and vibrance to colors. They also cut glare off of water when shooting rivers, waterfalls, and lakes.

Graduated Neutral Density filters cut out light from part of the frame, such as a bright sky, to allow you to brighten your exposure and capture more detail in the shadows without blowing out the highlights of the scene. This filter is extremely helpful scenes with a large dynamic range.

Neutral Density Filters cut light from the entire frame. You can purchase neutral density filters in varying degrees of strength. I own 6 stop, 10 stop and 15 stop filters. Depending on the ambient light and the creative effect I am going for, I choose which filter will help me create my art.

Natural Bridge.jpg

10. Intervalometer

My remote intervalometer is one of my most used tools. A remote trigger is helpful to avoid any camera shake when the shutter is pressed. I use my intervalometer for shooting long exposures and time lapses.

11. Headlamp & Flashlight

If I am headed out at night, I have a headlamp and a flashlight for both lighting my way in the dark and locating necessary gear or buttons. It is so helpful for night photography to know your gear well in the dark, but sometimes you need a little extra light. A strong headlamp light is not only helpful but is also comforting in the pitch black as you get to your shooting location.

Lake Louise at night.jpg

12. Extra Batteries & Memory Cards

There is nothing worse than discovering your camera is missing its memory card or battery, finding them run down or out of space at the beginning or middle of a shoot. I keep several extra batteries and memory cards in my bag so that I have back ups in case of an emergency.

13. L Bracket

My L Bracket on my D850 allows my camera to sit tight in my tripod whether I am shooting vertically or horizontally.

14.. Extras

Some additional items I often carry in my bag are clean microfiber clothes & Zeiss Lens wipes for cleaning my lenses, extra AA batteries for my intervalometer, hand warmers for colder weather, and a coffee thermos and/or water bottle!

Folly Beach Sunset.jpg

Beautiful landscape imagery can be captured with whatever gear and camera you own, so don’t let what’s in YOUR camera bag stop you from getting out and capturing the beauty. But if you are looking for new tools, I hope these favorites of mine will help you out!

Kristen Ryan is a landscape and fine art photographer residing in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. All images can be purchased in the Fine Art Store. Kristen leads ladies landscape photography retreats in the TetonsChicago, and the Canadian Rockies, offers private mentoring and teaches an online landscape photography workshop twice a year.



Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

Are you wondering what lens is the best choice for landscape photography? I often get asked by my online students and retreat attendees what lens is best for landscape photography and which lens is my favorite. The simple answer is that my favorite lens/focal length is the one that best captures my vision of the image I am seeing in the moment.

The more in depth answer is that there really isn’t a SINGLE best lens for landscapes.  It depends very much on the particular location. Sometimes you may need an ultra wide angle to get the entire scene in the frame or the sky is so amazing you want to include as much of it as you can.  Other times, you want to hone in on a smaller portion of the scene; just the part that is grabbing your eye. And sometimes you really need reach to grab detail that you cannot get with anything other than a telephoto.  

So, what’s the best lens? There isn’t ONE. However, I will give you some thoughts and examples of the several lenses I use and then you can see how these lenses would help you in the areas you photograph. 

First off though….zoom or primes? Prime lenses are sharp and fast and will capture high quality images. However, as a photographer with a landscape focus, I am partial to zoom lenses in most circumstances. The reason being that it is not as easy to just ‘move your feet’ to get a different angle in most cases. I often need to zoom ‘out’ or zoom ‘in’ to change the frame.  This also allows me to set up on a tripod and get various compositions from one location.

Ultra wide angle 

I shoot with both the Nikon 14-24mm, the Nikon 16-35mm, and the Sigma 14mm f/1.8. I also have a 16-35mm for my Sony a7rii.  All are fantastic lenses and I know from friends that the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 is also an amazing lens. 

These focal lengths will allow you to really showcase the expanse of the world. Imagine an endless sky, spanning view of mountains, or endless stars at night. The ultra wide angle is your best friend in these situations.  If you love sunbursts, a wide angle lens will also give you the most amazing sunbursts!

The ultra wide angle is often my favorite. I love taking in the wide expanse of the world and very often, only the widest angles will truly capture that magic.

16mm was necessary to capture this wide scene of the Chicago Skyline to include the golden morning sunlight shining in from the left.

16mm was necessary to capture this wide scene of the Chicago Skyline to include the golden morning sunlight shining in from the left.

14mm is my favorite focal length for capturing the night sky. The ultra wide focal length captures the vast sky of stars in addition to the foreground scenery.

14mm is my favorite focal length for capturing the night sky. The ultra wide focal length captures the vast sky of stars in addition to the foreground scenery.

16mm captures the entire sunset scene in the Tetons, including a vivid and distinct sunburst.

16mm captures the entire sunset scene in the Tetons, including a vivid and distinct sunburst.

16mm allowed me to include significant foreground and ocean in addition to the beautiful sunrise sky.

16mm allowed me to include significant foreground and ocean in addition to the beautiful sunrise sky.

But, I could not capture the variety that I do with only these widest angles.

Mid Range

I love my Nikon f24-70 f/2.8.  If you could only buy or travel with ONE lens, I’d probably say to choose a 24-70 or 24-105 (which I don’t own but there are some great lenses out there in this focal length range)

The 24-70 (or 24-105) gives you a nice wide angle in the 24-35mm range but also allows you to zoom in a bit and grab some closer details.   If I am hiking, for example, and want to only carry a camera without extra gear, this is often the lens I will grab. It is so versatile. This mid range gives you a very realistic view of the world’s scenery.

Some examples in this focal range.

48mm focused this frame between the trees. A wider focal length would have added distraction outside of the framed focal point of the waves.

48mm focused this frame between the trees. A wider focal length would have added distraction outside of the framed focal point of the waves.

60mm brings me closer to Mt. Moran in this sunrise scene and creating nice symmetry between the mountains and their reflection.

60mm brings me closer to Mt. Moran in this sunrise scene and creating nice symmetry between the mountains and their reflection.

70mm captures the birds and sun rays as the clear main subject of the frame while including the environment around them.

70mm captures the birds and sun rays as the clear main subject of the frame while including the environment around them.

70mm brings the frame closer to the mountains and makes them a more prominent part of the frame than a wide angle

70mm brings the frame closer to the mountains and makes them a more prominent part of the frame than a wide angle

Telephoto

 I own both the Nikon 70-200mm and the Sigma 150-600mm. I bought the Sigma more for wildlife and sports, but I also use it for some detailed landscapes.  

Focal lengths in the 100+ range allow you to capture details of the landscape that you cannot get close enough to with the wider angles.  Such as zooming in on a single mountain in a range, shooting across a body of water, or isolating certain details in a scene.

200mm  The week after Halloween, we got our first big snow. It just so happened I had just been out to the Arboretum the prior week photographing peak fall color. So after the snowfall, I drove through and spotted this incredible scene of seasons colliding. 200mm with my 70-200mm lens allowed me to highlight the detail of these two trees next to each other by filling the frame with the contrast of fall color and snowy branches.

200mm

The week after Halloween, we got our first big snow. It just so happened I had just been out to the Arboretum the prior week photographing peak fall color. So after the snowfall, I drove through and spotted this incredible scene of seasons colliding. 200mm with my 70-200mm lens allowed me to highlight the detail of these two trees next to each other by filling the frame with the contrast of fall color and snowy branches.

175mm  I used my 70-20mm at 175mm here to isolate the crashing waves in the ocean of the coast of Oahu.

175mm

I used my 70-20mm at 175mm here to isolate the crashing waves in the ocean of the coast of Oahu.

150mm  As the sunset’s golden light hit the Grand Teton, I captured this at 150mm to isolate the light on the Grand complimented by the colorful autumn foliage in the foreground.

150mm

As the sunset’s golden light hit the Grand Teton, I captured this at 150mm to isolate the light on the Grand complimented by the colorful autumn foliage in the foreground.

550mm  While capturing the sunrise at Oxbow Bend, I noticed the way the light was hitting this beautiful golden tree across the water. I put on my Sigma 150-600mm to isolate the tree against the background of low clouds.

550mm

While capturing the sunrise at Oxbow Bend, I noticed the way the light was hitting this beautiful golden tree across the water. I put on my Sigma 150-600mm to isolate the tree against the background of low clouds.

As you can see from the examples above, the best lens & focal length is the one that best captures the beauty speaking to you in that moment. Sometimes it is a wide angle, but other times you need a long focal length to isolate the beauty in the distance.

Hope these examples and thoughts help you to capture all the beauty in front of you at home and in your travels.


Kristen Ryan is a landscape and fine art photographer residing in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. All images can be purchased in the Fine Art Store. Kristen leads ladies landscape photography retreats in the TetonsChicago, and the Canadian Rockies, offers private mentoring and teaches an online landscape photography workshop twice a year.


Viewpoints ~ My Canadian Rockies View

Last month I missed sharing for our Viewpoints blog circle because our family was immersed in preparation for some home renovations in addition to getting ready for a 2 week trip to the Canadian Rockies.  On July 29th, we flew to Calgary and got our rental van for exploration in the mountains from the Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper National Park. I was so excited for this adventure with my family and to simply be in the mountains again. I had seen so many images of this gorgeous area and the beauty did not disappoint.  

We were unfortunately greeted with smoke from the British Columbia forest fires and that really did not dissipate during our time in Canmore and Banff. It came and went with the winds so we had some clearer days and some really hazy days where the mountains could barely be seen. But we still made the most of it and despite the smoke, I also managed to get a few landscape photo opportunities. And of course, many shots of my kids during our adventures :) It will take some time to get through them all! 

Today I will share some of the landscapes I have managed to edit over the last few weeks since our return. 

 

Three Sisters reflection at Sunrise 

Three Sisters reflection at Sunrise 

Spring Creek during a smokey sunset 

Spring Creek during a smokey sunset 

Smokey evening at Vermilion Lakes 

Smokey evening at Vermilion Lakes 

The Road to Kananaskis Country 

The Road to Kananaskis Country 

Sunset at Storm Mountain 

Sunset at Storm Mountain 

Coming around the bend at Storm Mountain overlook 

Coming around the bend at Storm Mountain overlook 

Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway 

Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway 

Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway

Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway

Sunrise at Patricia Lake in Jasper National Park 

Sunrise at Patricia Lake in Jasper National Park 

Moraine Lake Reflection 

Moraine Lake Reflection 

Stay tuned for more views from the Canadian Rockies! And in the meantime, continue our small circle of visual inspiration with Kathy Roberts. You won't want to miss her stunning work! 

7 Reasons Why I Love Landscape Photography

Why Landscapes? Do you ever wonder why people fall in love with landscape photography? Or why you might give it a try? Why spend time on this genre? 

The thoughts surrounding the answer to this question have been swirling in my head for the longest time; months, a year, maybe more. It’s a question I have asked myself at various times over the last couple years and reflected upon. 

After all, we are all busy people with so many choices and so little time. Life is short and precious and every moment matters. With 4 young kids, there is never enough time and I am always questioning how I use it. 

Sometimes it makes me wonder why I spend so much time on photography. I remember distinctly thinking about this in the fall of 2015. Shortly afterwards, we had an incident with my youngest boy, 4 years old at the time, where he crashed his bike and one of his top front teeth. He had to have it pulled because the tooth cracked down the middle up into the root. In an instant his baby smile was goneTwo days prior, we had been at the park during my middle boy’s soccer practice. I brought my camera along and captured my twins while they ran around doing their thing. One of my favorite images was of my boy in a full on genuine smile. And right there…that’s why I take those pictures of them. I was so happy to have a last real shot of his baby smile in the midst of his bike accident. 

 

But landscapes…well, then, why landscapes. That’s not capturing my kids fleeting moments. And most of the time I’m not even with them when I’m shooting landscapes. I spent some time reflecting on this and the short answer, I realized is that they are good for me physically, mentally and emotionally. And there are several reasons for this. 

1. They get me out in nature - Shooting landscapes forces you to get outside and find the beauty around you. Sometimes this means discovering places right in front of your eyes that you just never noticed were beautiful before. Other times this means exploring new places and getting out on a hike or nature walk. Even if I don’t come back with images that excite me, I’m always better for having gotten out in the fresh air. It also pushes me to explore new places that I might not have discovered otherwise. Students in my workshop, The World Around You frequently comment that they visit or discover places they had never been before in order to practice their landscapes during class.

 

2.  They lead me to see the world in new ways - Not only does landscape photography push me to explore new places, but it gives me a push to get out during those times of day that we are often holed up inside, such as sunrise, sunset and nighttime. Because it can be more challenging to get out at those times, we often don’t in our daily lives. But since these are the times when the most interesting light can be found, landscape photography pushes us to set an alarm in the morning rather than sleep in, or to stay out for (and even past) sunset. Or it leads us to find a dark place at night and observe the stars. I have seen more sunrises thanks to shooting landscapes than I ever had before. I have gone on winter hikes and seen the milky way over the Tetons at 4:30 in the morning. Often a little physical discomfort is involved, whether pushing through sleepiness or shivering in the cold, but it is almost always worth it. And the adrenaline high when the LCD screen captures what you saw, is indescribable. 

3. Shooting landscapes is like therapeutic meditation - Getting out to shoot landscapes clears my mind and soothes my worries and anxiety. When I get out and set up to shoot a landscape scene, I find that my mind is freed of my worries and distractions. I become completely focused on the scene around me and setting my camera to achieve my vision. Watching the sun come up over the horizon or dramatic clouds change as they move across the sky becomes entrancing and my mind and body are freed from the tension of anxiety as I focus on capturing the wonder of nature. For that time, all that matters is freezing those moments in front of me and in finding creative ways of capturing the beauty unfolding. 

I watched the clouds drift over the Tetons for 2 hours this September morning.

I watched the clouds drift over the Tetons for 2 hours this September morning.

4. They give me a genre of my art that is all for me - I love photographing my kids and capturing all their childhood moments, but I love that I have a genre that is all about me and my art. It does not rely on my kids’ cooperation, them being cute or little, wearing the right clothes, or anything else. I love that now and in the future, I will always have the world at my fingertips to shoot. Photographing the kids can come and go and change depending on their stage of life, but I know I can have my landscape photography outside of them. 

5. The world is my canvas - Sometimes I get frustrated living in the Chicago suburbs. I’m a bit far from the city to make it easy accessible, especially at ideal landscape light times, there is no beach and no mountains. But, there is beauty to be found everywhere if you look for it at the right times. Prairies, forests, lakes and ponds, oceans, mountains, deserts and cities. Endless opportunities and even a single location changes dramatically in different weather conditions and seasons. I love finding new locations but I also love the challenge of trying to find something new in the same location. 

There is also so many fun creative techniques and opportunities to show your voice through landscape photography in your processing. While my goal is to portray the mood of the scene as it was, there really is an opportunity to push the scene to reach your vision that is so fun if you enjoy post processing and sometimes, I can really lose myself in that process. Processing landscapes is just FUN!! 

Crashing Waves.jpg

6. To transport me right back in time to those moments - You know how you look at a picture of your child from when they were little and your heart melts remembering that moment? Well, landscapes can be the same way. When you truly feel like you captured the feeling of that moment out in nature, the photograph can bring you right back. That feeling of peacefulness in the open air, of being in awe as a sunrise unfolds or storm clouds develop over the mountains or sea, can come right back as I edit an image. 

They allow me to capture a place that is special to me, or one I have visited but may never go back to, and remember it just as I experienced it. The way I capture it or process it may not be the way someone else would have done so, but the image represents the way I saw it and felt in that moment. 

This is one of my very favorite images EVER...capturing the warmth of our family home my grandparents owned all my life and the magic of the nature that surrounds this place represented by the milky way. The home was sold this fall and my heartbreak is indescribable. But I'm so grateful for my experiences and that I was able to capture this and many other images of their property & our experiences there the last few years. 

7. Landscapes CAN and DO include people - I love that my practice of landscapes alone helps me to capture my children in the environment the way that I want to. Shooting landscapes makes me really look at every area of my frame in regards to composition and what is included in my frame, whether my depth of field works for my vision, and whether there is detail in all the highlights and shadows where I need it. Landscapes have pushed my practice of both technical and creative choices consistently and made me a very intentional shooter far more than I was before. 

#8 would be the way they have improved my photography overall, but that's a whole separate article! 

Ultimately, shooting landscapes allows me to capture the magic and awe that is our world. Not only does it get me out to see some of the more wondrous beauty of the world, like sunrise over the Tetons, or the most glorious fall colors in the forest, but it also has taught me to see the extraordinary in the more simple beauty of my local surroundings where a lone tree, curve of a path or simple reflection could make a stunning subject. 

Kristen Ryan is a landscape and fine art photographer residing in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. All images can be purchased in the Fine Art Store. Kristen leads ladies landscape photography retreats in the TetonsChicago, and the Canadian Rockies, offers private mentoring and teaches an online landscape photography workshop twice a year.