How to shoot…Magnificent mountains!
N-Photo: the Nikon magazine|February 2021
Whether shooting up at them or down from them, hills and mountains offer the most dramatic landscapes of all. Edyta Rice shares her top tips for capturing magical mountainscapes
Edyta Rice

Mountains are one of the most revered features of the landscape. For centuries they have provided inspiration to painters and photographers alike, and served as a common reference point for beauty and its abstract qualities, such as symmetry, proportion and balance.

While mountains provide a great setting for landscape photography, they also present many unique challenges. One of the first things to remember is that an awe-inspiring mountain does not automatically produce an award-winning capture.

In my early experience of mountain photography, I have often been inspired by eye-popping views, only to be disappointed by the images I captured. My work lacked a sense of scale and depth and images appeared flat; the ‘wow-factor’ was missing. This made me wonder – why can capturing mountain images of the type we see in those lavishly produced coffee table books be so difficult to achieve? Is it all down to luck?

Over the years of photographing landscapes, I’ve learned that luck isn’t the whole story, or even the defining element in capturing successful images… You might be fortunate to photograph one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, or witness incredible weather conditions, but if you don’t know how to take advantage of these conditions and seize great opportunities, then your luck simply won’t be enough to succeed.

Follow our advice to be sure that your mountain adventures are productive and bring you results that you can be proud of. And once you’re fully aware of the simple tricks to get you ahead of the game, get ready for your first adventure – there is no better teacher than direct experience!

CHOOSING LOCATIONS

From the smallest foothills and fells to towering summits, mountains are undeniably beautiful places, and their dominating presence can be simultaneously soothing and overwhelming. The power and awe-inspiring wonder of nature usually becomes more and more apparent as you explore further into the range.

Many photographers dream of climbing and shooting the highest peaks, but you don’t need a famous mountain to capture a striking image. In fact, you can get beautiful images with relatively small, unremarkable mountains – it all comes down to the techniques that you use to capture them.

Choosing the right location for mountain photography requires taking into account a number of factors. Perhaps two of the most important considerations should be how to select the best viewpoints and how to plan your route.

Selecting viewpoints

Whether you are photographing mountains, architecture or people, you need to find an optimum angle that shows your subject at its best. With grand landscapes such as mountains, there will always be dozens of viewpoints from which you will be able to capture dramatic and interesting photographs. Many of these viewpoints are already well known, however there is also every chance that less-well-trodden paths will pass striking spots.

The great advantage for hiking photographers is originality of composition. Sometimes, by trekking for days into the wilderness to ‘get away from it all’, you can find your own personal spots that haven’t been photographed to death yet – places where you can see landscapes with fresh eyes and choose compositions that haven’t been picked before.

Find your vantage point

When planning my viewpoints, I like to use software such as Google Earth. By ‘flying over’ the ridge line, I can find the perfect vantage point, mark it on the map and then hike to that precise spot, even in total darkness. This can save a lot of effort, and the big advantage of using that software is I can see vegetation and terrain around the area. I also use topographic map apps to draw my own routes and give me an idea on the mileage and elevation gains.

My personal approach to selection of viewpoints is purely research driven. I spend a lot of time trying out new trails and paths, as well as using topography software. Route planning is always an essential part of my preparation.

Route planning

Studying maps and planning adventures can be incredibly time consuming, that being said, it is also one of the most rewarding experiences of the process. If you are not used to walking mountains and aren’t confident with a map and compass, then don’t go alone. Instead, try booking a trip with a mountain guide or tag along with an experienced group. This way you will have peace of mind and an opportunity to assess your level of fitness for planning your first solo adventure.

If you are confident with a map and compass and plan to venture out alone somewhere remote, then I’d recommend filling out a route card available from www.mountainsafety.co.uk and leaving it with a responsible person. Digital maps, GPS devices and mobile phone apps are getting better nowadays, but they can fail and certainly cannot be relied on completely to get you out of trouble.

ART OF PREPARATION

Whether you decide to climb Snowdon, Ben Nevis or Pen y Fan, always remember that planning and preparation is absolutely critical. Being prepared is essential to ensure that you can enjoy the experience and focus on your photography, rather than your equipment and clothing.

Once you’ve decided where you’re actually going to go it’s a matter of being aware of the conditions you might come across while you’re out and about – checking the weather before you set off and considering what gear you need to take with you should always form a big part of your preparation and planning process.

Checking weather conditions

Mountain weather can change quite rapidly. Even in the summer, you should prepare to encounter wintry conditions at high altitudes, including windblown sleet and snowfall, which will require appropriate clothing and mountain gear. For that reason, before embarking on an expedition, it is critical that you obtain a reliable forecast.

There are a wide range of different apps and weather websites – I tend to use the Met Office (www.metoffice.gov.uk) and Mountain Weather Information Service (www.mwis.org.uk). In addition, I visit mountain rescue websites and, whenever possible, also check CCTV live views.

Gloomy, unpredictable weather might work better in mountain photography, as it adds more drama and intensity, however navigating in poor conditions, without prior experience or knowledge, can endanger your safety and wellbeing.

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