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by garik

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I'm trying to take some pictures of a pair of mountains to my south. The distance is about 20 miles away. I'm running into the following problems, and I'm wondering what you guys might suggest to get around some or all of them.

  • If I try to photograph at sunrise/sunset, the mountains are much darker than the sky, and have little contrast within themselves.
  • If I tried a few hours after sunrise, the mountains appear blue, due to the distance and atmosphere.
  • At noon, usually there is no contrast to speak of, not to mention the fact that mountains appear even bluer.
  • I can go closer, but the road isn't quite a straight way, and the mountains just look different from that different perspective.

Here's the best picture from my site I've captured of the mountains so far, but they have snow right now on top of them and I'd really like to get something a bit better.

Mt. Wrightson

Any tips? Thanks guys!

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3  
Man, you're lucky to have that view from your place! In the middle of the urban area we live in, the only view I have is the next houses or at best some tall trees in the yard and the street that really block everything except the sky. –  ysap Jan 7 '11 at 15:44
    
I'm with ysap on this... Nice view, I get to look at a farm. –  John Cavan Jan 7 '11 at 15:48
    
It comes from living on the fringe of a large city. This picture was taken maybe half a mile from my house, easy walking distance, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Jan 7 '11 at 19:18

9 Answers 9

up vote 19 down vote accepted

If you're not using a polarizer, try that first - it will often help to cut through some of the haze.

Heres a link with an example close to what you want even: http://www.dslrtips.com/workshops/How_to_use_polarizing_filters/reduce_haze_deep_blue_sky.shtml

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5  
Be careful with polarizes and wide angle lenses. They can leave some gradient in your sky depending on your angle to the sun –  haraldini Jan 7 '11 at 17:41

Despite the wide use of wide angle lenses (sorry no pun intended) for landscape photography, they are not the only viable solution for landscape photography. I highly recommend trying out a telephoto lens for landscape shots like this. With a wide angle, you bring in everything, both foreground, bright sky, and everything inbetween. A lot of times, these extra elements are just undesirable and add clutter and noise that detracts from the overall image you are trying to create.

With a telephoto lens, you can reach past the foreground, and under the sky, and capture the key parts of the landscape. You have more power to bring out finer details, nuances of shadow and light, in just the mountains. You will have the ability to reduce the amount of sky in the shot, which can help you resolve those high contrast differential problems. If you still want to capture the full breadth of the mountain range, you can take a panoramic set with a telephoto, and stitch them together after the fact.

A telephoto lens with a lens hood can also improve contrast a bit in the face of haze. Part of the problem with haze is the contrast-reducing effect it has is due to the dispersal of light. A wide angle lens will pick up light from a high number of angles, enhancing the effect of haze. A telephoto lens will only capture light that comes more or less strait into the lens. Combined with a lens hood, a telephoto lens should help you cut through some of that off-axis dispersed light and capture a bit clearer shot. (This effect is not huge, but sometimes it can help produce a clearer shot.)

If you still have issues with contrast, a Graduated ND (neutral density) filter or set of GND filters can be used to reduce the brightness of the sky, and lowering the dynamic range of the scene. Combine some GND filters with a telephoto lens, and you should be able to capture some great shots of that mountain, despite its distance.

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3  
I'm sorry I don't understand how a telephoto lens can "reach through" haze. Yes a wide angle lens will pick up light from a high number of angles, but a portion of the centre of the image will receive light from the same number of angles as a telephoto lens that frames only this portion! –  Matt Grum Jan 7 '11 at 19:07
    
As an alternative to shooting tele and losing some of the greatness of the mountain chain, you can try cropping your image to extract most of the vegetation and some of the skies, and give it a more panoramic feel. (I went on and tried that out, but had to open a new answer to attach the picture) –  ysap Jan 7 '11 at 20:01
    
@Matt: In my experience, telephoto lens hoods are much deeper, and usually circular rather than petal shaped. I've taken plenty of landscape shots with both wide angle and telephoto lenses, and the telephotos, when they have their hood attached, don't encounter as much of a problem with haze. Without a lens hood, its about the same, since as you said the lens will still pick up light coming from all angles. With a wide angle, even with a hood, you are going to pick up light from a very broad range regardless. With a telephoto+hood, you pick up light from mostly directly front. –  jrista Jan 7 '11 at 21:25
    
Perhaps saying it "reaches through" haze is not the best term to describe it. The point is that you don't encounter as much contrast-reducing random light rays entering your lens when photographing with a telephoto lens with its hood, than you do with a wide angle lens (with or without a hood). You will still see haze that is directly in front of you, but the overall scene contrast will not be reduced as much by as many randomly dispersed light from off-angles. –  jrista Jan 7 '11 at 21:27
1  
@Matt, that's true, but reducing lens flare may bring the total contrast to something that's acceptable. –  Reid Jan 7 '11 at 23:36

Here's my very quick try of what I described in a comment to @jrista's answer:

alt text

Again, just a quick and dirty attempt. You should do it with more attention.

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Yeah, bu that makes it into a pano shot. Still, I've done shots like this, so... –  PearsonArtPhoto Jan 9 '11 at 15:55

In addition to using a polarizer, and maybe photoshopping your image I would recommend waiting for the right weather. Haze is often minimized after a storm or strong wind has cleared airborne particles. Look for high pressure immediately following a front. If the high sets in for too long haze builds up due to lack of wind.

See also this question:

How to maximise contrast range of distant landscapes with blue haze?

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In that situation I would expect wind to increase the number of airborne particles, not decrease it. Right after heavy rain or between rain showers when not windy would probably be best. –  wallyk Jan 7 '11 at 23:18
    
In very dry conditions strong winds will stir up dust from the ground, but in general haze is the result of smaller particles, higher up, as well as tiny droplets of water, and man made pollution. These build up when you have high pressure and it takes wind to disperse them. The dispersion effect is usually stronger than the addition of any particles from the ground. –  Matt Grum Jan 8 '11 at 1:19

You might want to consider a yellow or warming filter on the lens, and as mentioned elsewhere, take the picture into black and white if you can't control the colors. Ansel Adams worked a lot in this kind of environment (in black and white) and he actually used red filters at times to block out the blue haze.

Another tip from Mr. Adams (not having anything to do with the haze) would be to elevate the camera when taking landscape shots like this. Just don't endanger yourself!

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Given a couple of your problems are with color you could try removing that problem from the equation and see how it looks in B&W or IR. The foliage in the foreground could look good in IR and either way with some dodging and burning you could get some great contrast in the foreground, mountain and sky.

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I would also consider enhancing the composition. Maybe use a longer focal length to compress the perspective.

If you want to stick with the wider angle maybe try to make the foreground more interesting. The bushes in the foreground are currently very repetitive and take away the attention from the mountains.

Maybe try to find something that frames the composition. A branch of a bush from a lower perspective or shoot through a window or doorframe, just try to use different perspectives.

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You can get good results reducing haze by playing with the unsharp mask filter in the image editing software of your choice (Photoshop, GIMP, etc). Try using a small amount with a large radius. You may want to use a selection to apply this only to the sky area if you find that it affects the foreground in a way you do not like.

It's not a magic bullet but it can help when used in conjunction with other techniques.

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The contrast issue can be solved either with a gradual ND filter which will darken only the sky, or by simply using layer masks in postprocessing to apply different tone curves to foreground, background and the sky. You can even join multiple exposures if camera's dynamic range is not enough.

If you don't do this too much carefully, you might end up with something like this:
edited

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