For many of us, the winter months are approaching and as the days grow short and the temperature slowly drops, it’s a sign for many photographers to retreat into the warm and emerge again in the spring. However, there are a multitude of amazing photographic opportunities throughout the winter months just waiting to be captured, don’t let them pass you by!
One of the most difficult elements of photographing in winter is the reflection of light from bright white snow-covered scenery. The amount of light available will fool the camera sensor and cause it to misread the white balance settings resulting in a dull grey or blue wash on the image.
What you are looking to achieve is a pure white image and there are two solutions to this. The first is to manually alter the white balance, which is possible to do in post if shooting RAW, but you’re better off knowing that you’ve got a well balanced image at the time. All you need to do is experiment with the different white balance settings in order to find the one that accurately portrays the scene before you. Start with the daylight setting.
The other way in which to achieve that whiteness that you’re after is by knocking up the exposure by somewhere between +0.3 to +1.0 EV, but being careful not to completely overexpose the image. The amount by which you increase the exposure will depend upon the available light, so again, it’s a case of experimenting at the time.
Use the Light
With the shorter days during the winter months it’s crucial that you take your chances when the light outside is suitable for the shots you want to take. Keep an eye on the forecast for bright days as the extra light will add depth to your shots and help bring out the details.
The one advantage to winter is that the golden hours, around sunrise and sunset, are more accessible in terms of time, so if you do get a clear day, then make the most of the warmth offered by the sunlight as it rises and sets. It's ideal for winter portraits! And if you're in the more northern latitudes, then even at high noon the sun isn't directly overhead.
Finding Winter Features
To really capture the essence of winter you need to go searching for the natural phenomena that occur during the colder months that you don’t see at other times of the year. Icicles look stunning when caught in the right light. If you can find some on a sunny day, simply experiment with angles according to how the sunlight is hitting the icicle and you should be able to capturing it glistening brightly!
Patterns in ice are usually caused by air bubbles in the frozen surface and can make for extremely interesting shots. Use a polarising filter to avoid getting glare off the surface and if you can find an angle in which the pattern has a darker background you’ll be able to achieve a greater contrast in the pattern.
Photo by Fields of View
Frosty Spider Webs
This is a great example of subject matter, which for the majority of the year, photographers would simply pass by, but in the winter months, spider webs are transformed into a thing of beauty by the crisp cold frost that forms on the strands to define it’s pattern and shape.
For detail shots such as this, use a wider aperture to capture the detail in the frost or snow and get a crisp sharp shot. You could also treat this as a macro shot and get in really close to capture the fine detail in the frost.
Try revisiting locations which you’ve previously worked at and capture it in all its frosty winter glory. Frozen bodies of water such as ponds and lakes make for great features in winter landscape shots, but be careful not to catch the light reflecting off the shiny surface.
Fresh untrodden snow can make for a stunning shot as the clean lines and perfect surfaces will allow you to portray the untouched winter scene. It can also be very effective to use a graduated filter for landscapes to add mood and depth to the sky, which might other wise look flat and dull.
Get Up Early!
An early winter's morning can be far from inviting, but in the right conditions, it can offer photographic delights that are rarely seen at other times of year. Across open spaces and through valleys, mist and fog hover across the ground as the frost clings to trees and walls highlighting their detailed features.
Find a good vantage point looking across an open space and be patient, the temperature and moisture in the air will dictate the conditions and the mist, but if you catch it at the right moment, you’ve got a winning shot on your hands!
Use Available Color
It can be that with an overcast sky, and snow on the ground, that you feel like you’re walking through a monochrome world, so to make your winter shots leap out, try to find some colorful subject matter to add some life to your shots. Natural objects such as winter berries and any autumnal leaves left around will provide that needed dash of color, as would brightly painted front doors and architecture.
Try High Contrast Black and White
In winter conditions, particularly when it’s snowy, there can be extreme contrasts within your shots. For example, the pure white brilliance of snow in comparison to the dark silhouettes of trees would make for a striking image. Have a go at a black and white conversion when post processing to see if your images come to life.
Heading out into the cold requires a bit of thought before hand to ensure you don’t get caught out. One of the main priorities here is taking spare batteries, as they won’t last as long in the cold and there’s nothing much worse for a photographer than trekking out into the snow only to find you’ve run out of power!
Basic things like ensuring you’re wearing warm clothes and gloves are essential, and also items like a flashlight may come in handy in case you end up staying out a bit later than intended. It’s also vital to keep your camera away from moisture, which is difficult when there’s falling snow and ice on the ground, so use your camera case and keep your equipment dry. Bring a trash bag if you like to set things down on the ground.
Try for Yourself
Hopefully, there are plenty of points of inspiration here to get you up and out during the winter months. Each scene and location is transformed by the cold weather. The subject matter on offer varies so greatly from the other seasons. But you have to be quick, it won’t wait for you. So, get out there and take your chance while you can!