Frustrating, isn’t it?
Few photographic subjects encompass a sense of adventure quite like sweeping mountains.
Yet, it’s often a struggle to harness their inherent beauty on camera.
All too often, our images don’t do these glorious natural subjects justice.
While successfully photographing mountain ranges is no small feat, it’s not altogether impossible.
In this post, we’ll go over the best photography tips you can use the next time you photograph these natural wonders.
From camera gear to compositions, we’ll go over all the things you need to succeed.
Are you ready?
1. Research Your Location
Before you decide on your shoot it is important that you determine where you are going.
If you are hiking up a mountain, make sure you plan and research your path.
Certain mountain ranges are dangerous and require specialized gear. Make sure you have the right gear for the path you want to take.
Most national parks or popular mountain ranges will have online sources dedicated to helping you plan your trip.
For example, if you visit a national park you can use the National Park Service website for maps and tips on your visit.
If you are visiting a mountain range that is not a national park, you can also google search for “[Mountain Name] Tips”.
Once you have decided on your location, consider doing some research on compositional ideas.
An easy way to do this is a google or social media search such as Instagram or Pinterest to get composition and location ideas.
This will help you decide where you need to go and what places you want to capture.
2. Keep Track of The Weather
Tracking the weather is an important part of the success of your shoot.
The weather will dictate what you should wear, what gear you need, how hard it is to reach your destination and the visibility of your mountain.
The more you know the better you can prepare for your shoot.
For example, if you were to go out and shoot on a foggy or cloudy day, you may not have the visibility necessary to capture your image.
Understanding the weather will help you adjust and plan how you are going to compose your image.
I highly recommend you use an advanced weather app rather than the weather app that comes with your smartphone.
I recommend the Accuweather which is an advanced weather tool that will help you track and plan your shoot.
This app will give you detailed information, including weather radars and maps, accurate forecasts, historical weather patterns, wind speeds and visibility.
3. Monitor Elements in The Sky
When shooting mountain photography is also important that you track the elements in the sky.
First and foremost, tracking the sun is vital when you are shooting mountains.
Tracking the time of sunrise and sunset will help you plan when you need to be out shooting.
When planning, make sure you leave sufficient time before sunrise and sunset to scout and reach your location.
I recommend you reach your destination at least one hour before sunrise so you can plan your composition.
Tracking the times that elements rise and set is not sufficient.
Tracking the path of the sun, moon, and stars is also extremely important.
Knowing the path of these elements will help you compose your images.
This is especially true if you want to include the sun, moon, or stars in the sky.
Knowing where these elements are going to rise and set will help you when your planning and scouting your location.
I recommend you use the Photographers Ephemeris to track the path of the sun and moon.
You can enter a location and it will show you the exact path that the sun and moon will be taking as it rises and sets.
4. Forget About Climbing
You probably feel like you have to be a competent climber to capture good mountain photos.
I felt the same way, at first, but trust me, this is not the case.
You can capture fantastic mountain photos without climbing or scaling large mountains.
Most popular mountains have walking trails that will lead you to the high points relatively easily.
A great example of this is the two-mile (round trip) Taft Point Hike in Yosemite.
After a short, fairly easy hike it leaves you 3,500 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.
This is a perfect trail in Yosemite if you want to take photos from a high perspective without having to scale mountains or go on long difficult hikes.
You can also avoid climbing by shooting from the base of a mountain.
Shooting from the base can give your mountain a sense of power and authority.
If you want to capture photos of mountain peaks you can also still do so from the base of a mountain.
To do this, use a telephoto or ultra-telephoto lens to focus on the smaller details.
Note that hiking the world’s most elevated mountain trails is no small feat.
Extensive training and mental strength are required to reach a mountain’s summit.
Thankfully, you can capture successful mountain images without having to complete demanding hikes.
5. Choose Your Seasons Wisely
Your mountain compositions can vary greatly depending on the season.
Different seasons produce drastically different images.
For example, during the winter, your mountain photos are likely to be covered by a white blanket of snow.
On the other hand, during autumn, your mountain photos will most likely be filled with vivid oranges, reds, and yellows leaves from the trees.
Once you settle on a location, look into how various seasons will make the mountain range appear.
Remember that seasons can differ based on location.
For example, while it may be winter where you live, it may not be winter in other parts of the world.
Plan your trip based on the season you are visiting in.
The gear you need during winter might be drastically different than what you need during summer.
Planning for the season will ensure that you are well prepared to capture the image that you want.
6. Use a Tripod
When photographing mountains it will typically involve some walking or hiking to reach your destination.
To stabilize your camera I recommend you bring a lightweight travel tripod.
This will keep your backpack light and allow you to travel long distances without a heavy tripod weighing you down.
Tripods are extremely useful when shooting mountain photography.
It will give you the stability to use slow shutter speeds.
This is ideal for shooting long exposure mountain shots that include streams, waterfalls, or fog.
A tripod is also useful because it will allow you to capture identical images that you can blend together seamlessly later.
This is crucial if you plan on using focus stacking or exposure bracketing (which I will discuss later).
If you are looking for a high-quality tripod that won’t break the bank, I recommend the Manfrotto Befree Live Tripod.
If you opt for the carbon fiber option, you will get a high-quality tripod that only weighs 3.5 pounds and packs up as small as 15 inches.
Resource: Best Budget Travel Tripods (under $200)
7. Experiment with Different Focal Lengths
When shooting mountain photography it is important that you experiment with different focal lengths.
This will allow you to change the mood and feel of your photos.
For mountain shots, a wide-angle lens is perfect for capturing the vast landscapes.
Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture multiple elements in your scene easily.
Shooting with a wide-angle lens in a vertical format will make it easy to capture mountain photos with a clear foreground, middleground, and background.
I recommend a 14-24mm or 16-35 mm lens. Both lenses offer a great ultra-wide-angle to a wide-angle range perfect for capturing vast scenes.
|Brand||Focal Length ||Maximum Aperture||AF Motor||Price|
I prefer the 16-35mm lens because it’s cheaper and allows you to use filters.
If you are using a crop frame, opt for a smaller focal length range.
Since a crop-frame camera applies a crop factor using a range between 10mm and 20mm will match the same focal length as a 16-35mm on a full-frame camera.
For example, a Canon APS-C camera will apply a crop factor of 1.6x.
As a result, a 10mm focal length on a crop frame has the appearance of a 16mm.
Likewise, a 20mm focal length has the appearance of a 32mm lens.
Using a telephoto lens is a great way to capture images that focus on the mountaintops.
Telephoto lenses make distant objects seem bigger and within reach.
These lenses are ideal to use when trying to portray the grandeur of subjects far away.
It will also give you the ability to focus on the smaller details that are not visible when using wider focal lengths.
You can use a telephoto lens to your advantage by capturing mountain ranges up-close even if you are far in the distance.
I recommend a telephoto lens with a focal length range of 100mm to 400mm.
This offers a great range that allows you to capture images close up images even from a distance.
|Brand||Focal Length ||Maximum Aperture||AF Motor||Price|
8. Use a Large f/stop or Small Aperture
When shooting mountains, you will often want your entire scene sharp and in focus.
To do this, you will need to use a narrow aperture(large f/stop).
This will give you the deep depth of field you need to place most of your scene in focus.
You may feel like using your the largest f/stop is the best choice, but it’s not.
Using the largest f/stop will often cause your image to be overexposed and lack sharpness.
Due to diffraction, using a large f/stop won’t produce the sharpest images.
As a generic rule of thumb, using an aperture value between f/8 and f/11 will typically produce some of the sharpest images.
Although this is not the best way to set your aperture, it will produce good results.
For the best results, use your lenses aperture sweet spot.
The aperture sweet spot is typically 2-3 stops aways from the lens’ maximum aperture.
For example, if you are using a 16-35mm f/4 lens, your aperture sweet spot is between f/8 and f/11.
Although the aperture sweet spot varies between lenses, a good range that will produce sharp images with a deep depth of field is between f/8 and f/11.
9. Don’t rely on Golden Hour
The golden hour is widely regarded as the ideal time for landscape photography.
During these times, the sun is at a low position in the sky and casts golden light along with soft shadows.
To make use of the golden hour’s excellent lighting, rise early, or stay out late.
At this hour, your images will appear more interesting and vibrant.
Although the golden hour is one of the best times to take photos, don’t rely on it.
When shooting mountains, it’s not uncommon to miss the golden hour entirely.
Mountains can block or disrupt the light you would typically get during the golden hour.
Therefore, you should stay open to photographing mountains during different times of the day and night.
You can usually dodge the crowds by shooting during the golden hour.
Especially if you’re shooting at a prominent landmark, fewer people are likely to be in the area early or late in the day.
You’ll be able to shoot with fewer distractions and navigate your route much easier.
10. Focus Stack Your Images
When shooting wide-angle shots of the vast mountain landscapes capturing images that have the foreground and background in sharp focus is difficult.
You might be thinking, why can’t you just stop down to f/22 to place your entire frame in focus.
Doing so causes two main issues.
The first is that using an aperture such as f/22 will only let a small amount of light hit your sensor.
As a result, you will need to raise your ISO or use slow shutter speeds.
This will leave you prone to blurred images if there is any movement.
Another drawback of closing your aperture to f/22 involves light diffraction.
Taking diffraction into account, you won’t achieve a perfectly sharp image when using such narrow aperture values.
An effective way to create images with the entire image in sharp, focus is using focus stacking.
Focus stacking involves taking multiple photos of the same composition while focusing on a different part of the scene each time.
Then you would blend these photos in post-processing to create an image with multiple elements in focus.
Let’s say you’re taking a photo of a scene with a body of water in the foreground, trees in the middle ground, and the mountain in the background.
To focus stack properly, you need to capture one image with your focus placed on each key element.
In one image, you would focus on the foreground.
The next, you would focus on the middle ground.
In the last photo, you would focus on the background.
Finally, blend the focused portions of each photo in post-processing.
11. Bracket your Images
In the mountains, balancing the light and shadows is difficult.
You will often find that some portions of your scene will be overexposed while others are underexposed.
This makes it challenging to capture a properly exposed image with a single exposure.
One way to manage the difficult lighting conditions of mountain photography is to bracket your images.
Bracketing your images involves taking multiple exposures of a scene: one underexposed, one properly exposed, and one overexposed.
You then combine these images in post-processing to create an image with each element that is properly exposed.
There are two ways you can capture a bracketed exposure: manual or automatic.
Manually bracketing your exposure involves taking multiple photos of the same scene at different exposure levels.
Start by correctly exposing one section of your scene, ideally the largest portion.
Next, take photos of the same scene underexposed and overexposed.
When bracketing manually, you can adjust the number of shots you take as well as the number of stops you adjust exposure.
To ensure that you don’t change the composition of your shots, I recommend using a tripod.
Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB)
The second option for bracketing your images is using automatic exposure bracketing (AEB).
The benefit of using automatic exposure bracketing because it is faster and easier.
Automatic exposure bracketing is a feature built into most cameras that automatically captures a scene at multiple exposure levels.
When shooting in AEB, you can adjust the number of underexposed and overexposed images you take.
The most popular setting is a three-shot AEB, but five and seven shot AEBs are also available.
A three-shot AEB captures three photos, one underexposed, one overexposed, and one correctly exposed.
Likewise, a five-shot AEB captures two underexposed, two overexposed, and one correctly exposed photo.
You can also adjust the number of stops you want to adjust exposure.
For example, you can set your camera to a three-shot AEB and bracket for two stops.
In this setting, your camera will capture one image two stops over-exposed, one image two stops underexposed, and one correctly exposed image.
Use AEB to capture images with all your elements properly exposed, then combine them in post-processing.
12. Venture off The Beaten Path
Popular mountain ranges are photographed frequently.
As a result, most people have seen amazing photos of these iconic mountains.
Don’t let this discourage you from capturing iconic mountains but also don’t forget to explore new areas and compositions.
You can more effectively interest your viewers by venturing to a lesser-known mountain range and capturing unique compositions.
This way, you can create a mountain composition that’s new – you won’t just be creating your own rendition of a popular shot.
There are plenty of obscure locations that you can photograph for a striking image.
Or, if you’re traveling to a well-known mountain range, seek out unique perspectives that will make your images stand out.
13. Protect Your Gear
The intense weather and difficult terrain of mountain landscape photography can leave your camera gear susceptible.
When shooting mountains, you need to protect your gear.
The first thing you can do to protect your camera and the rest of your gear is by using a quality camera bag.
If you’re looking for a quality, long term backpack, the Peak Design Backpack is a great option.
This backpack is made with an outer hardcover nylon shell and water-resistant coating.
The Peak Design Backpack will protect your gear against the harsh weather and accidental drops on hard surfaces.
Another great way to protect your camera when shooting in the rain or snow is to use a camera cover.
Camera covers can vary drastically in price and coverage.
Less durable camera covers are typically less expensive. They can typically cost less than $10.
If you want a slightly more durable option, with thicker plastic, then this is a great option.
If you are looking for an extremely durable option, then I recommend the Ruggard DSLR Parka.
This camera cover is extremely durable and easy to use.
It has a plastic cover over the LCD for easy visibility and hand-warming slides to keep your hands warm as you shoot.
Extreme weather such as the cold or heat can damage your batteries.
It is important that you store them safely.
The cold can drain your batteries causing them to die faster than they normally would.
Keep your batteries in your camera bag, ideally near the fabric, to keep them warm.
Also, before you drop in a new battery, put it in your pants or jacket pocket for a few minutes.
This will allow your body temperature to warm up the battery and increase its effectiveness.
During intense heat, your battery can overheat, causing your camera to overheat.
Make sure you swap out your batteries often so they can cool down.
Also, don’t leave your batteries exposed to direct sunlight, this can damage them permanently.
As a precaution always bring extra batteries.
I recommend bringing at least five extra batteries to account for any unforeseen events.
You never want to have a camera without the ability to take photos.
If you are looking for high-quality batteries I highly recommend RAW Power.
They produce batteries for nearly every camera so you won’t have any issues finding the right battery.
14. Include Foreground Elements
When photographing mountains don’t forget to include some foreground elements in your photo.
Adding interesting elements in your foreground can help elevate your photos in many ways.
By including foreground elements, you can enhance the depth of your images.
Elements in your foreground will often appear bigger compared to other elements within your frame.
As a result, the difference in scale between your foreground elements and background elements will enhance your image’s three-dimensionality.
Including bodies of water, such as a river or a waterfall, are great foreground elements.
Trees, flowers, and snow are also excellent foreground elements in mountain compositions.
That said, be mindful of what you include in the foreground.
If there are distracting elements in your foreground, minimize the amount that makes it into the frame.
When used properly, you can use your foreground to capture the viewer’s interest and lead them to your focal point.
The most common way to do this is by using leading lines or s-curves to guide the viewer’s gaze from the foreground to the peak of the mountain.
For example, you can use trails, streams, or trees to direct your viewers towards the mountain you are photographing.
15. Include Items For Scale
One of the hardest things when photographing mountains is depicting scale.
Without scale, your images won’t have the same impact that they had on you in real life.
When shooting mountain photography, adding a reference point is the best way to add a sense of scale.
Your reference point should be an object that your audience is familiar with.
The easiest and most popular option is using a person.
By adding a person to your foreground or middle ground, you can emphasize the size of the mountain you are photographing.
When including people in your photo, try to capture them in a natural setting interacting with the environment.
This will demonstrate the connection between the person and the environment, making the scene appear more natural.
Other good reference items you can include in your mountain photography are houses, campgrounds, trees, wildlife, or other man-made structures.
16. Dress Properly
Wearing the right clothes while shooting mountain photography is essential.
What you wear will depend on the season you are shooting in.
If you are shooting in the cold such as winter, make sure you have the appropriate gear to keep you warm.
I recommend layers, beginning with a thermal base. Build the layers to achieve protection from both water and wind.
Your base layer is crucial to maintaining your body heat.
Choose a warm material such as wool.
I highly recommend Minus 33 thermal bottoms and crew tops.
They are of high quality and offer both men and women’s options.
For your middle layer, wear slimmer sweaters to keep yourself warm.
This will act as additional insulation for your final layer.
Your final layer will heavily depend on the intensity of the weather you are shooting in.
I recommend Patagonia jackets; they offer a wide range of coverage and styles to fit everyone’s needs.
I prefer the Patagonia Insulated Snowshot Jacket, perfect for light to mild weather.
If you are going out during the snow, make sure you bring a snow jacket and pants.
A parka jacket is the best option to withstand the harsh winter conditions such as snow or rain.
Additionally, supportive, waterproof shoes that can support uneven terrain are important.
Hiking boots generally offer the support and protection required for your mountain shoot.
I highly recommend going with Salomon when choosing your hiking boot.
They offer comfortable, durable, and waterproof hiking boots and shoes that are great for mountain photography.
If you are shooting during summer make sure you protect yourself from the heat.
Bring proper eye protection and sufficient water while you’re shooting in the mountains.
It is also important that you bring sweat wicking and breathable clothing so you don’t over heat on your hike.
17. Change Your Perspective
When shooting mountain photography, changing your perspective can have a huge impact on your photos.
The same mountain range can look drastically different depending on the perspective you shoot in.
Always experiment with a different perspectives to see which one benefits your location the most.
When shooting, you can experiment with shooting from a low, high, or aerial perspective.
Shoot From The Base of the Mountain
Shooting for the base of the mountain is a great way to emphasize the grandness of the mountain.
You can use a slow vantage point to instill a sense of authority and awe in your image.
Subjects gain a sense of importance, power, and scale when taken from these angles.
Shooting for the base of a mountain also makes it easier to create layers in your images.
It allows you to use the elements at the base, such as trees, flowers, and waterfalls in your foreground and middleground.
Shoot from the Mountain Tops
Shooting from the mountain tops is a great way to shoot from a high perspective.
This is a great way to deemphasize some elements in your scene at the valley of the mountain range.
This is also a great way to capture other mountains in the same range.
Shooting from the mountain tops will lead to better light and a better view of the sky.
Another great way to photography mountains is to shoot from an aerial perspective.
This angle of view detaches your viewer from the world below, inspiring sensations of awe and the sublime.
It offers a unique perspective that viewers often don’t have a chance to see.
The most common way to do a shoot with this angle is by using a drone or a helicopter.
If you are in need of a drone here are my recommendations based on your budget.
|DJI Mavic 2 Pro||21MP / 4k Video||High||Check Price|
|Parrot Anafi||21MP / 4K Video||Mid||Check Price|
|DJI Mavic Mini||12MP/ 2.7K Video||Low||Check Price|
This is also a great way to get shoot from a high perspective without the need to hike to the top of the mountain.
18. Use ND Filters
If you decide not to use exposure bracketing, the best way to expose all your elements properly is by using a graduated ND filter.
A graduated ND filter is an ND filter that has a gradient.
This gradient will only decrease a portion of your image exposure rather than the whole frame.
If a portion of your image is overexposed such as the foreground or background, then a graduated ND filter is the best choice.
Typically it is best to use a lens filter holder when using graduated ND filters. I recommend using the Cokin Square ND Filter holder.
I suggest you use a 3-stop graduated ND filter to start and then adjust to a higher-stop if necessary.
This is typically enough to reduce the exposure of the sky so that you can create an image that is properly exposed.
19. Use Negative Space
Sometimes keeping your composition simple is the best option.
Let the mountain do all the work for you.
To do this, you need to use negative space to your advantage.
Negative space is space around or between your subject.
Empty space will make your image feel less crowded and effectively highlight the subject in your image.
It allows them to focus on the central object while giving their eyes a place to rest.
A packed image can not only be visually exhausting but also distracting.
The best way to improve your mountain photography is to practice.
Get out there as much as possible and experiment with different perspectives and compositions.
The tips above will give you all the things you need to practice.
Simply put, with practice and experience, you take your mountain photography to new heights.
There you have it, 20 tips on how to photograph mountains.
Remember, this is only the first step in your journey to creating stunning images.
To succeed, you’ll have to leave the comfort of your home and hit the trails.
While reading this article help, it’s ultimately your hard work and commitment that’s needed to create breathtaking photographs.
So, pick up your camera and head to the nearest mountain range.
Capture your adventures and turn them into life long treasures.