There’s no secret that there’s an abundance of accessories for landscape photographers. Some of them are considered absolutely essential while others might just be unnecessary extra weight in your backpack. With so many tools to choose between it can be hard to separate the useful from the unuseful, which is probably why we end up purchasing so many unnecessary products.
When talking about accessories that are useful for landscape photographers I find that there’s a handful of products that keep coming up: a tripod, a variety of filters, a remote shutter release and a cleaning kit. There’s no doubt that these are tools that can make a huge difference in your photography.
But there’s one that I feel goes under the radar quite often, which is fascinating as it’s one that the majority of professional landscape photographers use: an L-plate bracket.
What is an L-Plate Bracket?
If this is the first time you’ve heard about an L-plate bracket I urge you to keep reading this article and to consider if this is a tool you should be adding to your equipment list.
The L-Plate bracket is a piece of metal that is fastened to your camera body as a replacement for the regular quick release tripod plate. Unlike a regular quick release plate, an L-Plate is shaped as an L, bending 90 degrees up the side of the camera. This makes it easy to quickly switch between a horizontal or vertical orientation, which is a benefit I’ll come back to in a minute.
To connect the camera to the tripod you place a clamp on the tripod’s ball head. These clamps come in a few different options, including a quick-release lock and a twist lock.
Why I Always Use an L-Plate Bracket
Ever since I started with landscape photography and purchased my first L-Plate, this has been an accessory that I have recommended. During the last few years, I’ve noticed that more and more beginners are understanding the value of this tool and I’m often surprised to see that the majority of my workshop participants use one.
The main benefit of using an L-Plate is that you can easily switch between a horizontal and vertical orientation. Now, you might ask “how is it easier to remove and re-attach the camera than to just loosen the ball head and readjust it?”.
That is a good question and one that might not seem that obvious but the answer is actually quite simple. When shifting from horizontal to a vertical orientation with an L-plate you keep the same composition.
When shifting from horizontal to vertical orientation without an L-Plate you need to move the tripod as you’ve also moved the camera a few centimeters to the side, meaning you’ve lost the composition you had previously. With an L-plate attached, you maintain the composition and don’t have to worry about moving the tripod back and forth each time you change the orientation.
Another big benefit for those who shoot panoramas is that the camera perfectly pivots around the right spot, meaning you won’t have problems stitching the shots together later.
Who are L-Plates for?
Now I’m not going to lie and say that L-Plates are for everyone. If you’re a studio photographer or if you never use a tripod, it’s better not to waste your money on this tool. However, if you’re a photographer who regularly uses a tripod, I highly recommend that you get one right away.
Here are a few photography genres which will greatly benefit from using an L-Plate:
- Landscape photography
- Architectural photography
- Commercial photographers
- Macro photographers
- Studio photographers (who use tripods)
What to look for when purchasing an L-Plate
Unlike many of the other types of accessories we find for photography, there aren’t a whole lot of options when it comes to L-plate brackets. There’s no fancy technology or must-have features. This is a simple tool, but there are still a couple of things to look for when you’re purchasing one.
- Never purchase “universal” plates: When you’re searching for L-Plates you’ll most likely come across several models which are branded as universal plates. Do not purchase one of these! While they claim to be universal, this is rarely the case. Most likely parts of the plate will block the pockets and plugs on the side of your camera.
- Metal plates are always best: Metal plates might be a few dollars more expensive but they are worth every cent. A sturdy metal plate is more durable and less likely to malfunction (I’ve had my RRS L-Plate for 4 years and it still works like new).
The best option is to find a metal plate which is specifically made for your camera model. For example, I’m using a plate that perfectly fits the Nikon D800 and D810 but when using it on my backup camera, the Nikon D750, it covers the ports on the side, meaning I’m not able to use a cable release.
Lastly, you don’t need to purchase the most expensive alternatives. I know many photographers who use L-Plates that cost between $10 and $30, and these work just as well as more expensive versions. Just make sure that it’s made of metal and fits your camera. You’re likely to find good options for less than $50 so don’t feel like you have to get one of the premium $200 versions.