In winter, taking good photos means getting chilly and taking your hands out of your warm mittens. But winter can provide opportunities for great photography. Crystalline snow, fresh powder, and early sunsets all make for prime photography once you’ve learned a few tricks. Here’s how to make winter a photographic wonderland.
Winter is simple. It’s cold and often white. You don’t need to dress it up much. Keep your compositions simple. Snow is a great blank canvas, and the less you have going on, the more you can focus on the texture and quality of the snow.
Snow is White. Don’t Be Fooled.
Take your camera and set it on automatic. Take a photo filled with the white snow (or even a white sheet of paper), and then look at your photograph. The snow in your photo will look gray, because camera light meters are programmed to turn things “neutral”—which means gray. If you want white snow, you will have to overexpose your photo. Find the Exposure Compensation button, which looks like a plus/minus sign. Add light (using the plus sign) until your snow looks like the white, puffy heaven it is.
Use the Big White Reflector
Shooting in the middle of the day usually results in bad light, because the sun being straight overhead creates extreme contrasts of light and shadows, especially on people’s faces. There’s one big exception, and that’s when you’ve got a lot of snow: it acts like a giant reflector, filling the shadows with even light. Use the strong noonday light to bring out detail in the shadows.
Get up close and personal with frost, icicles, rime, and the many gorgeous crystalline forms that winter brings us. Use your macro function, a steady hand, tripod, and lots of patience. The beauty of macro photography is that we see things on a detailed level we don’t see with our own eyes. But macro photography takes a lot of time and slowing down to get it right.
Winter sunrises generally produce better light than sunsets, and they’re late enough that you don’t have to be a total early bird to wake up for it like you do in summer. But you will need a tripod, a lot of warm clothes, and a location you’ve scouted before.
Be nice to camera batteries. They don’t work well in the cold, so if you’re shooting in action mode outside, the batteries may get too cold to provide enough juice to run fast autofocus. Keep a couple of extra camera batteries inside your jacket, where they’ll stay warm. In extreme cold, swap out batteries between the camera and your pockets often for best results.
Protect Your Camera…from Getting Warm
Cameras themselves do fine in the cold, but as soon as you step into a warm building, they are vulnerable to condensation. Before you step inside, put your expensive camera in a Ziploc with a desiccant pack or pack towel, squeeze out the air, and seal it. If this isn’t possible, at the very least, put your camera under your jacket and zip it up before you step inside to minimize condensation. Wipe off any condensation that occurs as soon as possible.
Find Fresh Stories, Not Just First Tracks
Sure, everyone loves the shot of fresh tracks through champagne powder on a day of perfect bluebird skies. Those are gorgeous images, but there are plenty of them on ski resort brochures already. There are lots of other stories happening around you that may be more interesting, like the hard work of skinning up an endless slope, the hassle of scraping the ice off your car, or someone struggling to stay warm while they wait for their buddy. The word photography has roots in words meaning “to write with light.” Use this marvelous medium to find the most interesting stories to tell. They’re all around you.