The Ultimate Tips for Taking Better Mountain Photographs
MOST OF US FIRST SEE MOUNTAINS through another’s lens. We see pictures of lavish landscapes and snowy peaks, of a part of the world lesser explored. These photos draw us in and help us situate ourselves in the scene, showing us all that is beautiful about mother nature’s finest work. They also mask the extreme risk, effort and experience that went into each and every photo.
One such adventure photographer is Florian Konrad – or @floriko, as you may know him. The German PhD student has years of experience hiking the Alps and the Himalayas, documenting the most terrifyingly beautiful moments. We pinned him down to hear all about his distinct style, the hacks that have made creating his best work possible and the challenges that await the aspiring mountain photographer.
“I took this in the upper parts of the Hunku valley at 5400m, on my way to cross Amphu Laptsa. It doesn’t look steep or difficult but it was exhausting with a heavy backpack.”
First things first, what do you shoot with?
I’m always debating what to bring! Weight is a big factor on most of my trips – I want to have a good DSLR, but too much stuff slows me down or limits what I am able to do.
I always bring my Canon 6D with two lenses: a 50mm f1.2 and a Tokina 11-16mm/2.8. The latter is one of my first lenses and designed for half format, but it enables me to take nice wide-angle shots. I bring a 70-200mm/2.8 if I’m not slowing the team down, or I’m confident that I can keep up with my friends despite the additional 1.8kg!
“Spot my friend climbing the Watzmann! He was so courageous, hurting his arm badly and not saying a word so we could keep climbing. Brave but also a bit stupid. He’s fine now!”
What else is in your hiking camera bag?
Good waterproof camera protection is important. I enjoy the outdoors most when it’s not perfect sunshine! I have an Ortlieb Aquazoom camera bag that I strap to my chest so I can access the camera really quickly. It’s lightweight, waterproof and padded.
Spare batteries are another must, depending on how much time I’m spending on a trip. For day trips I only bring one. For longer trips I bring up to five. I use a 128GB SD card so I don’t run into memory troubles and for longer trips I take 3 additional cards in various sizes. I also remember to bring a LensPen lens cleaner and a Joby GorillaPod – a small, versatile tripod for shooting at night or remote controlled.
“The way down” – Dolomites, Italy
That’s quite the shopping list! How did you first get into photography?
I swam competitively as a child and have needed some kind of sport in my life at all times ever since – otherwise I get grumpy! I moved to Munich eight years ago and got into rock climbing and bouldering – then slowly more and more into hiking, ski touring and mountaineering.
When heading into the Alps for the first time, I had the urge to document what I was experiencing with my friends and to capture those rare, short-lived moments. Landscape and nature photography with my friends is one of the biggest passions I have – right after my search for outdoor adventures, long and remote trekking trips, mountaineering and rock climbing!
How would you describe your photography style today then?
I want to go outside, experience something and feel a certain way. I don’t go out with the goal of taking a good picture. For me, it’s about being in beautiful places with open eyes, really looking at everything that’s around me. My camera makes me look at everything properly.
I try to be authentic and not fake anything. I simply document what my friends and I do by taking beautiful landscapes and including a person in the frame. That’s why it is important to have quick access to my camera. I really like trying to get shots of my friends without them noticing. But sometimes I see an angle or perspective that would pass too fast and I ask them to hold still for a short moment.
“An easy hiking trip in the Passeier Tal, looking in the direction of Meran.”
Do you have any hacks or tips that help you achieve this?
Be fast and capture those short moments! I use rule of thirds from time to time – but I also like it if the person I’m shooting is in the middle of the photo. When I shoot at night I never use a shutter speed longer than 20 seconds. In bad weather I use a really fast shutter speed so I can capture snowflakes or raindrops without blur!
“This is the view over the Waxenstein, with Garmisch in the background, while climbing the Jubiläumsgrat. I love the mystic atmosphere – it’s exactly how it felt knowing the sun was setting and there were four hours of climbing ahead.”
How do you hone this style when you edit?
I’m a big fan of a small depth of field. It creates a mystic feeling, leaving room for the imagination. Many of my shots are taken with f1.2 – but not all of them! I edit my photos with Lightroom.
I take images with a darker feeling to really create a mood – that’s why I often take pictures without the blue sky or sun. I look for real colors and I don’t alter the saturation. I’m getting more and more into strong colors though, which I try to strengthen with the gradation curve. You can really see that by comparing older pictures with the newer ones!
“I really enjoy being in the mountains during this kind of weather. There are fewer people and everything looks wild and mystic.”
Super tips! What’s been your inspiration?
My grandad was a globetrotter 30-40 years ago, visiting countries that few people went to before the influence of modern tourism. I always admired that. I could tell you so many stories about photography adventures he took my brother and I on! He was a geography teacher, biologist and taught analog photography at school. He’s still famous for his nature protection efforts and for writing books about local plants and animals in his local area. I observed a lot of things from him and he left us a room filled with photos on analog slides.
“It was so thrilling and fascinating to climb the 5800m Amphu Laptsa pass in Nepal. Sherpas used to climb it in sneakers wrapped in ropes to avoiding slipping on the ice, carrying loads of 50kg or more! There are so many tragic stories about that place.”
Okay, one last question. Tell us about your most recent trip!
I was hiking and mountaineering in Nepal – both in the Everest region and more remote locations. We were able to reach two of the three goals we set ourselves. We managed to summit Merapeak at 6500m and crossed Amphu Laptsa pass at 5800m. We also tried to summit Kyajo Ri at 6300m but were shut down by bad weather. We did all that on our own, without guides or porters as is usual there.
“The Hunku Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Nepal. I was astonished and couldn’t get enough.”
“-18°C and we had the glorious idea to climb the Watzmann, a famous mountain in the Eastern Alps.”
“Clear sky, the Milky Way and thunder and lightning in the distance. My friend asked why I spent over an hour outside the tent at 5300m altitude, -15°C at 3am…”
“Fabian and I hiked up the Mihkájiegna glacier and climbed the Sarektjåhkkå, one of the highest mountains in Sweden. This photo is from our way down on the summit ridge.”
“Our most exhausting adventure: Hiking the Zugspitze and climbing the famous Jubiläumsgrat in Winter. The snow slowed us down so much, taking 16.5 hours to get to our bivouac, four of which were on a steep ridge in complete darkness. This was one of the few relaxing spots after 11 hours on the go.”
“Winter was so warm in the Alps this year!”
Thanks for the tips and insights Florian! Follow Florian on EyeEm to stay up-to-date with his travels and see how his adventure photography journey has progressed. Oh, and say hi while you’re there!
All photos by @floriko.
This article was first published on EyeEm Blog and is reposted here with permission.