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Backpacker Photo School: Better Mountain Photos

Here are 5 Tips for taking better mountain photos this summer. Also: Enter your best shots in our photo contest.


Mountains are gorgeous and inspiring, but capturing those feelings in photos can be mighty difficult. However, in this Mountain Photos Slideshow, a few talented photographers did it right. The good news is you can learn from their techniques to improve your own photos. Once you’ve given it a shot, don’t forget to submit your best shots to our Reader Photo Contest.

Tip #1: Make an interesting foreground
Joel Nyquist got down low to include beautiful wildflowers in the foreground of his Mt. Rainier photo. Including a foreground brings the scene close to the viewer of the photo. In this shot, it gives the viewer the feeling of resting among the flowers and taking in the view.

Tip #2: Create a sense of scale
Mountains seem bigger if you have something in the photo to show the relative size. The tiny hiker on this ridge exaggerates how large the peak is, and how long the hike to get there must be.

Tip #3: Create layers
In this same photo, and others in the slideshow, you can see multiple layers of mountains. It makes the landscape seem endless when you can see that there are more mountains beyond the first ridgeline. Seeing a sea of mountains in the background gives the viewer a greater sense of the rewarding scene this hiker saw upon arriving at this destination.

Tip #4: Think about composition
Think about where the mountain should be within the photo. On the left? Right? Centered? Is there anything in the landscape that can be used to control eye movement around the image? In one photo, the photographer framed the mountain with silhouettes of trees, which creates the feeling of peeking into a scene. Another way to suggest eye movement with landscape is to create a line that leads the viewer’s eye toward the mountain. In this photo, Cheryl Norlin used the edge of the lake and the clouds to direct the eye towards the center.

Tip #5: Use reflection
Mountains near lakes are some of the most photogenic. Depending on the wind and the glare, you might be able to get a perfect reflection. Matt Tetef got creative for this shot. The still water, at the bottom of the photo, shows the mountain and trees very clearly, while the ripples at the top of the photo make it clearly a reflection, not just an upside down photo.

Now that you’re inspired, plan something big for the weekend, and happy shooting!

—Genny Fullerton