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My Favorite Equipment Part I - Everyday Gear for Star and Landscape Photography

Since I get a lot of questions about my photography gear and tools I use, I decided to create a new series of equipment. As many have said – gear doesn't matter! However, if you have decent gear, it can inspire and help you to create more! I look at gear as tools, when it works great it works with you and won't get in your visions way. When it doesn't work like you would want it to work it controls and limits your vision. Don't fell into the trap of more gear is better because it might not ease the process but rather confuse what to use. For the first part of the series, here is a list of my most used equipment.

 

Everyday Photography Gear

The set I carry 90% of the time with me every time I go out to photograph. You can view this whole set on Amazon Store

Two Camera Bodies

Nikon D810 & D800 — Why do I carry two camera bodies? Well because I tend to shoot long exposures. So when the other camera (usually D810) is taking for example 10 minute long exposure, I go and scout for the next landscape I want to capture or shoot a time-lapse with the D800. When I'm out photographing in the daytime, I keep the wide-angle lens on the D810 and a telephoto lens on the D800. This way if something interesting happens far away I can just grab the other camera and start shooting. 

Lenses

Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED — This is my go-to lens, I use it 90% of the time on my D810. It's super sharp and excellent for star photography with the aperture of 2.8. View my full review of this lens here.

Nikkor 16–35 mm f/4.0 VR  — I bought this as my first full frame wide-angle lens back in December 2012 and used it to capture all of my landscape photographs. I still use this lens but most of the time handheld, because it has a great image stabilisation. It's not as sharp as the 14–24 mm lens, but it's already quite sharp wide open at f/4.0. After my interest in star photography, I wanted a wider lens with a larger aperture, so I bought the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8. 

Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 — This was my most used lens for astrophotography until I bought the 14–24 mm Nikkor. I still use this lens when I want to capture time-lapse at night with the D800 or when I'm scouting. 

Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 G — I always have at least one faster lens in my camera back in case I want to shoot shallow depth of field or if I wish to capture any behind the scene footage. This lens is so small that I almost always prefer it over my Sigma ART lenses.

Nikkor 70–300 mm f/5.6–6.3 VR — I don't use a telephoto lens too often. I first bought this lens for my first camera Nikon D90. It is a decent lens if you want to add some range to your camera. It is the next lens I will be replacing with the superb Nikkor 70–200 mm f/4.0 VR.

Camera Accessories & Backpack

Hähnel Giga T Pro II — This is my go-to remote controller for the Nikon D810. I use it to capture sharper images and when I need the extra range to take a self-portrait. What I like about is that you have a lot of options you can adjust. When used in cold temperature with gloves it's too small and hard to change the settings without taking the gloves off. 

Lee Filter System for Nikkor 14–24 mm — I always have these filters with me when I'm photographing sunrise/sunset or daylight. These filters are top quality yet pricey.

Lens Cloths — I have at least three lens cloths with me every time I head out to photograph. When using filters, one cloth is simply not enough. These are needed if you shoot near open water or in high humidity. 

Lowepro ProTactic 450AW — I have used quite a few backpacks in my days as a photographer. The ProTactic from Lowepro is the best one I have ever tried and used. The build quality is superb. You can access your gear four different ways. It is very helpful when you have two camera bodies and a lot of lenses in the bag. The customizability of the straps and pockets is fantastic. I carry my Lee Filter pouch with all of my filters and a tripod in the straps behind the bag. The backpack also has two different small pockets in the front strap where you can put a headlamp and lens cloths, which is handy. 

Mobile Phone App

PhotoPills — When I need to capture scenery using my "Vision of Depth" technique I use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure. It's also very handy when scouting a location! It's unfortunately only available for iPhones. 

Tripod

Sirui R4203 L — I always have at least one tripod with me. I use my Sirui tripod most of the time I go out to photograph. I have a lighter tripod for my travels, but I still prefer the Sirui.

Manfrotto MHXPRO–3WAY — I love this tripod head. It's so much quicker to adjust in cold temperatures than the Sirui K-40X which I also use. You don't need an L-bracket for your camera when changing from vertical to horizontal frames when using this Manfrotto 3-Way head. Which makes it quick and easy to find better composition and perspective. 

Manfrotto MT190CX PRO 4 — I bought this tripod for my travels because it's light and fits in my bigger bag. I would recommend getting these Retractable Rubber Spikes with it because there are no spikes in the tripod and these are really important when you photograph in snow or ice.

That's it for the first part of my gear list. I hope you enjoyed reading. The next list will be for the scouting gear I use. Meanwhile subscribe to my newsletter to receive new tutorials and photo gear talk as soon as they are released fresh to your email. I will also make a list of my favorite accessories and tools I use when I edit my photographs, so stay tuned!

Stillness of Night

I have been fortunate to photograph at night for the last couple of weeks. This is one of my favorites from the time. I used my Vision of Depth technique from my Night Photography Masterclass. You can learn it here: Star Photography Masterclass.

Equipment & Exif

Nikon D810, Nikon 14 - 24 mm f/2.8, Sirui Tripod
ISO 6400, 30 sec., 14 mm, f/2.8 & ISO 800, 630 sec., f/3.5

Stilness of Night - Mikko Lagerstedt

First Row

I'm thrilled to show you another photo from the same night as my previous photograph: Divided. I had some fun in Yyteri, Finland walking down the beach alone, just mesmerized by the beauty of life. I tried to capture the beautiful sight I witnessed while sitting on the bench from a spectators perspective. Hope you enjoy it!

Equipment & Exif

Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8, Sirui R-4203L tripod with K-40X ball head
ISO 5000, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Post-processing 

For base edit I used my Fine Art Lightroom Preset: Landscape - Stars II. I also used Photoshop for the Milky Way with my upcoming Photoshop Action: Stars Enhance. Hopefully the Action pack will be ready in the next couple of weeks, still working on it to make it as good as possible.

First Row - Mikko Lagerstedt, 2014

You can subscribe to my newsletter below, if you are interested to receive update as soon as the Fine Art Photoshop Action pack will be available! 

Giveaway Winners

So it's finally the day to announce the giveaway winners. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of people who participated! That's amazing! Thank you so much each and everyone! To thank you, I decided to give three Fine Art Lightroom Preset Collections!

 

Lightroom Fine Art Preset Collection goes to followers on

Facebook: Stefan Lind
Twitter: Adam Perfect
Google+: Randy Miller

 

Limited Edition Fine Art Print goes to:

Jørund De Jongh Jørgensen

 

I have sent messages to all the winners, if you use facebook, check the Other -folder. :)

I hope all my followers a Wonderful Christmas! If you didn't win, don't worry! You will have another opportunities in the year 2014. So stay tuned!

Thanks for the amazing year!

 

Here is a new image Luminescence to the Edge series. On a side note: I will have an Exhibition in Järvenpää-talo, Finland in February 2014, you are all welcome there. I will announce the dates as soon as they are confirmed.

If you are interested in the presets, there is still time to grab the Fine Art Presets for discounted prices until 31st December.

How To Photograph Stars & Night Sky, Top 5 Tips

 

I got few emails regarding photographing the stars. So here are few of my tips to photograph stars and what I do to plan before going out. If you want to learn more about star photography, check out my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass

 

1. Location Scouting

This is actually the first thing I do when I plan a trip to photograph the stars. There are various tools you can use for this. I mainly use Google Maps to search for a location that would work good in low light situation. This means that it should be somewhere that has low light pollution. I try to find a place that is at least couple kilometers from a small town or 20 kilometers from a city. I sometimes also go out drive around without a specific place in mind to search for an interesting place.

 

Something About a Tree - Hanko, Finland - Nikon D800, 35 mm f/4.0, ISO 6400, 15 sec.

2. Weather Forecast

f course, you cannot really rely on the forecasts, but you will get a quite good look if there will be clouds in the sky. I also recommend using at least couple of different weather forecast sites to have a wider look at the possibilities in a clear sky. 

 

Sometimes there might be some clouds you were not thinking to photograph, but in that case, you could just try out something different if you can't avoid them. Use clouds as a different approach.

Storm Approaching - Kerava, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm f/4.0 ISO 100, 25 sec.

3. Timing

Plan the trip for the darkest moments of the night. This is how you will get most out of the stars. The darker it is the more the stars will show in your capture when you have the correct camera settings. Planning a trip when the moon wont be the brightest also is very important if you want to capture stars. Moon can easily get in the way of milky way.

 

4. Equipment & Settings

So this is not a list that you should go and buy, just my tools of use.

Tripod, or something to keep your camera steady for long exposures. I have used quite a few tripods and I really like what I currently have a Sirui Tripod R-4203L and Sirui Ball Head K-40X

Use wide angle lens if you want the stars to appear as dots not trails. My go to lenses for my Nikon D800 are Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 and Nikon 16 - 35 mm f/4.0 VR. By using a remote controller it allows you to use longer exposures than 30 seconds. I use Hähnel Giga T Pro II  for Nikon and it works nicely for my purposes.

As for settings: Always take photos in RAW file format.

Focus to infinity either manually or simply using one bright spot to focus on. Use the widest aperture your lens has as far as the result is not too blurry. Boost up ISO, I would recommend start from ISO 1600 and go up as much as your camera can handle with a decent end result. I tend to take 30 second exposures to have the stars still when you use something like I have above with a full frame camera. For a crop sensor camera I used 11 mm lens with aperture 2.8 and 30 seconds exposure.

 

Balance - Sipoo, Finland - Nikon D7000, 11 mm, f/2.8 ISO 1600, 30 sec.

 

5. Experiment

The last but not least tip is to experiment on a location, and it's lots of fun! So if you have found a location you think fits for the purposes of taking pictures of stars try experimenting with different exposures and perspectives. Don't just settle on one spot try search around if you see something interesting to include in the frame. In fact, I rarely get the shot I was looking for in one shot.. I take multiple shots and experiment with perspectives and subjects. 

 

Blue Night - Kuopio, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm, f/4.0, ISO 3200, 30 sec.

Next tutorial, I will give you an example of what kind of settings I use to combine a photo like below. Also some Lightroom 5 tips on making the adjustments on star photos.

If you liked this tutorial feel free to visit my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass