Winter is a memorable time for photographers who enjoy the challenges and the rewards that come with winter photography. Dedication comes to mind when we think of photographers who enjoy going on adventures in subzero temperatures to capture images that other photographers would not be willing to consider.
A trip to the park in summer means hot weather, overcrowding, and congestion. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to try shooting some unique perspectives of your favorite places. The solitude and peacefulness of a winter scene take on a new persona and allow the photographer to see it in a whole new light. What makes winter unique for the photographer is the chance to be out in nature on a more intimate level. This time alone out in nature makes one think about what one is trying to capture and how one is going to relate this to the audience. Winter photography can be very rewarding if one prepares oneself for the challenges of colder temperatures. There are a few simple tips that will make your winter adventures more enjoyable.
The following three concepts are equally crucial to the enjoyment and longevity of winter photography: 1) clothing 2) camera equipment, and 3) the picture-making process.
Common among these elements is the notion of preparation for all winter conditions you may encounter. The absence of planning in winter can deter any photographer from further experiencing the real beauty of winter.
When it comes to shooting in the winter, the weather can be unpredictable. The best way to prepare for the weather is to expect anything in the winter. Therefore, dressing appropriately for the situation is fundamental for winter photography. When it comes to dressing, it is necessary to plan for the changing weather. Preparing the body for winter includes wearing something light and loose so that the body can regulate the escape of body heat.
Photography in colder temperatures causes the body temperature to shift dramatically between hot and cold. Photography can vary concerning activity levels. Anticipating this level of activity means wearing clothing that can be easily opened with zippers in specific areas of the body for fresh ventilation and not wearing multiple layers that cause the body to overheat. For a photographer who already carries heavy camera equipment, dressing in layers is not ideal. The kind of clothing recommended is some form of loose-fitting, breathable jacket that has zippers, allowing the photographer to open and close it quickly, depending on the level of activity. Also, it is important to wear clothes that leave no area of the body exposed to the colder temperatures. Always wear a warm hat to avoid excessive heat loss through the head. Research shows that seventy percent of one’s body heat can be lost by not wearing a winter hat in colder climates. In addition to a warm hat, wear pants that are fully waterproof yet comfortable so that different types of shooting can occur. For example, photographers sometimes like to kneel in the snow to get closer to the subject. The ability of a photographer to move around comfortably and stay dry is critical. Regarding footwear, boots need to be waterproof, insulated, and high enough around the ankles to prevent the leakage of snow. Gators are water-resistant equipment that goes around the footgear from the ankle to the knee and keeps snow from getting inside the boots.
The one piece of equipment that most photographers wear incorrectly is gloves. Although most photographers wear some form of warm lining or gloves, most will wear gloves that do not have fingertips. They believe that fingerless gloves can help the photographer manipulate the camera controls easier. The truth is that most winter conditions are cold enough that exposed fingers will hinder any refined control of the camera, thus making photographers unable to operate the camera properly. The better option is to wear gloves that have touchscreen capability. Look for gloves that have a five-finger touchscreen capability for best durability. Gloves that have palm and finger caps are reinforced with goatskin leather. Make sure the gloves are wind resistant and wind permeability to 100% windproof. When it comes to warmth and dryness, gloves have a soft shell on the back of the hand, which blocks wind and moisture. Depending on the activity, the fingertips can be easily removed or put back on. When it comes to enjoying your time in winter, the right type of clothing can make all the difference between a good and bad day.
The most neglected area of winter shooting is winterizing camera equipment. What do you mean by ‘winterizing camera equipment’? Modern digital cameras do not need to be ‘winterized’ like the old film cameras.
Today’s modern DSLR camera performs very well in sub-zero temperatures. The DSLR cameras do better than the mirrorless cameras when working with frigid temperatures. There are a few important considerations to be aware of when preparing camera equipment for winter. Keeping batteries warm should be separate from any winterizing. Depending on how cold the temperature is, one common problem prevalent among photographers is short-term camera battery life. Results vary on temperature and camera model, but it is safe to assume that batteries might only last a few minutes in cold weather. One of the first tasks I prioritize is placing one of my hand warmers on the camera to keep the battery area warm. This action helps extend the life of the battery. I keep the remainder of the camera batteries close to my body for extra heat. The camera batteries should be in a location as close to the body as possible. Throughout the day, continue to switch out the cold batteries with the warm ones for longer shooting.
Another common problem with camera equipment in winter is the condensation that occurs on a camera from changes in the environment. Frigid air has very little water vapor and is dry. When a camera comes from a cold outside environment to a warmer and more humid environment like a heated vehicle, water vapor can condense on the outside and inside of the camera. Water inside the camera can cause the electrical components to malfunction and be destroyed. To avoid this, bring a large Ziplock or large trash bag to keep the camera inside until the temperature inside the container is roughly the same as room temperature.
It is imperative to realize that mistakes are common when you are new to winter photography, and every individual will have different things that work for him or her. Success comes with perseverance, and learning from mistakes is the key to continued involvement in photography. Try different things by experimenting with different types of adventures, varying the lengths, weight loads, and locations. Take some early trips near home, and figure out what works for your style. These starter trips also give the body a chance to acclimatize to the colder conditions and build tolerance over time. Once everything is ready to go with your clothing and equipment, the only thing is to reward the winter experience with some great images.
Photography in the winter is a lot different than any other time for a variety of reasons. The main obstacle in the picture-making process is the challenge of exposure. When evaluating exposure, the camera meter cannot give accurate readings for white subjects like snow or ice. This error occurs because snow fools the camera meter into trying to average out the luminosity of the snow, and the camera ends up turning the snow grey rather than white. To get around this exposure challenge, you must open up one or two stops on the camera to retain the highlights. Proper exposure varies depending on the light available. It is recommended to bracket images whenever the camera’s meter cannot give accurate readings. Bracketing in one-stop increments beginning at an even exposure bias (0) and extending the exposure bias by plus/minus two stops at either end. A standard solution to this exposure challenge is to take an average reading with your camera’s spot meter of a subject such as the base trunk of a tree.
The most critical element in improving winter photography is working with the light. In wintertime, the light quality is unique, as frequent changes in weather take place. These weather changes make the clouds susceptible to more movement; thus, there are more opportunities to capture the transient light. Transient light can be described as changing ambient light occurring when clouds interact with the sun’s luminosity. This diffused light at sunrise or sunset can lead to dramatic lighting that is accentuated by the contrast of white snow. Also, winter ambient light at sunrise or sunset lasts longer, allowing the opportunity for more extended periods of shooting. To capitalize on this opportunity, look for situations that will enable side lighting that pronounces a subject’s features. Light from the side not only enhances the contours and shapes of the main elements but also gives the image depth. Depth to an image draws a viewer into an image and makes it more interesting.
To make the most of winter weather, track weather systems in your local area and be present when these weather changes occur. Snow is a natural reflector of light, so incorporate subjects into your composition that will reflect color into the image. Elements that can add impact to compositions in winter situations are icicles, ice rim subjects, frosted subjects, and natural shapes outlined in the snow. Capturing light in winter can lead to breathtaking images that stand out. The impact is vital in pleasing photos, and balancing composition with stunning colors is the way to achieve this. Rewarding winter images is possible when you learn to read and understand the light. Preparation is essential to winter photography. Pre-visualizing your subject beforehand and how it will react with light is necessary. It is required to learn how to understand how light affects your subject. You can manipulate winter elements to make available light work to your advantage.
In conclusion, preparation is the unifying concept that ties all these recommendations together. It’s the combination of succession planning that makes it even more pleasurable when everything comes together out in the field. Success follows those that prepare and envision what they are trying to capture. Winter is a great time to get out and try something new. Take time to enjoy what you are doing and make sure to come back with some great images.
Kevin McNeal is a landscape photographer who resides in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. He focuses on grand colorful landscapes that reflect the most unique places on earth. Capturing moments of magic light and transferring this on print, images behold a combination of perseverance, patience, and dedication to capture the images in ways unseen before. The stories of how these images are rendered come across in the feelings the images convey.