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What to pack for landscape photography in Banff

You've been dreaming of coming to Banff this year and dreading the choices you have to make on what camera gear and accessories to pack on your bucket list trip.

I get the question, "What should I pack" in regards to clothing and camera gear when it comes to visiting and photographing the grand landscapes of Banff National Park.  

Here is a list of things you should consider packing on your next photography trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies.

CAMERAS:

Camera Type:

Many of us only have one camera, so the answer to this one is pretty simple. Take the camera you have! It doesn't matter if you are just starting out in landscape photography and only have a point and shoot camera. The best camera is the one you have. 

If you don't have a camera yet and are in the market to purchase one to primarily shoot landscapes, I recommend a full frame dSLR or Mirrorless camera as your go-to landscape photography camera. Full frame cameras are better suited for landscape photography because of its wider field of view and lower image noise compared to smaller sensor sizes like APS-C or Micro 4/3rd.

Here is a great article explaining a bit more about sensor sizes from New Atlas called: Camera sensor size: Why does it matter and exactly how big are they?

If you have several Cameras:

For those who have a few camera's in their arsenal, you will need to make a decision on which ones will serve you well for your travels. I recommend taking two bodies:


Main Body

Shooting landscape images is all about quality. I highly recommend a full frame dSLR or mirrorless as your main camera body for the above mentioned reasons.

Backup Body

Here is where a compact mirrorless camera fits into my shooting arsenal. Because they are smaller and lighter, having a mirrorless as your backup body takes up less room in the carry on camera bag. Just make sure to compliment your backup body with a lens adapter that can fit your main body's lenses. For example, my backup body is a Panasonic GH4. Although it's a little outdated now, it has fantastic video quality and time-lapse features that my Canon 5D MIII is lacking. I have the Metabones adapter for Canon lenses so I can easily use my Canon L glass on the GH4 so I don't have to carry extra lenses. Canon's R series cameras for Canon shooters is a great compliment as well. Just make sure to grab the Mount Adapter EF-EOS R.

Accessories:

I'm not much of a gear head however, there are a few accessories that are essential for landscape photography in Banff and the Canadian Rockies. 

lenses:

Great Canon landscape zoom lens

It would be great if you could bring every lens in your arsenal, but we are often limited to what we can pack into our carry on bag or willing to strap to our backs while hiking around Banff. I generally try to limit my lens choices to three lenses for landscape photography when I'm traveling or hiking around.

1) Wide Angle Zoom

For a full frame camera, I highly recommend a 16-35mm  F4 or comparable lens. A wide angle zoom is my go-to landscape lens. Having the wide angle and ability to change focal lengths without switching lenses is extremely useful. There is a slight loss in image quality compared to a fixed focal lens, but I have not found it to be of any concern when using professional quality lenses. 

Here is a link to a few 16-35mm lenses from the different manufacturers I recommend: EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM - Nikon 16-35mm F4 - Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS

2) Standard Zoom

A standard zoom lens in the range of 24-105mm  is a great all-around photography lens. It's wide enough to shoot landscapes where including close foregrounds is not a concern and long enough to fill the frame with a mountain peak. It's also great for portraits of your family or capture the odd Elk or bear that happens to be strolling close to the road.

3) Wide Aperture Fixed(Prime) Lens

For most landscape photography you don't need a wide aperture lens like an F2.8. However, when shooting the night sky, a wide aperture fixed lens is ideal because of its fast aperture, sharpness and minimal distortion.

For Banff and the Canadian Rockies, having a lens in the 14mm range works very well to capture night sky images when you want to include the mountains as well as the Milky Way.

If you would rather not pack a third lens, then opting for the 16-35mm F2.8 lens is a great choice. Although the image quality will not compare to a fixed lens, it will work just fine. 

Tripod:

2-series landscape photography tripod

This is an absolute must. Without a tripod it is impossible to take tack sharp images at sunrise, night or during long exposures. I recommend a tripod that extends to eye height without using the centre column. The bigger the tripod the better! If you are traveling by air, then having a tripod that is light and compact enough to fit in your carry on is beneficial.

 In general, I recommend a tripod that extends at least to a height that reaches you eye level without using the center column. I prefer tripods that use twist locks over snap locks as they use less small parts and are not as prone to breaking in the freezing conditions the Canadian Rockies may throw at you in winter. As for construction, I highly recommend the legs made from carbon fibre rather than aluminum. Carbon fibre is lighter and not as cold on the hands!

For your all-around traveling landscape photography tripod, I recommend a series-2 carbon fibre tripod. The series-2 size has become somewhat of a standard reference to a certain size of tripod developed by Gitzo. Colorado Tripod Company and Really Right Stuff use this terminology for their tripod sizes. 

It's also important to have a ball head for your tripod. One that uses the Arca-Swiss universal quick release plate is the best option. Here is a great blog article explaining the Arca-Swiss style plates

If cost is a concern, I recommend spending the majority of your budget on getting good tripod legs. Cheap out on the ball head if you have to! I worked with a $50 ball head for years before upgrading to an overpriced one. Just make sure the ball head can firmly hold the weight of your camera and lens. Luckily for landscape photographers, we generally do not have really heavy lenses to contend with so there are almost endless choices in ball heads that will do just fine. Some of the ones I've have had experience with are listed here. Colorado Tripod Company - Sirui - Acratech - Benro - Really Right Stuff


Cable release:

cable release

A cable release triggers your camera without you having to touch the camera. It also is necessary if you would like to take long exposures in bulb mode. Some camera models have an option to program a long exposure time in the camera menu, but for simplicity, I recommend using bulb mode.

A cabled camera trigger will never have connection issues and often do not need batteries to operate. My standard Canon issue cable release is over 15 years old and has never failed! You can even drop it in water with little impact. Here is the link to the cable release I use for my Canon 5D MIII.

Filters:

landscape photography filters

You can see more about landscape photography filters on my other blog post: The Most Used Filters For Landscape Photography in Banff.

Tools and cleaning:

Multi Tool for landscape photography

I always have a few tools in my bag in case I need to adjust or fix something. below is a list of things I always make sure to bring!

camera bag:

I often get questions on the perfect camera bag, but there simply is not a one-bag fits all that exists. However, for the traveling landscape photographer, I highly recommend bringing to Banff and the Canadian Rockies, a backpack style camera bag that has a comfortable waist strap to take the load off your shoulders. These bags are comfortable and ideal for hiking to locations. The bag I currently use for most of my landscape photography adventures is a Lowepro Pro Trekker. I've used this bag to travel for months abroad and day hiking here in Banff and the Canadian Rockies. 

my camera bag

Outerwear:

It doesn't matter if you have all the camera gear in the world, without proper clothing your next shoot in Banff may render mediocre results. It's very hard to be motivated and creative when you are wet, cold and slipping over rocks!

Jacket:

Eddie Bauer seasonal down jacket

When shooting landscapes, we are often standing still for long periods of time.  Summer temperatures in Banff and the Canadian Rockies can range from just above zero at sunrise to +30 degrees in the afternoon. Winter conditions can dip down to -30 degrees Celsius and this is not taking into consideration the wind chill! 

Seasonal Jacket

So far my favourite jacket for summer and fall is my Eddie Bauer 650 down waterproof jacket. I'm not sure where you can find it now as I've had clients look for it to no avail. The closest thing I can find is their ski jacket here. This jacket has a tough exterior which is resistant to tearing when crawling around in the forest and leaning on sharp rocks. It also has a nice warm down fill which keeps me warm on cool mornings when it's hovering around 5 degrees Celsius. The best thing about it is its waterproof breathable membrane. Irregular weather patterns all throughout the year can bring a rain storm with wind that will leave you soaked and cold in minutes before it disappears as quickly as it comes.

If you cannot find a jacket like this then try bringing a light down jacket with an outer rain shell with you.

Winter Jacket

It is impossible to be too warm when shooting landscapes in winter here in Banff and the Canadian Rockies when standing around shooting landscapes with temperatures dipping down to -30. Winter isn't always this cold and we often get Chinooks which can warm things up to +15  on occasion! It's important to look at our current weather when visiting. But please don't rely on the weather forecast more than a day or so out from your visit as things can change quickly day by day and valley to valley. If you are joining Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures on our Abraham Lake and Banff Winter workshop, Abraham lake is notorious for high winds and cold temperatures. I recommend a jacket in a similar construction as the seasonal jacket but with much heavier down fill such as 750 to 800.

Sales people are very hesitant to tell you what the jacket is rated for in terms of temperature. We all respond to the cold differently, so make sure to visit a store that is located in the conditions you will be visiting and if possible speak to someone who has experience photographing in the conditions you will be visiting. 

In the Banff area, here are some stores, I highly recommend visiting: MEC (Calgary) - Atmosphere (Banff) - Monods (My favourite) - Valhalla Pure (Canmore)

Rab has an example of a nice winter jacket called the Infinity Jacket that I would trust shooting landscapes out here in Banff and the Canadian Rockies. I've never worn this one, but it's in my shopping cart!

Base Layer:

base layer shirt

If you have a nice down jacket and outer rain shell, then having a warm fleece sweater that zips up is a great inner layer. Summer mornings in Banff can start off at around 5 to 8 degrees Celsius, so the extra warmth can be very comforting. Once the sun hits, temperatures can rise quickly so peeling away the outer jacket down to your fleece usually is quite comfortable. Under your fleece layer, wearing a thin long sleeved or T-shirt is great for when you are shooting into mid day sun or have been hiking around building up body heat.

Pants:

bibbed winter pants

Any comfortable hiking pants that helps to block out the wind and dries quickly works well. I try to avoid wearing jeans or any other pants that can retain water. Also, try to avoid wearing anything that can tear easily!

For winter, I use pants designed for ice climbing or mountaineering. They are a stretchy material that is water resistant with suspenders. These pants are fantastic as your camera bag won't pull your pants down and the flexible material is great for when you are kneeling down on the ice. Here is an example from Arc'teryx called the Alpha SV Bib. these are very expensive, but should last a very long time. I also wear a pair of Merino wool long-johns as a base layer like the ones from Icebreaker.


Footwear:

hiking boots

Avoid wearing running shoes! It's important to wear good hiking shoes or boots that is firm and has a good tread for mountain terrain. I'm a big fan of hiking footwear that has a waterproof membrane such as Gortex to keep your feet dry. Waking in grass and around rivers can be very wet!

For winter, I currently have a pair of boots called Bugaboot Plus IV Omni-Heat from Columbia that I'm very happy with.


final thoughts:

There are a lot of terms mentioned in this article that can be a bit overwhelming if you are a beginner photographer. If you have any questions or need clarification on what I've written here, please get in touch! I would be happy to answer your questions.

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About the author

Mark Unrau is an award-winning professional photographer and owner of Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures based in the small mountain town of Banff, Canada. Mark's extensive travel photography has earned him international acclaim with accolades such as the Grand Prize from National Geographic Traveler's "World in Focus" competition and awards from the Prix de Paris. While he appreciates the recognition, it’s his desire to interact with the people and landscapes of our diverse world that motivates him to create images. When he’s not busy teaching landscape photography in the Canadian Rockies, he can be found wandering a mountainside or drinking chai with the locals somewhere he hasn’t been before.
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