USE THE RIGHT KIT FOR THE JOB
The foundations for sharp landscapes are a sturdy tripod and solid head
The most effective way to improve sharpness is also the simplest: mount your camera on a tripod. Choosing the right tripod and head is a surprisingly difficult decision, however, as there is a huge number of manufacturers and models to choose from.
It’s important to choose a tripod that is sturdy and has a useful maximum height (there will be occasions when you will want to shoot above head height), as well as the ability to be set up low to the ground for more dramatic perspectives. Apart from this, the basic choices to be made are the material it’s made from, the number of leg sections and whether or not it has a centre column.
Tripods are usually made from either aluminium or carbon fibre. Carbon fibre is more expensive, but considerably lighter, which is an important consideration as landscape photography often involves long hikes. Carbon fibre is also more stable from the point of view that it absorbs vibrations better. For greater stability, look for a model that has a hook at the bottom, so you can hang a weight off it in windy conditions.
When it comes to centre columns, tripods without them are, in theory, more stable, but a centre column adds flexibility and has little practical impact on stability. More important is the number of leg sections – too many will certainly add to the ‘wobbliness’ of a tripod. Many landscapers favour three-section tripods, but four is probably acceptable and means the tripod will fold up smaller.
The tripod head is as important as the legs. There are basically three types of head: ball heads, three-way pan-and-tilt heads and geared heads. Ball heads tend to have a greater strength-to-weight ratio; choose one with friction control, as this makes small adjustments easier. Many landscape specialists prefer geared heads, however, as these enable you to make very fine adjustments to compositions.
Whichever type you choose, make sure it has a good payload; ideally, at least double the weight of your heaviest camera/lens combination, as the camera will at times be set up off-centre and the increased torque will affect stability.
a tripod that can be set up low to the ground enables you to compose dramatic images that place emphasis on the foreground
Many landscapes are shot in low light, which means using a tripod is the only way to guarantee a sharp image