Photographing Mountains


There’s a common expression that’s a play on words: “Life’s A Beach.” I have a T Shirt that says, “Life’s A Mountain, Not A Beach.” From the very first time I drove across country from New York to Denver and saw the Rocky Mountains loom in the distance, I was hooked. I offer you a Tip of the Week on how to capture better images of mountains.

Add Color For Impact: Autumn is my favorite time to photograph mountains as the deciduous trees reach peak color. Whether the focus is on the Rockies with golden toned aspens or the rolling mountains of the east with multi colored hardwood trees, the reds, yellows, and oranges add dimension, impact, and specific focal points to any mountain image. In the accompanying image of the fall color in Grand Teton National Park, I zoomed in tight to accentuate Mt Moran as it hovered above the low clouds. The bottom layers of the fall colored grasses, willows, and aspens provide clues to the time of year. The towering peak plays hide and seek with the rest of the scene. I used the rule of thirds and placed the fall color in the lower third of the frame and the peak of Moran in the top third.

Create Depth: A key technique to create successful mountain-scapes is to include depth. Include fore, mid, and background elements. Wide angle lenses are employed to accomplish this. Get close to an important element in the lower portion of the frame. The eye will be drawn to that area in the photograph. The midground layer needs to support the chosen foreground element and contain interest. The final piece of the puzzle is the background element. This is often the key peak of the range. In the end, all elements should support one another. In the accompanying image, the foreground log and reflections, the midground lines of trees, and the clouds and peaks in the background all work together to create a photo in which all planes blend harmoniously.

Timing: Dramatic mountain images should be made in the sweet light of the day. This occurs both at sunrise and sunset. Capturing images at these times means getting up when it’s dark and being on location just as the sun crests the horizon. It also entails being out late at sunset just before the suns falls below the horizon. At these times of the day, the light is warm and soft. It gives the scene dimension and texture unobtainable in the middle of the day when the sun is overhead. Mid day sun is harsh, flat, and very blue in color. None of these qualities lend themselves to good mountain shots. In the accompanying image of Garden of the Gods in Colorado, I pressed the shutter within two minutes of sunrise.

Quick Tips: I highly recommend you use a polarizer and shoot at right angles to the sun to maximize its effect. Use a long lens to compress scenes where layers of mountains exist to add impact. Use a long lens to create intimate portraits of just the peaks of your favorite range. Incorporate wildlife or people into some of your shots to show scale. Shoot when there is an impending or clearing storm to capture dramatic light. If you have to shoot when the skies are gray or overcast, crop as much out of your photo as you can. This also goes for clear blue skies as they are a dime a dozen. Look for interesting cloud patterns to enhance your images.


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