Friday, June 1, 2012

Mountain Photography: Tips & Tricks III

In continuance of my two earlier articles Part I and Part II,  this is the third instalment of tips and tricks for mountain photography, though it also applies to photography in general as well.

Tip 1: Use the lowest ISO possible
A mistake which some of us often make is to set a higher ISO than what is needed for the light conditions. Rule of thumb would be:
Daylight with bright sunlight: ISO 100-200
Early mornings and evenings: ISO 400-640
Interiors where flash cannot be used: ISO 800-1600-3200
Sports motion/wildlife: ISO 400-1600

Tip 2: Take care of reflections with a polarizing filter
If you are shooting a mountain scape through the windows of a plane or through glass the circular polarizing filter is your answer. The filter usually adds two stops to the exposure, so if the exposure is f11 without the filter, it would be f5.6 with the filter. The camera meter would take care of this. Polarisers are also useful to increase color saturation and darken blue skies – as you rotate the polarizer you can see the sky getting darker or lighter. It’s a very useful tool to have in your camera bag. This is a photograph from a flight between Delhi and Leh using a polarizer:

Tip 3: Try to avoid shooting at the middle of the day
When the sun is high in the sky, the shadows are harsh and the light is also extremely flat and contrast. Unless there is no option, try to avoid mid day shooting and focus on the golden hours, a couple of hours before sunset and after sunrise.

Tip 4: Use both raw plus JPEG basic
There is always a debate regarding shooting only raw or to shoot JPEG but with most DSLRs you can shoot both. Memory cards are now big and cheap and so shooting Raw+Jpeg Basic would be the way to go. The raw files would remain for the more serious work and the Jpegs can be immediately sent out by e mail or used in blogs/web sites/facebook etc.

Tip 5: Sometimes a tele lens is better suited to landscapes than a wide angle!
When shooting mountain landscapes, we invariably reach for a wide angle lens as we want to get it all in. However, sometimes a telephoto lens is better suited for mountain landscapes. The dramatic perspective of say a 200 mm lens changes the whole scene and creates an image which is a lot different than what a wide angle or normal lens would deliver. The photograph below is taken on a trek to Gokyo in Nepal using a 70-300 zoom illustrates this:

Tip 6: Shoot the same image both horizontally and vertically
When shooting a mountain landscape, take both horizontal and vertical shots. You never know what would be required. For example, a magazine cover would need a vertical shot whereas a two page layout could use a horizontal frame. It helps to cover all possibilities in the camera so that while editing the most suitable frame can be used.

Tip 7: A beautiful view does not always translate into a great photograph
Sometimes when walking in the mountains we see a view which is just awesome! The valleys are green, the mountain tops glistening with white fresh snow, an azure blue sky,  you know what I mean! So we raise our cameras and shoot – plenty of shots- one after the other! However, when you are back in front of the computer, the view doesn’t look all that great any more! Why? The reason usually is that a view requires a point of interest and if you don’t have this, the photograph is not likely to be as awe inspiring as it was in real life. The camera and the eye don’t see the same thing, so look for a point of interest, change the angle, maybe zoom in with a longer lens or go down on the ground with a wide angle! There are so many possibilities which can work for you and create that awe inspiring image!

Tip 8: Expose correctly for the snow
Mountain landscapes sometimes have vast areas of snow and that dazzling white expanse is difficult expose correctly. The tendency of the meter would be to underexpose resulting in the snow looking grey and flat and not sparkling white. You need to meter from some area other than the snow, perhaps your hand or even the blue sky and adjust the exposure accordingly. Finally always bracket exposures so that you have a number of images to choose from! An example of this sort of photograph metered off the sky is here: 

 My outfit, South Col Expeditions, is running a five day trek cum photo workshop in the Annapurna hills of Nepal in December 2012. Those of you who may be interested please do visit or e-mail me at for more information.


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  2. Just finished reading all the three posts in this topic. Great insight ! Thanks for these tips :)



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