Mountains have always made great photographic subjects. They dominate the surrounding landscape with their size and grandeur and never fail to impress with their changing reflections and dizzying peaks. Dotted with snow in winter, they naturally make for stunning shots. So here are some tips for the best ways to shoot them, if you're lucky enough to be surrounded by the mountains. 

Bring the right equipment

In the mountains, it is important to be well equipped. So if you plan on going hiking for a fair amount of time, make sure you have the right equipment. First, we recommend bringing an extra battery or two. Batteries run out faster in the cold. Second, make sure  your gear is as light as possible. The tripod is not essential during the day, since you can easily get by with natural light. In the winter, make sure to also pay attention to the condensation generated by the temperature difference and avoid putting your camera in a place that is too hot after taking your pictures. 

Use a wide-angle lens

© Markus Spiske / Unsplash

In order to fully capture the grandeur of these mountains, a wide-angle lens is best, even though, as we will see below, it's not the only option. Therefore, favor focal lengths such as 24 mm, 20 mm, or even 14 mm or less, if you have access to ultra-wide-angle lenses, or even a rectilinear fisheye (which is to say that covers the entire surface of the sensor) and which does not give the circular fish eye effect). This will enable you to capture more subject matter, especially length-wise, so as to better capture the often gigantic extent of the mountains. 

You can also do a panoramic shot if your camera is equipped with that function. In most cases, however, you will need to assemble the images yourself during editing.  

Use different approaches

While the wide-angle lens is often preferred for photographing mountains, the longer focal lengths of telephoto lenses, such as 70, 100, 200, 300mm, etc. may also be suitable for taking tighter photographs by focusing on a particular element, like the summit, a path, a physical feature of the mountain or a subject, for example. If you have a relatively versatile zoom, then you can use varying focal lengths and try other shots. And if you only have a telephoto lens, no need to turn around and head back home. You will quickly realize that you can also take very beautiful, often more detailed images, and photograph things that others won't notice, such as animals, for example. 

© Sam Sommer / Unsplash

Use filters

Also on the technical side, we strongly recommend the use of gradation filters or at least a UV filter to protect your lens, and a polarizing filter that will allow you to vary the light and its orientation thanks to its rotating circular shape. The polarizing filter is very useful in situations where natural light is very strong - which is usually the case in the mountains, especially in winter, with the arrival of white snow, which reflects the light. It will reduce glare, brighten up the colors and thus bring more contrast to the image. 

Examples of gradation filters

Gradation filters will allow you to compensate for the difference in light between the sky and the mountains, which often requires you to set your exposure based on one or the other, generating non-homogeneous images. Gradation filters thus help balance exposure and obtain a smoother image directly when shooting. These are really great accessories if you are serious about landscape photography, including mountain photography. 

© Nisi / Example of an image taken without a filter. Here, the sky is overexposed compared with the rest of the image (Photo by Benoit Malaussena)
Example of an image taken with a filter © Nisi / Using the gradient filter, the sky exposure was correctly restored, generating a more homogeneous and contrasted image (Photo by Benoit Malaussena)

Use leading lines and vanishing points

In terms of framing, the mountains naturally offer beautiful leading lines and vanishing points, which are inherent to the rule of thirds and which you can use to give energy to your images. You need to be observant in order to find them and to correctly photograph the nature around you. To learn more about the rule of thirds and for other composition tips such as scale, vertical framing, etc., you can check out our previous article on landscape photography here

© Monika Geble / Unsplash

Get up early

Most mountain photographers will tell you that to enjoy the most beautiful light, you have to get up early and go to bed late. In fact, in the middle of the day, the light in the mountains is often very intense, if not too intense, and this intensity is further accentuated with the altitude and with the snow in winter. This is why cloudy weather, morning and evening hours are the best times to shoot. They make shooting easier and offer incredible natural colors and contrasts.

© Matthias Schroder / Unsplash

In conclusion

Photographing the mountains requires a little prepartion if you plan on spending long hours out there, and is best suited for early risers who will be able to enjoy the beautiful morning light. Gear up as lightly as possible, but don't forget to bring a backup battery, which can come in handy if the cold affects your equipment. Whether you have a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens, they provide a good playing field for all types of shots. To take the photographic experience a step further, you can use filters and abide by the basic rules of composition. Latsly, don't forget to take the time to observe before you snap the shot. 

By Céline Nebor

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