How to take better photos in the mountains.
It would seem that taking great pictures on Colorado’s Fourteeners would be an easy thing to do given the natural beauty of the landscape. But that’s not always the case. If you’ve ever reviewed your photos after adventuring in the mountains and found that they just didn’t show what you saw and felt. Here are a few tips and examples for taking mountain photos that better capture the grandeur of the experience, avoid cliche, don’t involve pro athletes or crazy stunts, and don’t require heavy expensive camera gear.
#1. Good photography tells a story. Sometimes the story might be very obvious, “I stood on a mountain and someone took a picture of me smiling.”
Sometimes it might be more involved, “as we descended the tundra, high summits towered over us, and hail streamed from the sky ricocheting loudly from the shells of our helmets.”
While there is nothing wrong with the simple summit photo, its clearly less interesting. Not for any technical fault of the camera, but because its story is really only relevant to one person, and maybe their closest friends, and family. Great photos show more than just the achievement of a goal, they speak to the whole of an experience.
So how do you tell the story of your experience in 1/250th of a second?
Choose a subject. Whether that is you, your friends, the mountains, the clouds, almost anything really. The important thing is to choose a singular point of interest and consider why it is you value this subject. Next identify an action, expression, movement, or emotional cue that connects this subject to its environment. Now consider the context; the foreground, the background, the environment, and the light. If you have done this successfully you have formed the visual equivalent of a sentence and clearly communicated a very short story.
#2. Avoid Cliche
Photography is inescapable, we see it everywhere, everyday, and most of it looks very similar. Even good photos get boring after a thousand viewings. Don’t be boring, take the photo that only you can take. Look to identify what you value most in the people and places you visit. Consider the true story of your experience rather than what you expected to happen or what you expect of a place. Often we use photography to create a fictitious story of our lives from posed smiles and common viewpoints. Get real, be truthful, maybe even vulnerable, your Facebook friends will thank you.
#3.Look for Light
Good photos need good light. In the mountains we usually have way too much light. In short, if you need sunglasses to look where the camera looks, you’ll need sunglasses to look at the pictures. Look for light that illuminates the subject of the photo, to avoid over contrasted silhouettes and blank white skies. This easiest in the morning and the evening, but if you look hard enough you can find good light any time of the day. When its cloudy and storming and everyone’s packing their cameras away, keep shooting. This is the best midday light you could ever ask for.
No one has ever wanted to look at all seven hundred of your pictures in one sitting, ever. A photo essay is not the sum of its parts but the average. If you include the picture of your foot when you sat on the camera, and the photos from inside your backpack when you left it turned on, and all thirty seven attempts when you thought you could photograph a marmot jumping… even your mom will stop paying attention. Choose ten to twenty of your favorites and show only those.
#5. Buying a great hammer will not automatically mean you can build a house
Before you invest in $10,000 dollars worth of gear and a mountain of books on exposure and composition, consider this: Cameras don’t take pictures, people do.
Nicer cameras can do things that cheap cameras can’t, but they won’t make your pictures better. They will only allow you take bad pictures faster. The best camera is the one you carry with you.
Improve your pictures by practicing, editing, and identifying why the pictures you didn’t like weren’t likable.