Rolf Nachbar: A Look Inside My Photo Bag – What I Need for Landscape Photography
Mar 2014 04

In addition to my work as an advertising and industrial photographer, in recent years I have increasingly devoted my time to artistic landscape photography.

In contrast to a fully planned advertising production within a team with lots of light, props and photo shooting technology, all that counts in landscape photography, besides uncontrollable aspects such as climate and time, is the simplicity of the equipment, as well as reducing volume and weight.  After all, as my colleagues will surely confirm, the specially selected scene can usually only be reached on foot over long, difficult paths.

Meanwhile, I have been able to reduce my equipment to such an extent that in fact I don’t miss any part of the photo shooting technology, just carry a minimum weight and yet still achieve maximum resolution and colour depth.

Today I would like to open my photo bag exclusively for the Datacolor blog and show what I need for my pictures. Maybe this will trigger an approving or also critical reaction from a photo enthusiast and give us all a chance to extend our horizons and lenses.

All my equipment including tripod and rucksack weighs just 6.52 kg.

The main piece of equipment for our trade is the camera.

Here I have opted for the Nikon D800E (with 2 batteries). With a resolution of 36 million pixels and 14 bit color depth per channel, it produces a dynamic scope of an amazing 14 aperture stops. This results in motifs with ideally high contrasts that can be taken with low backlighting without resorting to frantic HDR activities.

Two 32 GB SD cards provide sufficient reserve and offer the possibility of taking approx. 800 pictures in RAW format. Furthermore, I have only two AF Nikon lenses in the bag that cover the range of focal lengths that is relevant to my work.

I prefer to work in the wide-angle range where I use the AF-S Nikkor 16-35 mm 1:4 G ED, and the AF-S Nikkor 4.0/24 – 120 ED for the normal to slightly telephoto focal length range.

Passers-by and colleagues often question this choice, claiming that the 14-24 mm lens is “so much better”. What counts for me is that the 16-35 mm has a 77 mm filter screw thread and thus the same diameter as the 24-120 mm lens, which is extremely practical reducing the number of filters I need to 3.

First and foremost, these include the polarization filter for reducing reflexes on shiny surfaces (such as water) and for intensifying color saturation.

To make sure I have long shutter times for certain motifs, I use the neutral density filter by B+W. The strengths of -6 and -10 aperture stops have proved appropriate for my photography. Combining the three filters permits the extension of -2 apertures to -6, -8, -10, -12, -16 and -18. The projection in front of the front lens can become quite large if two or more filters are combined. As a result, vignetting can occur at focal lengths below 20 mm for 35 mm full frame which is often scarcely visible in the view finder because there is only little light available.

For extremely long shutter times beyond the 30 seconds offered by the camera, I use a small remote controller by Calumet.

A stable but still lightweight tripod is naturally indispensable for long exposure shots. For many years now, my trusty companion all around the world has been a carbon tripod by Feisol, the Tournament CT- 3442 with CB50DC ball head. This combination weighs just 1700 g and can be extended above eye height. The compact size and low weight makes it easy to carry on the rucksack even during longer trips.

I’m sure you all know, but it’s worth mentioning once again that the image stabiliser must always be deactivated when taking photos on the tripod in order to achieve focused results.

Apart from a few accessories for cleaning the camera, the lenses and filters (as well as my own glasses), I’ve nearly got to the bottom of my rucksack – where I find a funny little cube with a chrome ball and a plastic chart with lots of colored panels.

Those in the know will already have guessed: the Datacolor SpyderCUBE and the SpyderCHECKR accompany me on all my trips.

People frequently ask me: “Your pictures often have that peculiar color mood which you don’t really get in nature. So why do you use calibration tools?” Well, for my own individual interpretation of nature I need to have maximum contrast and color volume in the initial material for this very reason. I wouldn’t like to miss these two practical tools as they let me make optimum use of the resources offered by my motif and my camera equipment.

This article is not intended to be a “second set of instructions” for these products as enough material is available from Datacolor, but in a couple of lines I’d just like to give a few tips and tricks for using SpyderCUBE and SpyderCHECKR in landscape photography.

One thing is vital when optimizing your photography results with both tools in the long run; you have to manage without automatic white balance in the camera!

I take photographs with a fixed color temperature of 5000 Kelvin as the basic setting. The measurement results can then be applied consistently to all parts of a scene and color temperatures can be changed subsequently without any losses in the RAW process.

SpyderCUBE and SpyderCHECKR are indispensable when using the filters. Even polarization and ND filters are never completely color-neutral.

Each of these filters has their own little “color dialect”. (It would be overdoing it to talk of a “color cast” here). Basically this influence makes a greater difference to the picture with a higher filter density and increasing shutter time. SpyderCUBE and SpyderCHECKR simply neutralize these influences across the whole spectrum.

For some time now I have managed without a monkey tripod for fastening the SpyderCUBE and SpyderCHECKR. I can usually find a few branches or stones around me that will do the job on the spot without putting added weight in my rucksack.

Many landscape photos owe their special effect to very long shutter times with swiftly changing light at sunrise or sunset. Under these conditions in particular it is often difficult to position the tools for taking a photograph and to get a second shot under the same conditions. For a shot with 4 minutes shutter time, it takes 8 minutes before the camera is ready for the next shot. In this kind of situation, I try to position the SpyderCUBE and/or SpyderCHECKR in the picture in such a way that they can be easily removed afterwards in Lightroom or Photoshop using the stamp feature.

Let me just add a few words to motifs with extremely low contrast such as misty landscapes.

After the shot, these often look very muddy and grey and fail to reproduce any of the mystic charm of the scene being photographed.

Here the CUBE is a wonderful tool for specific histogram spreading! With just a few clicks in RAW conversion, the picture once again reveals all the magic that was apparent in the landscape while taking the photo.

Many of the pictures on my new website for landscape photography were taken with the equipment described here.color

I hope that these comments may give a bit of inspiration to one or other photo enthusiast. Maybe we’ll meet up one day at a stream or in a forest while positioning our cubes and color charts!

Wishing you good light conditions and every joy with your photos!

At its core, photography is of course about visual communication. There is probably no one who would agree more readily with this viewpoint than Rolf Nachbar, who sees himself first and foremost not as a photographer, but as a messenger of visual communication.