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Photography Question 

Mountain Photography

We are planning a trip to CA and NV next month and would like to get advice from others about taking pictures of the mountains. I have several pictures of my trip to Yellowstone last year on my website, but was not prepared for the problems. I would like to know what is the best gear to have when taking pictures of mountains? Thanks for any help.

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6/16/2009 9:41:56 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Hello Misty,
You need a wide-angle lens, a tripod, and you will want to use as much depth of field as possible like f/22 or f/36 (if your lens allows it). Ansel Adams used to shoot at f/94 in Yosemite. You may also consider shooting for HDR if you have a contrasting foreground, mountain and sky.
My example shot of Mt. Si was done in late afternoon with a hard shadow line from the setting sun. The foreground with the grass/red barn, the mountain & the sky all required different exposures so I bracketed the shots and combined them as an HDR image.
If you are going to Yosemite, there is a bridge that has a nice view of Half Dome and as the sun is setting, you can get some great colors and beautiful shots. There will be several photographers set up there, so its hard to miss the spot.
Have fun!

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6/17/2009 9:28:21 PM

Ken Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/11/2005
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  You might also consider a graduated neutral density filter to keep exposure on the sky, especially during sunrise/sunset, or if it's cloudy.

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6/18/2009 3:58:53 AM

doug Nelson   If you want foreground flowers in your shot to be in focus, as well as the distant landscape, by all means go for a deep depth of field, meaning small f-stops. If everything of importance is distant, go for the aperture two or three stops smaller than your maximum aperture. Most lenses are at their sharpest a couple of f-stops down.
Digital SLR's (and a few compacts) give you Raw capability. If it seems you blew out some highlights, you might recover some detail in your Raw processing.

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6/18/2009 8:16:25 AM

MISTY LARUE   Thank you everyone for responding! Many thanks!

Since this is new to me can one of you suggest the best wide angle lens to purchase?

I have a Nikon D80.

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6/18/2009 7:52:53 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  Hi Misty,
I just watched a presentation of a Nikon shooter who used a 12-24mm Nikkor lens and he had some beautiful images of mountains/landscape. Tokina & Sigma also make 12-24mm lenses for Nikon as well if you are looking for something less expensive than the Nikkor 12-24 (which is almost $1000).
A carbon fiber tripod is also nice as it is sturdy & lightweight although a little pricey, but do carry a tripod as it will give you so many more shooting options.

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6/18/2009 8:46:27 PM

MISTY LARUE   Thanks Carlton.

Do you carry two cameras with two different kinds of lenses for a trip like this and keep them both ready? This was another problem I ran into at Yellowstone - switching the lenses all the time. Sometimes I would miss the shot I wanted just because I had the wrong lens on the camera.

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6/18/2009 8:56:48 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  Yes Misty,
I sometimes carry 2 cameras with me. I have a 1Ds full frame that I do my wide angle captures from and a 40D with my telephoto zoom lenses. If I am travelling light, I will carry 1 body and 2 lenses (like my 17-40mm & either the 70-200 or 100-400) and if I decide to carry a 3rd, I will add my 24-70mm or 100mm macro. But I always have my tripod. I have 3 different backpacks depending on how much I want to carry. I have an older Tamrac that carries a lot of stuff with a 15" laptop space. I have 2 Lowepro packs - 1st is the Vertex AW 300 which will carry everything including a 17" laptop and 2nd is a smaller Flipside 300 which will fit 1 body with 3 lenses and a few smaller accessories. All of these packs have a tripod holder :) The slingshot bags look pretty functional as well but no tripod holder.
I also have a Tamrac holster type bag that will fit my camera with the 100-400mm attached with a couple of side attachments for other lenses/external flash.
Check out the Lowepro packs. They are well built and have enough variety to accomodate most anyones shooting requirements. I also like that they dont have CANON or NIKON logos plastered on them so they are not completely obvious.
Cheers, Carlton

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6/18/2009 11:14:29 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Picturesque mountain vistas are like any other scenics. It's all about available light, composition, point of perspective and one's own inner-vision.
As others have mentioned, wide-angle lenses can fill those foregrounds and backgrounds with grandiose splendor. Getting low to the ground and stopping down the lens to focus on those bright flowers or other objects at your feet can create a point of interest ... which is augmented by the towering peaks of that far-away mountain range and a picturesque distant sky. This is how many great landscape photographs are created (but one must be ever cognizant of cliche).
One may also contemplate a different perspective - for example, one that implements the use of long telephoto lenses to compress the scene and focus interest upon a small portion of the mountainscape.
Perhaps one may opt to portray how a particularly interesting single tree or bush contrasts its rugged surroundings... or how those near and distant peaks and hillsides interact to create dramatic "folds" of light and shadow.
Or, one may decide upon the "naked eye view" and select a standard lens perspective (35-60 mm) to portray the scene exactly as they perceived it.
No matter what lens or angle of perspective one chooses, shooting at sunrise or sunset will accentuate the mountainscape far beyond what midday light will yield.

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6/19/2009 5:39:24 PM

Hans Abplanalp
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2005
  Hi Misty

You will no doubt encounter waterfalls. Take a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter so that you are able to take falls at about 0.5 of a second despite strong sunlight. That will give the water a good silky texture and make all the difference to your shot.

And to state the obvious: the first two and last two hours of the day provide the best light for all shots.

Good luck
Hans (Switzerland)

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6/23/2009 3:33:09 AM

Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
  Grand Tetons (d2631)
Grand Tetons (d2631)
Grand Teton National Park, WY. A morning shot with a wide-angle lens, circular polarizer, and tripod of course. f stop was f16 or smaller.
Camera used was a Nikon D300. RAW capture.

© Allen M. Aisenstein
Nikon D200 Digital...
  Oxbow Bend (d2564)
Oxbow Bend (d2564)
Oxbow Bend at the Snake River in Grand Teton NP was taken in the early AM before the wind came up to disturb the reflections, wide-angle lens, circular ploarizer, small f stop, and a tripod. Camera used was a d300. Used RAW capture.
© Allen M. Aisenstein
Nikon D200 Digital...
Hi Misti, After many years of shooting mountain scenes and assuming you're at the right place at the right time, I found my most valuable tools to be a wide-angle lens, polarizer, graduated ND filter, and a tripod. Using a small aperture will enable you to get good dof which is important to me. Enjoy your trip!
Allen M. Aisenstein

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6/23/2009 7:49:07 AM

Donna L. Jones
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/22/2002
  Hi Misty, On my last trip to photograph Yosemite I found the bridge in the valley Carlton mentioned an awesome place to shoot Half Dome. It changes colors many times in the half hour before sunset. A split ND filter was useful here. If you run down the road a short distance you will also find a the charming Yosemite Chapel to photograph...also lovely at sunset...happy shooting! Donna Jones

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6/23/2009 8:45:17 AM

Amanda D. Austwick
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/2/2003
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Hi Misty,
I live in the mountains, so I pretty much use the same type of lenses that Carlton uses. I use a wide angle lens, and a 85-400mm lens.

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6/23/2009 1:57:26 PM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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In case you don't know how to use a wide angle lens, keep the lens pointed low to the ground or else it will flatten the mountains with distortion.

I never knew this when living in Colorado. It's something I picked up from Kerry Drager here at

Frankly, I prefer using a medium length telephoto lens to a really wide wide angle. But the lens position is everything, and is important.

Enjoy and be careful of fires. The West is dry with low humidity!

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6/23/2009 9:51:04 PM

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