Tips + Techniques
9 Tips for Stunning Mountain Portrait Photography
October 25, 2022
Photographing in the mountains does require some advance planning and preparation but the effort will reward you with stunning portraits that capture your subjects' personalities and the majesty of the natural world. (Scroll through for examples.)
When it comes to portrait photography, mountain locations and backdrops offer a wealth of possibilities. The dramatic landscapes provide stunning scenery, and the rugged terrain can add a sense of adventure to the photos. In addition, the towering peaks and plunging valleys offer a sense of scale and perspective that is difficult to achieve in other locations. Of course, photographing in the mountains does require some advance planning and preparation. However, the effort will reward you with stunning portraits that capture the subject’s personality and the majesty of the natural world.
Here, we review 9 tips for stunning mountain portrait photography:
- Look For Blue Skies
- Embrace The Clouds and Mood
- Capture The Adventure
- Plan Ahead: Bring The Party
- Isolate Subjects
- Watch Horizons and Backgrounds
- Combine Creative Techniques
- Time The Sunset
- Use a Wide Angle Lens to Capture The Beauty
[Read: 6 Top Tips for Taking Incredible Forest Portraits]
1. Look for Blue Skies
On clear days, look to capture stunningly blue skies. In fact, according to weather.gov, “If you go to high elevations, the sky directly overhead can be very dark blue or even bluish-violet. That is because there are fewer molecules to scatter light at higher elevations, so only the shortest of wavelengths experience the most scattering as you go up further into the atmosphere.” Here are a few examples of mountain portrait photography captured against blue skies:
Photo © Studio 22 Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Sunriver in Oregon.
Photo © Courtland Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Lake Tahoe/Emerald Bay in California, Lake Tahoe.
Photo © M and G Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Inn On The Lake, Lake Ullswater.
Photo © Shane Trotter (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Logan Shoals Lookout in Lake Tahoe, NV.
2. Embrace the Clouds and Mood
If the weather doesn’t turn out as expected, embrace the clouds and the overall mood they create. Like a giant, natural light diffuser, clouds create a flattering soft light for both your subjects and the location. Furthermore, clouds bring with them an organic moody vibe, which adds layers of visual interest to the photos. Check out the images below for cloudy session inspiration.
Photo © Bernadeta Kupiec (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) in Glencoe, Scotland.
Photo © Jessie and Dallin (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Glacier National Park in Montana.
3. Capture the Adventure
Traveling to and from the mountains is often an adventure in itself. Instead of waiting until your couple is perfectly in place for a posed set of photos, capture the journey to and from the location. Whether the couple is riding high in a ski lift or simply following one another along a trail, take advantage of the action unfolding in front of you in this scenic environment. These can sometimes turn out to be some of the best, most organic photos from the set, even if you give the couple a little direction before capturing the moment.
Photo © Gretchen Troop (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Dillon, CO.
Photo © Larsen Photo Co (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at in Estes Park, CO.
Photo © Lazzat Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Breckenridge Lodge in Colorado.
Photo © Marlies Hartmann (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Matterhorn.
4. Plan Ahead: Bring the Party
Mountain portrait photography can involve traveling to scenic and sometimes remote locations. Be sure to plan ahead and bring all of the gear, the props, and attire that you may need for the shoot! In addition to a sturdy tripod and backup batteries and memory cards, consider packing comfortable shoes and a jacket, especially during cooler times of year. Also, don’t forget water to stay hydrated on your hike, and you might just want to bring along some champagne for a top-of-the-world toast!
Photo © Jeff Tisman (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) in Killington, Vermont.
5. Isolate Subjects
One of the biggest challenges of mountain portrait photography, especially for large, wide angle environmental portraits, is making your subject stand out and pop from the background. If you’re not careful, your subjects could blend into a messy background. A few ways to isolate your subjects include the following:
- Negative Space: Keep the area around the couple free of distracting elements.
- Lighting: Make your subjects the brightest part of the scene.
- Bokeh: Use a low aperture to send everything but the couple into blur.
- Color: Incorporate examples color theory into your composition, using colors that look good together. A basic color wheel will set you on the right path for learning to recognize pleasing combinations.
Photo © Marlies Hartmann (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Yosemite, CA.
Photo © Michael Freas (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Wayah Bald @Nantahala Weddings and Events in Topton, NC.
Photo © Angie Nelson (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at West Maui Mountains, Maui, Hawaii.
Photo © Jos and Tree (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Timberline Lodge Resort in Timberline, Oregon.
Photo © 4 Eyes Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Moraine Lake in Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta.
Photo © Jay Cassario (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Ho Chi Minh Trail, San Diego, CA.
Photo © Salmada Photography (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Hole in the Rock, Papago Park in Phoenix, AZ.
Photo © Kivus and Camera (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Ridge Asheville in Asheville, NC.
6. Watch Horizons and Backgrounds
As with any horizon, try your best to find a composition that frames your subject, and avoid having the horizon or mountain peaks cut through the subject’s heads or necks. If your couple does cross the horizon, which might happen more often for closer up shots, try to keep the majority of your couple’s bodies clearly above the horizon line.
7. Combine Creative Techniques
Mountain portrait photography provides plenty of opportunities to employ all of your creative techniques. This includes using silhouettes, reflections, negative space, panoramic stitching, double exposures, and more! It’s worth noting that you should practice these techniques in advance so that you’re ready to execute once you arrive on location. The last thing you want to do is make an epic trek only to fall short on effectively using your techniques. See some examples below for inspiration.
Below is an example of using silhouette photography in your mountain portrait photography:
Below is an example of using panoramic stitching in your mountain portrait photography:
Photo © Lin and Jirsa (Website | Wedding Maps Profile).
Below is an example of using double exposure photography in your mountain portrait photography:
Photo © Andreas Pollok (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Füssen Allgäu in Bayern.
8. Time The Sunset
Few sunsets are as gorgeous as sunsets with a mountain backdrop. Just be aware of the exact time of the sunset, as the sun might pass below the mountain horizon earlier than the stated sunset time. Use apps like Sun Seeker to track the location of the sun throughout the day and be sure to start shooting early to give yourself plenty of time to catch the perfect sunset photo. See some examples below:
Photo © Chance Freeze (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Beavers Bend State Park in Broken Bow, OK.
Photo © Holding and Co (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Yosemite National Park in California.
Photo © Loc Le (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Mount Rainier National Park in Mount Rainier National Park.
Photo © Sean Thurston (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Raven’s Roost along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.
9. Use a Wide Angle Lens to Capture the Beauty
When it comes to lens choice, a wide angle lens is often the best choice for mountain portrait photography. This rings especially true for epic environmental portraits. Of course, using a variety of focal lengths will help you get different looks and tell a complete story. And moreover, photographers should always match the focal length with his or her intended purposes, style and look. But often times, a beautiful, wide photo of the couple and the scenery makes for a solid choice. See some examples below:
Photo © Dan Dalstra (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Franklin Mts. State Park in El Paso, TX.
Photo © Kristin Cheatwood (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Sun Valley Resort in Sun Valley, ID.
Photo © Lessie Blue (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at The Griffin House in Hood River, OR.
Photo © Wes Shinn (Website | Wedding Maps Profile) at Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia.
If you’re looking to add a touch of drama to your portraits, let the location lend a hand. When it comes to dramatic locations, there’s no better place to shoot than in the mountains. Towering peaks and sweeping views provide a stunning backdrop for any photo, and the challenge of shooting in rugged terrain can help you develop your skills as a photographer. In addition, mountain locations often offer a variety of lighting conditions, from bright sunshine to deep shadows, that can help to add depth and interest to your photos. So, if you’re looking to take your photography to new heights, don’t be afraid to head for the hills!
The mountain portrait photography featured in this article was provided by Wedding Maps, a collection of wedding venues and photographers based all over the globe. For more information, click here.