The objects we share our lives with can have a rich history that echoes our own. Tracy Calder asked photographers and repairers about the camera equipment that tugs at their heartstrings
In 1970 Don McCullin was with a platoon of Cambodian soldiers in the rice fields of Prey Veng when the Khmer Rouge opened fire. McCullin chucked his camera (a Nikon F) on a nearby ridge and hurled himself into the water, his head almost submerged. When he retrieved his camera moments later, it bore the imprint of a bullet from an AK-47.
The photographer found this exhilarating, as he explains in his autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour. ‘I thought to myself, Boy, you’ve done it again,’ he admits, ‘you’ve managed to get away with it.’ Almost 50 years later this battle-scarred Nikon was a key exhibit in an exhibition of McCullin’s work at Tate Britain.
I’ve long held the belief that objects have a biographical history that can sometimes be read in their appearance. Just as we are unavoidably shaped, marked and transformed by our experiences, so too are the objects we share our lives with. ‘Every thing has its history as every person has its own biography,’ echoes historian Asa Briggs.
Two people who obviously feel the same are photographer Mark Nixon and author (and photographer) Matthew Hranek. Nixon’s book Much Loved is a favourite of mine. It features portraits of stuffed toys that have been snuggled, squeezed and stroked until they have literally been loved to bits.
The in-house repairer at the Camera Museum fixes a Hasselblad A12 film back
Nixon describes these toys as, ‘repositories of hugs, of fears, of hopes, of tears, of snots and smears’. They are transitional objects that ease the path from childhood to adulthood. The pictures are both celebratory and bittersweet.
Hranek, on the other hand, selected watches as his muse. In his book A Man and His Watch, he recounts stories behind much-loved timepieces, from the Omega JFK wore during his presidential inauguration to the Rolex Paul Newman received from his wife, Joanne Woodward, to mark their 25th wedding anniversary – the case bears the words ‘Drive slowly’, a reference to the motorbike accident he was involved in in 1965.
All 76 watches in the book were photographed by Stephen Lewis who used his ‘love of objects and life-long practice of observation’ to reveal the most essential qualities of each one. To the author, the photographer and the people who own these watches they are more than just objects, they have been worn on the body, close to the heart.
If proof were needed that objects have a biographical history then consider the BBC TV series The Repair Shop for a moment. Week after week people show up with objects that are in need of serious TLC: a ceramic bowl in pieces, an airman’s jacket with broken zips and weakened seams, a pump organ that hasn’t made a sound for a generation.
To anyone else these are just ‘things’, but to the people who know their stories they are hugely emotive. ‘There are compelling stories attached to each item, which range from romantic and sentimental to downright terrifying,’ says presenter Jay Blades.
With each stitch, dab of glue or turn of a screwdriver the experts entrusted with their care fall a little bit in love with each object. Going forwards, they become part of the item’s history.
All of this got me thinking about McCullin and whether there were other cameras with biographical histories. To find out, I asked a selection of photographers and camera repairers to tell me about the cameras that have tugged at their heartstrings. First up is author and expert in photographic history John Wade.
‘Some years ago, while researching Wrayflex cameras, I managed to track down one of the old directors of the Wray company,’ he recalls. ‘Arthur Penwarden was 97 years old when we met and proved to have a lifetime of invaluable memories. After we’d chatted for a while, he showed me the first Wrayflex camera, one of three pre-production prototypes.
I saw immediately that it differed slightly from the production models and I wanted it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for sale because, he said, it held too many memories. I left him my business card and we parted company. Two years later, I received a phone call from Arthur’s daughter.
Arthur had passed away two months short of his 100th birthday and, among his goods, she had found a camera, wrapped up with my business card and a note to say it should be passed on to me. To the untrained eye, it looks like any other Wrayflex. To me, it’s among the few cameras in my collection that I will never sell.’
Next, I spoke to Wes Davies from Camera Repair Direct. Davies has been repairing cameras for 24 years and has a particular love for the engineering of old 35mm models. ‘We see a lot of cameras that have sentimental value,’ he says. ‘These items have often been passed down or given as a present, so I must admit that I try a little harder to get them going for our customers.
A pre-production model of the Wrayflex I, probably the oldest Wrayflex still in existence
One of our customers, who recently passed away, used to bring his cameras in for a yearly service and show me the pictures he had taken from around the world. He had some great shots, and you could see how much he cared for his equipment – it was like an extension of his soul. I love to travel but I don’t get much chance these days, so I enjoy looking at pictures and hearing such stories.’
Davies is not the only one who enjoys working on analogue equipment. Philip Sendean from Sendean Cameras has a soft spot for Contax 645 cameras and the Braun Nizo 801 Super 8 Cine Camera. ‘The Nizo 801 is well engineered and was ahead of its time,’ he enthuses. ‘It should outlast its rivals.’
Sendean has heard many stories over the years and is keen to tell me about a Canon EOS 5D that crossed his path. ‘It was used for filming a documentary about walking with elephants and following their journey,’ he explains.
Meanwhile, Adrian Tang from the Camera Museum loves to get his hands on cameras from the Hasselblad V-series. ‘It’s always rewarding to keep such iconic models fully working and in good health,’ he says. ‘Once a customer brought in a Hasselblad V-series camera with a lot of sand inside and we had to dismantle and clean every part.
It was time consuming (and very expensive!) but both parties were happy in the end.’ Tang believes that almost anything can be repaired, but not everything is worth the time and money it takes. Like Tang, Steve Smart from Camserve Ltd loves to work on well-designed and manufactured models.
‘All manufacturers tend to make the odd “lemon” from time to time, but in general Canon, Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon and Rollei all make items that are serviceable for years,’ he suggests. Smart is often told about cameras that have come to a sticky end. ‘One guy left his Canon EOS 5D Mark III and zoom lens on the roof of his car and didn’t realise until he’d finished his journey,’ he remembers.
‘When he retraced his steps, he found what was left of it – it had been run over several times. Another chap suffered a heavy nosebleed at the precise moment he was cleaning his sensor, so it ended up covered in blood.’
A Leica M6 with its covers removed for adjustment and cleaning at Camserve Ltd
Finally, I made contact with neuropsychologist (and former photojournalist) Dr David Lewis-Hodgson who told me about his beloved Nikon F. ‘This camera “served” with me throughout the conflict in Belfast (1969-75). It has been attached to the tailplane of a Tiger Moth, smashed (but repaired) by a Lightning fighter making an emergency landing in a gravel pit arrester and drowned in 40ft of sea water when the underwater casing flooded.
Despite being half-a-century old, it still works fine!’ Going back to McCullin, I can see why his particular Nikon F attracts so much attention. This camera has been a witness to atrocities that, thankfully, few of us have had to endure. It has served as both a physical and mental buffer for the photographer over the years.
The scars it bears can be interpreted as his own: every scratch, dent and graze tells its own story. Just like McCullin, this camera has a personal biography and its past, present and future have been shaped by war. The objects we share our lives with – from teddy bears to watches and cameras – might not have a voice, but for those who know the source of their scars they do speak.
A Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 ED DX lens awaits some TLC at Camserve Ltd
Camera repair shops
A small selection of the camera repair services offered in the UK
Camera service and repair centre (90% of work carried out in-house) handling everything from analogue to digital, lenses and flash.
Are there repairs that people shouldn’t attempt at home? ‘We see quite a lot of cameras and lenses in pieces because customers have taken them apart and can’t put them back together again. The rise in “how-to” videos is partly to blame – some suggestions are plain wrong!’ Steve Smart (director and owner).
[Most digital cameras can also give you a nasty electric shock if not handled correctly.]
Camera repair and equipment hire service, handling analogue and digital equipment (all technicians work in-house).
What are the most challenging repair jobs? ‘Some older electronic cameras are tricky because spare parts are no longer available and we have to engineer methods and make parts (sometimes using 3D printing) to keep them running.’ Philip Sendean (director)
Skies and Scopes has released the findings of its study which analyzed the equipment used to capture the photos that made it to the final shortlist for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition over the past three years.
The study analyzed almost 400 images across three categories: 138 landscape astrophotography images, 126 deep-sky images, and 112 planetary images. All of these had made it to the shortlist of the Royal Museums Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, one of the most prestigious competitions in the space. The study covered images from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 competitions; the latter announced winners earlier this month.
Although the study is not scientific and does contain minor anomalies in the results — such as unclear equipment details for some images or completely missing equipment information — it still aims to shed a brief insight into the type of cameras used to shoot astronomy images that get recognized by the competition.
The study found that there is a close split of 55-percent of DSLR or mirrorless cameras and 45-percent of dedicated astronomy cameras used. This is further broken down and findings show that DLSR cameras, in particular, are the most likely to be used in shortlisted images with 39-percent, followed by 24-percent of CMOS sensor cameras, CCD with 21-percent, mirrorless with 15-percent, and a small portion of smartphone and tablet users at 2-percent.
When it comes to brands, Canon and Nikon marked the top two brands used, with Sony in fourth place. The rest are manufacturers of dedicated astronomy cameras, such as ZWO, SBIG, FLI, and others.
The Canon EOS 6D was the most popular model used overall with 10-percent of shortlisted images taken with it. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV came third, while Nikons’ D750 and D850 both were at 4-percent each and stood in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
Out of dedicated astronomy cameras, ZWO ASI174MM and ZWO ASI1600MM were the most popular, while none of the mirrorless models made it to the top six.
However, when it comes to landscape astrophotography images in particular, the Sony a7 III crept up to fourth place with the two Nikon and Canon DSLRs ahead of it, as shown in the table below.
Skies and Scopes also reports that mirrorless cameras are growing in popularity and are used more frequently for astrophotography now than in previous years. In 2019, 12-percent of shortlisted images were shot with a mirrorless, followed by 16-percent in 2020, and 17-percent this year.
Unsurprisingly, Sony is the dominating brand for mirrorless cameras in the competition and takes up a 67-percent share, while 14-percent of photographers used Nikon mirrorless — with Nikon Z6 as the most popular Nikon model — and 11-percent used Canon, with Canon EOS R as the favorite.
Planetary astrophotography, in the table below, and deep-sky astrophotography primarily saw dedicated camera brands take the lead, with ZWO in particular, however, Canon EOS 6D made its way into both categories and represented the DSLR brands more than any other non-astronomy camera make.
The study also detailed the most popular telescopes, mount manufacturers, and star trackers with all sections broken down further.
Although the study aimed to provide a good insight into what astrophotography gear has excelled in the past three years, Skies and Scopes notes that the most frequently used gear doesn’t necessarily mean it is “better.” Instead, it should be noted that it can simply reflect what equipment is affordable and within reach for most people.
There is no better reminder that strong technique and knowledge of how to shape light are what create good images than seeing a professional make compelling photos use basic equipment. This fantastic video tutorial will show you how to create a professional-level product image of beer using entry-level equipment and also walk you through the retouching process in Photoshop.
Coming to you from workphlo, this awesome video tutorial will show you how to light, shoot, and edit an image of beer using basic equipment. It is always great to see what you can do with limited equipment, as it is a great reminder that you do not always need top-notch equipment. Even if you do not shoot product photography professionally, it is a great thing to practice in your spare time. Product photography is often about problem-solving issues with lighting, and the techniques, skills, and experience you gain during the process can be used to improve your work in any other genre using artificial light. Check out the video above for the full rundown.
Simply seeing the Milky Way is already an awe-inspiring experience, and photographing it is one of my favorite things in the world. Although I’ve already written several articles about photographing the stars, today I wanted to specifically cover the gear needed to get great night sky photos.
This article is a continuation of my recent article on the best equipment for landscape photography. As such, I’ll be using the same rating scale to judge the usefulness of each type of astrophotography gear:
1/4: Rarely worth getting
2/4: Can be useful
3/4: Very useful
4/4: Must buy!
However, this time I couldn’t think of any “rarely worth getting” equipment that is popular among astrophotographers, so there is nothing rated “1/4” in this article! Almost every common accessory for Milky Way photography can be useful under some circumstances, even if I don’t tend to use it for my own photography.
Without further ado, here’s my analysis of the necessary gear for capturing great photos of the Milky Way at night.
It should go without saying that you need a tripod for Milky Way photography. I’m sure there are some people out there who take handheld Milky Way shots just to say they can, but they’re losing a massive amount of image quality that way.
One time, I didn’t bring a tripod along because I was traveling with some friends and didn’t expect to do much photography. Our view of the Milky Way ended up being amazing. I tried to take some shots by putting my camera on the ground, pointing toward the sky with a self-timer. I ended up with bad compositions, bad focus, and blur from the camera slipping in the grass. My friends took better Milky Way photos with their phones. It was humiliating. Bring a tripod!
Full-Frame Camera (3/4)
The usual advice for Milky Way photography is to get a camera with the best possible high ISO noise performance. And while that’s true, two techniques I’ll cover in a moment (star trackers and image averaging) mean that it’s not a necessity. You can theoretically take top-quality Milky Way photos with even a point-and-shoot so long as it has manual mode and shoots raw.
But boy does a good camera make things easier. Full frame is the way to go if you can. They also tend to have better lens options for shooting the Milky Way than aps-c cameras.
Wide-Angle Lens with f/2.8 or Greater Maximum Aperture (3/4)
Wide lenses allow you to use longer shutter speeds without blurring the stars. And large apertures allow you to capture more light – critical considering that a lack of light is the biggest barrier to high-quality Milky Way shots.
However, as with using lower-quality cameras, you can also use slower lenses or telephotos for Milky Way photography these days without actually sacrificing image quality. You just need to be using a tracking head or image averaging.
But wide-angle lenses with a large maximum aperture are still the ones to beat. That’s particularly true if you want to do some special case photography like capturing details in the Northern Lights, which can’t readily be improved with star tracking or image averaging.
Headlamp with Red Light Mode (4/4)
One of the most important pieces of gear you can bring along for Milky Way photography is a headlamp. With a headlamp, you free your hands to set your camera and adjust composition. Most headlamps also have a low-light mode, unlike a lot of flashlights.
Try to get one with a red light mode because it doesn’t strain your night vision as much as white light. Just remember to turn off the headlamp before taking your photos, or you’ll end up with a red foreground!
Bright Flashlight (3/4)
Even though I generally navigate with a headlamp at night, it’s always helpful to bring along a bright flashlight as well. One of the easiest ways to focus on the night sky is to shine a flashlight at something in the distance and focus on that instead, approximating infinity focus.
This is the one I use because it’s small, light, and has variable brightness. If you already have a good one, just use that.
Light Painting Gear (2/4)
I’m not much of a light painter in my Milky Way photos. Some people love it and consider it a necessity. The best light painting gear varies from flashes to lightsticks to even drones with lights attached, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
In the rare case where I’ve wanted some light painting, as in the bridge photo below, I’ve used my flashlight or headlamp to provide slight foreground illumination.
Focus Aid Filter (2/4)
Generally, lens filters aren’t closely associated with Milky Way photography, but there are a couple types that photographers occasionally use. One of those is a focusing aid filter. It works by adding streaks to the stars in your photo – streaks which are misaligned when the star is out of focus and aligned when it’s in focus. The idea is that you’d attach the filter, focus, and then detach the filter.
There’s nothing wrong with them (they do work well) but I find them no faster or easier than the other focusing methods I tend to use at night. Feel free to get one if the other methods cause you to strain your eyes, though.
Light Pollution Filter (2/4)
The other somewhat common filter for Milky Way photography is a light pollution filter, designed to filter out some of the yellow colors of light that are common near cities and towns. While light pollution filters may seem like a good idea, they often cause enough color shifts in the foreground (and blurry corners on the cheaper filters) that I tend not to recommend them. The situation where they’re the most helpful is for deep-sky astrophotography in polluted areas, where you’re using a star tracking head (see below) to maximize image quality.
Star Tracking Head (3/4)
One of my favorite accessories for capturing high-quality photos of the night sky is a star tracking head. To use it, you just point the head at the North Star – or equivalent area in the Southern Hemisphere – and it follows the rotation of the stars all night (technically the rotation of the Earth, but we all know what I mean). You can attach an ordinary tripod head and compose your photo however you want. Wherever you point, star trails will be eliminated.
However, the downside is that “earth trails” – i.e., a blurred foreground – is inevitable when you use a star tracker. Some photographers choose to take a second, non-tracked photo of the foreground to merge the two together in Photoshop. Other photographers use star tracking heads for deep-sky astrophotography anyway and don’t have a foreground to worry about in the first place.
Whatever you choose, star tracking heads can give you absurd levels of image quality at night. I took the photo below with a fourteen minute exposure (plus a separate shot for the foreground). You can see in the crop afterwards just how much detail is in those stars.
Tripod Leveling Base (2/4)
If you want to take panoramas at night in order to capture the whole Milky Way, a useful tool is a tripod leveling base. Leveling bases go directly underneath the tripod head, and they have a few degrees of motion in each direction to allow your tripod head to be completely level even if the tripod legs aren’t. This way, you can rotate the tripod head to take multi-image panoramas without introducing a major tilt to your shots.
There are certainly more advanced setups if you want to do complex nighttime panoramas (our friend Aaron Priest is known for that) but a leveling base is a good starting point if you’re after basic panoramas.
Remote Shutter Release (3/4)
It’s common in Milky Way photography to be shooting with unusual settings that are much easier with a remote shutter release. Whether you’re trying to capture star trails with an hour-long exposure, a timelapse movie, a sequence of images to blend later, or anything else unusual, a remote release of some kind can be very useful. Although most cameras have built-in intervalometers, a separate remote will usually have much more functionality.
Battery Management System (3/4)
If you’re shooting a timelapse or sequence of images at night, you should make sure you have enough batteries to last. Cold nights sap away battery life faster than you may be used to, and the same is true of constantly recording images one after another.
Plenty of cameras these days have an option for continuous power over USB, which means you can use a high-capacity external battery pack to keep your camera charged all night. If yours doesn’t, you may want to look into a standard battery grip that can at least double the capacity on most cameras.
The easiest option, if you’re not shooting a timelapse and don’t mind interrupting your camera for a minute, is just to bring a bunch of extra batteries and swap them out when they reach one bar.
It’s easy to get cold while you’re taking Milky Way photos, especially if you’re just standing around next to your tripod in the dead of night.
With no sunlight to keep you warm, even a seemingly reasonable night around 15 Celsius / 60 Fahrenheit can start to feel surprisingly cold. Bring more jackets than you think you’d need, plus handwarmers, a hat, gloves, and so on – even if it seems like overkill. Make things cozier by bringing a camping chair, blanket, and a portable speaker to enjoy the evening as your camera clicks away.
Milky Way Tracking App (3/4)
The Milky Way is generally found to the South, even if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere (though it’s much more overhead to you if that’s the case). It starts the night in the Southeast and moves toward the Southwest.
Still, it changes quite a bit based on the time of year and where you are on the globe. Rather than simply planning to look South, a better idea is to have an app that can track the Milky Way and show you where it’s going to be at any time and date in the future.
There are plenty such apps out there. I have no affiliation with them, but I like one called PhotoPills that has an augmented reality view of the Milky Way superimposed on the landscape in front of you, with whatever time/date you select. I’m sure there are others that do something similar, but either way, I recommend a Milky Way tracking app to make your life a bit easier.
Other Apps (3/4)
There are so many other potentially useful apps for Milky Way photography that it can be hard to keep track. You’ll want a good weather app that shows cloud cover details; I use a free one called Astrospheric. For deep-sky astrophotography, there are plenty of apps which show where to find particular details in the sky. I can’t say I’m very impressed with any of the ones I’ve tried, but I use two called Star Chart and Star Walk 2 that are passably good. And then I’d recommend PhotoPills a second time because of its information about the moon and meteor showers, plus specific features for calculating star trails. It’s a $10 app, though, while the others are free.
Sequator or Starry Landscape Stacker (3/4)
As much as I like using a star tracker to capture maximum image quality at night, there’s a method I like even more – image averaging. With the proper software, you can load multiple photos of the Milky Way to be averaged together, a process which drastically reduces noise and improves image quality.
The two best options are Sequator (Windows) and Starry Landscape Stacker (Mac), which align the stars before averaging your photos. They keep the foreground and all other stationary objects in the photo untouched. It’s similar in image quality to using a star tracker, at least for most uses.
This sort of software is why I’m comfortable using an f/4 lens (the Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4) as my primary Milky Way photography lens these days. It’s also allowed me to get dramatic improvements to my depth of field at night, as you can see in the photo below, where I was able to use f/8 and take 33 photos to average:
A single photo with the same depth of field looks like this, completely unusable:
You can also use image averaging to take telephoto images very easily, either to enlarge the core of the Milky Way or to show off other astronomical phenomena, like the comet Neowise that showed up last year:
For what it’s worth, you can also take image averaged photos of deep-sky objects (or even use a combination of image averaging and a star tracker) to get very high levels of image quality. If you don’t have a foreground in your photo, the best software options are DeepSkyStacker (Windows) and Lynkeos (Mac), both of which are free. Again, I have no affiliation with any of these, and there may be others out there that are similarly good – just sharing what I’ve used.
Topaz Denoise or Similar (3/4)
The last step of Milky Way photography is the post-processing phase. There’s a lot of noise in most Milky Way photos, so a good noise reduction product is very helpful. I generally just use Lightroom’s noise reduction, but not because it’s better than other software out there. It’s not; it’s just convenient. To get top quality, I recommend downloading Topaz Denoise or some similar artificial intelligence noise reduction software.
I hope this article helped you figure out what gear you need for Milky Way photography! If there’s anything I overlooked, let me know in the comments below. This is what I use for my own Milky Way photos, but there are so many advanced directions you can go if you’re interested in this genre – everything up to dedicated telescopes for deep-sky astrophotography, or even specialized cameras for photographing other planets in the Solar System. The sky is, quite literally, the limit.
You can easily fill a backpack (or even the trunk of a car) with a landscape photography kit. Cameras and lenses only scratch the surface – there’s an overwhelming number of other accessories out there. This article breaks down what’s available and explains exactly what a landscape photographer really needs.
This article isn’t meant to be a review of any specific product or company. Instead, it covers all the camera gear and accessories that are commonly used for landscape photography, along with my thoughts on whether or not they’re necessary in the first place.
Here’s how I’ll be ranking the usefulness of each type of gear:
1/4: Rarely worth getting
2/4: Can be useful
3/4: Very useful
4/4: Must buy!
This article only covers “ordinary” landscape photography rather than Milky Way photography, which I will cover in a separate article to be published soon.
A camera is obviously necessary for photographing landscapes, but which one? Unless you’re printing massive images, landscape photography isn’t that demanding of a genre. You can get away with cheaper cameras without anyone noticing, and you can even use image blending techniques like panoramas and averaging to squeeze more image quality out of them. I love 45 megapixel full-frame cameras (or 100 megapixel medium format cameras) as much as anyone, but you can easily take good landscape shots without them.
I recommend at least a micro four-thirds camera sensor with 16 megapixels or more. A 24 megapixel aps-c sensor is an even better target, and a 30+ megapixel full frame camera or larger is the crème de la crème. There are some potentially helpful features found on advanced cameras like sensor shift or focus stacking that can make landscape photography easier, but again, none of them are strictly necessary. If you have a bigger budget, our best landscape photography cameras article may help you decide. But chances are that whatever camera you already have is enough, so long as it has interchangeable lenses.
Second Camera (3/4)
I never leave on a landscape photography trip without a second camera, but I generally make sure it’s a lightweight (even pocketable) camera that is as easy as possible to carry along. Every camera dies eventually, and you don’t want to be empty-handed if yours stops working in the middle of a shoot. Even a phone can suffice as a backup if you’re happy with yours. Otherwise, pack away a small camera with a built-in lens like the Fuji X100V, Ricoh GR III, or Sony RX-100. I use the Nikon Coolpix A for this purpose – a tiny, discontinued DX camera with an 18mm lens (28mm equivalent).
In recent years, I’ve taken some of my favorite photos with my drone, the DJI Mavic Pro 2. A similar but less expensive option is the newer DJI Air 2S, which also has a 1-inch type sensor – what I consider the minimum for high-quality landscape photography. Drones aren’t universally loved, and they’re also prohibited in many of the places where they’d make for great photos, like a lot of National Parks (rightly so in most cases). But there are still plenty of locations where drone photography is legal and unobtrusive, with great scenery that looks amazing from the air. They’re hardly a necessity but can lead to some great shots that can’t be captured any other way.
Wide Angle Lens (3/4)
Wide angle lenses (anything about 24mm and wider) are by far the most popular type of lens for landscape photography. But sometimes photographers are a bit overzealous about them. “Beautiful scene + capture as much as possible in one shot” is not always a recipe for great photos. A wide angle lens is very useful for landscape photography, especially if you want to exaggerate the foreground, but it’s not the only way to get good results.
Normal Lens (3/4)
I’d categorize a “normal lens” as something in the range from about 28mm to 70mm full-frame equivalent. These are a bit more maligned for landscape photography as static or boring focal lengths. And it’s true that they don’t give you the exaggerated foregrounds of a wide-angle nor the subject isolation of a telephoto. But they also feel very natural and unforced. The longer I do landscape photography, the more I gravitate to this range of focal lengths.
Telephoto Lens (3/4)
Everyone knows that telephoto lenses are good for wildlife and sports photography, but it’s also becoming more common to see them used for capturing distant landscapes. It seems like every month I see a new article on popular photography websites about using telephoto lenses for landscape photography. There are a couple such articles on Photography Life, too, here and here. Like wide angles and normal lenses, you don’t need a telephoto to take good landscape photos, but it’s very useful.
I recommend that landscape photographers have a wide, normal, and telephoto lens if possible, but any of the three is sufficient to start. I spent a couple years shooting with nothing but a 105mm prime and still consider those photos to be among my favorite landscape shots.
There are some landscape photographers who say you don’t need a tripod any more. I’d say to ignore them. Sure, high ISO performance is better than it’s ever been, and some specialized post-processing techniques like image averaging can potentially salvage handheld shots even in low light. But tripods do more than just maximize image quality. They also make it easier to use techniques like panoramas and HDR. Any my favorite reason for using them, even in bright daylight, is to make small and careful adjustments to my composition.
Tripods can be heavy and expensive, and some of them aren’t very stable, either. I always like showing this diagram:
But the truth is that tripods are getting better and better these days. You can find some sub-$200 carbon fiber tripods that are fairly stable and well-built. An earlier guide of ours goes into detail on getting a good tripod for landscape photography – but the important thing is to get one in the first place.
Tripod Head (4/4)
I consider a ball head and a geared head to be the two best types for landscape photography. Ball heads are smaller, lighter, and less expensive while being just as stable. Geared heads are nice for making very fine adjustments to your composition and are preferable if weight and cost aren’t major concerns. Regardless of which type you pick, you can’t use a tripod without a head, so find one that works for you.
To attach your camera to a tripod, it’s common to put a small lens plate on the bottom of the camera. However, this can make it awkward to take vertical photos with most tripod heads. The solution is to use an L-bracket instead of a small plate. These brackets hug the camera and allow you to attach it vertically just as easily as horizontally.
Panorama Nodal Slide (2/4)
If you like shooting panoramas, especially with a wide angle lens, an important tripod accessory is a nodal slide. It allows you to slide the camera forward and backward on your tripod head so that the “nodal point” of your camera system is exactly centered over the tripod head. When the nodal point is centered, you won’t get any parallax issues in your panorama (where the relative position of objects in the frame changes as you take each photo in the panorama).
I know that sounds really obscure, but dedicated panorama photographers will find these invaluable. You’ll simply have a much easier time aligning your panoramic photos in post-production if you used a nodal slide to center your camera system ahead of time. But it’s also a bit of a special case that doesn’t apply if you don’t shoot a lot of wide-angle panoramas, so I’m not rating it any higher than “can be useful.”
Spiked/Claw Tripod Feet (2/4)
Another tripod accessory that I don’t consider essential is a replacement for the standard rubber tripod feet. The most common replacement is for spiked feet, which are better at digging into sand and sticking there. Another option is for clawed feet, which are meant to grip well on wet or icy rocks.
I have some spiked tripod feet that I will occasionally bring along if I’m expecting to do a lot of seascape photography from a sandy beach. They’re nice to have but not critical.
I think every landscape photographer needs a polarizing filter. By minimizing most types of reflections, they tend to improve the look of foliage and water substantially. They can also darken and saturate the sky – something that’s often doable in post-processing but still easier in the field.
ND Filter (2/4)
Almost everyone agrees that polarizers are useful for landscape photography and difficult to replicate in post-processing. There’s more division when it comes to other types of filters, particularly neutral-density (ND) filters and graduated ND filters.
ND filters are dark, neutral colored filters that allow you to use longer shutter speeds if desired. They can theoretically be replicated in post-processing by taking multiple photos with shorter exposures and averaging them in software like Photoshop.
I rarely find myself in a situation where either is necessary, to be frank. I’m usually happy with the shutter speeds I can get in-camera and don’t need extra motion blur from a long exposure. I tend to bring an ND filter along anyway but find myself using it a lot less than I’d expect.
Graduated ND Filter (2/4)
A graduated ND filter is simply a filter which is dark on one end and clear on the other, smoothly transitioning from one side to the other in a gradient. The idea is that the graduated filter can be aligned to darken the sky in your photo while leaving the ground untouched (thus helping avoid overexposed highlights in the sky).
It’s possible to simulate graduated NDs in post-processing with HDR or other image blending techniques. But there are still plenty of photographers who would rather get everything right in a single in-camera exposure, or who simply prefer the look of a graduated filter over HDR.
As with regular ND filters, I carry along a graduated filter but rarely use it. Nor do I often use HDR – not because I have anything against it, but just because I don’t end up photographing a lot of landscapes which need more dynamic range than my sensor is capable of with proper exposure. But some landscape photographers may consider these (and regular NDs) to be far more essential. It depends on your needs.
UV Filter (2/4)
I’m not a fan of UV filters (AKA clear filters or protective filters), particularly because of the additional flare that most of them add when the sun is in the frame. However, I still consider them a potentially useful accessory for landscape photography.
In windy and sandy conditions, it’s possible for the front element of your lens to get scratched even if you’re doing everything else right. A UV filter can take that damage instead. Also, many high-end UV filters these days have water-repelling coatings, while a lot of lenses don’t. If you’re planning to do waterfall or oceanside photography, a UV filter can make it easier to keep your photos free from water droplets.
Other Filters (1/4)
There are almost limitless types of other filters that you can use in photography. I don’t consider any of them to be very useful for landscape photography, at least when shooting digital. (Film photographers may wish to look into some color corrective filters.)
One minor exception is if you want to take exposing to the right to the absolute extreme. If you use a cc30m, cc30p, cc40m, or cc40p magenta filter, you’ll tone down the green color channel of your camera sensor, which tends to clip sooner than the red or blue channels. Technically you can get about 1/2 stop better dynamic range when using one of these filters on your camera at base ISO. I don’t do this or recommend it in general, but it’s worth knowing the effect exists.
Lightning Trigger (2/4)
If you want to photograph lightning, it may seem like a good idea to get a specialized lightning trigger from Miops or similar. And these triggers do work well if that’s your plan. But lightning photography is not something I recommend in general, for obvious reasons – and even if you do want to photograph lightning, a dedicated trigger isn’t necessary.
I actually have a Miops trigger but usually forget it at home. I took the only good lightning photo in my portfolio using the classic “timelapse method” where I set my camera to take photos on an interval and simply reviewed the pictures for lightning later.
Handheld Meter (1/4)
There are different schools of thought on metering in the digital world. I’m of the opinion that the in-camera meter is the only one you need, especially if you’re supplementing it with the camera’s blinkies or histogram. I’ve never met a scene where I’d have gotten better results with an external meter, at least on a digital camera.
Remote Shutter Release (2/4 or 3/4 depending on camera)
The most basic use for a remote shutter release is to allow you to use exposures longer than the normal 30 second limit on most cameras. Another major reason is to reduce camera shake caused by pressing down the shutter button.
However, many cameras these days allow longer than 30 second exposures (such as any Nikon camera with the “Time” exposure mode). And it’s just as easy to reduce camera shake with a self-timer or exposure delay mode, assuming you don’t mind waiting two seconds for the photo to be taken.
Remote shutter releases can still be useful, but I find myself bringing one along less and less these days – in fact, not at all in the past couple years. I know that a lot of landscape photographers would consider these a critical part of the kit, though. Take that as you will.
(Note that there are also much more advanced remote shutter releases such as intervalometers and even camera controllers that have many more features. I consider these to have a similar rating of 2/4 or 3/4 – not strictly necessary but potentially useful depending on your needs.)
Extra Batteries and Memory Cards (4/4)
I always recommend bringing along at least two extra camera batteries and an extra memory card with more capacity than you think you’d need. Personally, I’ve forgotten my memory card at home enough times that I now keep a spare in my car. You won’t be able to take any pictures without these necessities, and they don’t weigh much, so bring an extra!
Waterproof Memory Card Case (3/4)
Any sort of waterproof memory card case does the trick. The lighter the better if you’re planning to hike with it.
USB Battery Charger & External Battery Pack (3/4)
I’ve found that the best way to keep my camera and phone charged in the backcountry is with a generic battery pack (something with at least 10,000 mAh) plus a USB charger specific to my camera batteries. At the end of the day, I’ll plug the USB charger into the battery pack and recharge any empty batteries. One 10,000 mAh pack is equivalent to about four Nikon EN-EL15c batteries. My preferred battery pack is 20,000 mAh and lasts for ages.
Rain Cover (2/4)
Although I give rain covers a 2/4 rating, it really depends on what environments you shoot in. If you’re constantly photographing waterfalls or taking pictures during monsoons, a rain cover may be essential – whereas other landscape photographers may never need one at all. I personally haven’t bought one, but it would have been useful for me at least once, when I temporarily killed my Nikon D800e in a rainstorm several years ago (it was working fine again an hour later).
The best way to carry a camera for landscape photography – particularly with at tripod – is a backpack. Not just any backpack will do. The vast majority of dedicated camera backpacks are uncomfortable for long hikes and not at all designed to carry weight optimally. Even “hiking” camera bags like those from F-Stop Gear and Shimoda are what I’d consider the bare minimum for long hikes.
A much better alternative is to find a dedicated hiking backpack from a company like Gregory or Osprey and simply use it to carry camera gear. Some photographers complain that these bags make it hard to access camera equipment fast, but that’s just not true of many of them. Go to an outdoors store in person and look through the hiking packs. I’m sure you’ll find at least one that has easy access points. Your back will thank you.
Grab Bag (3/4)
When I’m doing landscape photography out of a car, I find that it helps to have a dedicated grab bag in the trunk for little essentials. For example, I may throw my extra jacket, filter kit, USB charger, and a bag of batteries into the grab bag. These are all things that I want to have accessible during the trip, but not things that I need to carry on my back every time I go on a short hike. It also helps for organization and spreading out while I travel. An ordinary canvas or cloth bag works well here.
Sensor Cleaning Kit (4/4)
I’ve found that my camera sensor gets dirty at the most inopportune times. And now that I’m using a mirrorless camera rather than a DSLR, it seems to happen a bit more often than usual (though it’s also a bit easier to clean).
Usually, a rocket blower is sufficient to clear pesky dust particles from my camera sensor. If not, I’ll either use a sensor gel stick or a wet cleaning option (or both) depending on how bad the dust is. While you can generally remove dust specks in post-processing without too much difficulty, it’s a big annoyance if you have to do so for dozens or hundreds of photos from a trip.
Lens Cloth and Cleaning Kit (4/4)
Lenses get dusty and dirty sooner than cameras, and while it’s not as big of an issue, it can still lead to some unwanted effects. That’s especially true if you’re taking pictures in rainy conditions or near a waterfall, when there’s no avoiding some water droplets on your lens. Bring an absorbent lens cloth (I like to use a microfiber towel) to clear the way.
Solar Charger (1/4)
For charging camera batteries or your phone in the middle of nowhere, a solar charger seems like a great solution. And maybe it is under certain circumstances. But I find that a pre-charged battery pack weighs less, packs smaller, and charges enough to easily last a week without issue. I bought a solar charger years ago and have never needed it. Maybe if I ever go on a month-long outing in the wilderness (which I won’t) I’ll change my mind.
Specialized Apps (3/4)
There are apps available these days for almost anything you can think of in photography. My favorites for landscapes are OptimumCS for hyperfocal distance calculations, Photopills for tracking the sun, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris for planning my shoots. You should also look into various weather apps and, if you’re planning to fly a drone, a map to figure out legal restrictions.
GPS Camera Attachment (2/4)
Some photographers like knowing where they took a particular landscape photo, either for the sake of memory or just to make it easier to return there in the future. I’ve never cared too much about that personally, but if you do, there are GPS attachments available for most cameras that will attach the location to each photo’s metadata.
GPS + Maps for Navigation (4/4)
While a GPS attachment for a camera isn’t something I care much about, a GPS for navigation is essential. You’ve got to know where you’re going! I find that the GPS on my phone or Garmin watch usually does all I need, especially in combination with maps like All Trails, Gaia, or even a downloaded Google Map. This applies both to hiking and driving in the middle of nowhere without cell coverage. Make sure to have a map downloaded or printed ahead of time, and a GPS to navigate it.
Other Camping/Hiking Equipment (4/4)
This isn’t an article about hiking gear (I’ll work on one of those at some point) but suffice to say that it’s just as important as all the camera equipment above, if not more so. You need proper clothing, food, and shelter for where you’re going, plus first-aid and safety equipment. Even if you’re only going out on a short hike, don’t skimp. My rule (learned after some scarily close calls) is to consider what would happen if you broke a leg in the middle of the hike; make sure you have enough gear or are in a popular enough area that you would be safe even in such a situation.
Lightroom, Capture One, or Similar (4/4)
As much as I love the field side of landscape photography, the post-processing side is also of utmost importance. Naturally, some photographers prefer to spend as little time editing or organizing their photos as possible – but even then, some sort of software like Lightroom, Capture One, DxO Photo Lab, ON1, etc., is necessary. The built-in software on most computers is fine when you’re starting out, but it’s not geared toward advanced photo editing or organization.
Milky Way Photography Equipment
This article is getting long enough already, but I will soon be publishing a continuation that goes into my recommended equipment for Milky Way photography! There are enough differences compared to “regular” landscape photography that it merits a full article of its own.
I hope you found this guide to be useful, and if there’s anything I missed, let me know in the comments below. Personally, I bring along the equipment I rate as 4/4 on every landscape trip I take, plus most (or all) of the 3/4 equipment and often some 2/4 gear as well. But every landscape photography outing is different, and so is every photographer, so feel free to modify this list as needed for your own work.
Original, innovative photography is hard to find. However, Ethan Beckler has excelled. He leads the way in macro photography, pushing camera and lens technology beyond normal limits and creating astounding art at the same time. With great generosity, he shares his techniques with us.
The Journey to Macro
About 15 years ago, Ethan kept high-end Nishikigoi (Japanese Koi). It was that which first got him into photography. He wanted something capable of photographing his fish, so he started his photographic journey with a Sony bridge camera. His interests evolved into macro photography when he wanted to take pictures of snowflakes in the backyard. For that, he initially purchased an Olloclip adaptor to use on an iPhone 5 and began photographing individual snow crystals that fell in his backyard. That led him to take macro to a whole new level and adopt a different camera system.
Since those first steps, his macro work became revolutionary, breaking all the rules by combining a macro lens with a teleconverter and modified extension tubes. The results are astounding. It was his sand photography that first grabbed my attention: individual grains of precious minerals, less than a millimeter across, sometimes placed one on top of another, filling the frame with crystal clarity.
Ethan was the innovator of this setup. Others were using the 10mm and 16mm extension tubes to attach to the 60mm macro lens. However, he didn’t like the extra length that setup involved. So, he decided to hollow out the 16mm tube to attach it directly to the MC-20.
Those teleconverters are meant for the high-end telephoto lenses and not the macro lenses, but this modification allows just that.
Macro Photography or Microscopy?
He told me his macro work goes from 1x up to about 10x. I wondered whether, going to these sorts of magnifications, he would now call it microscopy, but he still uses the term macro photography; he is still using camera gear. He rarely uses a microscope objective and rail when he can get the better results (quality and magnification) with his Olympus setup, which also brings advantages such as in-camera stacking.
Ethan says that his setup allows focus bracketing to work on the camera. If you are an Olympus owner who shoots macro, he uses the 1/10 setting. That allows him to take hundreds of images for stacking his 9x magnification shots, such as he uses for the sand grains, bug scales and eyes, and other similarly minuscule subjects.
Shooting the Miniscule
If he needs less magnification, he swaps the Raynox 505 for the 202 or the 250. He finds the 250 is sharpest but is happy with the sharpness of the 505. However, he says that some other macro photographers have problems with the Raynox 505 — using it with just the 60mm macro hasn’t given such great results — but he finds that once combined with the teleconverter and the Olympus 60mm, the images are much sharper.
This setup is just incredible. It is the only setup I am aware of that allows for up to 9x magnification and focus bracketing out in the field. It doesn’t have to be tethered to a computer or to a macro rail.
That setup allows Ethan to achieve 6x magnification with the Raynox 202, capturing focus-stacked macro shots of snow crystals in the winter. No other setup, he tells me, allows that “without a ton more work.” In addition, he finds the extremely small rig convenient. It allows him to access places into which a full frame setup would never fit.
For the sand grain shots, Ethan places them on an old iPhone. He then lights them using a GODOX 126LED on the Olympus’s hot shoe, and a cheap diffuser sits between the light and the subject. He shoots them tethered. That allows him to view the subject on the large screen and shoot by clicking the mouse to start and stop the focus bracketing, avoiding any movement in the camera.
I use the Olympus Capture software to adjust my ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed, so I can view my subject using the software. I always have my camera hooked up to my computer for these shots as the Olympus software provides me with exceptional control over my shots.
Shooting tethered allows Ethan full control and even allows him to switch to Olympus’s High-Resolution Mode, where the camera uses the sensor-shift technology for producing a 50-megapixel image. He can then stack these and achieve detail he would never achieve with the regular 9x magnification. To negate any movement, everything is set on a sturdy, heavy table.
The Olympus will stack up to 15 shots in-camera, which is the most in the industry, and it does an incredible job, but once you get past 1x magnification with the Raynox lenses and/or teleconverter, you really are going to need more images to stack. I do my stacking using Helicon.
If necessary, he develops the images using Lightroom to adjust the exposure and crop the image. At times, microscopic dust particles may be on the stage that he needs to clone out.
Ethan clearly loves what he does and is inspired by the unique nature of his subjects. He told me that, just as each snowflake is different, each sand garnet and how he photographs them ends up being different as well. That is why, he only produces one print of each sand grain image he shoots, so that too remains unique.
I sign the mat and glue the grains next to my signature. Each one is a unique 1 of 1 print; no one else will own it except the buyer.
The Family Man Behind the Lens
Ethan lives in Quincy, Illinois. By day, he is the accountant for a large field drainage company that both produces and installs drainage tile for Midwestern farms. Outside work and photography, his faith, his wife, and his kids are his life. He also collects original first edition books by the early Christian reformers of the 1600s. While doing photography, Ethan listens to the great guitarist, Phil Keaggy, his favorite musician.
I spend countless hours at home with my wife and kids, as I desire to be the best husband and dad I can be to them.
Ethan feels that photography allows him to do something no one else has ever done. As a child, he had plans for playing baseball professionally. He even practiced his signature to autograph baseballs when he had made it.
Who knew that the real reason I was practicing my signature was for signing the mats of so many sand pictures I would sell! My photography is really artwork. I know many artists who disagree that photography is art, but I really am setting out to prove those people wrong.
Many thanks to Ethan for sharing his images and his amazing generosity in passing on his in-depth knowledge for this article. Please follow Ethan’s work on his Instagram and Facebook pages.
– No mechanical shutter and slow electronic shutter
– Beautiful image quality
– Accessories get expensive quickly
– Solid connectivity for video gear
– No rotating screen
Pop the lens off of Sigma’s FP L camera and you’ll find its 61-megapixel full-frame sensor staring directly back at you. The shiny chip seems huge compared to the rest of the camera. The body is a small brick that’s 2.8 inches tall, 4.4 inches wide, and 1.8 inches thick. It uses the same body as the original FP that came before it. But the new FL L cranks the still imaging capabilities up to maximum. The result: A tiny full-frame digital camera with tons of potential and a few quirks that will displease photographers.
What is it?
The FP L manages to achieve its tiny size and slightly sub-one-pound weight by jettisoning just about every non-essential feature it can. It doesn’t have a built-in electronic viewfinder like you’d expect to find on a $2,500 mirrorless digital camera. The screen doesn’t rotate, and the shooter’s selection of buttons and control dials is somewhat sparse. It doesn’t even have a built-in hot shoe to attach a flash or hold a shotgun microphone. Sigma offers a wide variety of add-on accessories, including an electronic viewfinder and an accessory shoe that connects to the camera via a USB-C port.
The little brick-like Sigma feels at home on a tripod. It also slots nicely into a video rig or onto a stabilizer. You’ll find tripod sockets on the bottom and sides of the camera, so it’s simple to attach to a rig. It’s not very comfortable to handhold without an additional grip, especially once you start attaching larger lenses (it uses the Leica L mount) to it. It’s not meant for too much moving around, but more on that later.
Design and handling
Using the Sigma FP L without a grip, rig, or tripod feels slightly odd. The body itself is so small and smooth on the sides that even moderately sized lenses, like a standard zoom, start to feel a little large. Handling improves drastically with one of the optional handgrips attached. You can choose from the $58 grip or the $95 larger one, which has a plate that extends across the bottom of the entire camera. The extra stability from the grips feels extra necessary when you consider that the FP L lacks in-body image stabilization.
When you are attached to a gimbal or some other form of stabilization, the small size is great. I tested the Sigma FP L with the DJI Ronin RS2 gimbal, and I really appreciated the small size and lightweight.
If you’re planning to use the FP L as a photography camera, you’ll probably want to add the $699(!) electronic viewfinder and a grip. Accessories make the whole thing start to feel a bit like a Frankenstein of different components. The half-inch, 3.68-million-dot EVF has solid resolution and magnification, but it also sticks awkwardly off to the side and looks, well, kinda weird.
If you’re sticking to the on-camera 3.15-inch screen, it looks like it should rotate because of some notches around the edges of the display, but don’t be fooled. Those are actually vents, which allow hot air to escape from inside the camera body. That helps counteract the intense heat generated by high-res video capture.
Using the FP L for photography
The lack of a mechanical shutter really hinders the Sigma FP L as a photography-oriented camera. The huge, color-accurate images that come out of the image sensor are excellent. But, because that sensor has a relatively slow read-out rate, moving objects in the frame can appear skewed.
Imagine you’re on a fast-moving train and you take a photo out the window of some trees that are relatively close to the tracks. When you push the shutter button, the image sensor takes the photo, but it doesn’t capture all the pixels at once. Instead it starts at the top and moves quickly to the bottom. This happens in a fraction of a second, but that can be long enough to make a subject look as though it’s slanted when it shouldn’t. You’ll notice a similar phenomenon with your smartphone camera, which typically relies on an electronic shutter.
This also poses a problem when you’re trying to shoot photos with a flash. If you attach a flash with the $130 hot shoe accessory, your shutter speed will be limited to a very slow 1/15th second. That means you’re likely to get considerable ambient light mixing with your flash whether you want it or not. Those are obviously big drawbacks for photographers.
If you’re shooting serene scenes on a tripod, though, the FP L is wonderful. Even the jpeg images that come right out of the camera have nice contrast and excellent color reproduction. You can extend the camera’s ISO settings all the way down to 6, which enables longer exposures or wider apertures in brightly lit situations. That’s a nice touch if you want to capture motion blur without using an external neutral density filter.
It’s ultimately a camera that likes to go slow. If that doesn’t match your style, then this likely isn’t the camera for you.
Shooting video with the Sigma FP L
The format, image quality, and framerates available all depend on what kind of storage you’re recording to. The FP L has a single built-in SD card slot that supports UHS-II media. Even with the fastest SD card, you can’t quite max out the quality and framerate settings. The cap is 8-bit 4K at 25 fps in CinemaDNG raw. If you opt to connect a portable SSD to the camera’s built-in USB 3 port, you can bump that to the maximum 12-bit 4K at 29.97 fps. Both of those offer a maximum of two hours of recording time—if your storage solution can handle it. That’s an improvement over cameras like the Canon EOR R5, which maxes out at 30 minutes.
The FP L can output raw video feeds via HDMI, as well, which means you can send uncompressed footage to an external recorder like an Atmos. This is the configuration you’ll want to use most of the time if you’re making the leap into this camera.
Once you’re set up, the footage looks beautiful. The sensor provides clean, color-accurate video that’s simple to edit and extremely high quality.
Who should buy the Sigma FP L?
Recommending the FP L is tricky because it’s a truly difficult camera to classify. If you’re dedicated to shooting video, the slightly older (and cheaper) FP is likely a slightly safer bet. Its 24-megapixel sensor is a little better suited to motion capture. The Sigma FP L is a high-resolution camera.
The FP L is out as a street photography or sports camera, but can turn out some truly beautiful landscape, nature, or editorial images.
While the camera makes some slightly confusing choices, I have to give Sigma a lot of credit for taking a chance on something truly different. People who are more creative than me have likely already come up with great uses for it. It can draw power from an external source and output high-res video via HDMI, so it’s likely a solid livestreaming rig. And if you can get your subjects to keep relatively still, its overall image quality is excellent. The FP L is full of potential, it just needs the right situation to shine.
A backdrop stand may not seem like the most exciting piece of photography equipment, but it’s the backbone of any studio. If you are looking to shoot pro portraits against seamless paper or easily hang a cloth backdrop, investing in the backdrop stand you can afford will keep your shoots running smoothly.
Even if you’re not a studio shooter, you have a wide variety of backdrop stands from which to choose. They can handle everything from on-location portrait sessions to event coverage. Hanging your backdrop from a stand, rather than taping it to the wall, means that while you are shooting you don’t need to worry about the backdrop falling unexpectedly. Gaff tape is great, but it shouldn’t be holding up your backdrop.
Consider where you will use the stand before purchasing
Backdrop stands come in a variety of materials, sizes and price points, and considering where you will be using the stand most often will help you consider what stand is best for you. If you are primarily working in a studio situation and have assistants working under you, you can’t beat the flexibility of an Autopole system. If you are a studio shooter who often works alone, investing in two solid C stands might be a better option.
If you are a photographer who regularly travels to weddings or events and is in need of a step and repeat or photobooth style set up, a collapsible backdrop stand that you build on site will probably serve your needs better. You’ll appreciate the portability when it’s time to pack up.
Pay close attention to what material your backdrop stands are made of though—a stand made of stainless steel or aluminum alloy will be stronger and more durable than a lighter weight model.
Other things to consider when shopping for a backdrop stand
As with many pieces of pro gear, the most expensive backdrop stand isn’t necessarily the best one for your specific needs.. Full-sized backdrop stands can range anywhere from $30 to $500 dollars, but there is a significant range in quality that you will find online. The most expensive backdrop stands are a durable and excellent choice for studio shooting, especially if you are a photographer who regularly shoots with seamless paper. They are, however, often heavy and bulky, which makes them less than ideal for shooting on location.
If you are the kind of photographer who is typically shooting in the field, something collapsible may be a better option. Collapsible backdrop stands can be small enough for a single headshot or large enough to fit several people. They also come in a variety of color and pattern options. Although a lightweight option might seem like the go-to choice, if you are planning to hang heavy cloth backgrounds or heavy rolls of seamless paper from it, you will likely find yourself replacing it after only a few shoots. Many of the lightweight collapsible backdrop stands are really better suited for hanging a thin cloth backdrop or a vinyl step and repeat backdrop. You really don’t want your setup collapsing mid-shoot. It’s bad for the pictures and your insurance rates.
Regardless of the backdrop stand that you choose you will want to invest in some gaff tape, clamps and sand bags to keep your backdrop upright. Sandbags are particularly important if you are shooting outside with a collapsible backdrop stand to keep a strong gust of wind from taking your backdrop away from the set. An outdoor backdrop is basically a sail from a sailboat just waiting to take off with a gust of wind.
Gaff tape will help you secure your seamless paper to the ground, while clamps will keep the top of your paper from unraveling. Read on to learn more about some of our favorite options for hanging backdrops.
This durable backdrop stand allows you to hang up to three seamless papers. Manfrotto
Manfrotto is one of the most trusted brands in the photo space and the company’s Autopole system is an excellent choice for shooters who are primarily working in a studio. The autopoles securely wedge between the floor and the ceiling. They offer an expandable height of 6.5 feet to 11.4 feet—making it an excellent choice for a studio space.
The Expan system holds up to three rolls of paper, and a gear drive chain on the side of the rolls allows shooters to easily roll and unroll seamless papers. The system has a max weight capacity of 22 lbs, although we wouldn’t recommend keeping your seamless papers hanging from the stand when not in use because they can form slight bends that show up in photos. If you are a busy studio shooter you can’t go wrong with this system.
C Stands are a photo studio staple, and although they are typically used for holding lights, they are a great way to easily set up a backdrop as well. These stainless steel C Stands are durable enough to hold fresh rolls of seamless paper or heavier cloth backdrops, have a max height of 11ft. The turtle base makes it easy to flop a sandbag over the stand to keep it secure. You will need two of these to hang a full-sized roll of seamless, some clamps to secure it from the top once it’s rolled out, and gaff tape to secure the edge of the paper, but it’s a slightly more cost-effective than an autopole system, a lot more versatile. You can set it up solo or bring it on location if you leave ample time in the schedule and don’t mind a little lifting.
Neewer’s backdrop stand kit comes with a carrying bag, backdrop clips, and three different colors of backdrops—making it a great affordable package for photographers who are just getting started. The stand is made of aluminum alloy and is adjustable up to 8.5ft tall and 9.8ft wide, the cross bar is made of 4 sections which makes it easy to adjust the width of the stand. We wouldn’t recommend putting a fresh roll of seamless paper on this backdrop stand, it’s better suited for lightweight fabrics, but it can handle a roll that’s near the end of its life. Luckily, this kit comes with three lightweight backdrops to get you started.
A compact setup for smartphone shooters looking to sell their wares online or the photographer shooting small products. This backdrop stand tabletop kit comes with four fabric backdrops, four mini LED lights, a set of gel filters, and a stand for your smartphone. The stand is actually a foldable lightbox that folds into a compact case, making this a great option for shooters who are crunched on space. This tiny setup obviously doesn’t make sense for shooting portraits, but if you are the kind of shooter that deals with lots of small products it’s an excellent, easy-to-use solution. You can finally start that eBay store selling knick knacks.
Don’t expect this budget backdrop stand to last a lifetime, but if you are looking for something lightweight, easy to use and your backdrops aren’t particularly heavy—you really can’t beat the price on this one. This backdrop stand is adjustable from 2.3ft to 6.6ft in height and has a 4 piece cross bar that can be set up between 5ft to 10ft. It can only hold up to 5.29 lbs of weight though, so this is a system that you will want to use with lightweight cloth or vinyl backdrops, rather than fresh rolls of seamless paper. It breaks down small for easy storage in its compact carrying case. Don’t forget the sandbags if you intend to shoot with this one.
How to choose a backdrop stand?
Choosing the right backdrop stand for you has a lot to do with where you will be shooting and what your budget is. Consider if you will be using the backdrop stand primarily in the studio or taking it out to locations and events. Heavy duty autopole systems will be more expensive and last longer than a collapsible backdrop stand, but they are also harder to travel with.
What type of backdrop stand should I buy?
Before buying a backdrop stand consider what kind of backrdrops you will be hanging from it. If you are primarily shooting with seamless paper you will be better suited using an autopole system or some C-stands. If you are shooting with lightweight cloth backdrops or vinyl step and repeat banners a collapsible lightweight backdrop stand should be plenty.
Which backdrop stand is the most durable?
Collapsible backdrop stands break down over time and will need to be replaced. If durability is what is most important to you, consider an autopole system. If budget is an issue, getting two stainless steel C stands and hanging your seamless paper from that is a great option, and an easier option for travel. C stands can last forever if you buy heavy duty models.
Final thoughts about backdrop stands
A backdrop stand is an excellent way for taking your studio or event photography to the next level. A solid backdrop stand will allow you to eliminate distracting elements from your background, so that the focus is on your subjects. Don’t forget your roll of gaff tape, sandbags and a set of clamps—three helpful photo accessories to make sure you can set your backdrops up with ease.
For photographers, the struggle of schlepping cameras is very real. Oftentimes the average neck strap just doesn’t cut it. Conversely, a camera harness with holsters, belts, and pockets can easily hold multiple cameras and other trappings. Not only do vest and suspender-like harnesses provide comfort and security, but they also distribute weight, eliminating neck pains and body aches while you’re shooting for long hours. Wearing a camera harness with a holster on a belt or the front of a camera pack gives you quick and simple access to your camera and frees up your hands so you can focus on other tasks. Here are our favorites.
Before investing in a camera harness, make sure it’s the right fit for your equipment and body. Most harnesses are universally compatible with digital and film SLR cameras that have standard ¼ inch screw holes and are one-size harnesses with adjustable straps for a customizable fit.
Consider the material you want your harness to be. Some are made of breathable, elastic fabrics like nylon and mesh fabric, while others are made of sturdy, durable leather and canvas.
Certain harnesses are capable of carrying one or two cameras. Others have pockets and compartments for holding lens caps, memory cards, batteries, pens, cleaning cloths, and more accessories. Consider all of the equipment you have and will need on a given shoot before investing in a harness.
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