Mountain photography is challenging to say the least; in order to capture that iconic archway or summit you need to have a certain level of confidence, dexterity and physical fitness. You need to keep your wits about you, to focus and not lose sight of your goal. Standing in the shadows of great mountains tends to make us feel emotional and we want to capture on film what we see with our eyes. With the right knowledge about the location and when best to shoot it, as well as equipment to take on your hike, this type of natural photography can be wholly rewarding for the adventurous photographer.
Where to Shoot
From the Rockies to the Himalayas, from Iceland to Patagonia, there are stunning locations around the world just waiting to be photographed.
The Palouse, in North Idaho and Washington, features a mesmerizing backdrop of rolling hills and fields laden with crops that change color constantly through the seasons. Visit Palouse Falls and Steptoe Butte and see the vistas for yourself.
The glaciers of Patagonia, in Chile, are other worldly and make terrific photographs. The terrain here is rugged but beautiful and the mountains will make you catch your breath.
Closer to home, the American Southwest offers some jaw dropping landscapes and fascinating rock formations. The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley are perhaps the most photographed, but try Zion National Park, Sedona and Antelope Canyon for their sights. Here you will find a stark contrast between light and dark and amazing textures on the rocks. Death Valley is a place like no other with its badlands and salt flats and it is a popular location for nature photographers around the world who come to capture the lunar-like landscape of dunes and rocks.
Light and Dark
Light and shadow are interesting on mountain shoots, throwing contrasts across glaciers and rock faces. Consider the light quality when you are setting up your shot: is it an overcast or sunny day and what sort of light are you seeing? Is it soft or hard light? On overcast days many photographers tighten the shot and eliminate the sky from their composition, as you can’t see detail on the mountains if you have an overcast sky. An alternative to this is to use a grad filter, which lets you control the exposure in the sky and keep the mountain exposure how you want it.
Similarly, sunny days can ruin your shot because they have no mood. Front lighting the mountain can ‘kill’ the image. Think about the time of day and how it can impact on your picture: an early morning shot will show strong contrasts between light and dark if you use side lighting because you will see the textures and the light will not be as flat.
Front lighting can work well on early morning or evening shots, when the mountain is lit up in brilliant color. Side lighting is seen as the preferred way of shooting mountains however because the textures are so important to the composition.
Tips for Climbing and Shooting in a Cold Climate
Your equipment is important when shooting in the cold. Photographers used to rely on mechanical film cameras because of their reliability when icy conditions stopped other equipment from working. Digital cameras are easier to use when you’re climbing in dangerous climates however and it may be a good idea to bring a back up, just in case.
Weight is important when climbing, whatever the conditions, but it is particularly important when climbing and shooting in the cold. Forget the tripod, flash, filters and complicated lenses. Thick gloves are a necessity on cold mountains, and unscrewing caps and lenses with them just isn’t viable. Batteries are another consideration in the cold, as they don’t work as effectively, but once they’re warmed up again they will. It is useful to take reserve batteries on any climb. A backpack to hold your gear is essential and a shoulder bag may be best so that your camera is accessible but protected from the cold. Your climbing gear needs to be light, so choose layers that keep you warm, and make sure you wear the correct hiking boots and crampons if you need them. Climbing and shooting on snowy mountains is a dangerous occupation but if you follow these tips, it should be a rewarding one.