15 Quick Tips For Stunning Mountain Photography!
I have had the fortune of photographing mountains for more than 15 years and I am excited to share with you my selection of mountain photography tips which I hope will help and inspire you to capture compelling and evocative images of these natural wonders!
Tips to get you going!
1) Capture the big picture! Think of using a wide angle lens (22 mm or shorter) to capture all that makes the mountain landscape so special: Lakes, rivers, waterfalls and, of course, those stunning mountains as a backdrop! Try to make the elements work together harmoniously so that all contribute to the image rather than detract from the visual flow of the scene you are capturing. Please feel free to read my tips for powerful wide angle compositions in nature photography!
Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies is one of the most symmetrical mountains I have ever seen. Intense Alpen Glow colours this fantastic geological landmark, as the underlying rocks and pebbles are able to show through for a brief moment before the wind picks up again. It was almost impossible to escape the gaze of this giant, which reminded me of a winged monster.
2) Don’t let the weather get you down! The mountains are all about mood and drama, and there is plenty beauty to be captured no matter how bad or dull the conditions may seem. Mountain photography is all about persistence, and you will be duly rewarded!
I had just witnessed one of those spectacular, all too short lived moments of glorious light, and was able to fire off one or two shots of the distant mountains painted in intense red and purple hues. In a frantic rush I tried to set up a wide angle composition including the lake and mountains, but it was too late, and the sky had turned a dull, dark grey. I was so frustrated, and all I wanted to do was pack it in and get something warm to eat. But I forced myself to take a few more shots, and I am glad I did. In the rush for beautiful light, one often overlooks the many photographic opportunities that exist, no matter how bad the light may seem. A long exposure brought out the streaking clouds, and they were complemented beautifully by the intense turquoise coloured waters of Moraine lake, one of my favourite lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
3) Use a telephoto! There is infinite beauty and grandeur in the peaks – a whole world waiting to be discovered. A telephoto ( 70 mm up to 400 mm) is the perfect lens for this. The world of peaks is my favourite aspect of the mountain landscape, and it never disappoints! To read more about using the telephoto lens for landscape photography please feel free to read my articles on the telephoto lens for landscape photography as well as using the telephoto to convey a sense of scale.
There is so much fleeting beauty, so much potential, to the world of mountains. It reveals itself over a matter of seconds, before it is gone forever. Far above, barely visible to the naked eye, the peak of Paine Grande, the highest mountain in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine national park, is transformed into a short lived moment of utter beauty.
4) Storms? Great! This is the time to get out there! Storms always promise great light. Instead of avoiding them, pursue them, especially the zone where the storm begins to clear.
Rather than getting upset that a storm may ruin any photographic opportunities I may have had with milder conditions, I get filled with anticipation and hope: stormy weather promises beautiful light. When I noticed that a storm in the Canadian Rockies was beginning to clear I raced to keep up with the storm front, since it is there where the magic usually happens. And so it did!
5) Patience is a virtue! The most dramatic and beautiful scenes happen when the clouds clear and the mountains are unveiled or, alternatively, when they start moving in. That perfect moment, when the clouds clear or move in just right, is very difficult to predict and you simply have to wait it out. It can be very short lived, a matter of seconds sometimes, and you want to be ready to capture it all before it disappears again!
A moment of unspeakable beauty as the last light of day touches churning clouds rushing over the ragged cliff faces of South Africa’s Table Mountain.
Capture Mountains in Glorious Light!
Have you wondered how best to capture the drama and beauty of mountains when they are painted by that glorious morning light? I hope these quick mountain photography tips will set you on the right path!
1) Capture that Alpenglow! A few minutes before sunrise the peaks of mountains are painted in intense red light, and it is a moment you do not want to miss! It only lasts for three or so minutes before it disappears again, so keep your eyes peeled! To read more about chasing the light and understanding how to read light and use it for landscape photography please feel free to read my article on chasing the light at this link.
One of the world’s most majestic granite spires, the unforgettable Mount Cerro Torre in Patagonia, Argentina, is clothed in intense, red alpen glow, its reflection broken by thin layers of ice which formed during the cold, windless night.
2) Clearing clouds unlock the true beauty. To me there is nothing as beautiful as the moment when mountains emerge out of clearing clouds. You will witness beauty you could not have imagined. Don’t let rain get you down. When the rain stops, the mountains emerge, and this is the moment you need to get out there and capture the true beauty and drama of the mountains!
Patagonia is challenging to photograph, the mountains can be hidden for days, but when they clear, the beauty is unmatched. This particular morning started off cloudy and overcast, and when the sun rose, mount Fitz Roy and nearby peaks were well hidden behind dense cloud cover. I began to photograph other features of the landscape, but I always kept an eye on mount Fitz Roy since I knew that in Patagonia the conditions can change rapidly. Sure enough, suddenly the famous Patagonian winds started up, and within a matter of minutes drove off the entire cloud bank which had covered the mountains. It all happened so fast, and I took several images, in rapid succession, capturing these towering giants as they were unveiled by the dissipating clouds. This image, where Fitz Roy and nearby peaks emerge out of a torrent of churning, angry clouds, threatening to swallow the beautiful granite spires again all too soon, to me conveys best the raw power of Patagonia and the incredible beauty that wild, angry weather is capable of.
3) Get there well before sunrise! When photographing mountains, keep in mind that the twilight of the early morning hours illuminates them significantly earlier than other landscapes you may be used to photograph. With a long exposure you can capture their beauty in soft light.
A long exposure, furious winds blowing clouds past the jagged peaks of Patagonia’s Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina and all of it in the soft, low contrast of the morning twilight. What more can one ask for?
4) Don’t forget the reflections! Warm light on the mountains is great, but this is also the time to capture those beautiful reflections in still waters. Always keep an eye out for them and use a wide angle lens!
Beautiful puffy clouds reflect in the calm waters of Vermillion Lakes in the Canadian Rockies, while the distant mountains catch the first rays of the morning sun.
5) Use a polarizer! The most important filter in photography, in my opinion, it intensifies the colors and sets them off beautifully against the background. When using a wide angle lens, beware of banding.
Shortly after a helicopter had dropped us off in the middle of the Tombstone range in Canada’s Yukon, and we had begun hiking towards our first overnight camping site, we noticed ominous clouds and lightning quickly approaching us. Sure enough, within minutes we were painfully pelted by a wall of sleet. As if our prayers were answered, we were able to hide, wet and freezing, behind a large boulder, close to our camping site. As soon as the storm had passed, we realized the potential for great light, grabbed our camera gear and headed off to capture some potentially beautiful light. And beautiful it was!
Capture The Human Element!
Have you wondered how best to photograph people in the context of the mountain landscape? I hope these quick tips will set you on the right path
1) Get up close! When you are hiking with a group, run up close to them, and use a wide angle lens. Make sure that the hikers remain separated and that they form a shape, such as a curve, that leads the viewer into the image.
Our group embarks on a hike to our backcountry camp site in the Yukon’s Tombstone Territorial park, shortly after being dropped off by helicopter. Little did we know that we were about to hit by a sleet storm!
2) Transport the viewer to your world Allow the viewer to imagine him or herself experiencing the wonder and awe of the scene you had the privilege of witnessing.
I spent a magical moonlit night in Namibia’s Spitzkoppe mountains, wandering this amazing area of granite boulders and mountain peaks for hours, and capturing the landscape as it was transformed by the moon’s soft, mysterious light. I rarely take self portraits, so please enjoy!
3) Show some emotion! Capture facial expressions and/or body language which convey the moments of joy or struggle of your outdoors experience.
Towards the end of our back country expedition, we had endured an intense snow blizzard in Canada’s Yukon territory and were cooped up in our tents for long periods of time. It was time for us to hike back to where our helicopter had dropped us off, but first we had to struggle through the snow, and endure the cold.
4) Keep your distance! Use a telephoto, and photograph your subject from far away. Telephotos are great for conveying a sense of scale and they are fantastic at capturing hikers or tents far in the distance with a giant mountain looming behind.
The sun spot lights our camp at the base of giant mountains which tower over the tundra of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, with elevation gains of 1000 m (3000 feet). The sense of scale is breathtaking. We had hiked up a nearby mountain slope for a panoramic view of it all. Our camp site from that high was tiny and I was fortunate to capture it at the moment it was touched by the sun’s rays, as if pointing it out!
5) Don’t forget your campsite! Photographing your campsite embedded in a majestic landscape, in dramatic conditions, is one of the most effective ways to convey your outdoors adventure.
We had witnessed spectacular scenery and explored unknown lands, we enjoyed sunny, mild weather and endured incessant downpours, and we were as happy and felt as enriched as we could be. And finally, towards the end of our expedition into the Yukon’s Peel Watershed, we were treated to snow, lots of it! This is our camp site after a night of snow and for a sense of scale note our team member Teresa as she scales the distant hill!
I hope you found these 15 quick tips useful and that they may help you capture the grandeur and beauty of our world’s magnificent mountains!
Tips for wide angle compositions
Chasing the Light
How I got the shot
Using the Telephoto for sense of scale
The telephoto for landscape photography
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