Mountains are my thing. I find their grand vistas so awe-inspiring that I feel compelled to photograph them again and again and again.
The problem is that you can’t plop your tripod down anywhere, click off a few shots and expect to come away with pictures that do justice to the grandeur before you.
Following a few key principles will help ensure your mountain photos are truly monumental.
1. It’s All About The Light
In photography light is everything, and mountain photography is no exception. The first thing I tell my workshop students is that to get the best landscape photos possible, you need to be there when the light is at its best and most dramatic. This means during the golden hours — early and late in the day. This may require hiking in the dark to get to the vantage point you’re looking for. So don’t hesitate to set that alarm!
That said, good mountain photographs can also be taken in the harsh light of day. You’re going to have to work harder at it to deal with such high-contrast light, but the results can be well worth it. After all, if you’re lugging all your camera gear with you on a backpacking trip of several days, you wouldn’t want to limit your shooting to the golden hours!
2. Take the Trail Less Traveled
To make your mountain photos stand out, try photographing peaks that haven’t been shot umpteen-million times before.
I personally try to avoid iconic locations. Instead, I seek out the lesser-known. I search for photos that aren’t basically copies of images taken by every other photographer who’s set his or her tripod in the same holes.
This often requires traveling into the backcountry for several miles to capture views that can’t be seen from the road. New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (the tallest peak in the image above) has been endlessly photographed — but this view of it from Mount Pierce is less familiar than most, and much more memorable.
3. Bad Weather Can Bring Good Luck
The storm clouds that often appear in mountain ranges are a gift to photographers. Here on the East Coast, if there’s a storm departing to the east near sunset, I want to be in the mountains waiting for what could be a killer sky — one that looks as if it’s on fire. The period either just before or after a storm front moves through an area is when landscape photographers need to get busy.
But always remember: Mountain weather can change quickly and become dangerous. No photo is worth risking your life. Dress properly, carry the appropriate hiking gear and be safe by knowing your limits and what you’re capable of. Pay close attention to the forecast before you head out and the ever-changing conditions while on your journey.
4. Composition Matters
Possibly the most difficult challenge you’ll face when photographing mountains is composition . I like to anchor the shot with a strong foreground to give viewers an obvious place to start their visual exploration. In the above photo, I could have set up my tripod on top of the large granite outcropping and photographed the distant mountains with the clouds and setting sun. Instead, I chose to duck down behind the granite and include its rich texture and shape as my foreground.
5. Remember the Human Touch
For the longest time, I used to do everything possible to avoid having people in my landscape photographs — and for the most part, I still do. But when it comes to mountain photography, including people in the composition can give viewers a sense of scale, making a grand view seem even grander.