Photographing Mountains - The Top Five Challenges

Tips For Creating Fine Art Photography Prints Of Mountains

For all their beauty, trying to photograph mountains has its share of challenges. What are some of those challenges and how do you overcome them?

It is easy to say that all Fine Art Landscape Photography has its share of Mountain Photography. Mountains have a somewhat magical attraction to us. We can see them in the distance growing larger as we drive closer and closer to them. We can’t help but gaze at them from the air as we fly into a mountainous area.

As much as we love the mountains, photographing them has its challenges. A good fine art print of mountains is much more than a quick photograph taken from an overlook.

1. Remote Locations

While it is possible to photograph many mountains from areas accessible by nearby roads, that is not always the case. There are areas in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Canada, and many other countries where your only option might be many miles of overnight backpacking with large elevation gains or getting there via helicopter.

Like many others, I am not capable of the serious backpacking trips to get to some of the very remote locations. Helicopters can be a very expensive way to get to some of the locations and are generally only feasible with a group. Then, you have to like and feel comfortable on helicopters.

Fortunately, there are more than enough locations accessible by a hike of only a mile or two. Many others are very close to a road, although some of these roads can require a four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicle.

The following photograph of Mount Assiniboine required both a helicopter flight to a remote lodge and a 2-mile hike up to the Nublet with about a 1,000-foot elevation gain. It was an incredible morning and worth all the effort.

Conversely, the photograph of a snow-covered Mount Hood was taken from the side of a back road in Oregon.

Mount Assiniboine in Canada - Mountain Photography
"Another World" - Alberta, Canada - Click on Photo to Purchase
Mount Hood Snow Covered - Mountain Photography
"Question of Season" - Mount Hood, Oregon - Click on Photo to Purchase

2. Getting a Foreground

There are many overlooks along the thousands of miles of roads in the mountains that offer incredible views. It’s very tempting to stop at all of them to take a photograph. I think we’ve all done it, especially on family trips where the mountains make for a great background for a photo of the kids.

From the standpoint of the fine art photograph, almost all of these overlooks are somewhat lacking. They just don’t have the same appeal as a photograph of the mountain with a river, fall color trees, blooming tundra or flowers, a structure, or a lake reflecting the mountain.

As landscape photographers, our challenge is finding the scenes with the foregrounds to properly show off the mountain. As I discuss in my article, The Hunt For Unique Landscape Locations, it takes some research and effort to find them.

The following photography of Wilson Peak in the San Juan Mountains uses the Aspen trees with brilliant fall color as its foreground. The photograph of Mount Rainier has what was the clearest reflection I have ever seen as a foreground. The photograph of the Grand Tetons uses one of the bards on Mormon Row as a foreground.

Wilson Peak in the fall in colorado - mountain photography
"Wilson Peak" - San Juan Mountains, Colorado - Click on Photo to Purchase
Reflection of Mount Rainier in Tipsoo Lake - Mountain Photography
"Reflection" - Mountain Rainier, Washington - Click on Photo to Purchase
grand tetons and barn - mountain photography
"North View" - Grand Teton National Park - Click on Photo to Purchase

3. Getting Good Clouds

For just about any landscape photograph that includes the sky, good clouds are critical. Photographs of mountains are no different. For me, even if they are just thin and wispy clouds, it is a far better photograph than no clouds at all.

For my mountain photographs, I want the peak of the mountain to show. It’s just a personal preference. I love having low clouds in front of the mountain, but I just don’t want them covering the peak.

Sometimes the dark stormy clouds seem to work and other times they don’t, at least for me. Generally speaking, for fine art landscape photography, I don’t feel dark stormy clouds are what people are going to want when they purchase a print. That doesn’t mean I don’t shoot them if the scene is good. They can be really cool-looking and fun to experience and shoot.

In the below examples, the wispy clouds were perfect for Mount Rainier. The heavier clouds seemed perfect over Liberty Bell Mountain. The stormy clouds worked nicely for the Brooks Mountain Range in Alaska.

Mount Rainier in the Fall - mountain photography
"Rainier Fall Explosion" - Mount Rainier National Park - Click on Photo to Purchase
Liberty Bell Mountain in Washington - mountain photography
"Liberty Bell Mountain" - North Cascades, Washington - Click on Photo to Purchase
Mountains in storm in Brooks Range Alaska - Mountain Photography
"Storm On The Range" - Brooks Range, Alaska - Click on Photo to Purchase

4. Front-Lit or Back-Lit, Sun or Moon

As a personal preference for my fine art prints, I prefer for the mountains to be front-lit. Mountains can have some really nice features, detail, and color, which show up so much better with the light on them. This doesn’t mean I don’t take photographs with the sun rising or setting behind the mountains, as I will certainly do so if all the other conditions are good.

As you can see in the below photo from Norway, the warm light of the rising sun behind me highlighted the color and detail in the mountain beautifully. The red cabins are just amazing. While the below photograph of the sun setting behind the Grand Tetons is striking, some of the detail in the mountains is lost.

mountains in winter in lofoten islands of Norway - mountain photography
"Norweigian Burst" - Lofoten Islands, Norway - Click on Photo to Purchase
sun setting behind grand tetons - mountain photography
"Teton Sunburst" - Grand Teton National Park - Click on Photo to Purchase

There is more than the sun to light up the scene. It is amazing the amount of light that is generated by a full moon. With today’s digital high-resolution cameras and their ability to handle low light without digital noise, photographs like the following taken at night under a full moon are a definite option. I am amazed by the detail in the mountain in a photograph taken in the middle of the night.

northern lights over alaska mountains with full moon - mountain photography
"Full Moon Aurora" - Brooks Range, Alaska - Click on Photo to Purchase

5. The Importance of Snow

I have to admit, I prefer the mountains that I photograph to have snow on them. There’s just something about how that brightens the scene and the early morning sunlight on the snow-covered peaks can be really special.

This has somewhat affected my plans of when I go to photograph mountains. There can still be snow on the mountains in early Spring, but the back roads can be a slushy, muddy mess. So I tend to chase Spring flowers, go to red rock canyons, or just something else that time of the year.

The summer is the most difficult season for me to photograph mountains. There may be some opportunities in Alaska or a few other places. Fall can be really special if there is an early snowfall like there was in the below photograph of Mount Sneffels and of McClure Pass in Colorado.

mount sneffels with snow in the fall - mountain photography
"Perfect Timing" - San Juan Mountains, Colorado - Click on Photo to Purchase
mountains with fall color and snow - mountain photography
"Above it All" - San Juan Mountains, Colorado - Click on Photo to Purchase

Although it can be really cold, I have come to love photographing mountains in the winter. The Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park are simply the best place for this. The mountains are amazing and they work hard to keep the roads clean in Canmore, Banff, and up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. The roads south in Kananaskis Country are also well maintained.

It’s also not too hard to find water and trees to liven up the foreground. I would recommend December as there is a better chance the lakes have not been totally covered by ice and snow. The following two photographs are perfect examples.

sunset at emerald lake alberta canada - mountain photography
"Emerald Lake Sunset" - Alberta, Canada - Click on Photo to Purchase
snow covered winter mountain - mountaini photography
"Canadian Reflection" - Alberta, Canada - Click on Photo to Purchase

In Summary

Mountains are, in my opinion, the best subject for Landscape Photography. I have not been to Alaska to photograph the ones there as much as I would like to. I am going to change that. If you are looking for a subject for landscape photography, I highly recommend mountains being on the top of your list.

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