Tips for Mountain Photography
Ted Gore was named USA Landscape Photographer of the Year for 2015 by a panel of highly-regarded landscape photographers such as Marc Adamus, Art Wolfe, Charlie Waite, and others. When you look at his work, you can see why they awarded him this honor. InFocus Magazine decided to sit down with Ted to ask him a little about how he captures such stunning photos.
The mountain is often the star of the show when it comes to landscape photography. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you’re seeking to capture images of mountains.
Depending on your physical distance from the mountain, shooting with a wide angle lens can cause the mountain to look like a puny bump on the horizon when in reality, to your eye, it has a commanding presence.
One solution for this is a technique known as a focal length blend. It takes a bit of ingenuity in Photoshop, but what it entails is shooting your foreground at the wide-angle focal length of your choice and then, to counteract the pin cushion effect of the mountain, increasing your focal length and shooting the mountain and background to capture them ‘scaled-up’. You then combine these two exposures in Photoshop which can be tricky, as the two will not line up one to one. While the specifics are too involved to explain in this article, this technique essentially involves finding areas of texture or hard edges to use as transition points between the two layers. Ultimately, this is a great way to compensate for the short-comings of the wide angle lens… that is, if you are up for the challenge in Photoshop.
In the example below of Cerro Torre, a mountain that is the wide-angles arch nemesis, the foreground was shot at 14mm and then combined with a 24mm shot of the mountain. The two layers were blended together along the distant shore of the lake and then along the top of the large rock in left mid-ground.
Is Your Mountain Your Subject? Make It So.
One mistake I often see in landscape photography is allowing other objects in your scene to be framed in such a way that they take up more vertical space than the mountain. The most common culprit of this is trees. Do not allow subjects, such as trees, to rise up taller in your frame than your mountain. This tends to shift the focus of the composition away from the mountain which is usually the more worthy subject of your photograph and most likely what you are attempting to present to your viewer. Is the mountain your subject? Then make it so; don’t arbitrarily place other elements in the scene that don’t compliment it or that fight with it for attention.
An exception would be to use tall subjects (such as trees) to create a frame for the mountain. The image below is an example of other elements in the frame being as tall as the mountain. The presence of these elements on either side of frame provide some left to right balance to help compensate for their vertical height. Compositionally, including them in this image is questionable but ultimately was unavoidable for what I was after. The framing effect countered it enough to make it acceptable.
The direction of light in relation to the mountain you are shooting can make a big difference with the feel and mood of your image. So what is best? Well, they are all great! This is more a reminder to consider the light direction when making plans for shooting mountains.
When the sun is behind the mountain, obviously the face of the mountain will be in shadow but you will have great, dramatic glow light shining in from behind; and the possibilities of a sun-star can make your image even more dramatic. Side light can be absolutely gorgeous because of the way it falls on all facets and undulations of the mountain’s textures and relief giving the mountain tremendous depth and character. Front light sets your mountain ablaze and in early sunrise or late sunset, the colors can be very bright, saturated and dramatic.
It is also helpful to keep the surrounding mountains in mind; they could get in the way of the light and how it shines on the mountain you plan to shoot. The Photographers Ephemeris is a good tool for researching the direction and timing of the sun in relation to your subject and also the possible effect of the land around it. This is known as Geodetics and is explained on The Photographers Ephemeris website. The image below of Fitz Roy in Argentina showcases the powerful effects of front light.
When shooting mountains, I prefer to seek out the peaks that are more solitary… standing on their own… commanding the space they are in, rather than an expansive wall of mountains. The solitary peaks create more dramatic images and are much more interesting subjects, in my opinion, because of how much better they fit into and compliment a composition. Keep this in mind when planning your next outing to shoot mountains. The image below of Tre Cime in Italy is a great example.