Road-tripping from Paris to the French Alps, I was most excited to photograph the grandeur of the landscape: charming mountain towns like Chamonix, snow-capped Mont Blanc towering overhead, early morning gondola rides, and more.
While it’s one thing to admire the beauty of mountainous terrain, it’s another to capture it in a photograph. Conveying such powerful views through still images can be hard. To truly encapsulate my Alps experience, I considered several principles and techniques that I’ll share with you:
Use of light
Light is perhaps the most important element when composing any photograph. In mountain photography, light can be harnessed to create truly stunning visuals. When there’s direct sunlight, I often look for mountain faces that display a balanced contrast of both light and shadows. This juxtaposition allows viewers to better understand the complexity and depth of a mountain’s features and terrain.
Also, whenever possible I photograph the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset, when alpenglow can occur. Alpenglow, described by John Muir as “the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations,” is something mountain photographers live for. This unique lighting can add warmth and texture to your photograph.
Use of subjects
We’ve all heard it before: “this photo doesn’t do it justice.” Indeed, when photographing mountain landscapes, it can be challenging to convey the true size and scale of the terrain. One technique to help achieve a sense of scale is the inclusion of a relatable subject, such as a human being, inside the frame. Doing so allows viewers to more readily comprehend the relative size of the surrounding mountains.
While achieving a true sense of scale is a worthy objective, another goal is to convey a sense of perspective or point of view. Capturing subjects within the immediate foreground, whether natural or otherwise, can do just that — transporting the viewer into the scene, as if he or she were there.
Use of lines
Beyond the use of light and subjects, another element to utilize is lines. In any mountain landscape, lines may exist naturally within the environment, or may be manmade features. For example, leading lines can serve as a pathway that naturally leads the viewer’s eye into the photograph or toward an intended element. Moreover, the detection of diagonal lines in the natural terrain can be an appropriate ingredient in a composition and can guide one in framing the image.
By the end of our trip, the Alps presented a great number of opportunities to experiment with various elements of photography. Fortunately, I returned to the United States with a collection of mountain images that truly conveyed the awe and wonder I felt among these giants.