The 5 Best Mountain Photography Tips From an Expert Landscape Photographer

Mountains in the distance in pastel pink and blue layers

Make the most of your mountain photographs with these tips.

I love the mountains. There is no place I’d rather be when it comes to taking photographs. I find grand mountain views so awe-inspiring that I feel compelled to photograph them.

The problem is that you really can’t just plop your tripod down just anywhere, click off a few shots of some distant mountain range — no matter how picturesque it may be — and expect to come away with the best mountain photos you can make.

Here are a few of the trick and techniques I use to help ensure that my mountain photos are unique and stand out from the crowd.

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1. It’s all about the light

Fiery sky over the black silhouette of mountains.

In photography, light is everything. Mountain photography is no exception. The first thing I tell my workshop students is that to get the best landscape photos possible, you need to be there when the light is at its best and most dramatic. This means during the golden hours early and late in the day. This may require hiking in the dark to get to the viewpoint you’re looking for.

Can good mountain photos be taken under harsh light in the middle of the day?

Looking out from Mt. Flume towards Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire's White Mountains

The short answer is yes. You’re going to have to work harder at it to deal with such high contrast light, but the results can be well worth it. After all, if you’re lugging all of your camera gear with you on a multi-day backpacking trip, limiting your shooting to the golden hours means you’ll miss out on some fine photo opportunities.

2. Avoid the tripod holes

Snow covered Mount Washington bathed in alpenglow

To make your  mountain photos stand out, try photographing mountains that receive fewer shutter clicks. People tend to notice if you give them an image that isn’t a place they’ve seen dozens of times.

I personally try to avoid the iconic and often-photographed locations. Instead, I seek out the trail less traveled. I search for photos that aren’t basically copies of images taken by every other photographer who’s set their tripod in the same place.

This often requires traveling into the backcountry for several miles to capture views that can’t be seen from the roadside. You can still include the often-photographed mountains, such as New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (the tallest peak in the image above), but this view from Mount Pierce is much less photographed than the views from more easily accessible vantage points.

3. Embrace the threat of bad weather

Snow-covered evergreens in the foreground and snow-capped peaks in the distance.

The potentially bad weather and dramatic storm clouds that often appear in mountain ranges are key ingredients in making a dramatic mountain image. Here on the East coast, if there’s a storm departing to the east near sunset, I want to be in the mountains waiting for what could be a killer sky — one that looks as if it’s on fire. Essentially, some of the best photos are made either just before or just after a storm front is moving through the area.

Dress properly, carry the appropriate hiking gear and be safe by knowing your limits and what you’re capable of. Always remember: No photo is worth risking your life. Mountain weather can change quickly and become dangerous. Pay close attention to the forecast before you head out and the ever-changing conditions while on your journey into the mountains.

4. Put some thought into your composition.

Dramatic sunset from Foss Mountain in New Hampshire

Possibly the most difficult challenge you’ll face when photographing mountains is your composition. I like to anchor the shot with a strong foreground to give viewers an obvious place to start their visual exploration of the photo. In the above photo, I could have set up my tripod on top of the large granite outcropping and photographed the distant mountains with the dramatic clouds and setting sun. Instead, I chose to duck down behind the granite and include its rich texture and shape as my foreground.

5. Add the human element

Three hikers enjoying the view over the Pemigewasset Wilderness

For the longest time, I used to do everything possible to avoid having people in my landscape photographs — and for the most part, I still do. However, when it comes to mountain photography, including people in the composition can give viewers a sense of scale, making that grand, scenic mountain view seem even grander.

Mountains make beautiful subjects for landscape photography. By putting some thought and effort into photographing them, your photos will better reflect their grandeur.

Go on a landscape photography journey

Landscape Photography: Shooting From Dawn to Dusk

Learn the technical and artistic skills of landscape photography from an expert travel photographer in this five-lesson online video course.Enroll Now »

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