Behind the lens, winter is beautiful, dramatic, and eye-catching. Whether you are new to the photography scene or are already experienced behind the camera, winter is a unique time of the year for photography and to learn new skills. If you are prepared and know some do’s and don’t’s you will end up with some wonderful photos. So, head out and take the time to play with your camera settings, experiment with your composition, and your techniques. Just be sure to stay warm, keep your gear protected, and master the art of taking correctly exposed photographs. To help you, here are some tips to ensure you end up with photos that you are looking for.
Start by preparing yourself
You may think this has nothing to do with photography, but if you are cold or not prepared you are more likely to rush things so you can head back inside to the warmth. So make sure you wear proper clothing that is designed for cold weather. Layering is essential, with a thermal base layer to start and water and windproof outer layer to finish. In-between, wear a fleece. Snow pants are advisable if you plan on exploring in snowy conditions. As for accessories, a hat is a must—it is best if it covers your ears—and a neck scarf or face mask is also recommended. Waterproof footwear is essential as well as warm, quality socks.
Now about the gloves. It is vital to invest in a good pair that allows you to use the buttons, dials, and filters on your camera. Pick a pair that suits the conditions: fingerless gloves are suitable for mild temperatures; wool-lined and magnetic finger capped gloves for cold temperatures. This is really important as your hands will need to hold the camera and so will be exposed all the time.
Be aware of your skin against the cold metal of your equipment. You don’t want your hands, cheek, or nose freezing to the camera. If you are going to be carrying a tripod, it’s a good idea to fix some foam around one of the legs to make it easier to carry in cold weather. Some tripods already have this, but if yours doesn’t add one yourself.
Be sure to pack a couple of personal items like snacks and a drink and a cellphone which is fully charged (make sure you keep it close to your body in an inner jacket pocket). Always take a mini first aid kit with you as well and if you are venturing into the wilderness an emergency firestarter and some water. It’s also worth packing some chemical heat packs for when your fingers or toes are cold and not warming up, they last for hours.
Prepare your equipment
In extremely cold conditions you may have to wrap your camera in something warm like a scarf to avoid it freezing. Also, keep in mind that if you are going inside after being outdoors your lens might steam up. So you would need to allow 20-30 mins for the camera to acclimatize.
If it is snowing or raining you need to ensure you keep your camera dry. You can either use a home-made cover using a plastic bag (see image below) or you can invest in a proper rain cover.
One big thing to be aware of is that you need to take spare batteries with you as cold weather drains batteries much quicker. Even when not in use, they lose their charge. Make sure you keep your batteries close to somewhere warm like inside an inner pocket in your coat.
Let’s get technical
If you are using a tripod switch over to manual mode and focus to ensure you have maximum control over the settings and focus. If not then select either shutter priority or aperture priority depending on what you are shooting. For example, if you are photographing an action shot of a snowboarder then shutter priority will be better. But a landscape shot would be more suited to aperture priority. The actual settings you select will depend on the specific scenario you are photographing. But the one thing that you should always aim for is a low ISO. The lower the better.
Avoid grey snow
Have you ever looked at a photo you have taken of snow and wondered why it seemed underexposed even though your exposure setting was correct? Well, if you are using auto white balance, winter scenes can confuse your camera because of all that white. So to avoid your shots looking dark and your snow appearing grey, you need to use exposure compensation to overexpose your shot. This will allow you to take photos of snow which looks pure white rather than grey.
Think of snow as a canvas
Snow itself can be pretty boring to look at. So to avoid your photos looking dull find a point of interest to add to the shot. One of the great things about snow is that anything which is dark or colourful will pop against the white background. So look out for buildings, people or even wildlife that can bring the snowy scene to life.
Timing is everything
A scene with a beautiful blanket of white snow can look stunning. But after a few thousand people have walked across it, it doesn’t have the same impact. This is especially important in cities where dirt and pollution will make the snow look dirty. So try to time your shoot to be immediately after a snowfall in cities. That way you can capture a beautiful winter scene before it has been spoilt. Even in the wilderness pay attention to where you are walking. The last thing that you would want is some of your unwanted footprints in the shot.
Winter is a wonderful time for photography outdoors. The cold and crisp air maximises visibility and makes conditions fantastic for landscape photography. There’s also the added benefit that days are shorter and so you won’t need to get up as early to capture sunrise shots or stay too late for sunset shots. But photographs in winter can sometimes be very tough to capture. Use the tips above to help you capture magical winter photos.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.