Landscape photography – The right way to photograph mountains

Landscape photography – The right way to photograph mountains

Mountain photography is considered as an especially fascinating kind of photography. Hiking and photographing is a perfect match. A photo trip to the mountains requires a combination of effort and relaxation. Whether it’s the Himalayas, Alps, Andes, Rocky Mountains or Carpathians – every mountain range makes its own special impressions on the hiker. For every trip to the mountains, a combination of alpine equipment and physical fitness is required. For the efforts that you put in, in the end you will be rewarded with an extraordinary view and impressive photo motives.

Besides, you can display your full creativity in mountain photography. So that you won’t miss the ideal picture, please be very familiar with the tools of a photographer, such as aperture, exposure time and iso-sensitivity, as well their effects and connections and be able to use them in a targeted manner.

Preparation and camera equipment for the trip to the mountains

If you’re planning a photo trip to the mountains, it’s wise to reduce your equipment to the minimum. Sort out what you absolutely need. Instead of a shoulder bag, bring the right camera backpack so that the weight on your shoulder is evenly distributed. As for hiking equipment, bring, besides food and drinks, a tripod, camera accessories (rechargeable batteries, memory cards), various selected lenses and, of course, the camera. Bring rain protection as well for bad weather.  

When you choose your camera, make sure that it is solid, waterproof, and has a dust cover. To take the best pictures of mountains, there are, besides the digital single-lens reflex cameras, also the compact cameras with a decent zoom range or the so-called bridge cameras (super zoom cameras). To save weight, just leave the fixed focal lengths at home and limit yourself to as few lenses as possible. Recommended are the wide-angle lens (10 to 18mm) and the standard zoom lens (18 to 105 mm).  

Additionally, please take various filters with you. The polarizing filter, for example, makes the colours look better and reduces the influence from haze, while the gray gradient filter reduces the brightness difference between the ground and the sky. In the high mountains, you can use the UV-filter.

Avoid the midday sun when you plan your day. If necessary, it may be appropriate to adjust the direction of the hike. Before you start the hike, please check your equipment’s functionality. The batteries should be charged and checked carefully. Besides replacement batteries, additional memory cards should not be missing.

Tips for the perfect mountain photo

  • Less is often more. Even if nature is overwhelming in all directions, instead of photographing everything, focus your attention on individual items and limit yourself consciously. Try to capture emotions.
  • Change the position from which you photograph more often. Climb on the rocks, lie down on the ground or squat down. Please pay attention to your safety, of course!
  • Make your pictures more interesting through many layers. Make use of the foreground, middle ground, and background.
  • Use preferably the manual focus. Don’t just take wide-angle shots. Detail shots are just as enchanting.
  • For a change, photograph with the tripod. Create bracketing series from which you can later make HDR pictures.
Snow-covered mountains

Light, lighting conditions, lighting

Work with the three known lighting controllers: aperture, exposure time, and ISO setting.

The aperture regulates the amount of incident light. The larger the f-number, the smaller the opening and the less light comes in. This affects the depth of field. A small aperture width will show some parts of the motive sharpened, while other motives are blurred in the background or foreground.

The exposure time, on the contrary, indicates how long light falls on the picture sensor. A long exposure time entails the risk of camera shaking or movement of the motive. If you want to freeze a movement, use short shutter speeds.

The ISO value reflects the light sensitivity of the picture sensor. In the case of poor lighting conditions you can increase the ISO to avoid a long exposure time. Still, please be careful with the ISO value as a too high ISO value can lead to image noise.

When you take photos in the mountains, please pay attention to the “giant softbox” in the form of the sky. To avoid getting worn out lights, always expose on the lights. In the case of digital cameras and snow, do not expose on the depths. On gray days, use a gray card for white balance. Besides, please avoid backlighting. It is better to have the sun in the back. You can also use a lens hood. You can additionally eliminate overexposure by using the snow or beach mode of your camera.

The rule of thirds

The golden ratio provides for a certain dividing ratio of a distance or surface which the viewer usually perceives as pleasant and natural. The rule of thirds ensures a harmonious composition that creates tension and movement. For this purpose, the picture is divided horizontally and vertically into equal thirds.

Put greater weight on the ground. For example, place the horizon on the upper horizontal third line. Besides, the sky should not take up more than one third of the picture. Important picture elements are moved out of the middle and placed at the line intersections. Experiment with the arrangement of the main motive. For example, do not place participants in the centre of the picture. Also, make sure that they move as much as possible into the picture and look into the picture.

Cross on the summit of a mountain

Make use of leading lines

Look for diagonal lines. It’s an easy-to-use trick that has a strong effect. By using prominent lines you give the photo a certain dynamic. As it is preferred to read from left to right, it makes sense to get leading lines started from the left upper or lower corner of the picture. The lines influence the viewer’s gaze and where his/her gaze ends. Such lines are, for example, fences or hiking trails.

Problems and resolving

If in retrospect you want to compensate for minor mistakes, such as overexposure or underexposure, you should take your photos in RAW format. In contrast to JPEG format shots, RAW offers plenty of editing potential. Dynamic, contrast, and colours can be taken from RAW files afterwards. Keep in mind that RAW files are larger and you need more space for storage.

The mountain tour is already planned but bad weather is coming up? Don’t let that ruin your mood. Bad weather brings interesting towering cloud formations around the mighty mountain range.

If the colours come across lifelessly due to poor lighting conditions, you can save the pictures by making black-white shots out of colour pictures. For that, you increase the contrast, reduce the exposure to light and boost the white tones.


The high mountains of this world offer unbelievable photo settings at different times of the day and the seasons. Use the Golden Hour for special shots. The time before the sunset and after the sunrise hold wonderful lighting effects in store. As soon as you choose longer exposure times, use the tripod. 

Different weather provides for different photo moods. Bad weather, with its threatening clouds and distinctive peaks, brings a certain drama, while warm afternoon light conjures up harmonious mountain panoramas.  You can get mysterious motives on cloudy days. Fog further strengthens the mystic.

The most important is that you know your camera and each single tool in and out. This, however, does not only apply to mountain photography.  Only then can atmospheric moments of short duration be captured ideally. Exposure, focusing, and image composition are the three factors that influence the shots decisively. There is no limit to your creativity when it comes to mountain photography. Play with the different parameters and perspectives, but think of your own safety as well. No photo is worth taking a risk.

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