Last updated less that 1 month ago

Your comprehensive nature photography gear guide – what do you need to get started?

When it comes to nature photography, it can be difficult to understand what gear you really need to invest in to become a better photographer. Many photographers I know have struggled with navigating the vast variety of the cameras, lenses, filters and many more other gear items that are marketed out there. I had a hard time with this in my time, too.
Is it really necessary to spend $3,000 on an ultrafast DSLR camera? Should you drop $1,500 on a telephoto lens or a $1,000 tripod? What’s going to give you the best bang for your buck? What’s essential – and what can wait until you’ve got a bigger budget for upgrades?
In this article, I’ll give you a quick overview of the stuff you do (and don’t) need to start shooting better nature photographs. Then, I’ll give you some of my top gear recommendations – based on your level of experience and expected budget.
Keep reading to learn what you need to start taking better nature photographs – and what gear can wait until you have more experience, and a bigger budget.
What Gear Do I Really Need To Start Shooting Nature Photographs?
Despite what you may have learned from other gear guides, you actually don’t need that much stuff to start taking great nature photographs. In fact, in my opinion, you only need the following six things:
A full-frame or crop sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera – This is the most essential part of your kit. You can’t expect to take great photographs of nature with an iPhone or a “point-and-shoot” camera. You need a DSLR or mirrorless camera with either a full-frame or crop sensor. These cameras have high-quality sensors, adjustable features, and powerful lenses that allow you to take your photography to the next level.
In fact, if you are a true minimalist, it could be said that a high-quality camera is all you really need to start taking nature photographs – but I think the other items on this list are also very important, so I would recommend that you invest in them, too.
Crop sensor cameras – which have a smaller sensor than comparable full frame camera – are a perfectly good choice for a beginner photographer. They’re inexpensive and offer great results, despite the popular belief.
You don’t need to break the bank here, either. These days, you can get a great crop sensor DSLR for less than $1000 – and often closer to $500. A camera in this budget range is perfect for a beginner. You don’t necessarily need to drop $3,000 on a professional-grade camera right away.
Tripod – A tripod is essential if you’re taking landscape photos, time-lapses, and shooting in low-light conditions, just to name a few situations. It will keep your camera steady when you’re shooting rapid movements and longer exposures, providing you with more tools to express your artistic creativity. A good tripod will be easy to adjust – even in inclement weather – and offer stable, strong support. You generally want your tripod lightweight, as you’ll have to lug the tripod around in your gear bag.
A polarizing filter – If you only buy only one filter, make it a polarized filter. These filters can help eliminate glare, darken the sky, reduce reflections in the water, and protect your camera sensor from the sun’s UV rays.
Photo Storage (memory) – You can’t take photos without a way to store them. So make sure that you have an adequately-sized memory card that has a fast enough write speed for taking photographs. Pick a card that’s at least 32GB – that’s enough to store about 1,000 typical shots in .RAW format.
A camera bag – You won’t want to have your camera and gear knocking around in a backpack while you hike. Camera bags are padded and have special slots for your camera, and gear like lenses, filters, batteries and more. A good-quality camera-bag is a must-have – both for your convenience, and the safety of your gear.
Don’t buy the expensive bag right off the bat – most of the options do provide good protection, but higher-priced ones often have the bells and whistles that not a lot of people really need. As long as you don’t intend to abuse your camera bag, you can get away with bags under $100.
Maintenance tools – At the very least, you should have a camera cleaning kit with lens spray, brushes, and a microfiber cloth to clean your camera, lenses, filters, and gear after you return from the field.
Failure to clean your gear once in a while can – and eventually will – cost you in the long term. Gear that hasn’t been maintained properly will wear down more quickly and could break down or become damaged. It will also be worth less on the used gear market, so you’ll get less money back if you decide to sell your gear and upgrade.
What Gear Is Optional (But Nice To Have) For Beginners?
Okay, so I’ve gone over the essentials – but what about gear that’s not completely essential, but may be a good next investment? Here’s a quick run-down of my picks.
Additional lenses – Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to rush out and drop thousands of dollars on a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens or macro lens. If you’re a beginner, you can get fantastic shots with just the kit lens that came with your camera.
However, once you get more experience, adding more lenses to your gear bag can help in specific situations – like taking wide-angle landscapes and close-up shots of animals.
Still, if you’re a beginner, I recommend just experimenting with your kit lens for a little while – you don’t need to go get a bunch of expensive new lenses right away.
Neutral-density filters – Neutral-density (ND) filters can help you reduce the light that enters your camera sensor. This makes them useful for long exposures, achieving motion blur with longer shutter speeds, and using a wider aperture.
However, if you’re a beginner, they are not expressly necessary. As you gain experience and learn how to use your camera, you can start adding them to your bag – but you don’t need to pick up an ND filter kit right away.
Extra batteries – Extra batteries are nice to have, but not totally essential. Your camera’s battery will usually last about 3 hours – and if you’re starting out in the world of nature photography, this should be plenty of time. However, additional batteries are usually quite inexpensive – so picking up at least one backup battery is not a bad idea, even if you’re a beginner.
Miscellaneous accessories – Accessories like lens hoods, shutter releases, and rain covers are not expressly necessary for beginners – though they can help you shoot in a wider variety of conditions.
Just The Essentials – My Picks For Beginner Photographers
So, now that you know all about what gear you really need, what gear should you purchase if you’re a beginner photographer? Take a look at my top picks now.
The Canon EOS Rebel T5 is one of the best beginner DSLRs out there and is a very affordable crop sensor camera.
The Manfrotto tripod I’ve picked is low-cost but reliable and stable, and the rest of my picks – photo and camera storage, maintenance items, and a polarized filter – will give you everything you need to get out in the field and start taking your own shots. Later on, you can add more accessories, lens filters, and lenses, as you gain more experience.
“Nice-To-Have” Gear – My Picks For Intermediate Photographers
Got a bit more money to spend, or looking for higher-quality gear? Here are my top picks for intermediate nature photographers.
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is not cheap, but it is a professional-grade, full-frame camera that can be used for almost any purpose – including recording 60fps full HD video.
The Vanguard Alta Pro is one of the best dollar-for-dollar tripod deals on the market, and by adding a neutral-density filter as well as a polarized filter, you can take longer exposures and handle more weather conditions.
The Lowepro Fastpack allows you to bring along more gear, while a 64gb memory card provides plenty of storage space for longer sessions. A camera cleaning kit keeps your camera in great shape even if you’re shooting in dusty areas, and the Polaroid shutter release provides more fine-tuned control over your exposure times.
Finally, a rain cover and headlamp round out my gear choices – allowing you to shoot in inclement conditions, and giving you more flexibility.
The Best Of The Best – My Picks For Professional Photographers
If money is no object, and you want to make sure that your gear is top-notch for professional photos, this is the list of gear you’ll want to check out.
With a highly-sensitive, full-frame 22-megapixel CMOS sensor, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is one of the best professional-grade DSLRs on the market – and it’s versatile and flexible enough for any shooting situation. Combined with the 64GB memory card from SanDisk, you’ll be able to take spectacular shots without running out of storage space. In case you plan to have lengthy photoshoots, you might want to get multiple SD cards (and/or higher-capacity ones) and a spare battery or two.
The recommended Gitzo tripod is incredibly durable and lightweight and will last for decades with proper care. A polarized filter and a selection or kit of neutral-density filters will further enhance your ability to shoot in different weather conditions.
The recommended camera bag from Abonnyc has plenty of storage and is durable and shockproof, while the camera cleaning kit ensures you keep your gear in great shape. The Polaroid Remote Shutter Release ensures you can expose your photos however you like, while the recommended rain cover and headlamp keep you and your gear safe in poor weather, and low-light conditions.
Get The Right Tools – And Take Better Photos!
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand what is – and isn’t – essential for improving your nature photography.
I think that it’s important to note that buying expensive gear will not necessarily make you a better photographer. Only experience and time in the field will improve your nature photography – that’s just how it works. There are no shortcuts.
Get The Right Tools – And Take Better Photos!
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand what is – and isn’t – essential for improving your nature photography.
I think that it’s important to note that buying expensive gear will not necessarily make you a better photographer. Only experience and time in the field will improve your nature photography – that’s just how it works. There are no shortcuts.
However, to set yourself up for success, you do need the right gear. If you’re heading out without appropriate tools, you may find that your photographs never quite live up to your expectations, no matter how hard you try.
So think about what you’ve learned in this guide, your personal preferences, your budget, and the gear that you already have. You’re sure to pick the gear that’s right for you, and that will enable you to take better photos.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the Loaded Landscapes blog for more tips about nature and landscape photography!
Are you a photographer? Do you want to get access to unique content on nature and landscape photography?
Subscribe to my newsletter today and receive guides like this one and other useful content weekly – for free!
If you subscribe today, you’ll get a free mini-pack of HDR Lightroom presets as a welcome gift.