Nothing makes a photo more mesmerizing than a colossal mountain towering over the landscape. While mountains can add a sense of wonder and depth to your photos, mountain photography is not as easy as it looks.
In this post, we’ll cover a few tricks and tips professional photographers use to get those awe-inspiring mountain pictures we all love. We’ll talk about the best locations, camera settings, and gear for getting those beautiful summits in your snapshots.
Mountain Photography is an Art Form
Since mountains are naturally photogenic, everyone pictures mountains as an easy time for magnificent mountain photography. Profound photographers have an arsenal of expensive high-end equipment to produce stunning mountain imagery. However, we know not everyone has the funds or technical expertise to handle such camera gear.
With the right guidance, you can take beautiful mountain photos using a simple 35mm SLR. The only accessory you may need is a wide-angle lens, which isn’t too costly. The mountain photography tips below will help you produce highly-respectable mountain photos.
How to Work With a Mountain Background
When choosing the camera settings for mountain photography, make sure they are congruent with the time of day and your goals. This typically includes adjusting the ISO speed, shutter speed, exposure, and sharpness.
Sharp Images are Important
Adjusting the sharpness is crucial for mountain photography, but be careful as it’s easy to overdo. Spend some time incorporating the sharpness to match the desired photo in mind. However, don’t spend too much time and energy on sharpness and focus on other creative aspects such as composition and light.
Aperture and Depth of Field
One of the most challenging things about capturing mountains is getting the right balance of width and focus. Many photographers use a wide aperture to get the entire base of the mountain in their image, but only to find that the focus isn’t clear. When it comes to mountains, try a narrow aperture to help keep the middle and background elements in focus.
ISO Film Speed
The right ISO film speed for mountain photography heavily depends on the weather. On cloudy days, increase the ISO speed to help you reach the sweet spot of 1/30 a second. However, be vigilant as overdoing the ISO speed might result in a noisy image.
Most decent cameras can adequately adjust the exposure automatically, but they don’t always get it right. Any avid landscape photographer knows that light conditions change frequently, so having the correct exposure setting is vital for taking a photo of a mountain. Remember, be patient and try out different filters to see which one best matches your vision.
Composition: The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is an excellent way to expand and balance your image. When working with a mountain background, you want to align the subject of your photo (usually the summit of the highest peak) with the vertical third-line on the right side. Not only does the rule of thirds accentuate your landscape, but it also helps the subject stand out from the rest of the scenery.
Where to Find Beautiful Mountains for Mountain Photography
Your mountain makes your photo. Finding the most breathtaking peaks is not only going to help you capture more stunning images, but will also allow you to explore the natural beauty of our planet.
Here are some of the best locations for mountain photography.
Glacier National Park
The Northern Rockies inside Glacier National Park offer a unique and wild scenery that’s favorable among serious landscape photographers. The impeccable beauty of the peaks only scratches the surface of all this landscape has to offer. From flowing streams to vibrant foliage, there are endless creative opportunities in Glacier.
Glacier National Park is widely known for its sunset and sunrise photo opportunities. If you’re more into night photography, this might be the perfect location for you. Make sure to pack suitable hiking gear and capture some of the location’s vast wildlife, such as bears, elk, and mountain lions.
Located between Washington and Oregan are the stunning Cascade Mountains. The vast mountain range of volcanic mountain tops offers a fantastic contrast to the region’s misty forest environment. Some of the Cascade’s most famous peaks include St. Helens, St. Hood, and Mt. Rainer.
All of the summits wear a nice layer of snow throughout the entire year. You can also find brushes of colorful flowers during the spring and summer months.
There’s a lot of rainfall in the Northwestern United States, which produces raging waterfalls and flowing streams. Make sure to pack accordingly as it can get wet really fast. The silver lining of all that rain is that you have beautiful, harsh skies and rainbows to use as backdrops. With that, you’ll get an incredible picture of the mountains that will likely impress other serious photographers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Capturing the Great Smoky Mountains is a must for anyone wanting to be an expert landscape photographer. Stretching across Tennessee all the way to North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are full of mountain photography gold.
There are a few major roads that canvas the entire region, which makes planning your trip a whole lot easier. If you find yourself in there, check out some of the vantage points around the Newfound Gap. The Newfound Gap has plenty of spots and is full of trails and wildlife.
Mt. Shasta is a short trip away from Sacramento, California, and is one of the coolest mountains in the West. You get a wide array of different subjects, including beautiful snow-covered peaks and rushing streams. However, timing is everything with this mountain, and it’s hard to nail when the best time to go is. Some days the mountain is full of life while others seem deserted.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton offers multiple stunning locations to capture phenomenal images. The skies are generally clear, and there are tons of foliage, wildlife, and mountains. However, be cautious as large animals, such as bears, bison, and moose roaming freely around the park. Don’t harass or provoke them and carry mase if necessary.
Several amazing photographers and locals are around, be social, and ask around for the best spots. Finally, dress warmly. Wyoming weather can be unforgiving, and though you may see direct sunlight, sometimes you can’t feel it.
The world-renowned Kirkjufell sits in Iceland’s Snaefellsnes peninsula, about two and a half hours from Reykjavik. The peaks in the Kirkjufell mountains are by far one of the most popular destinations for photographers.
There’s a beautiful series of waterfalls surrounding the base of the mountain, along with a beautiful lake that encompasses Iceland’s mysterious ambiance. To top it off, you can get a crystal clear view of the Northern Lights during the winter months.
If you’re going to take on the Kirkjufell, make sure to go wide and find an excellent vantage point. You’ll likely run into several photographers who are more than willing to set you up with the right spot.
Any landscape or mountain photography fans have likely been to the Dolomites. From vast treelines, chiseled peaks, and bold lakes, the Dolomites are a landscape photographers dream come true. There’s no better way to feel tiny than to surround yourself with giant European mountain ranges.
If you head over to the Dolomites during the warmer months, make sure to go on as many hikes as possible. There are tons of hidden gems throughout the region you don’t want to miss. Trekking these mountains can be challenging, so pack suitable gear for both you and your camera.
What Gear Do You Need?
When it comes to taking pictures of mountains, you probably assume you will also need hiking gear. While this is somewhat true, you don’t need to go all Bear Grylls to be a good landscape photographer. Below are a few essential pieces of equipment to make your trip a whole lot easier.
- A Durable Backpack. Investing in a good backpack for landscape photography is worth every penny. Make sure you get a strong bag that’s both comfortable and water-resistant. You don’t want your camera gear to get wet. A good backpack should last you years and protect your camera and lenses.
- A Reliable Tripod. There’s a lot of raving on the internet about whether you need a tripod for landscape photography. Usually, the people who are against the idea didn’t have the right tripod to begin with. A sturdy tripod will enhance the quality of your photos and keep your camera from tipping over.
- A Remote Trigger. There’s tons of useful camera technology out there, so why not utilize it? A remote trigger can be your best friend when trying to get those tricky shots and angles.
This is only the bare minimum you’ll need to stay comfortable. Don’t forget other essential items like shoes and clothing appropriate for the climate. The perfect mountain picture may be valuable, but it’s not worth getting frostbite.
Pro Tips for Mountain Photography
Here are some of the top mountain photography tips to make you a master landscape photographer.
1. Preparation is Everything
Preparing all of your gear and camera setting before setting off will save you time and energy. Moving from one vantage point to the next can be exhausting, and you need all your mental power to focus on getting the right shot. Fortunately, you can use a GPS or smartphone to map out your entire trip before hitting the trails.
2. Have Patience
Getting the perfect shot can take hours or even days. If you want to capture outstanding mountain imagery, you need to be patient and wait for the right moment. Almost all photos you’ve seen on the internet or in coffee table books most likely took time to capture. Seldom do you arrive on location and get the shot of your dreams within a few minutes.
3. Try Keeping it Simple
Simplicity is key. Many photographers go over-the-top with different filters and camera settings. Sometimes simple settings and minimal gear can produce high-quality images. It would be best to shift your focus and creative efforts towards composition, and less energy spent on setting up your camera settings.
4. Look for the Right Weather
Weather conditions can make or break your mountain images. From what we’ve seen in some of the most famous mountain shots, early mornings are when the weather is prime. Tiny pockets of clouds and a nice backlight will make it look like you’re in a Bob Ross painting.
5. Do Plenty of Scouting
Half of the fun of shooting mountains is finding the right spot. Plus, knowing your ideal location will prevent you from having to race the sun for optimal light. If you already know which vantage point you want to shoot from, get there at least 1-hour before the desired time. This will give you enough time to prepare your camera and plan out your shots.
6. Choosing the Right Season
There is no single season that’s best for mountain photography. It depends on the location and what kind of photos you want. Above, we mention how the gorgeous Northern Lights are visible from Kirkjufell in the winter.
With that in mind, most of the landscape photographer peak months are from September to October. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little bit of research about your location before planning your trip. This way, you’ll know when it’s prime time and hopefully will get the photo of your dreams.
7. Add Water to Your Photo Whenever Possible
Lakes, streams, and mountains work very well together. Always try to include a body of water in your mountain photos, if possible. They add a bit of contrast and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a phenomenal reflection that will give the composition of your photo a big boost.
8. Know When to Take the Shot
We’ve all been there. Sitting and waiting for ages for the perfect shot. After a while, your mind becomes distorted, and nothing looks good. You get a good case of perfectionist syndrome, and you end up leaving with nothing.
This can easily avoid all of this by knowing when it’s time to take action. You’ll get that feeling in your gut, and when you have a sense, it’s time, take the shot. If it doesn’t look right, wait for another opportunity, but at least now you have some mountain pictures to work with.
9. Dress for the Occasion
Above we briefly mention how it’s essential to wear the right clothes. Packing something warm is vital, but you should also look for something comfortable. You may be on location for hours; if you start to feel discomfort, you may not have the patience to get the perfect photo.
For starters, you’re going to want to layer up. While most of the time, it’s going to be cold up on the mountain, there are periods of direct sunlight that can cause you to feel hot. Also, we can’t stress enough how important it is to wear windproof and water-resistant clothing. Harsh weather conditions can be dangerous, and you don’t want to end up with windburn or hypothermia.
10. Try to Have Fun
Although it can be frustrating and stressful trying to take the perfect mountain photo, remember why you’re there. Photography is your passion, so you should try to have fun and get out of your comfort zone. Try not to let the mountain reach the best of you. Stay focused, and you’ll, without a doubt, end up with some beautiful imagery.
How to Get the Best Light for Your Mountain Shots
Okay, so you’re probably well aware that light is essential if you want to take high-quality mountain pictures. If you want the best light, first you need to do some research on the area. You can start by seeing which time of the year is best for photography at your desired location. For example, many mountains in Europe look amazing towards the end of summer and beginning of autumn.
Next, you’ll want to pay attention to your mountain surroundings. Study the foliage and see if there’s anything that may impact the natural light. We understand you don’t have the time to scout the area, so use helpful apps like Google Earth and PhotoPills instead.
When it comes to weather, you’ll want to pick a day where the clouds are low. Low hanging clouds bring more life to the mountain and ultimately will make your photos look great. However, shooting with clouds isn’t easy. Check and see if your camera settings are suitable, especially your ISO film speed.
Don’t Forget to Be Different
It’s tempting to opt for the beautiful sunrise or sunset, but that’s heavily overdone. There are a few things you can do to make your mountain photos stand out. However, it may take a little extra effort, but it will all be worth it when you have that perfect shot.
One of the easiest things you can do is add people to your photos. There’s nothing better than making people look tiny by throwing in a colossal rock in the background. Finally, play around with different times. You may be surprised at how beautiful night shots can come out.
What About Editing?
So you’ve got a bunch of different shots that you’re proud of, and it’s time for post-processing. Remember, there’s no “right way” to edit your photos because it’s all about your personal taste and style. With that in mind, there are small details to pay attention to during editing, such as:
- Remove The Lens Flare. Direct sunlight is tricky, especially for landscape shots. However, there is a way to use the intense sunlight to your advantage. Removing the lens flare will help reduce some noise in your photo while still withholding the right amount of light.
- Try Dehazing. The dehaze feature is a new creation from Adobe, and many photographers are unaware of its potential. A little bit of haze is standard when shooting nature photographers, but removing some will help enhance your images. However, be careful because it’s easy to misuse, and you might end up destroying your project.
- Mess With The Colors. By changing the hues and saturation, you can end up with a more spirited image. If you have a sunrise or sunset image, try playing with the yellows to make it stand out more.
- Use The Glow Effect. This is a super simple effect you can add to make your mountain stand out. Play with the glow settings a bit until you’re satisfied with the overall colors and sharpness.
Are you confident to try out some of our mountain photography tips? It’s, by far, one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of landscape photography. Remember, patience and creativity is all you need to take amazing photographs. Get out of your comfort zone and to make your images stand out.
If you’re still uncertain about the technical camera terminology, check out some of our tutorials. We hope our mountain photography tips are everything you need to take your landscape photography to the next level.