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How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps

Here are 8 essential mountain photography tips, including how to stay safe and getting the best out of your camera.

| Landscape and Travel

How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps: Mountains


Mountain photography, both on and off these magnificent natural structures, is something photographers can capture images of all year round, but there's something about the Autumn and Winter seasons which add an extra level of 'wow' to these landscape shots. For your next venture up a mountain or to one of our many national parks where mountain ranges decorate the horizon, here are 8 pieces of advice that'll have you capturing breathtaking mountain shots in no-time at all.


1. Safety First 

This can be a tricky subject in winter as you need to ensure you remain safe at all times. Walking in snow is one thing but mountains tend to also be covered with ice and have erratic weather conditions. Before you set off, know your ability, wear the right clothing and take the right walking equipment including phone, compass and map. You should also carry a whistle which can be used to attract attention if you need help.

2. Pack Your Filters

Don't leave home without a UV filter as not only does it protect the lens from the elements but it will cut the levels of UV which are often high in the mountains, especially in sunny conditions.

If it’s sunny and there’s snow use a polarising filter. The polariser is a great tool to help control glare and light reflection from the snow. Take care not to over polarise a blue sky in the mountains, though.

The ND Grad filter is essential for reducing the contrast difference between the sky and ground. Landscape photographer Robin Whalley tends to carry a 2 stop and 3 stop (0.6 and 0.9) wrapped in a filter cloth and placed in his pocket when photographing mountain landscapes.


How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps: Scottish Mountains


3. Lens Choices 

The lens choice for shooting in the mountains is wide-angle. A longer lens can also be useful for picking out details, but a zoom will probably allow you to capture the best the mountain has to offer. When using longer lenses, don't forget that you need a tripod that can support their weight.


4. Capture Distance And Height 

When shooting from the mountainside or summit the best approach to composition is to emphasise distance and height. Use a wide-angle lens and include something to act as foreground interest. Lenses wider than 24mm can be used successfully but the feeling of distance and height tends to diminish the wider you go.


How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps: Scotish Mountains


5. Use Small Apertures 

The need to include foreground interest as well as keep the distant hills in good focus probably means you need to stop your lens down to quite a small aperture, perhaps f/16.0 or smaller. If you are also using filters, for example, a polariser you might find slow shutter speeds a problem. Robin Whalley says: "I used to use a walking pole and place the camera lens through the hand loop to support it, giving me a few extra stops of stability. Now I use a monopod which doubles as a walking pole and which I have used successfully with shots with over 0.5-second exposure."


6. Creating The 'Wow' Factor

When shooting from the mountain you want the viewer to gain a sense of the place, so when they look at the shot they almost feel like they were actually there with you. To do this, as well as using a wide-angle lens, use a panoramic composition as this will help the viewer appreciate the scale of the location but again, it doesn’t emphasise the dramatic height of the mountain, something we'll discuss further down the page.
How to Photograph Mountains In 8 Easy Steps: Scottish Mountains


7. Correct Exposures 

If you are shooting in snowy conditions, you should also watch out for the cameras light meter being fooled into underexposing the scene. Check your histogram regularly after shots and use your cameras exposure compensation adjustment if necessary to increase the exposure.


8. Off The Mountain 

This option is far more accessible to most people and can provide equally if not more impressive images. When people think of dramatic mountain scenery, it’s often shots taken of the mountain from a normal altitude that they think of.

When shooting off the mountain the best lens is a long telephoto, probably in excess of 100mm. This may seem counter-intuitive but wide-angle lenses seldom give the most drama. They will emphasise the foreground but diminish the background, almost making it shrink into the horizon. The telephoto lens in contrast will emphasise the size of the mountain and allow you to focus in on the rugged details. 

In summary, decide on your approach, on or off the mountain, then use the right equipment to give a composition that will best connect the viewer with the scene.

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