Vital Filters for Landscape Photography

One of the most common questions we get here at Pro Photo Tips is:

“What kind of filter I should buy for ze making of awesome picture?”

There are a million and two photographic filters on the market. Some can help you take better photos and some are designed simply to separate you from your cold hard cash. So here’s my humble opinion about which filters are actually worth getting.


The UV is probably THE most common filter you’ll run across as a photographer, and the one that serves the least purpose. Now there are lots of great things to do with a UV filter. Use it as a coaster, play frisbee with it, turn it into a monocle….but in all honesty I can’t really recommend putting one on your lens. They are less optically pure than your lens glass is, and they serve as one more surface for dust, scratches, and fingerprints to land on.

But what about ze protection???

True, the best reason to put a UV filter on your lens is to protect it, but it’s kind of like wrapping your car in styrofoam to prevent accidents. Is it really going to help? The way I see it is: if you habitually drop your camera onto its lens, or maybe you’re shooting in a howling sand storm, sure toss a UV filter on there. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.


Next we have an actually useful filter, the Polarizer. In fact, a polarizer is pretty much the only filter whose effects you can’t replicate in Photoshop, so it’s a must have for any photographer.

And what a polarizer does is block scattered light, helping to remove haze from your photos, increase color saturation, and deepen the blue of the sky. Polarizers also cut reflections, giving improved depth and color to the plants, rocks, and water in your images.

Solid ND

The solid neutral density is probably the most fun of all the filters because it lets you manipulate time. This filter simply cuts the amount of light entering your camera, and although this has a multitude of applications in different genres, in nature photography it’s used almost exclusively to increase your shutter speed.

This lets you pull off all kinds of great long exposure effects from getting that silky waterfall look to smoothing out cloud movement. And with a strong enough ND, like this 10-stop, you can even do super long exposures in bright daylight, leading to some really surreal and beautiful effects.

Grad ND

My final filter of choice is the Graduated Neutral Density filter. Like the solid ND, it blocks light from your camera, but only in part of the frame, because it fades from dark to clear. This is perfect for when part of your scene is much brighter than another part, like oh, say, a brilliant sunset.

You’ve probably run into this problem a millions times: shoot a gorgeous sunset and either your foreground becomes black, or your sky gets totally blown out. Enter the grad ND filter to darken the sky with respect to the foreground and all of a sudden you’ve got a perfect exposure with beautiful, painterly light.

Now truth be told these filters are becoming less and less necessary as the dynamic range of cameras improves and because you can achieve the same effect by combining exposures in Photoshop. But I still consider them essential anytime I’m dealing with a high dynamic range scene where something’s moving and I need to nail the photo in one exposure.

And that’s it! As far as I’m concerned you don’t need any other filters because they’re either too gimmicky or you can get the effect another way.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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Want Better Photos? Invest in Experiences, NOT Equipment

Greetings, my fellow photo nerds! Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve surely noticed that camera manufacturers constantly come out with newer, better, lighter, faster, snazzier cameras. And while there’s no denying that the image quality of today’s cameras is astonishing, when you want to create striking and memorable photos, is a new camera really where you should be spending your money?

Because when it comes down to it, a great photo is the result of you being in the right place at the right time in order to press the shutter button. And it’s that moment that matters, whether you’re shooting with a modern technological marvel, or a an ancient point and shoot.

In other words, if you want to capture amazing photos, you should invest in experiences, not new equipment.

Let me give you an example: I took this photo in 2007 with a camera that was released in 2005 and it’s still one of my favorite photos and best selling prints. What makes the image is not the camera I used but rather the light, the scene, and the magic of the moment. It was the fact that I invested my time, money, and energy into the experience of backpacking to this lake. Marsh Lake

Similarly, I took each of these photos with various cameras that aren’t even manufactured anymore because they’re considered obsolete by today’s standards. And yet, they’re all photos I’m very proud to have in my portfolio, and which helped me build my career as a nature photographer. In each case it was the moment, and the application of my creative vision that made the photo, not so much the camera I used. These photos are the result of seeking out beautiful experiences, not beautiful pieces of equipment.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe that good gear is good and better gear can be better. But think hard about where you really want to invest yourself. If you only have a certain amount of money to spend, are you going to create memorable photos by buying a new camera, or by spending that same money on the opportunity to photograph something that makes your heart sing? If you’re fortunate enough to be able to invest in the equipment AND the experiences, then more power to you. But if you have to choose between the two, then the choice is clear. Because I guarantee you that when you look back at your photos years down the road, you’re going to remember those magical moments, not the box you used to capture them.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

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Photography Equipment – What do you Really Need?

In photography there is often an obsession with the latest, most expensive gear, and the coolest new toys. And there can be a sense that if you don’t have a camera you had to mortgage your house to buy, a lens that cost as much as a year at Yale, a whole slew of filters, a fancy remote, and a private helicopter to get you to the right spots that you’re not going to be able to take any good photos.

Well don’t you worry because this is a complete myth and I’m here to tell you exactly what equipment you need to take amazing nature photos. It’s less than you think.

1) A Camera

First things first, you have to have a camera that lets you adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and WB. That’s important because it allows you to do things like control what people look at in your photo, change the mood and feel of your image, bring out certain colors, and make other creative decisions about what you want your photo to look like. And making creative decision is how you elevate your photography from snapshot to art.

And as long as you have that capability there is absolutely no need to spend a fortune. In fact, some of my own best selling photos, like this one, were taken with an entry level camera that you can’t even buy anymore because it’s considered obsolete. So worry less about the model you buy, because all modern digital cameras are amazing machines, and just make sure it’s got the ability to change aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and WB and you’ll be good to go.

2) A Lens

Ultimately a good lens will play a more crucial role in Getting The Shot than your camera does. The right lens helps you create the compositions you want, get the perspectives you need, and capture all the beautiful details of your subject. Rather than getting one lens that does everything just ok I recommend getting one lens that’s great at whatever it is you’re most interested in.

Wide lenses [focal length overlay] are generally good for landscape photography, mid range lenses work great for portraits and single subjects, and telephotos work for wildlife. Now those are by no means rigid classifications but it’s a good starting point in you’re not sure what’s what.

Now I hate to tell you, but you did not pick a cheap hobby, like skiing. 🙂 Which means that good glass can be expensive but you can almost always find excellent 3rd party alternatives to the big name brands. And Ebay and Craigslist are also great places to find deals.

3) A Tripod

I can hear you now…

“Do I reallly nnneeeeeed a tripod??”

Mmm, welllll, YES. At least yes if you ever want to be able to take photos like this [sunset photo] or this [waterfall photo]. A good tripod not only gives you a stable base to shoot from for the highest quality shots and ability to do long exposures. But it also gives you consistency, which is the best thing you can ask for when you’re dialing in that perfect shot.

As far what kind of tripod to get, I highly recommend getting one with a ball head for their ease of use. This kind of thing will annoy you to no end. And personally I like twisting leg locks rather than the toggles because they’re easier to clean and less likely to break.

When buying your tripod take a deep breath, spend a little money, and get something good. Otherwise I guarantee you will ultimately spend twice as much by buying a crappy tripod, then a slightly better one, then a slightly better one, then finally a good one.

And that’s it! Believe it or not, everything else is optional. But with a camera, a good lens, a sturdy tripod, and a healthy dose of can do spirit, you’ll be able to create photos you’re proud of.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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