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Quick Tip: How to Capture the Cold in Your Photographs

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In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter months are in full swing, offering not only biting cold winds and hazardous travelling conditions, but some great photographic opportunities. Winter can be a down-time for photographers who are less willing to get out and about in the colder months of the year, but I see it as a chance to capture our surroundings when they appear drastically different to the majority of the year.


Step 1. Scouting for Snow

The opportunity to capture the cold greatly depends on where you are in the world and what time of year it is. Some places may see snow for a quarter of the year and be utterly unexcited by the novelty of snow that seems to sweep across the UK each winter.

On the other hand, some places in the world will just never see snow as the temperature doesn't go low enough. But even if you fall into that camp, keep on reading, as you never know, you may well find yourself in some wintery climate in years to come.

As a photographer in the UK, you really do have to make the most of the scenic wintery conditions, as in most cases, the snow only lasts a couple of days.

Photo by Simon Bray.


Step 2. Choosing Your Location

Think carefully about your preferred location and how you're going to get there. I would recommend visiting somewhere you know, either because you've scouted it out as a potential location for a shoot, or because you know it from a previous visit.

This will be beneficial in terms of knowing what subject matter you have to work with and will help you work faster whilst out in the cold. It's also safer to know your way around in case the weather turns on you!

It's important to consider your transport options - try to avoid driving in hazardous conditions, obviously for landscape work you'll need your tripod, but walking might be the safest option. When you do head out, make sure you wrap up warm and take adequate protection for your camera.

Photo by Simon Bray.


Step 3. What to Shoot?

When choosing your subject matter, attempting a snowy landscape composition may feel like an easy option, although it's not necessarily a simple shot to execute. Be wary of light reflecting up off flat snow covered surfaces, so as not to overexpose the shot. Equally, don't underexpose the shot as you want to capture the bright whiteness of the snow!

You may also find that subjects that usually look fairly dull are transformed in the cold weather to something interesting or even beautiful. Keep your eye out just in case something you wouldn't give a second thought to is worth your attention.

When shooting snowy scenes, it can be tempting to convert your shots to black and white as there is very little colour within the scene and you want to make the white look as white as possible.

Obviously in some cases this can add the missing drama to your shot, but I would recommend keeping the colour and experimenting with the hue and tone of your shots in post processing.

If you've got particularly interesting light within your shot it can be great to warm up the image by playing with the reds and yellows, but alternatively, if you really want your shots to have that chilly feel, tuning up the blues will add that sense of coldness.

Photo by Simon Bray.


Step 4. It's in the Detail

It can be the case that during cold weather our attention is drawn to the breathtaking snowy landscapes and we miss the amazing details that appear. This is one of the best ways to represent the essence of 'cold' in your work and capture something more unique than a snow filled landscape shot.

So grab your macro lens and get scouting for the snowflake formations, the frost forming on spider webs and the icy patterns on flat surfaces. You may need to use flash or reflector to highlight the detail if the light is low and a tripod and shutter release may also be useful if you haven't got a steady hand.

Photo by Simon Bray.


Step 5. Be Brave!

Sometimes, one of the hardest aspects of photographing the cold is actually getting out of the door! It can look so unwelcoming outside, but I always find that I am richly rewarded with subject matter and interesting scenery whenever I brave it out into those ice cold days.

It's best to get up and out before the snow is disturbed or the fog disappears, so keep an eye on the weather reports and be ready!

It may be a good idea to try some more standard landscape shots to cover the basics and experiment with different exposure settings, but once you get going it's well worth experimenting a bit, getting some detail shots and trying to capture the cold in your own way.

Photo by Simon Bray.

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