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Turn down the volume

Image of the December 2019 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
December 2019 Issue

Learn how to balance scenes full of busy texture.

Mountain landscapes are often a jumble of what photographers call ‘micro contrast’: tussock, scree, trees and rock create a visually distracting environment full of small detail high in contrast. Your subject can easily get lost in this visual noise, but these five tools will help you create little oases of calm in otherwise busy environments.

Lakes, tarns and other bodies of water can help cut back clutter with their
uniform surfaces. Calm lakes in particular come with another benefit: they reflect colours and shapes in the sky, helping to balance the composition of your image.

Just like water, snow offers a uniform surface that can help to reduce visually distracting clutter in other parts of your image. Move your camera closer to the ground if you want to avoid a complete absence of texture.

Topsy Turvy
Landscape photos usually feature more ground than sky. Turning this ratio around will put more emphasis on skies, thus taking attention away from a busy mountain environment. Two-thirds sky with only one-third ground should do the trick.

When calming textures are not available at all, try to shift some emphasis to your tramping partner by focussing on subject isolation. Getting your
subject to wear complementary colours in front of a background can go a long way towards making them pop out from the background. Different coloured layers are just a quick clothes change away.

The same applies to differences in contrast. A bright subject in front of a shady background stands out, as does a dark silhouette in front of bright clouds.

The Breakdown
A combination of bright yellow and green tussock in the harsh late-morning sun completely overpowered this image (above) before I made some adjustments. By changing my position to incorporate a larger section of a tarn, I achieved several goals. The flat surface of the lake helped to significantly reduce the amount of micro contrast in the image. It also offered a backdrop that allowed my subject to stand out, while adding further balance to the image by mirroring the blue hues of the sky to the bottom of the frame. As an added bonus, it also shows cloud details that would otherwise have been lost.

Featured image details
Camera: Fujifilm X-T2
Lens: Fujifilm XF10-24
Settings: 16mm, ISO200, f6.4, 1/200s

– Dennis is a commercial photographer and teaches photography at