Even though I’ve always loved winter and grew up skiing and playing in the snow, as a photographer, winter was my least favorite season when I first started out.
That’s not the case anymore; winter is now my favorite season to photograph. It can change normally uninteresting landscapes into magical and surreal scenes.
It’s also a season that’s more challenging to photograph. In this article, I’m sharing 6 tips for photographing winter that will result in more compelling images.
1. Bring Extra Batteries
It’s no secret that battery lives are dramatically shortened when temperatures drop below freezing. I’m sure that you’ve experienced this yourself.
It’s even more noticeable if you’re a regular user of the camera’s Live View.
Even though there are ways to extend battery life when photographing in cold temperatures, you should always keep a couple of extras in your pocket or backpack. Personally, I always bring a minimum of two spare batteries no matter what – if I’m planning to stay out for several hours, I’ll bring even more.
2. There’s no Bad Weather
I know it might be tempting to stay at home in front of the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate when it’s a full-on snowstorm outside but you might want to consider stepping out of your comfort zone a little.
Whiteouts and snowstorms offer great opportunities, often underrated, for landscape photographers. Some of my favorite winter images have been captured in “bad” weather when it was more tempting to stay at home and keep warm.
Sure, it might be cold, wet and uncomfortable but it’s often worth the hassle (as long as it’s safe to be outside).
3. There are 24 Hours of Opportunities
Landscape photographers are often told that good shots are only taken during the Golden Hour. While it’s true that this time of day offers a photogenic light, it’s not the only time you should be taking images.
Especially during winter, I recommend spending time exploring your surroundings at all times of the day. Even a blue & sunny day can offer some interesting images when you’re in a winter wonderland.
Personally, my favorite time to photograph winter is at night. There’s not much that’s more exciting than hiking in a snow-covered landscape with a star-filled sky above your head and perhaps even the odd possibility of some northern lights.
4. Watch Your Step!
Tip number four is one that’s often forgotten when discussing winter photography: mind your step!
This is especially important when you’re photographing fresh snow. Before you start walking around, spend a few minutes considering what you’re going to photograph and from which perspective it’s most likely that you’ll be positioned.
When you’ve got a general idea about it, walk carefully towards the desired composition and avoid making unnecessary tracks in the snow.
I know this is easy to forget but leaving unwanted tracks in the image is something that will annoy you later on.
5. Use a Cold White Balance
Photographs of winter and cold scenes often benefit from using a cold White Balance.
Even though you can adjust this in post-processing if you’re photographing in RAW, I recommend doing it in-camera to get a better visualization of the image.
Sure, a colorful sunrise or sunset might benefit from a slightly warmer White Balance (just keep in mind that you’re not photographing the Bahamas). However, snow is white and winter shadows are cool so a cold White Balance will help enhance the winter atmosphere.
6. Shoot Brighter
My final tip for photographing winter is to shoot brighter than what you normally would. You should still pay close attention to the Histogram and make sure that you’re not clipping the highlights but increase the exposure just a little.
This is a tip that is particularly useful when there’s a whiteout or snowstorm and it can result in some interesting pictures.
Should you later decide that the image benefits from a dark and moody look, it’s easy to reduce the exposure in post-processing without doing harm to the file.