Mountains are gorgeous all on their own. They inspire wonder every time we’re near them. There’s nothing like being in the presence of the mountains. It makes you feel almost superhuman. The real challenge for any would-be mountain photographer is to get the mountains to appear as surreal on film as they do in real life. If you pay attention to these mountain photography tips, you’ve got a good shot at making that happen.
[Thanks to Flickr User: longhorndave for the above image]
First Things First. This is landscape photography
The same rules in all landscape photography apply to photographing mountains. If anything, mountains are one of the most interesting landscapes you could photograph. So you need to remember some of the rules of standard landscape photography. Here’s a quick refresher:
- Always place something in the foreground. The flag in the image above sets the context. It tells you right away that these mountains are in Chile. If the photographer were to choose not to include something in the foreground, we would have no idea why these mountains are significant. With the flag, we know what the photographer is trying to say.
- Use a smaller aperture. You want to get depth and sharpness all the way from the flag in the front to the mountains in the background. At F22, you can be guaranteed you’ll get all the sharpness you need. If you can't set the aperture directly on your camera, choose the Landscape Mode and your camera will make sure everything is in focus.
Use clouds to create an ominous feeling
Clouds always add an element of drama to any image. It’s no different when you’re up in the mountains. For some of the best mountain pictures, I like to get up above the fog and use it to frame the shot. Granted, you won’t be able to do that at every mountain range. Usually, if you’re near a lake or some other body of water, chances are pretty good. You also need to get up very early. You want to be there before the fog blows away.
Sunset pictures of the mountains are always more interesting when there are a lot of clouds present. There’s nothing like snapping a spooky image of a storm approaching on the horizon.
Get multiple perspectives
Mountains look completely different at the top than they do at the bottom. Each perspective is unique, so you need to spend a lot of time exploring your options. Try to find a clearing near the bottom of the mountain, a place where the mountain shoots up from the ground. Lakes are a secret among many photographers. Not only are they a guaranteed clear spot, you can see the mountain reflected in the water.
Shoot from above. Shoot from below. Shoot from the middle of the mountain. The most interesting images come from some rather unexpected places.
Use people to provide a sense of scale
Mountains are enormous. People are small. When you put people in front of mountains, it really gives you a sense of how big the mountains are. People are the ideal foreground subject for taking pictures of mountains. That’s why it’s such a good idea to bring a friend with you whenever you go on a mountain hike (I do it for safety too).
Calibrate your white balance for snow
Don’t forget that mountains have a lot of snow, and it can mess with your white balance settings if you aren’t careful about it. Sometimes you get dark grey images that don’t come close to portraying snow as the white stuff it is. Snow can appear to have a bluish tint as well.
Most digital cameras have a special setting for snow. If yours does, be sure to use it! You can tell you’ve successfully calibrated your white balance if the snow in your images looks truly white -not grey or blue.
Those of you who don’t have a special snow setting should increase your camera’s exposure compensation. By doing this, you are telling your camera that you’re photographing something very bright. Instead of trying to dial down the brightness to make a more even exposure, your camera accepts the scene in front of it. Voila! You’ve got white snow.
Just getting to the mountains seems to be the hardest part of photographing mountains. The beauty is all around you if you can make the trip. Try out these tips and let me know what you think.
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