Capturing the size and grandeur of mountain landscapes in a photograph can seem nearly impossible. The beauty you see with your eyes just doesn’t always translate to the photo on your camera.
Fortunately, there are ways to effectively capture those rugged landscapes—you just need a few tips and tools. In this guide, find everything you need to know about mountain photography, so you can document and remember every cliff, ridge, and peak.
- What Is Mountain Photography?
- Necessary Equipment
- Essential Camera Settings
- The Best Times of Day for Mountain Photography
- Landscape Mountain Photography Tips
What Is Mountain Photography?
Capturing images of rugged, alpine landscapes is the essence of mountain photography. Often, mountain photographers have to hike, climb, and brave the elements to get their shots. While some mountain photos can be taken from the ground, the best photographs often require a bit more effort—and elevation.
The equipment you choose can make a big difference in how well you’re able to capture mountainscapes. Here’s what you need.
It goes without saying that as a mountain photographer, you will need a camera—but what kind? Truthfully, nearly any digital camera will work fine, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. For instance, look for a camera with at least 16 megapixels (but the more, the better) and as wide of a dynamic range as possible. Also aim to get a durable camera with a long battery life, as you may be out in the elements for long periods of time. Finally, make sure your camera is compatible with a range of lenses, which are essential for good mountain photography.
While your camera is important, lenses make a big difference in how effectively you are able to capture mountains. There are two main lenses to consider in addition to your camera’s normal lens:
- A wide-angle lens provides a short focal length and a wide field of view. In other words, it allows you to photograph wide vistas while still including interesting objects in the foreground of the image.
- A telephoto lens gives you the ability to zoom in further than with a normal lens, so you can capture mountains far off in the distance. However, it still allows you to document details, like the texture of the peaks and atmospheric conditions like mist and fog.
If you really want to elevate your nature photos, consider using a drone. Drones can capture breathtaking aerial shots that simply aren’t possible from the ground. Advanced drones can stream a live view right to your phone, so you can set up the perfect shot. Just be aware that drones are prohibited in certain places, like many national parks.
By attaching a filter to the lens of your camera, you can create a variety of effects, or accentuate or minimize certain environmental elements. A polarizing filter, for instance, can help minimize reflections (for example, if you’re photographing mountains surrounding a lake). Natural density (ND) filters are dark-colored filters that allow you to use longer shutter speeds, which is helpful if you’re shooting in bright daylight.
Positioning your camera on a tripod will allow you to get sharp, high-quality pictures, especially if you’re shooting in low light.
In addition to your camera equipment, you will need a few things to make sure you’re comfortable as you hike or climb to find the perfect shot.
- Backpack to carry your camera and other gear
- Sensor cleaning kit to remove dust and debris from your lenses on the go
- GPS or map so you always know where you are (and how to get back to your starting point)
Essential Camera Settings
To take the best pictures, you must first learn the ins and outs of your camera. Mastering each setting will take time and practice, but here are the basics:
ISO indicates the light sensitivity of your camera’s sensor. A high ISO makes your camera more sensitive to light, which is ideal for low-light situations, while a low ISO can help with extreme brightness. If you’re photographing mountains during the day, stick with a low ISO, which will prevent overexposure and image noise.
Aperture refers to the opening in your camera lens. It expands and shrinks to allow light to pass through. Generally, a narrower aperture will allow you to keep a bigger area in focus—which is perfect for photographing mountains.
You can control how quickly or slowly your shutter closes by adjusting the shutter speed. A fast shutter speed can enable you to capture something in motion, like an animal running. While shutter speed isn’t much of a concern with landscape mountain photography, it’s still helpful to understand how and when to adjust it.
Deep Dive Into Camera Settings
Fundamentals of DSLR Photography
The Best Times of Day for Mountain Photography
Mountains are beautiful at any time of day, but some of the most desirable shots—like sunsets and sunrises—require some additional forethought.
Sunset Mountain Photography
Sunset mountain photography is a bit easier than photographing sunrises because you have plenty of time during the day to scout out a good location and set up your equipment.
To get the best photo, aim to capture detail in both the sky and the mountain—don’t let the sunlight simply turn the mountain into a silhouette. This is a perfect application for an ND filter, which will allow you to expose the details of the mountain while still capturing the colors in the sky.
Of course, remember that following the shoot, you’ll need to hike back to the trailhead or your car in the dark—so don’t forget a flashlight or headlamp!
Sunrise Mountain Photography
For sunrise mountain photography, on the other hand, you’ll need to hike to your desired location before the sun is up. Aim to get there at least 30 minutes before the sun is scheduled to rise. Set your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to let in enough light to illuminate the image without adding blurriness.
Pro tip: Even if you think the best of the sunrise has passed, keep taking pictures. You never know what colors will develop or how the clouds will move, and you could end up taking a spectacular photo, even post-sunrise.
Night Mountain Photography
Night mountain photography can be tricky, as you have to figure out how to reveal the detail of the mountains and the starry night sky. Your best option is to use a tripod, which keeps the camera still while using long exposure times. It’s also helpful to choose a night with a new moon, so bright moonlight doesn’t inhibit your ability to photograph the stars.
Landscape Mountain Photography Tips
Ready to get behind the camera? Use these tips to produce the best photos possible.
Incorporate Foreground Elements
While mountains may be your main focus, incorporating elements in the foreground of your photo can help enhance the scene and provide a sense of scale, making the mountains look even bigger and more impressive. This could include wildflowers, patches of grass, cacti, animals, or a lake.
Be Patient and Flexible
When you’re trying to photograph a mountain, there’s nothing worse than cloud cover that completely hides the peaks. But don’t get discouraged—weather can change quickly, and sometimes, you just have to wait it out. (Just make sure to invest in some good rain gear and a reliable weather tracking app!)
Explore to Find the Best Shot
By nature, mountains are visible from miles away—so you can get great shots without ever setting foot on a trail. However, by hiking into the mountains, you can find new and unique points of view for your photos. Challenge yourself to mix up your perspectives and see what produces the best images.
Keep It Simple
You don’t have to fill the frame to create a compelling image. Don’t be afraid to incorporate empty or negative space in your photos—like a single cliff surrounded by clouds or blue sky. That space will serve to bring even more attention to your photo’s area of focus and create an even deeper connection with the viewer.
Keep Climbing Toward Your Photography Goals
If you’re just getting started with landscape photography, it can seem nearly impossible to capture the true majesty of mountains with a tiny camera. However, with the right gear, knowledge, and perspective, you can create awe-inspiring mountain photography.
Take the Best Mountain Photos—Any Time of Day
Outdoor Photography: Shooting at Sunset, Sunrise, and Night