The days are getting shorter and the sun dips a little closer to the horizon every day. Winter is coming. But that doesn't mean that you should shelve your camera gear until spring. Far from it! Winter is a great time to get outdoors and have some creative fun with the camera.
But winter photography isn't a summertime stroll in the park. You'll need to come prepared to capture these majestic landscapes, and you'll want to keep your creative senses open for new ideas. The stark contrasts and dramatic bleakness of winter may surprise you in ways you hadn't considered. So grab some hot cocoa, because here are some winter photography ideas to get you started.
Winter Photography Tips
Prepare for the Cold
It gets pretty darn cold in the middle of winter. If you're out chasing snowy landscapes, don't be caught off guard by just how cold it actually is. Dress for the weather and plan ahead. Wearing lots of layers is an excellent technique since you can adjust your outfit to keep comfortable. If you're out shooting in storms with high winds, be prepared for bitter cold wind chill factors. Look into winter coats, hats, and scarfs that will protect your face and protect all of your skin by not leaving anything exposed.
Gloves are something you'll want to pay particular attention too. You don't want to be taking your gloves on and off to adjust camera settings. Many winter hand coverings now have touchscreen-compatible fingertips to help you use phones and cameras. You'll want something that not only has that option but also has enough flexibility in its grip to allow you to hold your camera and change all of the settings.
Visit your local skiing or hiking outfitter to shop for a day in the field properly. Look for high-tech garments meant for staying outside during any weather. Remember to pay particular attention to frostbite prevention. Cover all of your skin and leave nothing exposed! Your metal camera and lens are likely to be even colder. Be careful to keep your nose off of it when using the viewfinder.
Another thing to think about is how to get yourself warm if you do get chilled. Everyone needs a little break once in a while. Handwarmers are chemically activated heaters that you can keep in your pockets or gloves to warm up those numb fingers. Have a nice big thermos of hot coffee or tea ready and waiting for when you get done shooting. All of this is to keep you comfortable because if you are uncomfortable and miserable, it will likely show in the photos. You want to take your time and make beautiful pictures, not be on a mission to rush back inside.
Watch Your Step
Something that needs consideration in winter landscape photography is every step you take. If you're hiking around looking for virgin snow-dusted landscapes, hopefully, you haven't already traipsed your footprints all over it. Keep views pristine by planing your shots in advance and avoiding missteps. Move slowly and carefully, and pay attention to all angles when you get to a new location. There's nothing worse than realizing that looking back at the way you came is the best shot, only now it's covered in your messy footprints! And get to parks and crowded areas early after the snow falls to ensure that no one else has messed up your shot! We had put together 25 simple photography tips that will help you become better at your craft and take those stunning pictures that you always wanted.
Cold Weather Battery Ops
Batteries drain faster the colder that it is. Some manufacturers publish specifications for their batteries so that you can have some idea. Regardless, it's a good idea to have all of your batteries topped off. Always carry some charged spares, just in case. When it's really cold, the batteries will self-discharge quickly, even outside of the camera. Be sure to check them all after every shoot.
You might not even be able to charge your batteries in the cold weather. If you use a portable charger, make sure the batteries will take a charge at low temperatures before relying on it. Check with the camera manufacturer for charging specifications.
The Enemy is Moisture
Moisture wreaks havoc on your sensitive electronics, and winter can get the best of your equipment in some surprising ways. If you're out in the snow, you should do everything you can to keep the camera dry. Use a good quality weather-proof camera bag for all of your gear. When shooting during snowstorms, a plastic wrap or a towel around the camera body isn't a bad idea. Powdery snow dusts off, but wet snow will melt quickly.
Always avoid changing lenses while outside in the elements. Also, be very careful not to breathe on the camera, since your breath will likely fog up the metal and glass.
Another problem arises when you are done outside and ready to warm up. If you bring your camera in, it's likely to collect condensation. The camera's metal and plastic bits are going to retain that cold. This is the worst kind of moisture since it permeates every opening.
To prevent it, try putting your camera in a plastic bag. It needs to be airtight and sealed well. Put the camera and lens in the bag, squeeze out all of the air, and seal it tightly. Then bring your camera inside. The condensation will form on the bag, but since the warm air can't get directly on the camera, your equipment should be safe.
It's also worth remembering that if anything gets wet, then it will freeze. If you leave a damp camera bag or tripod in the car overnight, it will likely be frozen solid the next morning. Tripods are especially touchy since expanding ice can break the plastic fittings and locking collars on them. Dry off your gear before storing it.
Cold Weather Photography Technique
Bright white and snow-covered landscapes are beautiful, but they trick your camera's automatic settings easily. These contrast-less backdrops nearly always cause some form of problem, ranging from focusing issues to white balance or exposure settings. To grab the shot you're looking for, you've got to be the master of your camera's manual settings.
The most likely problem is that the camera is going to tend to underexpose snow images. With so much bright white in the field of view, the evaluative or matrix metering setting probably won't be able to make heads or tails out of the scene. Instead, try using the center-weighted metering mode and the exposure lock button to grab the perfect exposure for the most crucial part of the photo.
Digital cameras have multiple tools to help us get just the right exposure. Spend some time with the owner's manual and see what tricks your camera has up its sleeve. Look for highlight peeking. In this mode, blown highlights flash in the LCD preview to let you know that things are overexposed.
The other invaluable tool for harsh exposure conditions is the histogram. The histogram is a bar chart of the lighting in the photograph. Instead of relying on just looking at the image, the camera can tell you how the light is distributed in the photo you just shot. In one glance, you can pinpoint precisely the exposure you want and take corrective action.
Winter landscape photography can also throw off your white balance settings. For best results, take a few test shots and see how the camera does. Try using programmed presets, like sunny day or cloudy day, instead of automatic white balance (AWB). If you still aren't having any luck, you can use a white calibration card to capture the correct color temperature on the spot.
As you can tell, winter shooting can be a bit tricky. External light meters can be beneficial, and if you have one already, you should use it for those harshly-lit winter days.
Finally, always remember to shoot in RAW mode. RAW mode captures the absolute most information into the digital file, allowing you to make minute changes later in post-production. The great thing about using RAW images in your workflow is that they enable you to fine-tune your exposure and even white balance settings after the fact.
Experiment with Filters
Many filters can improve your wintertime photography, but probably none will have so significant an impact as a circular polarizer. The polarizer limits certain light waves from entering the camera but allows you to select the ones you like by rotating the filter. For summer days on tropical islands, polarizers are great for removing the glare off of the surface of the water. In the winter, you can do the same to eliminate glare off of snowy landscapes.
The other thing that circular polarizers are exceptional at doing is making the sky pop. By removing contrary light waves, you can make the sky a deep blue color. It makes fluffy cumulus clouds sparkle and adds a lively pop of color to your wintery scenes. Alternatively, you can twist the polarizer a few degrees and wash out that color, making the sky moody and dramatic to fit your composition.
The Perfect Exposure Might Not Be Perfect
When focusing on snow, remember that the camera will tend to underexpose the scene. But better results might come from overexposing it just a bit. This will make the snow look bright and clean. It also aids in adding contrast to the composition and making it look more dramatic.
Another trick when setting up your camera is to look for cool color temperatures. Warm white will appear yellowish, while cool ones look blue. The blue tone adds a note of coldness to the photograph, which promotes the right emotional response in the viewer.
A Few Winter Photography Ideas
Look for Contrasts and Color
Winter photography backdrops are all about contrasts. Snowy landscapes are mostly monochrome and lifeless. Look for contrasts and humor, and things that jump out of the snow and demand attention. Look for wildlife that catches the eye, or for other things moving and changing to add something dynamic into the image.
Look for bright colors in the environment. Cardinals are usually year-round residents, and their showy red feathers stand out in start contrast to the black-and-white boredom of winter days. Brightly colored buildings or blooming flowers can add the same effect. Wherever you're shooting, look for these bursts of color and drama. Here are a few landscape photography tips that will help you make the most of your next photo expedition.
Of course, not every photograph is going to have a flashy centerpiece. Perhaps the mood of your landscape is the utter bleakness and death of winter. So take another route and embrace the bleakness. Use minimalism in your compositions to highlight one thing that speaks to the whole scene. Ruins or abandoned buildings are excellent subjects for this type of composition.
The contrasts in light and dark that you can get in winter landscapes makes a great time to practice your black and white photography skills. Care must be taken to balance the two in a meaningful way for the composition. All too often, winter snapshots seem hollow and lack depth. Try to master your exposure and composition well enough that you have a true balance. Talking of compositions, here are 12 Amazing Tips and techniques to create visually interesting compositions.
Don't discount lousy weather days. Fog, mist, or even snowstorms can add a living element to otherwise dull scenes. Experiment with exposure and focusing in these conditions. You might have to use bracketing to get just the shot you're after.
Winter portrait sessions are another great idea. You can achieve some unique looks by doing outdoor portraits when you'd least expect it, in the depths of winter. Low light angles and lots of light diffusion makes winter portraits easy.
The session can take any form you like, from regular photo sessions to fantasy cosplay sessions. Dreary winter days seem to make great backdrops for the unusual and unexpected. Here are a few tips to master the art of portrait photography.
Shoot Any Time of Day or Night
With the sun low on the horizon, the golden hour tends to last a little bit longer than it does during the summer months. Take advantage of it and spend some time shooting sunsets and sunrises. You might want to read more on Golden hour for photography.
There's another advantage to those short winter days, and that's the long winter nights. Use it as an opportunity to shoot some astrophotography. As a bonus, the cold air holds less moisture and increases the stars' visibility. It's the perfect time of year for star trails, star-lit landscapes, and shots of the Northern Lights.
If you live in an area that has especially harsh winters, getting out of the house and going on a photo expedition might sound like a lot of effort. But the images will make the effort worthwhile. Winter provides so many fresh opportunities to explore themes and styles of photography that are often overlooked.
Your winter photography backdrops might include wild landscapes or city streets with bundled-up commuters. Either way, winter is a great time to be outside with a camera.
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