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Mountain Scenery: Lighting
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Mountain Scenery: Lighting

The best mountain photos are made by photographers who rise before the sun and rest only after it has. In his book Mountain Light, the late mountaineer and photographer Galen Rowell writes that "light during the magic hours [dusk and dawn] mixes in endless combinations, as if someone in the sky were shaking a kaleidoscope." The pinks, yellows, golds, and reds of dusk and dawn are hallmarks of his work and make Rowell's shots instantly recognizable.

At very high altitudes, just before sunrise or after sunset, nature may also reward your dedication with a very special phenomenon called "alpenglow." This brilliant crimson glow emerges when blue light is scattered by the atmosphere and a predominance of red light briefly ignites peaks in warm, radiant hues. Alpenglow often illuminates the clouds around mountain peaks as well.

In addition to the continuous color changes, the raking light of dusk and dawn imparts texture, depth, and three-dimensional form to photos of mountains. Immediately before or after a storm are also great times to go picture-hunting. Many of Ansel Adams's most famous portraits of Yosemite's peaks were made in the gathering or departing turmoil of a storm. Try to anticipate scenes where peaks disappear in descending gloom or shafts of sunlight.

One problem you will encounter at high altitudes is an excess of ultraviolet light, which results in atmospheric haze. You can use this haze to advantage, but if it is obscuring your subject, you may need to place a filter over your DSLR lens. A UV or strong skylight filter (81B or 81C) will absorb some of this excess, but a polarizing filter is perhaps the most effective tool.

Exposure in mountain regions can be tricky because excessive light reflecting from haze, mist, or snowfields can fool the meter into underexposure. When you suspect conditions may be fooling your meter, set your exposure-compensation dial to overexpose the scene by a full stop or bracket in full stops.

Next: "Tropical Beaches"