The most important part of your tripod is probably its head. While pan-and-tilt, fluid and gimbal heads are all useful for various types of outdoor shooting, ballheads are typically the most popular and handy for landscape photography because of their compact size, flexibility and firm locking abilities, which result in sharp exposures. A ballhead allows you to position the camera quickly and precisely by loosening a knob, locking the camera into position and then tightening it. With 360º rotational freedom, ballheads move smoothly on any axis, meaning they’re able to pan, tilt or twist in any direction.
Novoflex MagicBall 50
Simpler models have a single knob that controls everything while more advanced types have additional controls. Some don’t even have knobs, using a spring-loaded, squeezable handle instead. Extra features can include spirit levels, variable tension adjustment and advanced vibration dampening technology. Most ballheads use quick-release systems so you don’t have to screw the camera onto the head. Instead, you mount a plate onto the camera or lens and the plate attaches to the head. Make sure the tripod you use can handle as much weight as the ballhead can.
Polarizers and graduated neutral-density filters are probably the two most used filters by landscape photographers. Both help to reduce the range of contrast in photos so that the sensor can record all the tones in a scene.
Polarizers reduce glare and haze in the atmosphere for diminishing reflections from water, glass and other nonmetallic surfaces. As a result, colors and contrast become more saturated. The effect of a polarizer is especially noticeable with the deep blues of a sky and clouds that stand out more. Even on overcast days, a polarizer has strong effects. While it won’t turn a gray sky blue, it will help to saturate the colors in a scene by removing glare off of reflective surfaces.
Grad ND filters are half-clear glass and half-neutral glass. They’re useful for landscape imagery because typically the sky is much brighter than the land and cameras have a hard time recording details in both areas of a scene. So a grad ND filter will darken a background that’s significantly lighter than the foreground. Without one, you may get a washed-out sky. These filters come in various strengths, with hard and soft transitions between the clear and dark portions. The darker part is one to five stops more dense than the clear part. They also come in colors for enhancing a blue sky or an orange sunset.