Pierre-Alexandre Huguenin — Headshot and Portrait Photographer based in Geneva, Switzerland. © 2019 All Rights Reserved.

Landscape Photography

How to do Mountain Photography in Winter?

Winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year to take pictures. In the mountains, the landscapes adorned with their white coat will give a magical side to your photos. Being fortunate enough to live in a mountainous region, I can regularly do this exercise and learn from my mistakes to capture better images. In this article, I share some of my tips for making your mountain photos a success.

Dress warmly and carry appropriate equipment

The first advice I can give is to leave with the proper equipment, as weather conditions can change at any time at altitude. If you are going on a hike, don’t forget to take with you:

– pair of snowshoes if the snow is deep
– warm clothes: a hat, gloves, fleece, jacket, ski or mountaineering pants, ski socks, Goretex walking boots or après-ski
– pair of sunglasses
– survival blanket
– medicine kit
– telephone with GPS navigation software (e. g. MAPS.ME)
– a hard copy of the IGN, SwissTopo, IGC map, etc.
– whistle
– food and drink.

Camera equipment

– additional battery (because cold can quickly drain the battery charge)
– plastic bag (to protect the device in case of bad weather)
– microfiber cloth (to clean the lens)
– tripod
– polarising filter and/or a neutral density filter.

Play with foregrounds and backgrounds

It is easy to let yourself be carried away by the mountains that surround us. Indeed, it can be difficult to know where to look given the beauty of the landscapes encountered. Very often, the impression created by a composition is not the same as that found in the photo. For example, a mountain very close to us may seem massive and spectacular when hiking. However, once back home, it is frustrating to see that the impression caused at first glance has disappeared! For this reason, it is essential to compose your photos by adding elements (individuals, rocks, trees, etc.) in the foreground. In doing so, the impression of massiveness left by the mountain will immediately emerge.

Personally, I particularly appreciate the “sub-framing” technique, i. e. a photo where the subject is held not only by the frame of the image but also by internal elements of the image. The massiveness of a mountain range can be enhanced by framing it within the boundaries of the landscape in front of the photographer. For example, it is practical to use the side cliffs of a valley to frame the mountains at the bottom of the valley.

Take advantage of temperature inversion

Winter is also the period during which what is called “temperature inversion” (or inversion layer”) occurs. It is found when an air layer has a positive temperature gradient. More precisely, it increases with altitude. In the valley, everything is grey and it is cold, while in the mountains, it is bright and warm. Thus, the temperature inversion results in a sea of clouds that can be very picturesque depending on the composition.

Bring your tripod and filters

Depending on the weather, the mountains are also the ideal place to make long poses. Lakes and waterfalls (when they are not frozen), but also mountain landscapes under cloudy skies are opportunities for long exposures. Long exposure implies a tripod and a neutral density filter. Also, don’t forget to take your polarising filter. Indeed, it will give punch to your images and bring out the mountains of the landscape. If you use a circular polarising filter (CPL), be careful with vignetting: if you turn your filter too much, the sky may get too dark, and you will have vignetting. Note that if you have forgotten your polarising filter, the effect can be generated with the computer with Luminar.

The “Golden Hours” are your ally

The best time to take pictures is in the “golden hours” window. They describe the short period after sunrise and before sunset. It is said that these hours are “golden” in reference to the golden aspect that the landscapes take during this window. Also, the light is softer, avoiding hard shadows. To accurately estimate the “golden hours” window, I highly recommend the PhotoPills application. Thanks to its module using augmented reality, you can see on your phone the exact place where the sun will set and rise. Very practical to dispel doubts and compose your photo more serenely!

I hope these few tips will help you to improve your mountain photos in winter 🙂

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