landscape photography

Breaking my own photography rules pays off with this Montana photograph

I arrived at the lake. Calm morning, no wind, perfect reflection, great light, nice color, no people, just what makes my office so desirable! But wait. The clouds. The clouds were covering the peak of Sinopah Mountain. Oh shit, now what? I was ready to pack it in and go home. I'm one for breaking photography rules. I do it all the time just to keep my senses about me, and to evaluate whether my own rules still apply. Most of the time, I've set my own rules because I need to be efficient, focused, and I can not afford to waist time shooting photographs that I know I can not sell. My rule, "you can't sell a photograph of a mountain with no peak."  In this case, that rule that I've learned over and over again, just went out the door - sort of.

This Montana photograph of Sinopah Mountain, in the Two Medicine Valley of Glacier National Park captured in 2012 show's me how wrong my rule was and supports my belief in breaking my own rules from time to time. Up until this photograph appeared on the fall 2014 cover of,  "Montana Quarterly" magazine (you should subscribe to this magazine if you have any interest in Montana), I had always said to myself, and the people who hire me to teach them outdoor and landscape photography, "you MUST have the peak of the mountain in the photograph."

Well, as it turned out, Scott McMillion, the owner and editor of Montana Quarterly Magazine thought the image worked well enough to put it on the cover of his magazine - thank you Scott McMillion! I have photographed mountains for many years. All sorts of mountains in just about every lighting situation you can imagine. I've photographed mountains all across the country and over the years I've learned  - or so I thought - that I'll never sell a photograph of a mountain with no peak.

Sinopah Mountain, Pray Lake, Glacier National Park

Mountain peaks are really what distinguish one particular mountain over another.  I've waited for hours for clouds to clear from peaks before photographing them, even when the light was good it just seemed to me, that  a mountain without a peak is like a human without a head. If you look closely at mountains, you'll find that they are almost like snow flakes, no two of them are exactly the same. So, it was my thought that in order to present a mountain, the peak, the most distinguishing feature of a mountain must be in the image, even if most of the rest of it is not. Moreover, I've look at thousands of my own mountain photographs, and felt that in almost every case where the peak was absent, the photograph did not work. I still feel that way - sort of.

sinopah mountain sunrise two medicine lake glacier national park, montana (Tony Bynum)

This photograph of Sinopah Mountain reflecting in Pray Lake, in Glacier National Park, is a perfect example of how a photograph of a mountain, without a peak can work. Do you know why it works?

What are your thoughts? Do you have examples of photographs of mountains where you've either cropped the peak, or it was there but not visible? Or maybe you've seen other photographs of mountains with no peak that you think work? What do you think? Does this photograph of Sinopah Mountain, in Glacier National Park work? Scott thought so, and I agree with him.

Tony Bynum

Montana Based Photographer

Nature Photographs - 10 musts for consistently good Nature Photographs

If you want to consistently capture great nature photographs, the following rules apply. . .

  1. Great Nature Photographs come from getting up early and/or staying late - not even Photoshop can make this rule go away.
  2. You must use good technique and quality lenses.
  3. Great Nature Photographs mean you can't be afraid of or dislike bugs.
  4. You must be willing to travel, and sometimes all night.
  5. You must be able to adjust to changing environmental conditions.
  6. Great Nature Photographs require that you sleep less.
  7. You must sometimes come home with an experience, a sore body and tired legs.
  8. You must be able to be disappointed - a lot!
  9. You must do some things that no one else will.
  10. Most of all, great nature photographs come when you are in the moment and having fun!

Do you have any "must's" to add for great nature photographs?

Sincerely, Tony Bynum

It's not the photograph I went looking for, it's better!

I always try to have a plan for my photography adventures. Part of my plan is to always have a backup plan because when you're dealing with mother nature, you never know what she's going to hand you from one day to the next. Sunday morning my plan was to search for some unique landscape photos that included animals, I call them "room to roam" photographs. Essentially they are landscape photographs with small animals or at least the focus is on the animal in it's natural habitat. Room to roam photographs are my favorite of all to shoot, but they are also the most difficult to do well. In any event, I knew I was not going to get anything good because I physically could not get to where I wanted to be. So, here's where the backup plan comes into play.  Plan "B", always answers the question, "what to do if plan A does not work."  For me plan "B" means watching the light. No matter what, light is THE most important element of nature and outdoor photography - bar none! I'll have the debate with anyone, anywhere, at any time . . .

So, as plan "A" began to deteriorate, I made a decision to go to plan "B". Plan "B" was to get someplace - really anyplace - where I would have a chance at seeing the morning light reflecting off the mountains and clouds  no matter if there was an animal available or not - the goal was to just to get to a place where I can shoot the reflecting light off the mountains for 5 minutes. . .

Here's the results . . .

rocky mountain front

Having a plan "B" once again saves the day!  I'm starting to wonder if plan "B" should become my new plan "A?" Hmm, give that some thought!

Sincerely, Tony Bynum

Please find me @tonybynum and on facebook at Tony Bynum Photography.

Right now I'm going to give a print to the 2000th twitter follower!  Take a screen shot showing me you're #2000 and email it or repost to twitter, and you'll win!