The Wonderful World of Winter Photography

Winter is one of the best times of the year to photograph, offering unique opportunities and plenty of challenges. It can be a truly wonderful and rewarding experience but it is more about attitude than anything else. Whilst practical technical ability will help you achieve the results you want, if you think ‘cold and miserable’ you will be so, with little possibility of achieving good photographic results. It’s easy to hibernate but if you make the effort the rewards can be great.



First of all a few tips:
  • The most important thing is to dress warmly – thermal socks, decent boots, plenty of layers and a hat and gloves with a silk liner will ensure you are warm and ready to face the elements.
  • Keeping yourself warm isn’t the only issue – you also need to make sure your camera is functioning properly. Battery drain is the biggest problem in cold temperatures so never expose your equipment for longer than absolutely necessary. Keep spare batteries with you and when photographing work as quickly as possible.
  • Bear in mind the effect of the cold on your camera. It will need to adjust to the cold before being used. Lens fogging and a build up of condensation on your lens is the first problem you will encounter due to radical changes of temperature when getting in and out of a warm car. To minimise the risk keep your camera in the boot, away from any heat. Place it in a zip lock plastic bag whilst inside and then let it acclimatise inside the bag for a while outdoors before shooting. This way the condensation will form on the bag, not your camera.
  • Protect your gear from the elements – if it’s snowing or raining protect your camera with a ready made cover or a plastic bag and cut an opening for the camera lens and viewfinder.
  • When photographing don't breathe through your nose on the viewfinder as you may create ice due to condensation.

Timing and planning
This is key to a successful image. Pick your location and time of day carefully and do your research beforehand. Check when and where the sun rises and sets and check the weather forecast over the preceding days so that you can plan to be at your chosen location when it is likely to be looking its best.

Attitude
Winter offers photographic opportunities that are quite unique but it can be quite a challenging time. Often the light can be fabulous, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. This is when your shots will appear at their warmest and most dramatic, and shadows are long, creating contrast and mood. Whilst dragging yourself out of bed on a cold dark morning is not appealing to the best of us, rest assured it will be worth the effort. There is nothing quite like feeling as if you are one of the first to see the dawn of a new day. The morning, in particular, is special. It’s a quiet time, when the world is still stirring. A frosty morning creates a beautiful start to the day and can add a wonderful element to your images. Trees and grass suspended in time slowly come to life with the warmth of the sun and this is when you often see mist rising, providing a great opportunity for some very atmospheric shots.



Freshly fallen snow has an ethereal beauty so try to get out early, whilst the ground remains untouched to capture it at its most magical moment. A heavy hoar frost transforms the most mundane scene into a winter wonderland, as trees are held suspended in time. Seize the moment, as it doesn’t happen often. It's at this time that opportunities are presented for capturing frosty tree canopies but also for close up detail shots of the frozen remains of leaves or pine needles held still in time.



Think about your composition
This is vitally important. Use a tripod, not only to steady your camera but also to carefully set up your shot. Look closely at what you see in your viewfinder excluding anything that does not add to the overall impact of your image. Explore different viewpoints and make use of all your lenses. Including a path, stream or river will help lead the eye into the scene and don’t forget to include some foreground interest to add depth.

Exposure
Winter presents many problems in this area. Whilst a sunny day can cast wonderful long shadows it can also have the negative effect of producing harsh contrast and exposure issues. In this situation, make use of a polarising filter to cut down on any light reflection, and to help strengthen colours. A polariser is also useful for intensifying a blue sky and enhancing clouds. Early morning sunshine can also help emphasise the mist often found in woodland. Overcast skies are generally considered the landscape photographers nightmare but often provide the best possible conditions for woodland images. The soft, diffused light allows colours to stand out more, as they appear more saturated, and distracting highlights are avoided. Exposure ranges are also more predictable under a bland sky, allowing the camera to pick up detail in areas of light and shade that might otherwise be lost.



Snow presents its challenges for the photographer as most cameras are fooled by it. A general misconception is that you need to drastically overexpose to make snow appear white but snow is seldom white, it picks up reflections, which change its colour. A blue sky will cast a blue/grey reflection, where as morning or evening light casts a lovely warm glow. You need to be aware of the effect of changing light and learn how to take advantage of it. If you are using digital, learn to set your white balance manually and check your histogram to ensure your exposure is correct. Bracket your exposures if needs be, and try over exposing by up to one stop.

Get close and look for detail



Winter brings out a whole new world. The bare bones of the landscape are exposed creating a stark, graphic appearance and trees without leaves take on a whole new look. Look for detail – capture winter’s patterns, textures and colours. Frost and snow offer much in the patterns they create. If you are near water be sure to take some shots of frozen surfaces. Keep your eyes peeled!

Be brave, don’t let the cold keep you inside - get out there with your camera - the wonderful world of winter photography awaits you!