7 Useful Winter Photography Tips
Winter is a great time to take photographs if you prepare, can stand the elements and know how to take your gloves on and off over and over and over again.
I’ve learned a lot of things over the years and have almost lost some appendages (fingers primarily) due to unpreparedness. With great risk, comes great reward but also don’t be stupid.
While some people may not appreciate winter photography and all of the cold weather that comes with it—there is no denying that winter is one of the most beautiful times of year. Any photographer can appreciate the beauty that comes with wintertime—especially in places where it snows.
While winter can be a beautiful time of year to take photos in, winter also has very unique (and sometimes difficult) lighting. Shooting snow and ice can also be challenging due to all of the reflections that tend to bounce off this winter white background.
This is why it is so important to have a better understanding of how to take photos in the winter time. If you keep these winter photography tips in mind, you will end up with stunning, professional-looking photos, instead of grey, cloudy or white-washed looking images.
So, if you are ready to start shooting photos in the winter, here are a few useful winter photography tips to keep in mind, that will have your images looking absolutely stunning.
1. Don’t Forget About the Cold
This may seem like the most obvious of tips, but it is one that is worth repeating. As most avid photographers know, it is so easy to get caught up in getting the perfect shot that you can sometimes lose site of where you are and what you are doing.
If you are shooting winter scenery, then chances are you are shooting in below freezing weather. Make sure that you wear warm clothes and bring heat packs and quality gloves that you can shoot in, many photographers prefer fingerless gloves, so that their fingertips are still able to manipulate the camera.
You will also want to make sure you invest in a good camera bag and one that is not only insulated, but waterproof as well. Cold weather usually means snow—and you don’t want snowfall damaging your camera equipment.
You should also make sure that you bring spare batteries—and that you put them somewhere that they can stay warm. Batteries will lose their power in extremely cold weather, so you want to make sure that you have spare batteries with you just in case.
Another tip to consider is to bring a sturdy tripod. Even if you weren’t originally planning on shooting with a tripod, it can be your best friend in cold weather. If you are shaking from the cold trying to get a steady shot, a tripod can help ensure you get a crystal-clear image. Just make sure the tripod is durable enough to be set up in the snow.
2. Focusing in the Snow
One of the first things photographers will likely notice when they start shooting in the snow, is that focusing tends to be an issue. When you have low-contrast situations such as snowy, foggy days or extreme overcast it can be difficult to focus. This is also true when you are shooting while snow is falling.
Chances are, when you try to use autofocus in these conditions, your lens is going to start fluttering in an attempt to focus. This isn’t your camera malfunctioning, it just means that your camera doesn’t have anything to lock focus on.
The key is to switch off of autofocus to manual focus. Then hold the shutter button down halfway until you focus. When you do, your viewfinder will likely light up letting you know you are ready to shoot.
Manual focus does take some trial and error—so make sure that you have some patience when you are attempting to shoot with manual focus in the snow. However, with a little patience, you can get the crystal-clear image in the snow that you are looking for.
3. Remember, Snow Can Trick Your Meter
Perhaps the biggest challenge that comes with shooting winter landscapes is that all of the snow on the ground tends to mess with your meter. Finding the right exposure when there is snow everywhere can be really
As most photographers know, camera meters are calibrated to base exposure on neutral gray, which can dominate your camera’s meter exposure readings. This is why, many times, pictures taken in snow end up underexposed and snow looks dull-grey instead of bright white.
Winter Photography Settings
You will need to play with your exposure, but a good rule of thumb is to add positive compensation or overexposure. Most snow-covered scenes will turn out better if you overexpose by +1 stop. This is especially true if you are shooting on an overcast day (which many times in the winter, you are).
If you are trying to capture a bright, sunny snow scene, you may want to overexpose by two stops. You should never really need to overexpose by more than this, otherwise your images will look blown out and you will start to lose the detail of your shot. Depending on your camera, you may need to tweak your metering a bit, but this is a great place to get started.
4. Choose the Right Filters
Filters are a great tool for any photographer, no matter where they are shooting. When it comes to shooting the best winter photography, your polarizer is your best friend.
This is great because the polarizer is a great filter for a number of different situations, so you likely already have it—and if you don’t, you can absolutely use it again. However, be careful to not over-polarize.
Other filter options include graduated neutral-density filters which can help create a variation between the foreground and the background in snowy situations. Warming filters such as 81C, can neutralize the snow’s blue cast that can happen on sunny days in the snow.
Don’t be afraid to play around with different filters to create unique effects with your photos. Snow is such a stark backdrop, that sometimes different filters can have a fun effect on the final product.
5. Find Your Balance
This should not be a big surprise, but finding the correct balance when shooting in snow can be very difficult. After all, most of what you are shooting is going to be bright white in color.
n most situations, snowy scenes will read more blue on the color spectrum. You can adjust your white balance, to get everything right in your camera before shooting. You can also use the “flash” setting. This will make up for the blue tone you tend to get when shooting a snow-filled image and can bring some warmth to the scene.
Make sure you don’t go too far, if you try to get rid of all of the blue, then your snow scene can end up having a yellow cast to it—which can make your photo look dull, dingy or dirty. A slight blue cast is ideal, as it creates a warm, yet balanced image.
6. Finding The Right Shutter Speed
Winter photography shoots aren’t just about taking pictures of clean, crisp snow on a still sunny day. Many times, winter weather means winter storms. This is why it is so important to choose the right shutter speed.
Fast shutter speeds will stop any movement, which as wind and snow movement, but if you use a slow shutter speed—it can create a blurred motion. Sometimes, you might want to have the blurred motion in the snow to show how quickly it’s coming down, or you may want to capture something in the snow and depict every individual snow flake as it falls.
Shooting Wildlife Winter Photography
If you are planning on shooting wildlife in the snow, such as some deer, you will likely want to use a fast shutter speed. If you are shooting a landscape while there is rapid snow falling down, a slow shutter speed can have a neat effect.
This is why it is so important to pay attention to your shutter speed, and keep in mind what you want your end result to look like.
7. Make Sure To Keep Your Lens Safe
The final tip is to make sure that you keep a lens cap on at all times when your camera is not in use—particularly if you are shooting while it is snowing. If snowflakes land and melt on the front of your lens, it can cause serious damage and it can also smudge or fog the lens.
If this does happen, do not blow warm air on the lens, otherwise it will put a thin layer of ice coating on the lens. You should always treat your camera in the snow as you would in the rain—and consider getting rain covers before you head out in the snow. Doing this will save your camera and save you a lot of turmoil in the end.
Keep these tips in mind when you are planning on shooting in winter weather conditions. They can go a long way in making sure that you not only keep yourself and your camera protected, but that you are able to deliver the highest-quality images possible when you are done.
Winter in the Southwest
Here are some photos from a recent magical trip to the American Southwest. While snow isn’t rare in these parts it definitely is harder to get to. Pictured below: Bryce Canyon & Red Rock National Conservation Area