Mountains are awe-inspiring. Vast and brooding, they can take your breath away. Yet many times, when you look at your pictures afterwards, you’ll be sorely disappointed! Here are a few pointers to ensure that when you visit the roof of the world, you come away with photographs to be proud of.
Shoot with a telephoto lens
The temptation when confronted with a vast mountain range is to try to shoot with a wide-angle lens to fit everything in. You might show the whole of the scene in front of you, but it will have the effect of making impressive mountains look like mere pimples! Instead of trying to shoot it all, use a telephoto lens and focus on a part of the range. This will make the mountains look bigger and more striking. You can exacerbate this by shooting vertically, and allowing your mountain to fill the entire frame.
Foreground objects for depth
Your picture can look more interesting if you include something in the foreground to give your picture depth. This might be shooting from a distance with a telephoto lens and including a trekker or walker to show scale. Alternatively, you could shoot with a wider lens and show an alpine building or meadow in the near distance. The latter will make the actual mountain smaller in the frame, but will make the overall picture more pleasing.
Use a filter
It’s always worth having a UV filter for each lens to protect it from duty, scratching, fingerprints and overzealous cleaning. A UV filter will of course also cut down the rays found at altitude, which can lead to an unpleasant, indistinct blue haze. You can sometimes get a much more pronounced effect by using a polarising filter. Under certain circumstances, these can dramatically darken skies and reduce haze. The best way to assess the situation is to simply look through the filter and rotate it. If you like what you see, fit it on to the lens and rotate until you get the effect you want.
When buying a filter, it’s worth bearing in mind the cost of your lens. It is a waste putting a super-expensive filter on a cheap lens, or for that matter, putting a cheap filter on a professional lens. Try to match the lens and the filter if you can.
Shoot at the beginning or end of the day
Mountains can look especially evocative at sunrise and sunset, when they can glow an atmospheric orange-red colour. Be aware though, many mountaintops won’t actually be hit by the sunlight, so keep an eye on this as it changes!
A great way to convey the sweeping width of a mountain range is to shoot a panorama. This is where you take a number of shots in succession, and then stitch them together using software such as Photoshop. Try shooting with your camera vertical to get a deeper panorama. You don’t have to take loads of shots: even three or four shots wide can convey the majesty of a mountain range. Shoot with a tripod, making sure it is completely level, and overlap each shot by about 30% to get an accurate blend.
All photos by Steve Davey. Header image: Interior of Socotra, Yemen.
Steve Davey has his own exclusive range of travel photography tours to exciting parts of the world, including Morocco, India and South East Asia. More information on www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours Do you have any of your own shooting advice to share? Tell us in the comments below.