For many people and photographers, digital photography of the mountains and their environment are spectacular, stunning and amazing. The photographers who take these pictures know it is also a great adventure. It may not be the same as climbing to the top of a peak; but, in a sense, they are conquering the mountains by hiking and hauling their equipment to the most advantageous, and less-traveled, locations to capture all that natural beauty.
Mountain photography, like any type, has a separate set of guidelines and techniques that experienced photographers have learned by trial and error, but you can learn by reading this two-part PhotographyTalk.com article. You’ll be better prepared to bring home excellent images and find the experience much more enjoyable.
Don’t hide your camera in your bag.
You’re hiking an ascending mountain trail, wading a fast-moving creek or walking through dense brush. It only makes sense to keep your camera in your bag to protect it. Although that is generally correct, in the case of “bagging” some great mountain photos, you want at least one camera/lens combination around your neck. One of the first secrets to learn about nature or landscape photography is that it doesn’t wait for you to fumble with lenses and settings. You must be ready to catch interesting photos at a moment’s notice. You can’t do that with your camera tucked safely into your bag.
Ruthlessly reduce the amount of equipment you’re carrying.
This tip relates to Tip #1, as the more equipment you carry, the more time you’ll take trying to decide what to use; and the wonderful view you just saw is now lost. One experienced mountain photographer suggests that you rely on a DSLR camera body with a small zoom lens, approximately 16–85mm, for virtually all your shots. A larger zoom lens, approximately 70–300mm, will probably be the only other lens you’ll need. Not only will your pack/bag be lighter, but also you’ll reduce the number of choices available to you every time you shoot, so you spend most of your time taking pictures.
Hide from the sun.
Many of the best mountain photos are backlit, but that introduces the likelihood of flare. Your first line of defense is a lens hood, so use it. If that doesn’t work, then try shooting with the UV filter, as it can create flare if it is not properly multi-coated. Another good strategy is to try to shoot from the shade. Finally, hood the lens with your left hand or ask a hiking companion to shield it for you, so both your hands are free.
Pre-select your camera settings.
Another technique for being ready to shoot the mountain photos that only occur for a few minutes or seconds is to pre-select your camera settings. There is simply no time to decide and set white balance, aperture, shutter speed, metering modes, focus modes, etc. Before you start your trek, set white balance to auto, ISO to auto to a maximum of 800, aperture priority of approximately 6.3, matrix metering and AF-S for single focus. If the light is somewhat even, then your results should be acceptable to excellent. Use the time you would be fumbling for lenses or choosing settings to bracket your exposure, with the auto bracketing or manually: -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. Somewhere in that range, you’re almost sure to capture the image you envisioned.
Practice patience in the mountains.
Nature is unpredictable. You may miss the photo you want because you’re changing lenses or trying to decide which is the correct ISO setting. Then again, you must often sit and wait for hours for the magic moment to appear. As most nature photographers know, early morning and late evening usually provides the best light, so it could be hours or days into your trek before you find yourself in the right location to shoot during these times of the day.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for more tips about mountain photography.