Top 5 Tips for Mountain Photography

Sometimes the high of being on a mountain is so good that you don’t even want to think about coming down.  After you have felt the rush of mountain air blowing across your face, the inspiration to capture that feeling with your camera takes hold.  Although, mountain photography comes with challenges.  Following these 5 steps will improve your alpine photography without having to move mountains for the best results.

Alpine Vista in the Clouds, Switzerland

Forget Everything You Know About Weather

All four seasons can be experienced in one day in the mountains.  First, carry gear protection for extreme cold and/or wet conditions.  Second, remember that patience and perseverance are key to capturing the shot.  Third, looking out your window from your peaceful slumber to determine if you want to go for that sunrise hike isn’t going to cut it. Check the available area webcams and weather forecasts regularly.  Many times, the bottom of the mountain will be covered with fog and rain while the top of the mountain above the clouds will be crystal clear or vice versa.

Adjust For Sunrise And Sunset Times

Lighting can be extremely challenging in the mountains.  Depending on the location, golden hour may be drastically reduced.  Those mountain summits will block the sun’s colorful climb into the sky.  This means that the sun will appear in the sky later than anticipated.  The flip side is that sunset can happen much earlier.  This doesn’t mean to lose all hope for golden hour.  It simply means to adjust your wait times accordingly and keep your fingers crossed that the mountain gods of light will be good to you.

Scandinavian Sunset in the Arctic Circle, Norway

Be Creative

It is difficult to capture a stunning sweeping vista scene.  Many times, vistas are unbalanced with no clear focal point.  The images can lack leading lines to guide the viewer through the image.  Challenge yourself to find foreground elements to anchor your image and pull the viewer into the scene.  Try to include people to show scale and help provide perspective.  Look for abstract patterns.  Changing your perspective, even slightly, can dramatically change your final image.  Last, mountains and water are a winning combination.  A mountain reflection scene is iconic.  If you find ripples in the water, try using an ND filter to increase the exposure time and introduce a smoothing effect in the water. Here are few examples of mountains and water:

  • Mountain Reflection in Bavarian Alps, Germany

  • Snowmass Wildlerness Reflections, Colorado

  • Sunset Over Jakusarlon, Iceland

Bracket Your Shots

Once again, lighting in the mountains can be perplexing. During the daylight, valleys will have deep shadows and introduce more contrast than you prefer to the image.  Sunrise and sunset tend to have a large dynamic range.  For this reason, it is important to bracket your photos.  Bracketing your photos will provide more flexibility when editing.  Typically, in post-processing mountain photography, I like to take a normal exposure and combine it with one image exposed for the sky.  Then, I incorporate another image exposed to bring out the details in the darker areas of the image.  For bracketed shots, I will take either 3, 5, or 7 shots depending on the dynamic range.

  • Sunrise Splendor in the Bavarian Alps, Germany

  • Hood River, Mt. Hood Wilderness, Oregon (OR), USA

Setup For Sharp Images

A general rule of thumb is that a small aperture (large f-stop number) will allow you to keep more of the scene in focus.  This is the typical goal of a mountain image since you want the foreground element and the peaks in the distant all to be in focus.  Often, people think shooting at f/22 will deliver the sharpest image.  Unfortunately, this will not be the setup for automatic sharpness.  Most lenses have a range where they deliver the sharpest images.  Normally, this range is between f/11 and f/16, rather the extreme of f/22.

Therefore, it is important to test your lens and understand how it will perform in the field. If you are unsure, take a few shots at different apertures to compare upon your return.  Last, learning to use hyperfocal distance will enable you to get in close to your foreground element and keep that foreground element and everything behind it in sharp focus.

Now, the mountains are calling so you must go! Happy shooting!

About Author Christina Donadi

I’m a travel, nature and landscape photographer originally from the beautiful Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. After working for several years in the engineering world, I found photography. Now, my life is a constant back and forth between spending time at home with my wonderful husband and Bernese Mountain dog and traveling the globe doing what I love, capturing moments in time that exemplify the beauty of this amazing world.

I believe in continuous improvement and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. So I hope that you’ll follow me on my adventures and allow me to share some of the lessons I learn along the way. Safe travels and happy explorations!