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11 Tips For Great Winter Photos

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It’s cold, and wet, and unpredictable outside at this time of year for some of us, but some days it can also be a wonderland that’s incredible to photograph! There’s so much beauty in the winter season — the snowflakes, the trees covered in white, and the frozen lakes just to name a few. Before you head out there to take advantage of the season, here are a few tips we found via Mosaic Blog:

Keep a polarizing filter handy. Not only can it enrich colors and deepen the sky, but they also greatly reduce glare. Sunlight bounces off snow, much like it would off the surface of a still lake. This can be quite a beautiful effect, but it can be challenging to balance the brightness of the reflected light with the (usually backlit) background. This can lead to the reflected sunlight being over-exposed and the rest of your frame being under-exposed and washed-out. One way to prevent this is to use a polarizing filter on your lens, which will block out much of the glare, while retaining most of the light from other sources. A graduated neutral-density filter is another good idea. This will darken the skies in your photos, while leaving foreground objects unaffected.

Remember that the Sun will be much lower in the sky than normal. This means that during outdoor daytime photography, objects will cast long shadows. If this is not the effect you want, then the best photos will be taken near noon. We must remember though, that this can be the worst time to photograph in almost every other sense, as far as lighting is concerned. But, sometimes the best photos come from breaking the rules. However, long shadows can cast eery effects, providing a foreboding feeling to landscapes and portraits. So, dramatic shots may be taken in the evening during the winter months.

Buy or make a shade for your viewfinder. With the Sun so low in the sky, you may have trouble seeing the scene on the LCD display. Even a simple triangle folded in three pieces and taped to the back of your camera can provide you with enough shade to easily frame your photograph most of the time.

If possible, try shooting with a water-resistant or even an underwater camera if possible. Winter can bring unexpected precipitation, as well as accidental falls and slips, resulting in your camera landing in a snowbank. I have a waterproof camera that I use for winter photography, and bringing it along has proven itself to be a wise choice on more than one occasion.

Use this opportunity to frame subjects in shadow. The long, pale casts provide high-contrast situations, which lend a feeling of foreboding and can emote feelings from indecision to evil. This effect was used widely in silent films to provoke fear in the audience without the use of dialog. It still works in photography today.

Use color sparingly, but use it. The high contrast of dark shadows and the white of the (particularly fresh-fallen) snow provides a perfect backdrop to a main subject dressed in a bright color. This can be a bright red winter jacket on the person you are photographing, but could also be her red hair or green eyes. Be careful not to overload the scene with color, however. Doing so could lead to a photo where the viewer’s eyes will be dragged from one piece of color to another, losing interest in the backdrop. Sunrises and sunsets can be stunning with a white foreground.
Batteries have a much shorter lifespan in the cold than they do at room temperature. To keep them active longer in the cold, try keeping them in your pocket for natural warmth. An insulated camera bag is another option.

Wear a thin pair of gloves under thicker gloves. That way, when you go to change the controls on your camera, you can still be wearing a thin layer of protection from the cold.

Because cameras often underexpose snow-laden landscapes, try increasing the exposure on your camera by a full step, a function available on nearly every digital camera.

Timing is everything – Get out right after a snowstorm, or just after a quick drop in temperature. These moments can offer some of the best conditions in which to find artistically-interesting snow and ice formations.

Stay warm and have fun!

Don’t forget, winter photos also make for beautiful canvas prints!

Photo credit: Martin Hertel