Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mountain Photography | Tips and Tricks


In the last few  months, I have been receiving a lot of e-mails from photographers asking what equipment I use in the mountains and whether I have any special tips or techniques when shooting in the Himalaya. So this post covers some tips and tricks to get better photographs in the mountains.

Tip 1: Don’t keep your camera in the bag
Many photographers, in order to protect their equipment, keep it in a camera bag when they are out shooting.  This is the wrong thing to do because invariably the moment will be gone by the time the camera is taken out of the bag! So keep the camera and one lens around your neck and keep the rest of the equipment in the bag to be used if needed. You will need to select the lens you want to use before starting out!

Tip 2: Simplify your equipment
I have seen a lot of photographers in the field with a full bag of lenses: wide angle, prime normal, zoom, telephoto etc. The problem of carrying such a lot of equipment is that you are invariably spoiled for choice and by the time you decide what to use the moment may have passed you once again!  I recently did a seventeen day trek and photo assignment in the Everest region of Nepal. I carried a Nikon D610 body and  and a 24-120 f4  VR lens. More than 90% of my photos were taken with this combination. In my  backpack I had a  20 f2.8 lens  which was hardly used! And around my waist in a pouch I had a 70-300 Nikon VR lens which was used for the remaining 10% of the shooting, mainly for wildlife, birds etc.  Having simplified the equipment I was not needed to make any choices and could concentrate on getting the photograph!

Tip 3: Shooting into the light
Mountains present a lot of opportunity for back lit photography. However the biggest enemy of backlit shooting is flare. So you need to protect your lens. How?
  • Use a lens hood – this may not always work!
  • Remove the UV filter if you can as sometimes flare does come from the filter if it is not properly multi-coated.
  • Try to shield the lens from the direct sun by stepping into the shade if possible. And if this is not possible you can try as I do by using my left hand to keep the sun away from the lens. Make sure that your hand does not come in the photo! Better still if you have a friend with you ask him to shield your lens and then you can use both hands to take the photo!
 Tip 4: F8 and be there
Basically this famous photography axiom asks you to be ready to shoot. So rather than adjust white balance, aperture,  shutter speed , metering modes, focus modes etc  before taking a photo, you to need to set all this before hand. On a normal day in the Himalaya, I will usually set the following before I start out: WB auto, ISO auto set to maximum of 800, aperture priority around 6.3 or so, matrix metering, AF-S for single focus. This allows me to shoot in most situations provide the light is reasonable. And, if I have time I would  bracket three to four exposure either by using auto bracketing  or manually -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. This usually nails the photograph right in the camera.

Tip 5: Use the light to your advantage
In the mountains,  the early morning light and late evening light is usually very flattering and I have to confess that I am partial to the late evening light before sun down. Sometimes you need to wait for the right light. A lot of mountain landscapes are made due to the patience of the photographer. It also helps to know how the subject will look at a certain time of day. For example, certain monasteries in Ladakh get the western sun and so look best in the evening. Similarly, the Sandakphu view near Darjeeling has an amazing amount of warmth and texture when seen in the evening light.

Tip 6: Don’t put away your camera in bad weather
Mountain weather is unpredictable. There may be bright sunshine in the morning and snow and sleet in the afternoon. Sometimes great photos are taken in inclement weather. If you are shooting in the rain or snow try to protect your camera by covering it with a cloth or a temporary plastic cover. When I am walking and it is raining or snowing I keep my camera over my shoulder inside my jacket so that I can take it out and shoot as needed. When you get back to camp, remove the plastic, wipe the camera and lens clean with a dry cloth and leave in the open in your room or tent for it to breathe and the moisture to dry out.

Tip 7: Batteries
Batteries are a major problem in the Himalaya. Ideally you need to carry two batteries with you as often on long treks you do not have access to electricity to charge batteries. At night it often helps to take the batteries out of the camera and put it into a warm jacket or sleeping bag. And on the subject of batteries and extending battery life, stop looking at the LCD after every shot! In the Himalaya to save batteries my LCD is disabled and comes on only when I press the button. Also avoid scrolling through all the photos at camp every night as this drains the battery as well! 

Tip 8: If you can, take along a small table top light weight tripod
Ideally most photographers would recommend a full heavy weight tripod but I have given this up in the Himalaya a long time ago! It is too heavy to carry and also in some situations difficult to set up. So I have a small Slik table top which can also fit into a jacket pocket which I use when I need support. The Joby Gorilla pod is also an option and has the advantage of flexible legs!

Tip 9: Finally, don’t get mesmerized by the mountain ranges - look for detail near you as well
Often in a mountain environment, we tend to get mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the mountain ranges and shoot them as much as we can: at sunrise, at sunset, during the day. However, very often there is a lot of interesting details in the rocks, flowers, plants etc in the terrain through which we walk. Very often it is possible to combine this in a wide angle view to create a spectacular shot which is out of the ordinary. So don’t put the mountain in the top of the frame every time and shoot. Look at what is near your feet as well! 

For more mountain photographs please do visit www.sujoydas.com

Happy shooting!

22 comments:

  1. Thank you. Will put to use in my trek this weekend to Kodachadri hills.

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  2. Thanks for the clear and simple tips.

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  3. my lessons finally begin......thanqs for the inputs sujoy. chuck.

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  4. Very useful tips...Learned a lot thnx!!

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  5. very good basic and practical tips...thanx buddy....

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  6. Sujoy-da, Great Tips. Useful for me. Thanks. I will go check your site for the Annapoorna Dates in Dec. May join, if not clashing with a family wedding in Dec. -KS

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    Replies
    1. Hi KS

      We are not trekking the annapurna foothills this Dec. Instead we are trekking the Langtang valley from Nov 24 to dec 2 2013. You are most welcome to join!
      regards
      Sujoy

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    2. Oh .... But I just did a 14-day Lantang - Gosainkund - Helambu loop in May 2013. If there is any other trek you do let me know. Where I can learn some photography too from you.

      -KS

      PS: My Langtang++ Pics here: https://sites.google.com/site/suhanasafarbyks/lhg-trek

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    3. Sorry about that KS - Langtang is the last trek for south col this year! We can look at next year - alternatively if you have four or five photographers interested we can do a custom photo workshop cum trek in the annapurna foothills in late Feb early March - very good time off season as well!!
      cheers
      Sujoy

      Delete
  7. Nice article .Mountains can be tricky to capture. If you opt for a wide-angle approach, trying to fit an entire range into one picture, the result is often an unsatisfying line of pimples on the horizon.

    Purebudget.com

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  8. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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  9. Thanks for this. It can be really helpful when I go backpacking this summer.

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    ReplyDelete
  10. You have a great blog and some good photography tips as well. I have a blog related to photography tips and tech tunes. You will find "Low light photography Tips Here."
    I have also some tips for "Low budget lenses for Photography"
    Hope you will find it useful.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me. Photojournalism Tips

    ReplyDelete
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