Tips for Snow and Winter Photography
-Dress warmly. This is a no brainer tip, but it is vital. It’s hard to create great photos when you are shivering and miserable. Keep your head covered to minimize heat loss. Bundle yourself in layers of clothes that you can easily put on and take off as conditions change. Wear good boots to keep your feet dry (I buy mine a half size too big so that I can layer socks inside them). I wear fingerless gloves when I am actively shooting, but I bring heavier gloves to pull on during long exposures or hiking in and out of locations. Always insulate your extremities to avoid frostbite. Know the warning signs of frostbite: redness, extremely cold skin, prickling, and numbness. If your shooting location is cold but your fingers and toes don’t feel chilly, you may be experiencing the first stages of frostbite.
-Cold camera, warm batteries. Your camera’s body should be the same temperature as its surroundings. Allow your camera adequate time to adjust to changing temperatures. Moving rapidly from a warm environment (your home or car) to a frigid winter wonderland, your lens is likely to fog up. If you heat the camera quickly after it’s been in the cold for any length of time, water can condense inside your equipment. Gradual temperature changes are necessary for the longevity of your camera and lenses. On the other hand, batteries hate the cold. Batteries drain more quickly in cold temperatures, so carry an extra in your interior pocket. This will keep it warm and allow you to shoot for longer periods.
-Footprints can be awesome – or devastating. Think about and plan your path. Once you have walked in an area, you are not getting those footprints back out of the snow :P Sometimes you may want foot prints in the snow to make a line in your composition, but often photographers spend hours and hours searching out places with untouched, pristine snow. Plan your shot, then plan your path accordingly.
-Manual mode and exposure compensation. Snow blindness isn’t just for humans. Because of its reflective nature, snow does a pretty good job of fooling your cameras light metering. Without manual adjustment or exposure compensation, a snow photo may appear greyish rather than the beautiful white seen by the photog. To get the bright whites your eyes see, shoot in manual mode and adjust your exposure value (like I do) or utilize the in-camera Exposure Value (EV) settings. This mode allows the camera to over or under expose your shots; for snow a +1 EV is a good place to start.
-Bad weather is an opportunity. One of the keys to great photography is capturing unique images; one-of-a-kind photos that other people did not get the chance to shoot. Bad weather presents a great opportunity to find these images. When storms roll in or out the light can change quickly, often great light. Embrace the changing weather as a chance to get a great shot or two.
-Choose your target. The additional light from snow can lead to great exposure for wildlife. A bright colorful bird can really pop against the white background. Also keep an eye out for the small details that winter provides. Snowflakes and icicles make great patterns. Macro photography in the winter can be a whole new world for you! Puddles of melting snow can also lend themselves to great reflection shots.
-High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging. Winter scenes often have a high dynamic range in the light. HDR photography can help you capture all the different light in a scene. HDR also tends to create vibrant colors; use that to your advantage in winter photography. Look for bright colors and strong contrasts around you and intentionally add those to your composition.
-Use a polarizer. Sunglasses for your camera, polarizers help reduce glare in your images and create deeper colors. Deep blue skies and bright whites make for some gorgeous pictures.
-Portray the cold. How cold is it? Show it in the photo. Add people to a winter photo to add color and impact or give a sense of scale to the big snow field or snow-covered mountain range. Look for and compose around the long shadows that you often see in winter to help add to the feeling of cold. Use cold colors when post processing to enhance the feeling of cold. Make people feel what you endured to get the perfect picture.