7 Tips For Photographing Winter Scenes.
Winter brings out the toughest elements in our climate and many photographers pack their cameras away until early spring, waiting for the weather to turn better. But, if you do pack away your camera you are missing out on the raw beauty that this season brings. Here’s my 7 Tips for photographing winter scenes.
There’s some great winter photo opportunities to be had, sometimes you might need to search for them, but they are there. One of the skills beginner photographer’s need to develop is ‘seeing the shot’. What I mean by that is learning to look at a scene from different angles, walk in closer, get down low or go up high. Look for the interesting detail or pull out further to get a wider panoramic view.
During the winter months there are interesting scenes with frosty details or snowy landscapes. Exciting wildlife behaviour and lots of people enjoying the outdoors.
The urban landscape changes too with many people wrapped up warm hurrying to and fro. As the cityscape changes and the low winter sun angle casts moody light and interesting shadows.
My 7 Tips for photographing winter scenes and have fun doing it.
1. Wear the right clothes: This might seem like common sense and not really applicable to shooting better winter scenes but, it’s important to wrap up and stay wa
rm. When you’re out shooting winter images the cold sets in quickly and the extremities are affected worse – and that’s your shutter finger! Gloves are good in the cold but can be bulky. There are special ‘photographers gloves’ out there and some have a removable index finger flap which can be handy. So if you are planning to spend some time out and about in the chilly winter weather, wrap up well and always be well prepared.
2. Watch the weather: The photographer’s friend or enemy – the weather! My wife is a bit of a weather nerd, she always knows the forecast for the up and coming week and can usually give me an hour by hour breakdown! I generally look out the window and think yeah it looks good, let’s go. In reality it is impo
rtant to know what the weather is doing when you plan to be out in it. If you’re like me and live in a big city getting out to the countryside can take a few hours. You don’t want to travel for ages only to hear a weather report telling you that it’s going to be crappy for the next few days. It’s a real downer.
During the winter months the weather can change dramatically in a matter of hours never mind days. And, if you’ve made trip to some where a bit more remote, drastic weather-shifts can happen very quickly.
In these cases it’s always advisable to let someone know where you are going and which route you’re planning to take. If you do get stuck, slip or fall someone should be able to help. Always make sure your mobile phone is charged and you keep in mind batteries drain much faster in cold conditions. Try to keep your phone close to your body so its natural heat helps keep the batteries warmer. Or alternatively, invest in a power bank or similar to recharge your phone on the go.
3. Carry only what you need: I have a good sized ThinkTank bag that I can pack all of my gear into when I’m working on a job. I also have a much smaller Lowe Pro bag that I use when I want to travel light. When out in the cold photographing winter scenes you should only carry the essentials, you don’t need to pile every bit of kit you own into your camera bag. It can get heavy and easily cause a loss of balance when on rough or slippy ground.
If you are going to be out all day on a a long walk, you’re much better off going as light as possible. It helps conserve your energy, it’s easier on your back and you can use your spare capacity to carry spare batteries or more warm clothes. This is much better than filling your bag with heavy camera gear you probably won’t need. Better to travel light and make sure you take a hot flask and try to preserve your energy.
Ok, so that’s the practicalities of photographing winter scenes taken care of. Now let’s move on to the exciting stuff, taking pictures!
4. Look for detail: Snow, ice and frost bring out texture and atmosphere in most subjects. The early frosty morning is an ideal time for close-up photography. The frosty mornings also bring out patterns in our landscapes that are exaggerated by the frost and snow. If we refer back to what I was saying earlier about ‘seeing the shot’, it’s about opening up your mind to look for interesting and alternative angles.
If you want to get in really close buy a macro lens or if your budget doesn’t stretch that far than buy some cheap extension tubes (they go between your lens and the camera body) and they’ll let you get in nice and close. They can alter your exposure and stop the automatic connection between your lens and camera so you’ll need to shoot in manual mode. Always a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
Take care where you place your camera: if you are taking pictures early in the morning try placing it at oblique angles to the sun – this will give your images strong shadows. Remember shadows add depth and create mood and will also add atmosphere to your images. Once you have found the perfect spot pay extra attention to foreground interest as this will add depth to your image.
Good composition is always what you are aiming for, try to include foreground, middle ground and far ground in your photos, using depth of field to lead the viewers eye into the photo.
5. Expose carefully: Snow and ice are extremely difficult to expose properly. Snow usually confuses your cameras metering system. When you take a light reading from snow you will automatically get an underexposed image. The meter will record the snow as grey. This is because camera’s are set up to record a mid tone grey reading (50%).They are set to look for and meter off the mid tones in an image.
It’s easy to over expose and have no detail in the white snow, leaving a patch of pure white. Alternatively allowing the camera full control can lead to dark, dirty looking images.
If you are relying on your camera’s metering system then shift over to shooting in manual mode (M). You would take a reading and then over expose by one stop and as a general rule this works well. For example if the camera gives you a reading of f11 at 1/125 you would need to change that to f8 at 1/1125. This would ensure the snow or ice came out white. It’s why I say it’s important to understand the exposure triangle and how camera adjustments will affect your images.
6. Shoot in RAW if possible: Most modern digital cameras have the ability to shoot in .jpg or RAW format. Some camera systems such as Nikon and Sony name their RAW files NEF & ARW respectively, but they are the same kind of file.
A RAW file is an unprocessed version of the image, it contains all of the data the camera’s sensor captured and isn’t processed. During processing into a .jpg some of the information is lost, the RAW files retains this data. Raw files do have some disadvantages; they are very large and take up storage space and will need to be edited, but on the flip side they contain much more information allowing you much more control over the final look of your image.
If you camera offers the option of RAW files then give it a try, you’ll be surprised how much fun it is and how much creative latitude is available when editing.
7 . Exposure bracketing: This is my final of 7 Tips tfor photographing winter scenes If you have’t heard the term exposure bracketing before don’t worry it’s not complicated. It’s a technique that photographers sometimes use in tricky lighting conditions such as a black dog in white snow. The camera can easily be fooled by these extremes of tones as there isn’t a mid range tone for the camera’s metering system to work with. It’s either black or white, missing the mid tone greys.
Under exposed -1 stop Correct exposure Over exposed +1 stop
This is the basic principle; a photograph is taken at a given exposure say, f11 at 1/125. The photographer then takes another photo overexposed by one stop at f8 at 1/125 and another under exposed by one stop at f16 at 1/125.
In the old days it was a manual operation the photographer did. However, most modern cameras have an auto bracketing feature that will do it for you, you just need to adjust the setting in the menu. When you press the shutter it will automatically take 3 photos bracketing the scene.
When shooting winter photography senes it’s good practice to start bracketing your shots. If you find bracketing too much of a fuss you can always use a grey card, – which I described in a previous article. this will give you a perfect light reading as it gives a middle range exposure.
Here’s a quick synopsis of it grey cards
A grey card is exactly half way between black and white. In reality it is 50% black and 50% white. However, confusing as it may seem you’ll often hear them referred to as 18% grey cards. Going back to the basic principles of photography, the camera captures light reflected back off a subject. The middle grey tone has a reflection of 18%, meaning it reflects back 18% of the light that hits it. More on grey cards here. Pure black reflects no light and pure white reflects 100%, the entire visible spectrum.
More weinter photography tips here.