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A UV filter is essential because it protects the front element of the lens in case you fall or drop your camera as well as reducing the amount of UV light that enters your lens: The higher the altitude, the stronger the UV light.
Make sure you also pack a polarizing filter, especially for sunny conditions and mountains with reflective ice and snow. You’ll have better control of those reflections and any glare they produce.
Also consider an ND (neutral density) filter. Again, on a sunny day, there can be quite a range of contrast of the sky compared to the dark surfaces of mountains. The ND filter will help to equalize that contrast, so the sky isn’t too bright, but details of the mountain faces are clearly evident.
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Mountains are one of the favorite subjects of landscape photographers. Mountains come in infinite shapes and combinations and provide quite different images depending on the light or whether they are snow and ice covered in cold, northerly regions or rocky and sandy in a desert environment.
The next time you want to photograph mountains think of trying both perspectives available to you: in the mountains and of the mountains.
In the Mountains
In the mountains means you’ve hiked or climbed their slopes, or even to their peaks, to be closer to your subject matter. Your photos will tend to bring the viewers of your mountain landscapes into the environment, where more detail is revealed and the mountains’ height and massiveness are more pronounced. Shapes, lines, textures and contrasts and the effect of light on these elements can make the landscape more dynamic and dramatic, and even allow you to capture abstract visions.
Selecting shooting locations in the mountains also makes it possible to use the panorama mode or panorama tools in editing software differently than if you were shooting from a great distance. For example, an August 2013 Visionary Wild photo expedition/workshop will travel to Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming. The 10 photographers on this trip will journey deep into the mountains to 10,000 feet at the very feet of the towering peaks. A panoramic image from that perspective will be very different that shooting the same range of mountains from a distance at a lower altitude.
When you and your camera are in the mountains, you’ll want to use a wide-angle lens. A focal length greater than 24mm will help to emphasize the mountains’ height and create a feeling that they are “bending” over you. Shoot with a focal length wider than 24mm and you start to lose that dramatic effect.
Including a smaller, or secondary, subject in the foreground is a standard landscape technique that is also useful when you’re in the mountains. Hike to a high mountain valley and use a wide-angle lens to position a field of wildflowers or part of a flowing mountain stream in the foreground with the towering peaks in the background. The depth-of-field “rule” will require that you select a narrow aperture on your wide-angle lens, probably f/16 or f/22, so both the foreground and background are in focus, which means, in turn, that you need plenty of light to expose the image properly. If you’ve added one or more filters to your lens (See below), then even less light will enter your camera, which could require slow shutter speeds, since you can’t choose a smaller aperture. To keep your camera steady and your mountain photos sharp, consider using a monopod. It’s lighter and takes less room than a tripod and you can also use it as a walking stick.
Of the Mountains
Selecting a camera position some distance from the mountains is the first, and often the only choice, of many photographers. Not everyone has the time, equipment, experience and physical attributes for a rugged hike or climb. At such a distance, a wide-angle lens only emphasizes the distance even more, rendering your images rather stale and unimaginative.
Of-the-mountain photography is better with a long telephoto lens. First, you’ll be able to fill all, or most, of your frame with the mountains, or a group of peaks, eliminating the excessive amount of sky you see in too many beginner photographers’ images. Second, you’ll have the option, especially with a telephoto zoom, to select various focal lengths to show details without having to hike or climb into the mountains. The panorama technique also works well photographing mountains from a “safe” distance, as it emphasizes the mountains as a long spine of continuous peaks on one side of valley.
Other than the right focal length lens, you also want to be equipped with the proper selection of filters.
With these tips, your mountain landscape photography can move from the humdrum, standard-looking casual images to those with much more creativity and interest.
Image credit: daveallenphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
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