Photo School: King of the World

Show off your friends’ alpine accomplishments with shots that capture the full glory of a trip to the mountains.
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Show off your friends’ alpine accomplishments with shots that capture the full glory of a trip to the mountains.
ETHAN WELTY NORTH CASCADES NP, WA SPECS: F/8, 1/250 SEC, ISO 100 24MM FOCAL LENGTH photo: Ethan Welty/Tandem Stock

ETHAN WELTYNORTH CASCADES NP, WA SPECS: F/8, 1/250 SEC, ISO 100 24MM FOCAL LENGTHphoto: Ethan Welty/Tandem Stock

Plan Ahead

Step one: Get in shape. Photographers need the fitness to run ahead, scramble off-trail for a better angle, and catch up if they get behind. Step two: Sleep high. Plan overnights at elevations that make it easier to shoot alpine scenes during the best light of the day (dawn and dusk).

Scout Your Spot

Choose a location with landscape features such as ridge-lines and false summits that provide clearly differentiated foreground and background. Shadowed valleys, layers of low clouds, or a silhouetted foreground can help emphasize the separation between what’s near and far. Keep your aperture small so both foreground and background appear sharp.

Add a Person

Partners with colorful gear make better models. Climb up and away from your subject to capture the view over their shoulder; shooting from above shrinks the person and emphasizes the grandeur of the scene. To create a sense of scale, back up until the person’s height takes up no more than a quarter of the frame.

Perfect Your Framing

Compose so the mountains jut well into the top third of the frame, and maneuver so your human subject is against a contrasting plain or solid background. Place him off-center, looking toward the middle of the frame. Or, in the right circumstances, try breaking the rule of thirds: Center your subject as he faces straight away from or toward you.

Try This: Bend The Rule of Thirds

Even pros mostly follow photography’s first rule of composition, but, just as importantly, they know when to break it. Quick refresher: In general, line up your photo’s points of interest (like horizons) along the lines or intersections of an imaginary 3-by-3 grid. But the rule is merely a shortcut to visual balance, and in some images, you’ll find more harmony by breaking it. If, as in the shot above, your scene has strong lines leading to the center and is symmetrical side to side, centering your subject better preserves that balance.