Winter is one of the best times of the year to photograph. It offers unique opportunities and plenty of challenges as it brings out a whole new world and transforms the landscape around us.
With the cold, dark mornings it is just as much about attitude as anything else. 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.
Prepare For The Cold
- Dress warmly – thermal socks, decent boots, plenty of layers and a hat and thin gloves will ensure you are warm and ready to face the elements. But 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 tight 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.
- If it’s snowing protect your camera with a ziplock 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.
Embrace The Conditions
Winter brings out photographic opportunities that are quite unique but it can be quite tricky. Often the light in Winter can be fabulous, far less intense than during the rest of the year, and especially so 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. You are at an advantage in Winter in that sunrise is relatively late meaning there’s no need to get up too early. Even so, dragging yourself out 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 and as the light works its wonders and the landscape unfolds before you, your efforts will be rewarded.
A frosty morning can bring a beautiful start to the day. Trees and grass suspended in time slowly come to life with the warmth of the sun and this is when you often see the mist rising and, with it, the chance to capture some stunning images is presented.
It’s at this time of year that the bare bones of the landscape are exposed, creating a stark, graphic appearance. Trees without their leaves take on a whole new look as their wonderful structure is revealed.
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 held still in time.
This is vitally important and can make or break your image. Look carefully at what you see in your viewfinder and exclude anything that does not add to the overall impact of your photograph.
Winter presents many problems in this area. If you are lucky enough to have snow it can be a bit of a headache. 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, whereas 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. Most cameras are fooled by snow. Learn to set your white balance manually and bracket your exposures – try over and under exposing by up to one-stop.
Look for detail – capture Winter’s patterns, textures, and colors. Frost and snow offer much in the effects and patterns they create. If you are near water be sure to take some shots of frozen surfaces. Keep your eyes peeled.
Photographing in Winter can be a truly wonderful and rewarding experience. Be brave, don’t let the cold keep you inside – get out there and shoot – the wonderful world of Winter photography awaits you!
About the Author
Sarah Howard is a landscape photographer based in the north Cotswolds. She runs Image Seen photography workshops offering 1-2-1 and group tuition all over the UK.