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Camera Settings for Photographing in Mountains

In landscape photography, you need to have the right equipment and the right settings to get fabulous photos. Here are tips for which focal length range will yield great photos of mountain ranges. I also discuss camera settings and other helpful goodies. When you visit a mountain range, set up your camera as follows:

  • Focal length: The focal length you use depends on how close you get to the mountain range. Assuming you’re actually in the mountain range, you’ll use a wide-angle focal length with a 35mm equivalent of 28mm or wider. This range gives you the power to capture a large landscape in one picture.

    When you use a wide-angle focal length, you capture a lot of information in a single photograph — perhaps too much information for your viewer to get a clear idea of what you’re photographing. Make sure you have a definitive center of interest, or something large in the foreground to draw your viewer into the picture.

  • Shooting mode: Use Aperture Priority to control depth of field.

  • Aperture: Choose an aperture with an f-stop value of f/11 to f/16. This gives you a large depth of field. The resulting photograph shows detail from the foreground to as far as the eye can see.

  • ISO setting: Use the lowest ISO setting for the current light conditions that will yield a shutter speed of at least 1/30 of a second when using a lens with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28mm. If your camera or lens has image stabilization, you can take pictures with a shutter speed as low as 1/15 of a second when using a lens with a 28mm focal length.

    If you’re shooting on a cloudy day, you may have to bump the ISO setting to achieve a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. Don’t exceed 800 ISO (full-frame camera) or ISO 400 (for cameras with a sensor smaller than a full frame of 35mm film), or you’ll get noisy images.

    If the light gets dim and you don’t have a tripod to steady the camera, open the aperture to f/8.0 and focus two-thirds of the way into the scene. This will yield an acceptable depth of field, and everything in the photograph will be sharp enough to show excellent detail.

  • Tripod: A tripod with a spirit level is an excellent accessory when you’re capturing landscape images. The tripod keeps the camera steady, which is an asset in any lighting scenario. When light conditions conspire against you and yield a shutter speed that is too slow to handhold the camera, the tripod ensures you’ll get a sharp image.

    When using a tripod, use a cable release or remote trigger to actuate the shutter. This prevents a blurry image that can occur from vibration that is transmitted to the camera when you press the shutter button.

    If you use a tripod with a camera or lens that has image stabilization, disable it before mounting your camera on the tripod. Image stabilization can be counter-productive when you have your camera on a tripod.

    In lieu of a cable release, use the camera self-timer and set it for its shortest duration. The vibrations dissipate during the slight delay from the time you press the shutter button to the time the shutter opens.

  • Mirror lock-up: Use this in conjunction with a cable release or self-timer countdown. The mirror locks up when the shutter is actuated. This prevents any vibration from blurring the image when the mirror stops. Check your camera's menu to see if it has the mirror lock-up option.

  • Polarizing filter: A polarizing filter darkens a blue sky, which makes any clouds pop out in sharp relief. Polarizing filters yield the best results when the camera is aimed 90 degrees from the sun.

  • Graduated neutral density filter: This filter is useful when you photograph a mountain scene and the sun is in your picture. The dynamic range of brightness from dark shadows to the radiant sun is more than your camera can capture. A graduated neutral density filter darkens the top of the image, and the image gradually becomes clear in the middle of the filter.

    You can get a round filter that screws into the accessory threads on the front of your lens. However, you have more control if you purchase a square filter and a filter holder. A square filter enables you to precisely align the middle of the filter with the horizon line.

When using a graduated neutral density filter, choose a larger aperture (smaller f-stop value) so that the blend line in the middle of the filter is not noticeable in your image.

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