Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background

July 15

19 min. to read

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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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image1
Photo by Oleg Rest

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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image2

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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image3

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:

  1. Work in manual mode.
  2. Choose around f/8 to f/11 aperture. If an image with this aperture is not sharp enough, try getting closer to f/22.
  3. Work with a slow shutter speed for a still mountains landscape and increase it if you shoot moving subjects against a mountains background.
  4. Adjust the ISO to the shutter speed, moving from the lowest ISO and working up to avoid noise and grain in your mountain pictures.

For more detailed camera settings, check out our photography cheat sheet.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image4

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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image5

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 Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image6

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 3 photo enhancer. To make it easier for you while working with mountain backgrounds, Luminar contains both built-in filters 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!

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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.

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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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image8
Photo by Max Rive

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mountain Photography 101: Working with a Mountain Background Image13Photo by Max Rive

With Luminar 3, 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 3 offers!

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Replace the sky in your photos, instantly! Boost details with AI Structure. Discover more amazing tools in the new Luminar 4.

  • AI Sky Replacement
  • AI Structure
  • 60+ cutting edge features
  • Instant Looks
  • And more

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