Useful Mountain Photography Tips for Beginners

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Taking pictures of mountains and natural landscapes is a specific genre of photography, aimed at physically and mentally well-prepared people.

Besides a number of technical difficulties, you need to take into account that you need to get to the place for taking pictures. Sometimes you have to walk for quite long distances across difficult mountainous terrain.

If you are confident in your abilities and ready to try mountain photography, the tips and tricks outlined in this article will help you get quality pictures.

When taking pictures in the mountains, the main difficulty is the color rendering problem. In real life, you may see the light blue sky, white mountains, and green forest, but your pictures will show faded sky, dark woods, and gray mountains.

This is due to the nature of the air in the mountains and the long distances between subjects. To avoid these and other problems, you will need to know how to set the sensitivity, shutter speed, aperture, and accessories.

Glacier National Park mountains and trees in winter

Specifics of the sensitivity setting 

Light sensitivity in modern cameras is indicated by the abbreviation ISO and the number next to it. The lower the number, the less time it takes to capture a certain amount of light.

When shooting at high ISO settings, you may want to use a fast shutter speed, but it will cause digital noise. Recommended ISO value for mountain photography is 100 to 400.

A great advantage of digital cameras over film cameras is that you can change the light sensitivity of the sensor in a few seconds. This allows you to take several pictures in different modes and choose the best one. 

High ISO speeds can be used in situations where the available light is not sufficient for proper exposure, and the subject is in motion. Or when the photographer isn’t able to hold the camera still for the desired amount of time.

If you want to blur the movement by emphasizing the dynamics of the subject, you should set the ISO to the lowest possible value.

Setting the shutter speed for shooting in the mountains

Shutter speed is the length of time during which light hits the sensor. In modern cameras, it may vary from fractions of a second to several tens of seconds. With this setting, you can achieve both high-definition and blurred images. The faster the subject is moving, the slower the shutter speed should be set.

The slower the shutter speed, the more demanding the stability of the camera, as any movement will make an unnecessary difference in the final result.

The picture will be blurred and indistinct. It is especially important for shooting with long lenses. A tripod will help to solve the problem. When you don’t have one handy, and you need to take a picture right away, there are some common tricks you can use to stabilize your camera. 

If there is a tree, rock, or another suitable object nearby, rest your shoulder or elbow on it. You should hold your breath before releasing the shutter and press the button smoothly without sudden movements. It is unacceptable to get blurry pictures as the photographer can’t hold the camera correctly while taking the picture.

What aperture value should I use when taking pictures in the mountains? 

The aperture value is the size of the hole through which light hits the camera’s light-sensitive element after the shutter is opened. Newbies often have problems with this setting.

This is because the aperture value is expressed as a fraction F/number, and many people do not understand its meaning. The bigger the number in the denominator, the smaller the aperture will be, the less light will reach the photosensitive element.

For instance, an aperture value of F/1.4 will have a larger aperture than an F/8.

It also affects sharpness: the smaller the aperture, the larger the sweet spot; conversely, a larger aperture will blur all objects other than the one in focus.

Mountains lit by a sunrise in Death Valley National Park

How do you get the exposure right?

Exposure can be adjusted by changing the aperture value, shutter speed, and light sensitivity of the sensor. Getting the right exposure can be achieved by finding the right balance between these three settings. Under-exposure will make the picture too dark, while over-exposure will result in overly light pictures. 

Each of the parameters affecting exposure must be adjusted for a specific purpose. For example, don’t usually increase the amount of light reaching the sensor by widening the aperture because the depth of field and focus would be affected at the same time. For this purpose, the shutter speed is increased.

Changing the aperture value is mainly used to adjust the depth of field. Note that professional photographers do not increase the shutter speed when photographing a moving skier in low light — it will always blur the frame.

To get proper exposure in such a situation, you will need to adjust the ISO speed. Don’t take photos mindlessly when you’re out on the mountain, but be sure you know the effect each action will have, or you will need to adjust them manually with the help of a photo editor.

You can find out about photo editing here.

What equipment and accessories to take with you into the mountains

Lenses — for landscapes and dynamic downhill skiing, it’s best to go with a wide-angle lens. It allows you to capture more of the view and gives you the chance to take a panoramic picture. A long lens is also useful if you decide to shoot a portrait in the mountains.

Tripod — High winds and the need for long exposures often force photographers to carry a tripod. It’s worth the extra weight in your backpack to get the sharpness and panorama shots you need. 

Photo Filters — Every mile upwards, the amount of UV radiation increases by 10-15 percent. The camera’s sensor is sensitive to this phenomenon and needs to be protected. Filters can also help darken overly bright skies and reduce some of the glare in the picture.

Spare batteries — Batteries run out faster in the cold, and there’s nowhere to get new ones, so photographers should have a few packs of batteries with them.

A special backpack Another important fact you need to consider is that you can’t take cars or even bikes. You merely can visit on foot. Do not take your usual camera bag to the mountains, as it restricts movement and cannot fully protect your equipment from mechanical damage and getting wet.

Special backpacks are a good solution to this problem: they leave your hands free, give good protection against moisture, and have resilient shock-proof inserts.

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