February 13, 2012
Mountains are one of the most difficult terrains to take pictures in. Even experienced photographers struggle, because they are facing completely new challenges between the walls of rock: Light works differently in the mountains, and often equipment is limited during trekking. Often the views are absolutely stunning, but the reviewing of pictures after the trek rather disappointing. Here are 10 tips how to take pictures in the Himalayas that will let your friends at home turn green with envy, even without using expensive equipment:
Keep your lens clean
Clean your lens regularly! Nothing’s more annoying than taking beautiful pictures, and once they’re up on the computer you realize they all have dust spots or blurry areas from raindrops on the lens. This is especially important when trekking in dusty areas, in rain and in big cities with lots of pollution. Don’t change your lens when there is a danger of getting dust on the camera sensor.
Wait for the right light
Light is your most important tool – but also the one you can least influence. So seize the moment it is good and promising good results. This can mean you have to get up at ungodly hours to capture the colours at sunrise or you’ll miss your dinner just to catch that perfect evening atmosphere, but no one said taking photographs would be fun! Mornings and evenings are usually the best times to take pictures, when the sun is low, gives the landscape a warm glow and creates interesting shadows. Bright daylight usually lets landscapes appear flat and without texture. Remember: if your picture relies on colours to work, front light is fine. If your picture relies on texture, like mountains, front light is a no-go. Try to take pictures with the light coming from the side. In the mountains the times of good light are even more limited, as often the sun disappears behind mountain ranges before you get that special light – so use all the moments you can get!
Catch the colours
To get natural colours with a slightly warm tone, switch the white balance on your camera to ‘cloudy’. This will remove the blue overcast outdoor pictures otherwise often get. This does not only work in overcast conditions, but basically in all light. Especially at sunsets this brings out nice, bright colours. Choose a different white balance (e.g. ‘sunny’) for pictures with a very large amount of blue (sea) or white (snow) in them.
Choose the right format
Taking pictures in landscape format (horizontal) usually gives calm, composed pictures. Taking pictures in portrait format (vertical) gives more exciting, action laden pictures. So before taking your picture take a moment to think about what you want to express with your picture and choose the right format.
Get it straight
Take care to always have a straight horizon line in your landscape shots – a tilted horizon rarely looks good. Don’t put the horizon right in the middle of your picture, but above or below the middle line. A low horizon with lots of sky gives the impression of vastness. In non-landscape shots sometimes tilting your camera at other angles will give the picture an interesting perspective, play around.
A beautiful view doesn’t equal a beautiful photo: More often than not shots of that sweeping, seemingly endless landscape that was so stunning to see look incomplete. A good picture needs a clear focal point, something to keep the interest. Mountain peaks in the distance are often in blue haze and don’t come out very clear on pictures – there’s not much that can be done about this. Taking pictures of bare mountain peaks with nothing else in the picture often doesn’t convey how grand the scenery is, the pictures look flat and lack contrast and scale. Add some foreground, for example kneel down to catch the colourful flowers in the foreground, or include a line of prayer flags or a nice stupa into the picture. This will give your pictures more depth and interest. Sometimes you can try to get a symmetrical picture (e.g. a valley, framed by mountain peaks on both sides) or use geometric patterns to add interest.
Add a frame
You can add a frame to your picture to make it more interesting and add depth. This can be done by either taking pictures through twigs or a doorway, or choosing framing elements like people or mountain peaks.
Choose the right picture
Make sure to take exactly the picture you want – cropping it later takes more time and often doesn’t bring the results, so better take a short moment to find the perfect frame. Don’t cut off important bits because you are in a hurry – make sure to have all the peaks you want in the picture, don’t ‘decapitate’ mountains. Even more important is the angle at which you take a picture, you won’t be able to change this later on the computer. Often a different angle gives a more interesting picture: Tilt your camera slightly towards the ground to capture what’s right in front of you or shoot upwards from a frog’s perspective to make things appear larger and more action laden.
It’s all in the detail!
Take pictures of details: Especially when taking pictures of landscapes, buildings and groups of people, do not just photograph the whole scene but pick out particularly interesting details and take shots of them. Often these details can capture the feel of a situation much better than a complete picture.
Play. Try to take unusual pictures. Use different angles, over- or underexpose to emphasize a certain aspect of the picture, shoot pictures against the light to create silhouettes, take macro shots of interesting details, take blurred pictures of movement to enhance the action, take pictures of things and moments that no one else captures, use geometric patterns to create a special picture.