Lake Louise, Canadian Rockies

How to Get Alpenglow on your Mountain Photos

I know that if you’ve read the title, you’re already judging my merits as a travel writer.  I think, if you see the video, you might start to worry about my merits as a travel photographer as well.  But, it’s all good.  What I’ve learned over the years is that mistakes are good.  Well, they’re not great, but they’re OK.  

Mistakes, if we take them as a learning opportunity, will teach us to make the necessary changes in the future.  The mistake I made when I went out to film this video and article on how to get photos of glowing mountains was that I didn’t do enough location scouting research.  I should have realized that there would be minimal glow on the Three Sisters mountain when I planned to shoot them.  If I had done that, I’d have realized that to get that glowing light, I needed to be there at sunrise.

Oh well, it happens, I guess.  It doesn’t change the fact that I can use this image, and other examples from the Canadian Rockies this fall, to show you a little bit about how I make those mountains glow in photos.  Check it out.


Do your Research

Likely the only mistake I made in shooting this was not researching my location well enough.  I knew I wanted to shoot the Three Sisters in Canmore.  I also knew that I wanted to hike into Policeman’s Creek to shoot the image.  What I didn’t think about was the angle of the light.  For some reason, in my head, I thought the light would glow on the mountains more directly than it did.  Of course, had I opened up I would have seen that the light was best at sunrise. So, obviously, you want to know your location and also the best time to shoot that subject.

The Three Sisters, Canadian Rockies
The Three Sisters in Canmore

Take Pictures at Sunset or Sunrise

To get the glowing mountains, you need to be shooting at sunset or sunrise.  The entire glow is the product of the sun setting and casting a shadow on the world below leaving only the peaks of the mountains in the light.  And, since it’s essentially just a thin bit of soft light coming over the horizon at your mountain peak, you’re also going to get really nice colour in the mountains.  Usually, these shots take place the exact moment the sun starts to peak over the horizon at sunrise, or the last moment before it disappears at sunset.

Lake Louise, Canadian Rockies
Lake Louise

Use a Graduated ND Filter

The biggest challenge when shooting landscape photography in general is getting the exposure right.  Graduated ND filters will help you fix that problem.  Basically, the graduated ND filter will allow you to darken the sky and the peaks of the mountain which still have significant amounts of sunlight on them, well still allowing for a proper exposure on the foreground.  If you don’t use a filter like this, there’s a good chance you’ll either get a blown out sky and overexposed mountains, or you’ll get a really dark foreground.  Using the right filters for the job is essential for landscape photography.  At some point, I’ll have a guide for using filters properly.

Graduated ND Filter Example
Using a Graduated ND Filter

You Don’t Need to Over Photoshop

If you do everything right in the camera, you don’t need to over photoshop.  Sure, you might want to go in and bring out some of the shadows, soften the highlights, add some contrast and vibrancy.  However, if you shoot the image properly, a good landscape photo pretty much edits itself.  If you over-edit, I feel like the image starts to look fake rather than stunning.

Moraine Lake, Canadian Rockies
Moraine Lake at Surise

What’s Next?

I’m off to Jasper National Park for the Dark Skies event which should give me some opportunities to do some star photography as long as the weather is clear enough.  So, I’m hoping to have an on location video from Jasper and maybe a tutorial as well.  There’s also some gear reviews coming as I have a new camera body and lens coming in the mail.  Stay tuned.