Mountains are wonderful subjects to photograph. They can provide an unmistakable point of interest in any landscape or cityscape shot. The opportunities are endless, but only if you take the time to plan and execute your shot. So here is a short guide with tips and advice on how to ensure your mountain photos come out stunning.
1. Find the perfect location
There is no doubt about it, my number one tip when it comes to mountain photography is to do your research and plan your shoot meticulously. Whilst it’s always good to take inspiration from other photographers, there is no point in going to the same places and taking the same photographs of the same scenes.
So be creative and go out and explore. Find locations that no one has discovered yet but has a story to tell. Or find a different angle or time of day to give a well-known location some distinction. Try to plan your shoot for times when the light or conditions might be unique to give you a different shot that will stand out.
2. Be prepared
Needless to say, that mountain photography can have it’s hazards so if your plan is to hike into the wilderness or even climb a mountain, make sure you are ready. This includes everything from clothing to food and water and even a first aid kit.
This also extends to photographic preparation as well. Make sure that you have all the equipment you are potentially going to need. This includes tripods, filters, batteries (keep in mind batteries drain faster in cold conditions), memory cards and of course camera and lenses. But only take what you are going to need as the last thing you will want to do is add more weight to your backpack.
3. Be patient
Most photographers get frustrated at times, especially when the weather seems against you. Unless you are really fortunate, you will rarely ever get to your location and have everything in place for a great shot. Sometimes you just have to have patience and wait for that moment when the clouds disappear or the fog lifts. Mountain weather can change rapidly and unpredictably so make sure you are aware of the forecast before you set off and sit and wait if the conditions are not right.
Be patient for the right lighting too. Early morning and late afternoon light gives the scene a wonderful glow and emphasizes shadows. If the weather prevents a good shot, come back later in the day or the next morning.
4. Compose carefully thinking about the foreground
Even if you are photographing a mountain in the distance, don’t forget about your foreground. Good landscape images usually contain something interesting in the foreground. This is especially important in mountain photography when sometimes the mountain range is far in the distance.
So, the next time you are photographing mountains in the distance, think about how you can incorporate a tree, stream, people, animals or even some rocks to give your photo more depth or even a sense of scale. You can also use a mountain range as a background to a city for example.
5. Increase your depth of field
Any type of landscape photography generally requires a long depth of field as you will want as much of the scene to be in focus. This means you will need to increase your aperture (f/number) so that both your immediate foreground and background will be in focus and sharp.
But it’s really important to avoid closing your aperture too much (f/18 or smaller) as this can actually have an adverse effect on image sharpness. Most lenses have a sweet spot of f/8 to f/11. You can always test yours out to see if this is the case. So it’s a good idea to start at the sweet spot and then close your aperture if needed up to f/16.
6. Try a vertical shot
As you would imagine, most landscape shots are taken in a landscape format (horizontal). However, don’t be afraid to experiment in portrait (vertical) versions. This works especially well if you want to isolate a narrower view of the scene and lead your viewer into the distance. Do remember though that your foreground is even more vital as you might be showing more of it.
The other added benefit of a vertical landscape shot is that it often helps you cut out any clutter around your image. Remember that a vertical shot has a chance of being used on front covers.
7. Place your horizon carefully
Your horizon line is one of the most important elements of your photo. So think about the rule of thirds and avoid placing the horizon in the middle of the composition if possible. If the scene has an interesting foreground or an uninteresting sky (e.g. flat white clouds) place your horizon high in the photo (along the top line in the rule of thirds). Alternatively, if you have interesting cloud formations or light you could place your horizon lower to show more of the sky and less of the foreground.
While this might sound like a contradiction, keep in mind that rules are there to be broken. So sometimes you may find that a horizon line in the middle of your shots actually works.
8. Tell a story by using people or wildlife in your shots
One of the best ways to ensure your photos are unique is to include people or wildlife in your composition. Not only can this give your photo context, but it can also act to give your scene a sense of scale. Clearly, wildlife is a little more difficult to incorporate as you need to be lucky for it to be there. But for people, you can always ask travel companions or even put yourself in the shot.
9. Use a tripod
Tripods are an essential piece of equipment for landscape photography. If you are shooting in low light, such as sunset or sunrise, due to a slow shutter speed your camera needs to be still to achieve complete sharpness. A tripod is the only way.
You could try boosting your ISO higher to be able to shoot handheld, but this could mean losing image quality through excessive noise in your image. Simply put, if you want to capture the best landscape images possible, a tripod is a must.
10. Use filters
Most photographers use filters to instantly improve their photos. I would very rarely take a landscape shot without using some sort of filter. For mountain photography filters can be useful. For example, a graduated neutral density filter can help in situations when you have a high contrast scene (the sky is too bright and the foreground is too dark).
Or a polarizer can help boost colours such as blues and greens and cut haze and reflections in your shots. A polarizer can also be useful if you are photographing winter scenes to cut reflection on the snow. So, make sure you invest in some good quality filters and learn how to use them.
This short guide to mountain photography will help you improve your photos. The 10 tips above are not difficult to follow or master and like anything, with more practice you will become a better photographer. So, get out there and look to incorporate these into your next mountain shoot.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.