Saturate before using 

Colors pop with a special op

If you're the type of person who finds yourself atop 9,000-foot peaks with a camera—on bluebird days, with colorful friends cresting a nearby glacier and, say, a wildfire billowing behind them—you've probably tried to capture the vividness on camera.

As you should. Anyone who's slogged into a calendar-grade location deserves to return with calendar-grade images: photos with rich, saturated, but still realistic colors. So before you find yourself balancing atop some exposed ridge, consider a few of these techniques to draw the deepest colors from a scene.

First, note the position of your light source—outdoors, that'd be the sun. You'll get the highest color saturation by composing shots with the sun to your back or side. Shooting into the sun can wash out colors and cause your camera to over-compensate, dulling the entire palette, and especially the blue sky.

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER

Further boost your colors by adjusting levels in the camera. Most cameras today offer customization options that include saturation, so scroll through your menu and boost saturation by +1, +2 or +3, depending on your preference. Remember, saturation is like sugar—more is only better to a point. Experiment to find the sweet spot.

Your options are more limited if you don't notice your image's blandness until you're seated at the computer back home. Still, futzing with the color profile post-production can be very effective, and even the most basic photo management programs offer intuitive options that easily increase saturation or correct a color balance (often called "auto levels" or "auto correct"). These digital tweaks will help bring back the colors in a washed-out image, even in the hands of a novice.

Bummed that your pics still aren't rich? Then throw down for a polarizing filter before you set out on your adventure. Polarizing filters eliminate the stray light that de-saturates images, although they're not without shortcomings—for example, they don't work well in low light.

There's no one formula to make every color pop, and challenging mountain environments can make even simple techniques nearly impossible (just try screwing on a polarizer in the middle of a horizontal rainstorm). But keep these options in mind and you'll come home with photos as vibrant as your memories.

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