4 Photography gadgets I couldn't do without / by Neil Alexander

Tree on the hillside above Derwent Water, Lake District

 A productive weekend's shooting up in the Lake District got me thinking about 4 gadgets / tools that no landscape photographer should be without and that I consider to be invaluable to my craft.

The first is a right-angle finder. It's a little gizmo that clips onto my viewfinder and allows me to look perpendicularly through the camera's optics. I would hazard a guess that about 80-90% of the time that my camera is on a tripod, it's not at head height. That means endless bending and stooping to look through the viewfinder, and outright acts of contortionism if my camera is down low or in the portrait plane. This lil' puppy relieves quite a bit of the stress on my ageing spine and on more than one occasion has actually saved me from having to lie down in mud to see what I was shooting! The one I personally use is a Nikon DR-6, and the only quibble I have with it is that occasionally the rubber eye piece falls off and I'll either lose it in my rucksack for a couple of days, or it'll fall in a puddle. Next up in my list of couldn't-do-withouts is a cable release. The more contact there is between you and the camera, the more chance there is of you inadvertantly inducing some camera shake. It's also essential if I'm looking to do exposures of more than 30 seconds (on most DSLRs this is the longest exposure you can get without going into Bulb mode). When I originally looked at these, I balked somewhat at the £200 Nikon wanted for theirs and bought several crappy affairs from eBay. Eventually though I wound up with a YongNuo from eBay which is also an intervalometer too. Most of the time I just use it as a simple button press cable release, so I leave the batteries in the wrong way round to save their charge (there's no way to actually switch it off as far as I can tell). I've had this cheapy for over 4 years now and it hasn't failed me yet. Well worth the £170 I saved not buying the branded Nikon one.

  The penultimate entry is the simplest of the lot. It's just a double bubble spirit level. Slots into my hotshoe and shows me horizontal as well as vertical plane alignment. How many landscape images have you shot where you've got back to the computer and had to rotate it ever so slightly just to get that damn horizon even? You're losing pixels there, and adding time to your workflow! Get it right in camera - all it takes is a couple extra seconds.

  And last, but certainly not least is a good sturdy tripod. I generally carry two around in the boot of my car. One is a carbon fibre lightweight Giotto affair, and the other is a much older, much heaver Slik. It might sound a little OTT carrying two around, but it enabled me to set up for two separate scenes at the weekend whilst waiting for the sun to set and the colour to come into the sky. Unfortunately it didn't and it was a bit of a cold and windy waste of time, but I was ready if it had.... A good tripod serves several uses. Primarily I use it as a rock steady platform onto which to mount my camera in order to get sharp long exposures, anything longer than 1/30 second generally. It's also very good at getting me to slow down and think about my compositions a little more, rather than simply snapping away hoping that one of the 50 frames I made was the one.

If you're new to, or thinking of getting into landscape photography, I'd highly recommend getting a good tripod and a cable release at a minimum. In fact I'd go further. Before you go out and spend £750 on that new body you've been longing after, get a good tripod, cable release and bubble level and you'll see an improvement in your photography very quickly. For me, they're an essential part of my toolkit.

Before you ask, I'll address tripod heads in a future post......