5 Ways to Improve Your Landscape Photography in the Eastern Sierra

Stunning landscapes surround Mammoth Lakes and are unlimited year round. While the views are easy to enjoy simply by taking a hike or going skiing, it can be very challenging to take actually take a good photo of such scenes. The best way to take a good shot is by getting out a lot and learning through trial and error, but here are a few tips to get you a head start on improving your landscape photography.

1. Have the right gear.

The best camera is the one you have, but there is no substitute for a tripod.  While anyone can get lucky and take a pretty shot of a landscape, a tripod will help you systematically compose your photograph, keep the horizon straight, and eliminate the blur your hands will create during low light conditions (more on this below).

And if you don’t have a wide angle lense to capture the vast landscapes surrounding Mammoth, consider taking multiple shots from the tripod that you can later merge into one photograph with software like Photoshop.

2. Go Out Early or Go Out Late (Golden Hour)

While it may be more convenient to get out there during the middle of the day, the best landscape lighting is generally available during the hour surrounding sunrise and the hour surrounding sunset.

All of the atmosphere the sunlight must travel through when down on the horizon creates a rich warm light far higher in quality than the harsh mid-day sunlight.  But the intensity of the light will be lower, so your tripod will come in handy.

And remember, the Eastside of the Sierra is a steep wall of mountains that the sun will set behind hours before it sets on the coast, so give yourself plenty of time to get to your spot.

3. Look For Dramatic Weather

Storm clouds over the Sierra, Pogonip (fog) over Mono Lake, snow, and other weather events can all add considerable impact to your landscapes. Seek out the weather patterns that are less than ideal.

For example, a photo of those abandoned buildings on the 395 just south of highway 120 may be interesting on a sunny day, but will look even better with a storm sitting on the mountain tops just behind with the sun setting below.

One additional way to change up the dynamic of your photograph when shooting something huge, like a mountain, or a stormy sky, is to add a sense of scale by including a person or something of a known size in the picture.  In doing so, keep the rule of thirds in mind and try to develop foreground and background elements to your composition.

4. Take Care of Your Gear

Speaking of dramatic weather, it is likely that a storm out across a valley is only a few minutes from changing direction and passing over you – or maybe you’re already in the middle of it when you set up your camera.

You don’t want to get moisture inside of the camera body, so limit the amount of times you change lenses, and try to do that inside of your camera bag or some other area protected from the elements.  Having a camera pack with a waterproof cover, or storing your camera and lenses in plastic bags is also important.

5. Patience Patience Patience

Ultimately, if the scene isn’t developing like you hoped, take the opportunity to location scout. Taking a little time to explore and experience the landscape all-for-yourself is part of the joy of being a landscape photographer.

In addition to the effort and patience required to be consistently good at your craft, you’ll also need a little bit of luck to be at the right place at the right time.  Sometimes that takes revisiting a place multiple times before you get the shot you pre-visualized.

John Vallejo

John Vallejo is a photographer addicted to climbing and skiing, and living the dream based in the East Side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. His interest in photography grows as a natural extension to his experience as an adventure athlete, and as a creative outlet to his other life in the office.

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