Mastering Winter Photography | Digital Photography Tutorial
Mastering the art of winter photography. Photography Tips and Tricks to make the most of the cold season.
While it is currently autumn (fall) here in the UK, there is an ever present threat of wintery showers (i.e. snow) lurking in the ever colder days. The chance of snow fall is a great opportunity for photographers to make the most of virgin snowfall to make and take great seasonal (even festive) pictures.
Photographing a winter scene will bring new challenges to even the most seasoned of photographers, with conditions that sometimes make you wish you’d stayed in bed.
Here is a list of tips to make the most of photographing that sudden cold snap that brings a blanket covering of snow.
1. Preparing for Snow Photography
The first point is to make sure you are prepared. The best time to photograph a winter scene is when the snowfall is fresh. This means getting out early before the snow is disturbed and before any early morning sun burns through the haze and starts to melt the snow.
This means being prepared the night before, having your camera and tripod packed ready to go with a full battery charge. Its also worth making sure that you have warm clothes ready to put on – standing around in the cold is no fun, especially if you are waiting for that perfect moment when the sun comes up just enough to reflect some light over the snow.
Ideally if you are travelling by car to your shoot location (see point 2) it will have been garaged over night to keep the snow off it. Otherwise, its another ten minutes less in bed as you need to make sure the car is frost free before setting out. This caught me out earlier this year when I neglected to garage the car and had to spend vital time getting the car in a fit state to drive, all the while seeing the sun come up.
2. Know The Location You Want To Photograph Beforehand
If you are going out to photograph a winter scene, make sure you know before hand where you want to shoot and what the access is like.
Like alot of landscape photography, planning the location before you go, even doing a pre-site visit is vital to ensure that you are not wasting time driving round looking for something suitable to shoot. The sun here is only your friend for as long as its not burning the snow or reflecting harsh light back at your camera.
While its difficult to guess what a scene will look like covered in snow, its not impossible to get a feel for what it might look like under a thick blanket of the white stuff.
If you look at winter photography as a longer term project, you may get two or three snow cycles over the winter period which can be used to assess various locations for suitability. Even once the sun is up high and the light is no longer perfect, you can still reccy out locations to see what their potential is for the next snow fall.
Typicaly wintery scenes involve frozen stream and snow covered trees, and this sometimes means you will need to put on your walking boots and be prepared to trek away from the roads. As usual, precautions need to be taken to ensure there is no danger to both yourself and your equipement, and that you are not trespassing on someones property.
Don’t feel that your winter scene is limited to traditional rural landscapes, sometimes the towns and cities can provide opportunities to take interesting winter scenes, although they sometimes need hunting out more than rural ones.
3. Camera Setup for Photographing a Winter Scene.
Camera setup for shooting a snowy wintery scene follows the same conventions as a normal landscape photograph – i.e. use a tripod with a remote shutter release, with the camera in aperture mode to ensure you get a good depth of field. The biggest issue is that with white snow reflecting light and the sun coming up, there is a danger of over exposing everything, so make sure you compensate for this and check the histogram for blown highlights.
Use of a ND Grad filter may help calm down the whiteness of the snow and help balance the exposure, you just need to invert it to take account of the brightness coming from the ground not the sky.
4. Camera Care in the Cold.
These days most cameras are tested to work in a range of climates from very hot to very cold without to many issues. While the UK will see temperatures plummet to minus figures, it rarely drops as far below as the camera manufacturers test for. You do however need to be cautious when you first take your camera out, as a quick transition from warm to cold can lead to condensation forming on the lens.
If you are out in the field and want to swap lens, you have to be careful of getting damp into the system, and cold hands sometimes drop precious items, so don’t lose a lens in the snow by dropping it.