Mountains and snow – a complex relationship
When we first look at mountains, these immense, seemingly constant giants of stone appear unchanging – and yet they are forever in a state of flux. This post delves into the subject of mountains and how key aspects of their appearance can be translated through your camera lens. And, of course, I will also include some examples and tips for you to try out.
The first example I have chosen is a glaciated mountain peak. My goal here was to create an image that would show how this peak looms out from its surroundings and emphasise its sharp edges. So I waited for a moment when the peak was surrounded by mist and finally only the very summit was visible. In a situation like this, you wait a long time for the right moment and have to be ready when it suddenly arrives – landscape photography can thus be very reactive.
Keep an eye on the weather so you’ll be prepared the instant an interesting scene emerges. This will also help you with photography in many other situations.
Unlike with the first images, the focus here was not on the jutting peak, but on the demarcations of the rock and ice edges. This creates contrasts between light and dark. In this way, parts of the image are graphically delineated from one another. Showing an edge from the front or side view also fundamentally changes the dynamics of the image.
With edges, pay close attention to how these areas are delineated or how other parts of the image are brought into play with one another. For example, bright areas can draw the eye and push other parts of the image into the background.
A view from above creates a completely different take on the mountains. Accumulations of snow create delicate structures that change constantly throughout the year. These shots are all about materiality, the appearance of colours and shapes, surfaces and the viewer’s detachment from space. Shapes and colours contrast with one another and enable the viewer to dive into the image via the surface.
Look for flat sections of landscapes, such as covered glacial areas. They let you see particularly clearly how structures develop, and you can then use these for your composition.
You can consciously make use of places where ice, snow and rocks come together, not to dissolve spatiality, but to separate surfaces and spaces from one another. This brings the contrasts between different textures and materials into relief. Playing with brief moments of time, such as the birds frozen in the sky, makes for a juxtaposition between transience and permanence.
Look around your vantage point. Where is the horizon? How many layers are there before you reach the horizon? How do the different layers appear, and what in particular sets each one apart? By pairing these characteristics with the right lighting conditions, you can use them very effectively to create dynamics between the different elements in the image.
The final image I have chosen here brings together many different aspects. There are three main sections to the image, which are delineated from one another but still enable a transition across different phenomena to be seen – through the delicate transition into the light from the left-hand side, and through the snow flurries at the mountain’s edge. This makes the image, which is already dominated by light and shadow, even more dynamic.
Combining the visual softness of the snow flurries with the rugged eroded rock structures makes new aspects of the mountainscape stand out.
Ask yourself what, for your, is the most important aspect of your mountain photo. What aspects do you want to convey to your audience? What could you inspire others to do or entice them to look at more closely?
By asking questions like these, you find out not only what the purpose of mountain photography is for you, but also your style as a photographer.
As you can see, translating mountains into images can be very versatile. We can choose to highlight certain aspects and themes, put certain details into focus or let viewers immerse themselves in the constituent rock and ice. And, finally, there is one more thing that lies between the camera and the mountain – the atmosphere.
Andri Laukas is an artist and teacher from Switzerland. Using a variety of artistic interventions, he creates spaces for a dialogue about our own experiences of the world. He often uses irritations to send viewers on new paths of enquiry. He also gives workshops, for example in landscape photography.