Winter is a time of extreme weather. It is a time that photographers test out their creativity and develop striking and unique photos. However, winter also brings out some potential challenges. Temperatures drop, daylight hours lessen, and nights become extremely dark. In addition to this, snow, ice, and blizzards are commonplace. As a result, winter photography is challenging but fun. To help, we have compiled 15 winter photography tips for your benefit.
We look at how to prepare for the changing weather. We discuss how to tackle the tricky conditions, and how to get the most out of your camera. After reading this guide, you should have the confidence to go out and explore the winter landscapes and see what amazing compositions you can create.
Winter Photography Tips – Preparation
First, let’s look at preparation. During summer and spring, conditions are pleasant – there isn’t much to worry about. You may need to take additional drinking water, but that’s it. Winter presents a host of considerations and potential obstacles, however.
With such extreme weather, there are many hazards. This is why preparation before a photographic adventure is important. Preparation ensures you can tackle poor weather conditions, whilst still enjoying your outing.
1. Dress for the Occasion
When venturing out into the great outdoors, appropriate clothing is vital. Imagine being out in the countryside with just a t-shirt and jeans on when, suddenly, the temperature drops and you get caught up in a flurry of snow. How uncomfortable would you feel? This could potentially ruin your photography session and cause harm to your body.
It is always advisable to over-dress. Consider dressing in layers. Start with a base layer such as thermal leggings. This keeps your body insulated against the cold. By using layers, if you do become too hot, you can simply remove your top layers. Protect yourself and your photography expedition will be more enjoyable!
2. Ensure Your Gear is Protected
Aside from protecting yourself, it is vital to protect your equipment. Batteries are susceptible to cold temperatures. If exposed to the cold, batteries quickly drain. It is not uncommon for batteries to completely drain in a matter of minutes.
Therefore, users must protect their batteries, SD cards, and spare lenses. Consider carrying an insulated camera bag to hold your items. Alternatively, if the temperatures are particularly cold, bubble wrap serves as fantastic insulation. In addition to this, take care when handling your equipment – try to swap batteries as quickly as possible and minimize contact with the air.
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3. Keep Your Camera Exposed to the Cold
Whilst it is important to keep accessories such as batteries warm, the opposite applies for your DSLR camera. This is one of the top winter photography tips we can give – it protects your camera from potentially fatal damage.
When camera lenses or glass components are exposed to cold temperatures, the glass becomes misted with condensation and moisture. More specifically, this happens when the temperature changes quickly from warm to cold. For example, if you kept your camera warm inside a bag, and quickly took it out to take a photo. This change in temperature could cause moisture to build up. The moisture could possibly damage the lens element and sensor.
To avoid this, keep your camera out at all times in the cold – this prevents moisture and condensation from building up.
4. Be Prepared for Unforeseen Events
Winter weather is unpredictable. Snow, frost, ice, blizzards, cold rains – you could experience any one of these whilst looking for photo opportunities. To that end, it is vital to be prepared for unforeseen events. This is an important winter photography tip to protect yourself.
Take a rucksack or backpack. Within this rucksack, carry some basic food supplies and water. Consider taking spare clothes, and a battery pack. We are not suggesting a whole survival pack, but a few essential items could help in a sticky situation.
5. Wear Camera-Friendly Gloves
Using a camera in the winter presents two options – use the camera bear-handed, or wear gloves. I can vouch that the first option is unpleasant – trying to use a camera with red-raw, numb hands is a nightmare. The second option is preferable – but that can still present problems.
Have you tried using a DSLR camera whilst wearing thick padded gloves? It’s virtually impossible to control the camera’s functions properly. To solve this problem, wear thin, insulated gloves – this type of glove provides protection, but still offers flexibility and control.
Shooting & Composition
So, you are kitted out for the cold weather. You have your warm clothing layers and have protected your camera. It’s time now to learn how to take effective winter photos. We have listed 10 tips that will elevate your winter photography compositions to the next level. These tips will help improve your shooting techniques and post-processing skills:
6. When Photographing Snow, Overexpose the Composition
Snow creates deceptive lighting conditions for photos. When viewed on an LCD DSLR screen, snow looks dull and sometimes not as bright as it should appear. To combat this, it is advisable to increase the exposure of photos that include snow.
Increasing exposure ensures that the snow appears bright and accurate. This helps during post-processing – it is easier to reduce highlights and decrease exposure as opposed to increasing shadows. Don’t overexpose too much – two to three stops should suffice. However, it is advisable to look at each individual composition and alter the exposure as required.
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7. Take Multiple Shots at Different Exposures to Combat Lighting
Building on the above point, to ensure your shots are correctly exposed, take multiple shots of the same composition. Firstly, these shots could be used to create an HDR composition – software such as Lightroom, and Aurora HDR automatically combine bracketed shots together to create fully-realized HDR composites.
Secondly, as DSLR cameras use SD cards, you don’t have to worry about available space – this means taking additional exposure shots won’t cause storage issues. During post-processing, simply discard the photos that had poor exposures.
8. Experiment With Different Time Periods
This winter photography tip holds true for any season, but the winter months present some superb lighting during different time periods. More specifically, early in the morning, and during twilight/dusk.
Sunrise during winter looks hauntingly beautiful – the soft winter sunlight bathes landscapes in a frosty glow. Low-hanging mists are common – this creates an ethereal look and some stunning compositions. Sunset differs greatly and often results in bright red skies with brilliant bold colors. The contrast is fantastic and both time periods give exceptional photographic opportunities.
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9. Utilize Shutter Priority Mode to Capture Movement
The winter season presents difficulties when capturing movement. Specifically snow, rain, and blizzards. During adverse weather conditions or even light snowfall, it is advisable to use Shutter Priority mode. This camera function gives users control over the shutter speed. By using this mode, you can decrease the shutter speed so that any movement is captured perfectly in-focus.
This camera mode is brilliant during winter, especially if snow is falling. Fast shutter speeds help capture snowflakes and ensure that you don’t get ghosting from the flake’s movement. Shutter Priority mode is essential for photographing wildlife – it ensures any movement is captured in clear detail.
10. Consider Using a Different Color Palette
This ties into our tip about post-processing. Winter landscapes and weather conditions are an ideal time to experiment with different color palettes. Consider using different white balance compositions to see how this affects your photos. Altering the white balance changes the temperature of your images – make them warmer or colder – this totally transforms how a photo looks.
Aside from white balance, consider using split tone colors, or even effects such as sepia. Choosing sets of colors that complement the winter pallet greatly improves your creative options.
11. Look for Unique Details Only Present During Winter
As with any season, winter gives us unique details not present during any other time of the year. To capture the essence of winter, try to photograph these small, unique details. When exploring, look for unusual compositions that emphasize the typical feature of winter.
Examples of unique winter details include:
- Frozen lakes, streams, and rivers
- Bare trees and plants with no leaves
- Snow-covered objects
- Animal and bird tracks in the snow
Winter really gives photographers the chance to be creative – make the most of this amazing season and photograph its unique qualities.
12. Winter Creates Exceptional Black & White Photography
Black and white photography provides many opportunities. It allows photographers to experiment and try a different series of photos. The possibilities are endless. No season is better suited to black and white photography than winter.
Think about it – the contrast between dark and light is heightened during this season. This is what creates stunning and detailed black and white photos. Landscapes have areas of high brightness such as sunlight, and snow. There is an abundance of dark areas such as lengthened shadows, and barren plant-life. Use this to your advantage to produce magnificent black and white winter shots.
13. Try Manual Focus in Low-Contrast Situations
Have you ever tried to focus on objects or wildlife during the winter season? If so, you will understand the importance of this winter photography tip. Winter weather conditions often have low contrast. During low contrast situations, the auto-focus of your DSLR camera could struggle. In some instances, it may not focus at all.
If you find the camera struggling to focus, consider switching to manual focus. This method requires additional practice and care, but it ensures that you can focus on anything – regardless of the contrast. Always check that your DSLR lens has a manual focus ring. Before venturing into the great outdoors, practice using the manual focus feature to ensure you understand how it works.
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14. Be Respectful of Wildlife and Your Surroundings
During the winter, survival instincts are heightened for wildlife. This is the time of year they must work hard to conserve energy and find whatever food is available. It is important, therefore, that you respect their habitats and behavior.
If you are photographing wildlife during the winter, do not disturb them. Do not disrupt their habitat. This could cause distress and disrupt their usual behavior with potentially damaging consequences. Always be respectful and take extreme care when moving through winter landscapes.
15. Utilize Different Techniques During Post-Processing
Post-processing is still a vital part of winter photography. This is one of our top tips that enable you to finish your images and turn them into complete masterpieces. Often, photos taken during winter look flat or poorly exposed without editing. This is due to the different light conditions, and factors such as the brightness of the snow.
When editing, it is therefore important to balance the exposure and ensure the features you photographed to appear as you saw them. Winter landscapes often lend themselves to creative edits. Consider using techniques such as B&W, split tone, or reduced saturation.
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What are you waiting for? Winter approaches fast so get out there and put these 15 winter photography tips into practice! This season brings unparalleled opportunity. It allows photographers to push their creativity and innovation to the limits. If you have any winter photos you are particularly proud of, why not leave a comment and share your masterpieces?
Paul loves traveling and photography. He is also a Lightroom and Photoshop expert and likes to test new photo software, apps, and gear. Paul frequently shares his travel photography tips on his travel blog and writes for known photography publications.