Winter Photography Tips

Jay Kinghorn is a digital imaging consultant, professional photographer and the author of a number of digital photography books. Jon Copp climbing the Fang, Vail, Colorado.

The cold weather of winter is upon us and for many, this signals a time to run to the comfort and warmth of the indoors.  As nice as a roaring fire and hot cocoa may be, for a select and adventurous few, this is the perfect time to capture some stunning images and get outside.  Get outside and enjoy the unique and picturesque moments the season offers.  Whether you decide to pursue winter sports with your friends and family or wish to wander wooded trails covered in snow, these are some tips that will help you capture the magic of the winter season.

1. Keep Your Hands and Feet Warm, NOT  Your Camera

If your fingers and toes are numb, teeth chattering and lips blue, you aren’t going to be able to concentrate on taking pictures.  Get yourself some gloves and shoes that will protect your extremities from the extremes.  Although it’s normal to want to keep things warm during the cold winter months, this is not advised for the well-being of your camera. Putting your camera somewhere warm, such as your jacket pocket, will cause your lenses and viewfinder to get foggy as soon as you bring it out in the cold to snap a shot.  Keeping your camera away from heat will allow the lens to stay fog-free and ready to use whenever you need it to capture that amazing photograph.

2.  Prepare for the Worst to Shoot Your Best    

Before you shoot, think of what could go wrong.  Winter weather can change quickly.  What was once a winter wonderland can quickly become a blizzard-like flurry of snow.  Be aware of how a weather change can influence the texture and ambience of your photographs.  Be prepared to take advantage of this.  Often, photographing on the cusp of a storm, either just as it approaches, or as the storm is breaking yields interesting light perfect for dramatic photos.  Also – bring extra batteries.  The cold saps the charge from a battery quickly, so keep a second battery handy – perhaps in a jacket pocket to keep it warm with your body heat.  Swap between the two to keep re-warming the batteries which means you can keep shooting.

Michael Vladeck, Ouray Ice Park, Ouray Colorado. 3. Know Your Camera

 
Quick quiz.  Without looking at your camera, what are the steps you need to take to change your camera’s ISO sensitivity?   Just like any type of on-location shooting, you need to know your equipment so that you can spend time focusing on your subject, and not your camera.  There is nothing worse than being outside in freezing cold, gloves off, trying to reconfigure your camera settings.  Spend extra time becoming familiar with all the controls on your camera at home, where it’s nice and warm, before venturing out into the cold. In extreme situations, especially when you’re using heavy gloves, it can be difficult to adjust your camera’s settings. Knowing where all of your camera’s controls are located helps you work quickly should you need to take off your gloves to make an adjustment. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

4. Don’t Fight the Season

In the winter, the lighting is different than any other season.  The sun hangs lower in the sky and direct sunlight is often obscured by clouds.  Even though your eye can see detail in the clouds, the camera will often not be able to expose correctly.  For landscapes, this can mean a mess of a photo with a bright gray sky that distracts from the foreground.  Try to eliminate the sky by gaining a higher vantage point and shooting down on your landscape.  Or, wait until those brief glimpses of clear blue skies to shoot your expansive landscapes.  With this lighting situation, make sure to boost your ISO when shooting action.  By either using fast lenses (like an Olympus 35-100mm f2) with a maximum aperture of 2.8 or wider or boosting your ISO, you’ll be able to get those winter sport shots, even with the unique challenges winter lighting provides.  For partly cloudy days, try using ISO 200 for good results.  ISO 400 is ideal for high overcast skies.  In the middle of a storm, you’ll often have to shoot with an ISO between 800 and 1600.  If you realize the challenges of winter light and adjust your shooting, you can get some awesome images and really enjoy your time outdoors.

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