Learn mountain photography rules and break them in your own mountain pictures!
The art of taking mountain pictures
Mountain photography is a specific and very adventurous genre. People passionate about capturing mountain backgrounds сarefully choose landscapes and create images with a straight horizon. In mountain photography, the main principles are shooting long and shooting wide. As for typical weather and time, most mountains pictures are taken on a cold morning with a hazy sunrise.
However, admirers of mountain photography stress the necessity to reveal your artistic style in a shot rather than repeat the classic rules. This is the most important aspect of taking really good mountain pictures. Without your own way of seeing and depicting reality, your mountain images are likely to disappear in a heap of identical pictures of beautiful mountains on Pinterest.
But to develop your own aesthetic taste, you should learn the rules so you’ll know which guidelines to ignore and how to create a unique photograph. To assist you in this, here is our guide. It contains everything you need to know (and forget) about mountain photography.
How to work with a mountain background
The basic principles for shooting stunning mountain scenery include sticking to the rule of thirds, adjusting the aperture accurately, and setting the proper ISO and shutter speed. All these elements should be adjusted manually and may be changed for every new picture of mountains.
The rule of thirds says that you should always think of a landscape with a mountain background as an image divided into three parts. The sky, the background, and the foreground should get equal space in a mountain image. As a result, you’ll get pleasing mountain scenery that appears in the center of viewers’ attention.
The aperture needed for mountain images depends on the sharpness and depth of field you want to achieve. To find the best aperture for the sharpest mountain backgrounds, dedicate some effort to figuring it out manually in your camera. The best aperture is generally somewhere in the middle, far from the f/4 and f/22 extremes. Your choice of aperture will depend on whether you want your whole mountain image to be in focus or whether some blurred areas are tolerable. Sometimes, changing the distance from a subject can manage this effect. Otherwise, f/22 extends the depth of field in your mountain background images, while f/4 makes it shallow.
To spot truly marvelous mountain scenery, you need to know which mountains to choose and be ready to search for the best place when you get there. Stick to mountain trails to get up dangerous slopes. For this type of photography, hiking skills are required.
Finally, adjusting the ISO and shutter speed will allow you to achieve the right light sensitivity. A low ISO combined with a slow shutter speed works nicely for mountain backgrounds. However, if you have a moving subject in the foreground, you’ll need a faster shutter speed, which works poorly with a low ISO. In this case, adjust your ISO to remove grain and noise from your picture of mountains.
Simplified instructions for shooting a mountain background:
- Work in manual mode.
- Choose around f/8 to f/11 aperture. If an image with this aperture is not sharp enough, try getting closer to f/22.
- Work with a slow shutter speed for a still mountains landscape and increase it if you shoot moving subjects against a mountains background.
- Adjust the ISO to the shutter speed, moving from the lowest ISO and working up to avoid noise and grain in your mountain pictures.
- Use the foreground to create a scene. Mountains as a backdrop for a simple foreground is always a one hundred percent hit for each mountain photographer
- Watch the edges of the frame. In this case, to catch a full-size mountain background you need to keep the mountain peaks within the frame.
- Try different focal lengths. If there's something interesting going on at the top of the mountain, like the morning sun sliding down a textured rock, use a lens it will help to a precise picture of a mountain;
- Try bracketing. You may encounter mountain shadows and bright skies when shooting. The dynamic range in some mountain photography scenes will be large for a single image.
- Consider the weather. The weather in the mountains is different. Depending on the wind and humidity, a beautiful day on one side of the mountain can turn out to be rainy or snowy on the other. The secret of a successful mountain photo shoot is patience and flexibility.
- Pass the scale. It's hard to capture mountain landscape pictures in a 10x15 photo. But by incorporating a person or familiar object into the frame, you can create a sense of scale.
For more detailed camera settings, check out our photography cheat sheet.
Where and when to search for beautiful mountains
Of course, a mountain background is beautiful in any time and under any weather conditions. But there are some unique combinations of place and time that can turn already gorgeous mountain scenery into a true miracle.
To shoot incredible mountain images, Expert Photography recommends visiting the Italian Dolomites, the Scottish Highlands, and Jotunheimen in Norway. If you don’t have the opportunity to travel that far, just visit any mountain range that’s accessible. A mountain background can be different depending on the age and shape of the cliffs you find. With any landscape, you can create unusual and unique mountain pictures. What you need is a mountain range full of colors and shapes. Combined with a dramatic sky and an interesting foreground, these beautiful mountains will reveal themselves as an amazing mountain background.
Concerning the best time for a photo session in beautiful mountains, contributors to Alpine Exposures recommend starting before dawn. This gives you time to adjust your camera settings, starting from the lowest aperture and adjusting the ISO. During sunrise itself, it’s good to shoot as many images as possible, no matter how many of them will be blurry. However, daytime, sunset, and night can also be times for taking stunning pictures of mountains. It’s all about practice.
Useful equipment for mountain photography
As for shooting most beautiful landscapes, a DSLR is the best choice for mountain photography. DSLR cameras are lightweight, easy to use, and allow you to adjust settings in manual mode. These characteristics will help you while working with mountain backgrounds. In addition, most digital cameras let you see the scene divided in a grid view. This is useful for learning the rule of thirds and taking appealing images of mountains.
Mountain hiking puts your equipment in an almost complete set of harsh conditions: cold, heat, strong ultraviolet light, dust, snow, rain, shock loads, and high humidity (in a tent).
That said, if you're not just hiking the good trails, you'll willy-nilly have to consider camera equipment as your gear (let's understand hiking as a really technically challenging and time-consuming activity).
And this raises other problems:
- the equipment for simple mountain landscape photography must be insured against loss or damage from falls
- the equipment is potentially injurious to the person using it
- the equipment must be of minimum weight and dimensions.
Remember if you want to make interesting mountain background pictures consider that your camera also requires extra equipment to keep it intact.
In taking cool pictures of mountains, a tripod is used for:
- Shooting at night or in low light conditions. Noise increases as sensor sensitivity increases, so it's better to shoot on a tripod with lower sensitivity and faster shutter speed, and use a remote-control system to avoid camera shake;
- Landscape background mountain often requires accurate camera positioning, a lower sensitivity to eliminate noise and a smaller aperture for greater depth of field since landscape photos need maximum clarity and sharpness;
- Panoramic photography, where you want the shots to be precisely aligned and you want to move the camera in the right direction, along the horizon line for example.
3. Сable release
A thin steel cable in a flexible metallic sheath that screws one end into a special socket or release button on the camera is useful in landscape photography mountain. The main purpose of the shutter release cable is to insulate the camera from vibrations that may be caused by the photographer's hand when the shutter button is pressed.
The cable is used for shooting with manual shutter speeds or in the case of multiple exposures, to avoid unwanted camera shifts.
4. Other useful software
If you want to pick some graphical changes like editing some “grain effects”’ on mountain range photos, you'll definitely use these programs:
- Digital Photo Professional. Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is a high-performance software for EOS and PowerShot digital cameras (RAW-enabled) that allows you to process, view and edit RAW images.
- EOS Utility. EOS Utility makes it easy to transfer mountain photography images from your EOS camera to your computer. You can transfer all images at once or select individual images. It also integrates seamlessly with Digital Photo Professional and ImageBrowser EX.
Other equipment is recommended but not obligatory. For example, a cable release is an awesome idea for mountain photography. If you’re trying to capture a fragile composition in the foreground, the slightest breeze will destroy it. Combined with the instability of your camera, this can ruin the shot and spoil your willingness to ever try shooting mountain pictures again. To prevent this from happening, don’t underestimate the importance of a tripod and cable release. This combination works great for a mountain background, especially if you decide to apply a focus stacking technique. At the same time, if you’re confident in your skills and the stability of your hands, feel free to ignore this recommendation.
Finally, check out useful software for mountain photography prior to your journey. For example, Topo! from National Geographic makes it easier to build routes and take into account distance and elevation. The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is an application for checking lighting conditions. Google Earth provides useful insights into topography. Also, don’t neglect the weather forecast and recommendations from your fellow photographers. Note that gloomy weather works better for mountain images than sunny. It adds more drama and intensifies sunsets and sunrises. Clear weather works better for mountain photography at night, though.
And, of course, download post-processing software in advance. Even the most beautiful mountains may hide their best traits in a shot. To bring them back, check out the functionality of the Luminar Neo photo enhancer. To make it easier for you while working with backgrounds, Luminar Neo contains both built-in presets for rapid and high-quality changes and advanced settings for selective adjustments. Just click the button below, choose the mode you feel comfortable with, and enjoy the editing process!
The best lighting for mountain scenery
To get the best light while shooting pictures of mountains, consider the climate of the region and the weather conditions in your surroundings. Before moving to landscape mountains, you should check the way they look at a specific time of year. For example, the Arctic Circle will reveal its best in winter, when you can decorate your mountain pictures with the northern lights. European mountain scenery looks awesome at the end of September. Because of that, most mountain photography tours happen in autumn.
However, the exact surroundings for your beautiful mountains also play a role and can either intensify or spoil the effect of your mountain pictures. To be fully prepared, check out the Google Earth, PhotoPills, and Sun Surveyor applications. They’ll give you clarity on how much light there is in your mountain background.
As for the ideal weather for shooting mountain scenery, choose a day when the sky is full of low clouds. They bring more action to a still mountains landscape. Also, don’t underestimate the magic of a streak of light on your mountain background. It will make your shot more emotional. Early morning and the golden hour create awesome conditions for shooting mountain pictures. However, this time of day requires special attention to camera settings, as not all common combinations will work. Specifically, ISO should be higher than usual for sunset and sunrise images of mountains.
Nevertheless, problems with exposure are very common in mountain photography at any time of the day, so be prepared to start post-processing your mountain images right away!
Useful composition tips to shoot mountains
Proper knowledge of composition rules makes it possible to deliver the right emotion and introduce a story into your mountain scenery. For example, the position of the horizon matters. The more space it occupies, the more drama it introduces in your images of mountains. Also, moving the most attractive part of mountain backgrounds to the right commonly makes the shot tell more about the future, while placing them on the left makes mountain pictures heavier and even oppressing. Finally, blank space around the subject makes it overemphasized. Hence, don’t hesitate to use your composition skills to create mountain images.
On the other hand, neglecting composition rules can boost your creativity. Aim at presenting a traditional mountains background in a unique way. Jack Brauer, in his guest post on Photography Life, even recommends forgetting composition rules altogether. Instead, Brauer says you should just view a landscape as a print on a wall.
No matter what approach you choose, stay honest to your own instincts and aesthetic taste. This will result in the best images of mountains you’re capable of taking.
Ideas to make unusual mountain images
Although sunset in beautiful mountains looks very nice, it’s already a cliche. To chase something unusual, go into the wild with a tent. Giving yourself enough time to look around and find unique mountains background is truly worth the effort. And, of course, collect all the photoshoot ideas you can prior to trekking.
The same applies to classic grand landscapes. Going to a popular spot to take the same pictures of mountains as everybody else is not an original idea. Hiking for several days to find a place with a view you find beautiful is a necessary step for finding your own creative style. And for taking unusual mountain pictures. Find a place where a pond or a waterfall can appear in the foreground of your mountain scenery. A mountain image also has more drama with clouds.
There are many possible opportunities how to take cool mountain pictures at any time of year.
The play of colors and light, the unique and ever-changing expanse of sky, the striking combination of rocky slopes, the lush greenery of forests, and magical colors - all this you want to take with you on film or the sensor of your digital camera. We have a short list of places where to do a perfect mountain photoshoot:
1. Interesting mysterious mountain forests
The morning dew on the grass, the clear-as-glass water in streams and rivers, mushrooms and flowers - all become the jewels of every photo. And higher up in the mountains, the vast meadows offer magical panoramas of the highest mountains, breathtaking in their majesty and power. Sure thing you can't resist and make some breathtaking mountain landscape photos.
2. The changing seasons
The variety of colors delight you in spring with bright colors, in autumn with orange leaves, and in winter the snowy landscapes against a blue sky are breathtaking in their grandeur and a perfect opportunity to take marvelous mountain photographs.
3. Photo tours
An incredibly exciting opportunity and a new experience for everyone. By combining mountain travel with the science of photography, you'll get the most out of every moment spent here in these magical and beautiful places. It`s just a paradise for beginner photographs and a large space for many mountain photography ideas.
The night sky can be an awesome lighting source when it comes to mountain photography. Fully dotted with stars, it’s a brilliant decoration for your mountain pictures. As for shooting mountain scenery on a moonless night, Expert Photography observers recommend choosing a 14mm lens and setting the camera to f/2.8, 25 seconds, and ISO 6400.
Finally, don’t hesitate to include people in your mountain pictures. Although it’s not typical to shoot people while working with a mountain background, mountains themselves are great portrait backgrounds. Whichever types of photography you choose, a mountain scenery will decorate an image of a single person or a group of people. In addition, a human posing in front of beautiful mountains reveals how tremendous the size of your mountain background is.
Techniques to shoot beautiful mountains
The best technique for working with a mountain background is to start by shooting from different points of view and various perspectives. You’ll be surprised how dramatically the mood and appearance of a mountain picture changes from different angles. A large foreground is the result of getting really close, while a silhouette of beautiful mountains can be shot only from afar and during sunset. If you’re interested in silhouette photography, check out our guide with a section dedicated to mountain background images.
Also, try to shoot mountain pictures by putting something in the foreground. The subject in focus against a mountains background can be flowers, a cute toy, or a whole tree. However, be careful and attentive about what you shoot. The best contrast for mountain backgrounds comes from a combination of yellow in the foreground and a blue sky. At the same time, you can spoil the whole mountain scenery by leaving dead grass.
Here you can read about some mountain photography tips on how to make a perfect shoot of the mountain background images:
1. Transferring space
Deep, incredible distant landscapes can look flat and uninteresting in a photo. The reason for this effect is the large real distances that are difficult for an outsider to appreciate.
2. Selection of the exposure
Mountain landscape photography is saturated with a variety of hues and colors and is very contrasting. It's difficult to really judge light levels in such conditions, and the exposure meters built into modern cameras are often wrong.
3. Choosing the right timing for your photo shoot
If you want photography of mountain landscapes – excellent timing and place are the best factors to do it.
4. Always "on standby"
The mountain weather is very changeable, and lighting conditions colors change almost every second. You have to be constantly on hand with your camera to take pictures of mountain tops.
5. Patience and resilience
Breathtaking footage can be obtained by making a serious effort to do so. Climbing to the top of a mountain, overcoming cold and fear, and battling wind, rain or snow is not for the faint of heart. If you want to take picturesque landscape mountain photography be patient and focused.
Finally, focus stacking is a useful technique for mountain photography. Shooting numerous mountain images at once works great if you want to achieve the equally sharp representation of both the foreground and the background. To get the most from this technique, consider taking a tripod and a cable release with you.
Bonus: editing and post-processing miracles
As we’ve already mentioned, post-processing is a crucial part of working with photos of a mountain background. At the same time, the capabilities of contemporary photo editors go far beyond adjusting exposure and contrast.
With Luminar Neo, you can include your photos of mountains in any picture! By learning the principles of working with a grey background and a black background, you can apply a background remover and insert a picture of mountains instead. So don’t limit your creativity, curiosity, and imagination. Shoot beautiful mountains and enjoy the range of opportunities Luminar Neo offers!