Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

We’ve all (hopefully) been there, out on a mountain ride and feeling absolutely gobsmacked by the scenery. So, you stop and snap a photo, hoping to capture the power and grandeur of the mountains. But when you look at your picture the mountains look tiny (like hills at a flea circus), the blue sky has been bleached white, and the feeling of the place is lost. How do you bring the purple mountains majesty back home with you and share them with family and friends? Here are some helpful tips.

Zoom Zoom

When faced with an epic vista, many people step back and try to fit as much of the scene into the photo. But when you try to put a lot of mountains in the photo each mountain becomes smaller and less impressive. You lose their sheer power.

The answer to this problem is to make the mountains bigger in the photo. Instead of trying to fit all of the mountains in, zoom in. Pick a handful of mountains to represent the range and make them as big as possible. Pay attention to the left and right edges of the frame, then place half or part of a mountain on the edge of the picture to suggest to the viewers that mountains extend beyond the photo. Note that most smartphones have digital zoom, which usually means reduced image quality when your zoom in; so, if you are riding towards a mountain range, get closer before you stop and snap a photo.

In places like Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains you will sometimes see vistas composed of nothing but mountains extending all the way to the distant horizon. A classic way to capture a scene like this is to zoom in with your lens until the mountains look like they are stacked upon each other.

Mind the Horizon

As you are composing the photo, pay attention to the horizon. Many photos are taken with the horizon in the middle and equal parts sky and land. But unless there are big puffy clouds that help give the photo scale, tilt the camera downward to reduce the amount of sky in the shot and push the peaks of the mountains toward the top of the photo.

Scale Model

One way to show how big and imposing the mountains are is to include something small and fragile in the photo as well. Like you. Or your motorcycle. After all, being among huge mountains can be a humbling experience, so try to depict that feeling in a photo. To achieve this, pay attention to the comparative size of the mountains and your motorcycle as you frame the shot. If you are standing ten feet from your bike, it will likely look bigger than the distant mountains; that’s the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. So, step far enough away from your bike until it is much smaller in the photo. It’s not unusual to be 50 feet away or more for a shot like this. This is another situation where a telephoto zoom lens really helps because it can “pull” the mountains closer and make the bike seem even smaller.

Hazy Shade of Summer

On hot summer days the air can be filled with picture-killing haze, reducing sharpness, clarity, and making distant mountains look like dull, fuzzy renditions of their true selves. There’s also “heat haze,” waves of image-distorting hot air rising from the ground that you can see through a telephoto lens or a pair of binoculars. While there are some digital tools to help reduce haze, if you want to take a really nice photo of a particularly scenic place, it’s best to avoid the haze altogether. This is one reason why photographers love coffee; they often get up before the sunrise to get to a scenic spot in the early morning when the air is clear and the light dramatic. But if there isn’t time in your travel schedule for early-morning landscape photography and you’re stuck staring at a beautiful mountain view in the middle of a hot and hazy day, try using a polarizing filter. Polarizing filters help cut down reflections and haze and glare while increasing color saturation. The most popular and versatile kind are circular polarizers. Choosing and using a circular polarizer is a deep subject beyond the scope of this column, but if you are really interested in improving your mountain and landscape photos it may be worth the investment in money (good ones aren’t cheap) and time (learning how to use them and using them in the field).

As always, look at the photos that you take with a critical eye and learn a little from each one. The path to great photos is long. Now fill up the tank and ride!