Composition Techniques for Capturing High Mountain Photography Lens

The Simple Guide to Photographing Big Mountains, Part 3 is now available.

A Basic Guide to Photographing Big Mountains, Part 1
The Right Light in Part 2
Part 3: Writing Advice

  1. Star Pictures
    Adding People to the Scene in Part 5

Writer’s Tips
Galen Rowell, who passed away, gave me one of the finest photographic advices I’ve ever received. If it looked nice, shoot it; if it looked very excellent, shoot it twice, as Rowell once said. This implies that if you find a subject that is at the height of its beauty, photograph it again. Don’t simply leave with one or two shots of these places if the wildflowers are blooming profusely, the autumn foliage is at its height, or a lake is full due to recent rain. Things may change rapidly in photography, particularly in the highlands, and it can take years to see circumstances that are identical. Shoot it more than once if it looks fantastic. You won’t regret it since you may never experience such circumstances again.

I spent some time investigating Abraham Lake one winter while I was in the Canadian Rockies. I remained for many days, investigating and taking pictures of this lake and all the ice formations because I saw how much potential this lake had. I clearly recall taking Galen’s advise to heart, and now as I look back, I’m happy I did since I have all these pictures to prove it.

Abraham Lake Cracks, Canada, Alberta
5 seconds at f/22, ISO 50, Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens

Lenses
The capacity to use all the lenses in the bag effectively is a prerequisite for becoming a superb photographer. Using a single viewpoint for everything might lead to complacency. Not that you have to apply the same principles to each lens. Naturally, certain lenses will be used a lot more often than others. The goal is to consistently push oneself to adopt new perspectives while seeing mountains. You will become a better photographer as a result of this. These photographs demonstrate how effective mountain shots can be captured at both extremes of the zoom range—17mm and 500mm. For reflection photos, I often use my wide-angle lens to get the whole reflection. A wide-angle lens is necessary since most lakes in the Alps will be rather close to the peaks they are reflecting. I often find myself going for a medium to long telephoto lens when I am further away from the peaks. The peaks may seem compressed and closer together as a result.

Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park and The Cathedral Group
500mm Canon 5D Mark II lens, 1/500 sec., f/8, 200

Field of View
One of the most crucial aspects of landscape photography is depth of field. It might be challenging to master. Although there are exceptions to every rule, the photographer in landscape photography often strives to achieve maximum depth of focus to keep everything in the frame razor sharp. Manually focusing to around a third of the scene’s depth is the most effective approach to maintain sharpness throughout the shot. Then, reduce the aperture until objects that are both near and distant from your lens appear crisp. There are more methods, such as focus stacking or utilizing a tilt-shift lens, if you are still having trouble getting objects in focus. It may be difficult to find a foreground that visually links to the backdrop and middle ground, but seek for the traditional mountain foregrounds, such as wildflowers, lakes, rivers, boulders, and other textures. Here are three photographs with foregrounds of wildflowers that make use of the greatest depth of field.

Colorado’s Snowmass and Capitol Peak
1 second at f/20, ISO 200, Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens

Be adaptable
Flexibility is a vital quality for a landscape photographer. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve arrived with an idea in mind for what I was going to capture only to find that I needed to go to plan B. In nature, unforeseen events occur, and a skilled photographer finds a way to shoot “around” these obstacles. Having a strategy in place is the best approach to do this. Have a strategy, including a plan B and a plan C, for what you will film if this or that occurs. As a result, you have the flexibility to choose between your strategies in response to changing circumstances. The most useful tool you can have while photographing mountains is a prepared mind.

I noticed the tops of the iconic towers as I crawled out of my tent at 4 a.m. at Torres del Paine and realized it was going to be a spectacular dawn. I made a trip to the lake with my buddy Chris up the moraine. When I reached the top, I found it was too windy to capture the towers reflecting in the lake as I had hoped. So I switched to plan B, which included having Chris take pictures in front of these enormous structures. After a time of shooting him, I was happy with the images, but I kept looking over to the lake’s corner to see whether the waves had subsided.

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia: Person and Towers
17-40mm Canon 5d Mark II lens.f/8.0, 8 seconds, ISO 50

A little while later, I saw the lake starting to calm down and knew I would be able to get a reflection. Time to go back to plan A. Just before the wind kicked up again, I dashed down to the lake and managed to get this reflection picture.

Torres del Paine, Los Torres, and Chilean Patagonia
1.6 seconds at f/14, ISO 50, Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens

Sharpness
Getting very crisp photos is one issue that many people face. There are several things that might cause soft images, and there are many solutions to the issue as well. Here are a few techniques for achieving crisper photos.

First, check to see that your tripod is stable. Many individuals set up their tripods in unstable settings, with the head loose and shaky, and then wonder why their photos are fuzzy. Make sure your tripod is as stable as you can and tighten all the settings.

renounce the central column. To offer the camera a little bit additional height, the majority of tripods incorporate an extendable middle column. The whole system becomes overly top-heavy and very unstable when a hefty camera is placed on top of a fully extended middle column. You don’t trust me? Take pictures of a wall with the center column extended and one with the center column all the way down by taping a laser pointer to the top of your camera. How different the red dot on the wall seems will amaze you.

Implement a cable release. No matter how cautious you are, using your finger, you will add vibrations to a long exposure. Put your camera on a timer if you don’t have a cable release so you can take your finger off before the shutter is triggered.

Mirror lock-up is used. When your shutter speed is between 1/60th and 1 second, vibrations from your camera’s mirror slap might be added. The greatest defense against this is to utilize your camera’s mirror lock-up feature.

Be mindful of your aperture. While it varies from lens to lens, the center of the aperture scale is often where the lens is sharpest. Try to shoot between f/8.0 and f/11, if at all feasible. Although it’s not always practicable, make a concerted effort to avoid the largest and smallest open apertures. Diffraction and other lens flaws are often visible in your photographs at those points.

If none of these solutions are working, your lens could need recalibration. There are many tests you can do on your lens to see if it needs to be fixed before sending it out. Be careful to ask the staff at your neighborhood camera shop.

Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens,.4 sec. at f/16, ISO 50 Jirishcanca, Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

Simplicity
One of the finest compositional guidelines a photographer should adhere to is simplicity. The strongest artwork often has basic compositions and simple images. Images that tell the message quickly and clearly often outperform complex, crowded compositions. Ask yourself, “Is this necessary?” when you examine the various components in your frame. It’s OK to add a lot of aspects to your photos, but avoid adding anything that might detract from the topic or annoy the viewer. The most powerful photographs are often those with a strong topic that are simple.

Himalaya, Mt. Everest, and Nepal
f/7.1, 30s, Canon 5d Mark II 70-200mm, ISO 200

Wildlife
You will undoubtedly come across animals if you spend enough time in the highlands. Wildlife photography may be both fun and difficult. Images of animals taken in their natural habitat are the finest. I always strive to capture animals against a backdrop that depicts the environment in which they reside. Although it might be difficult, there are a few strategies to raise your chances of taking a good wildlife picture. When you are driving or trekking, try to keep your telephoto or medium telephoto lens linked to your camera. You will be equipped in this manner for unforeseen animal encounters. If you do come across an animal, try to anticipate its movements and walk in front of it, but treat it with respect and keep your distance. Additionally, pay attention to the animal’s eyes at all times. A publishable photo might be distinguished from an acceptable one by having the eyes in focus. Be patient above everything else. Animals have their own timetable, which seldom ever coincides with yours!

Torres del Paine, Chilean Patagonia, Guanaco and Torres
70-200mm Canon 5d Mark II lens, 1/800 sec. at f/25, ISO 640

Reflections
There is nothing more beautiful to capture than craggy peaks reflected in a high alpine lake. Even while getting these kinds of pictures can look easy, it can be difficult. Always be equipped with the necessary tools. For catching the whole reflection and the scene’s surrounds, a wide-angle lens is useful. Use caution not to remove too much of the reflection when using a polarizer to view boulders and other things under the water’s surface. In order to balance the brightness of the sky against the darkness of the reflection, a graded neutral density filter may be useful. And as usual, a reliable tripod is a crucial piece of kit.

Mount Assiniboine, Canada (British Columbia)
3 seconds at f/18, ISO 50, Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens

One of the most frequent errors made while photographing reflections is failing to balance the reflection’s tones with the subject being reflected. Never forget that the thing being reflected cannot be brighter than the reflection. It is simple to overdarken the sky when using a graded neutral density filter, making the reflection seem brighter. Just a little bit darker than the reflected items should be the reflection. Just be mindful of this and keep in mind to shade the reflection in the editing stage.

This rule does not, however, apply in a few specific circumstances, such as reflections in very opaque water, such as the glacier-fed lakes of the Canadian Rockies. But in general, all reflections should be darker.

Wind River Range’s Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming
1 second at f/16, ISO 50, Canon 5d Mark III 17-40mm Lens
Wintertime also has reflections, however they are more difficult to see. For instance, reflections on ice may provide some incredibly eye-catching pictures. Not all places will function. The ice must be generally smooth and devoid of snow. A excellent spot to start exploring is by rivers or lakes that get a lot of wind.

Alberta, Canada’s sunset over the North Saskatchewan River
2 seconds at f/18, ISO 50, Canon 5d Mark II 17-40mm Lens